On Agellius's entering the room, Aristo was pacing to and fro in some discomposure; however, he ran up to his friend, embraced him, and, looking at him with significance, congratulated him on his good looks. "There is more fire in your eye," he said, "dear Agellius, and more eloquence in the turn of your lip, than I have ever yet seen. A new spirit is in you. So you are determined to come out of your solitude? That you should have been able to exist in it so long is the wonderment to me."
Agellius had recovered himself, yet he dared not look again on Callista. "Do not jest, Aristo," he said; "I am come, as you know, to talk to you about your sister. I have brought her a present of flowers; they are my best present, or rather not mine, but the birth of the opening year, as fair and fragrant as herself."
"We will offer them to our Pallas Athene," said his friend, "to whom we artists are especially devout." And he would have led Agellius on, and made him place them in her niche in the opposite wall.
"I am more serious than you are," said Agellius; "and I have brought the best my garden contains as an offering to your sister. She will not think I bring them for any other purpose. Where are you going?" he continued, as he saw his friend take down his broad petasus.
"Why," answered Aristo, "since I am so poor an interpreter of your meaning, you can dispense with me altogether. I will leave you to speak for yourself, and meanwhile will go and see what old Dromo has to tell, before the sun is too high in the heavens."
Saying this, with a half-imploring, half-satirical look at his sister, he set off to the barber's at the Forum.
Agellius took up the flowers, and laid them on the table before her, as she sat at work. "Do you accept my flowers, Callista?" he asked.
"Fair and fragrant, like myself, are they?" she made reply. "Give them to me." She took them, and bent over them. "The blushing rose," she said, gravely, "the stately lily, the royal carnation, the golden moly, the purple amaranth, the green bryon, the diosanthos, the sertula, the sweet modest saliunca, fit emblems of Callista. Well, in a few hours they will have faded; yes, they will get more and more like her."
She paused and looked him steadily in the face, and then continued: "Agellius, I once had a slave who belonged to your religion. She had been born in a Christian family, and came into my possession on her master's death. She was unlike any one I have seen before or since; she cared for nothing, yet was not morose or peevish or hard-hearted. She died young in my service. Shortly before her end she had a dream. She saw a company of bright shades, clothed in white, like the hours which circle round the god of day. They were crowned with flowers, and they said to each other, 'She ought to have a token too.' So they took her hand, and led her to a most beautiful lady, as stately as Juno and as sweet as Ariadne, so radiant in countenance that they themselves suddenly looked like Ethiopians by the side of her. She, too, was crowned with flowers, and these so dazzling that they might be the stars of heaven or the gems of Asia for what Chione could tell. And that fair goddess (angel you call her) said, 'My dear, here is something for you from my Son. He sends you by me a red rose for your love, a white lily for your chastity, purple violets to strew your grave, and green palms to flourish over it.' Is this the reason why you give me flowers, Agellius, that I may rank with Chione? and is this their interpretation?"
"Callista," he answered, "it is my heart's most fervent wish, it is my mind's vivid anticipation, that the day may come when you will receive such a crown, nay, a brighter one."
"And you are come, of course, to philosophize to me, and to put me in the way of dying like Chione," she made answer. "I implore your pardon. You are offering me flowers, it seems, not for a bridal wreath, but for a funeral urn."
"Is it wonderful," said Agellius, "that the two wishes should have gone together in my heart; and that while I trusted and prayed that you might have the same Master in heaven as I have myself, I also hoped you would have the same service, the same aims, the same home upon earth?"
"And that you should speak one word for your Master and two for yourself!" she retorted.
"It has been by feeling how much you could be to me," he answered, "that I have been led to think how much my Master may be doing for you already, and how much in time to come you might do for Him. Callista, do not urge me with your Greek subtlety, or expect me to analyze my feelings more precisely than I have the ability to do. May I calmly tell you the state of my mind, as I do know it, and will you patiently listen?"
She signified her willingness, and he continued—"This only I know," he said, "what I have experienced ever since I first heard you converse, that there is between you and me a unity of thought so strange that I should have deemed it could not have been, before I found it actually to exist, between any two persons whatever; and which, widely as we are separated in opinion and habit, and differently as we have been brought up, is to me inexplicable. I find it difficult to explain what I mean; we disagree certainly on the most important subjects, yet there is an unaccountable correspondence in the views we take of things, in our impressions, in the line in which our minds move, and the issues to which they come, in our judgment of what is great and little, and the manner in which objects affect our feelings. When I speak to my uncle, when I speak to your brother, I do not understand them, nor they me. We are moving in different spheres, and I am solitary, however much they talk. But to my astonishment, I find between you and me one language. Is it wonderful that, in proportion to my astonishment, I am led to refer it to one cause, and think that one Master Hand must have engraven those lines on the soul of each of us? Is it wonderful that I should fancy that He who has made us alike has made us for each other, and that the very same persuasives by which I bring you to cast your eyes on me, may draw you also to cast yourself in adoration at the feet of my Master?"
For an instant tears seemed about to start from Callista's eyes, but she repressed the emotion, if it were such, and answered with impetuosity, "Your Master! who is your Master? what know I of your Master? what have you ever told me of your Master? I suppose it is an esoteric doctrine which I am not worthy to know; but so it is, here you have been again and again, and talked freely of many things, yet I am in as much darkness about your Master as if I had never seen you. I know He died; I know too that Christians say He lives. In some fortunate island, I suppose; for, when I have asked, you have got rid of the subject as best you could. You have talked about your law and your various duties, and what you consider right, and what is forbidden, and of some of the old writers of your sect, and of the Jews before them; but if, as you imply, my wants and aspirations are the same as yours, what have you done towards satisfying them? what have you done for that Master towards whom you now propose to lead me? No!" she continued, starting up, "you have watched those wants and aspirations for yourself, not for Him; you have taken interest in them, you have cherished them, as if you were the author, you the object of them. You profess to believe in One True God, and to reject every other; and now you are implying that the Hand, the Shadow of that God is on my mind and heart. Who is this God? where? how? in what? O Agellius, you have stood in the way of Him, ready to speak for yourself, using Him as a means to an end."
"O Callista," said Agellius, in an agitated voice, when he could speak, "do my ears hear aright? do you really wish to be taught who the true God is?"
"No, mistake me not," she cried passionately, "I have no such wish. I could not be of your religion. Ye Gods! how have I been deceived! I thought every Christian was like Chione. I thought there could not be a cold Christian. Chione spoke as if a Christian's first thoughts were goodwill to others; as if his state were of such blessedness, that his dearest heart's wish was to bring others into it. Here is a man who, so far from feeling himself blest, thinks I can bless him! comes to me—me, Callista, a herb of the field, a poor weed, exposed to every wind of heaven, and shrivelling before the fierce sun—to me he comes to repose his heart upon. But as for any blessedness he has to show me, why, since he does not feel any himself, no wonder he has none to give away. I thought a Christian was superior to time and place; but all is hollow. Alas, alas, I am young in life to feel the force of that saying, with which sages go out of it, 'Vanity and hollowness!' Agellius, when I first heard you were a Christian, how my heart beat! I thought of her who was gone; and at first I thought I saw her in you, as if there had been some magical sympathy between you and her; and I hoped that from you I might have learned more of that strange strength which my nature needs, and which she told me she possessed. Your words, your manner, your looks were altogether different from others who came near me. But so it was; you came, and you went, and came again; I thought it reserve, I thought it timidity, I thought it the caution of a persecuted sect; but O, my disappointment, when first I saw in you indications that you were thinking of me only as others think, and felt towards me as others may feel; that you were aiming at me, not at your God; that you had much to tell of yourself, but nothing of Him! Time was I might have been led to worship you, Agellius; you have hindered it by worshipping me."
It is not often, we suppose, that such deep offence is given to a lady by the sort of admiration of which Agellius had been guilty in the case of Callista; however, startled as he might be, and startled and stung he was, there was too much earnestness in her distress, too much of truth in her representations, too much which came home to his heart and conscience, to allow of his being affronted or irritated. She had but supplied the true interpretation of the misgiving which had haunted him that morning, from the time he set out till the moment of his entering the room. Jucundus some days back had readily acquiesced in his assurance that he was not inconsistent; but Callista had not been so indulgent, though really more merciful. There was a pause in the conversation, or rather in her outpouring; each had bitter thoughts, and silently devoured them. At length, she began again:—
"So the religion of Chione is a dream; now for four years I had hoped it was a reality. All things again are vanity; I had hoped there was something somewhere more than I could see; but there is nothing. Here am I a living, breathing woman, with an over-flowing heart, with keen affections, with a yearning after some object which may possess me. I cannot exist without something to rest upon. I cannot fall back upon that drear, forlorn state, which philosophers call wisdom, and moralists call virtue. I cannot enrol myself a votary of that cold Moon, whose arrows do but freeze me. I cannot sympathize in that majestic band of sisters whom Rome has placed under the tutelage of Vesta. I must have something to love; love is my life. Why do you come to me, Agellius, with your every-day gallantry. Can you compete with the noble Grecian forms which have passed before my eyes? Is your voice more manly, are its tones more eloquent, than those which have thrilled through my ears since I ceased to be a child? Can you add perfume to the feast by your wit, or pour sunshine over grot and rushing stream by your smile? What can you give me? There was one thing which I thought you could have given me, better than anything else; but it is a shadow. You have nothing to give. You have thrown me back upon my dreary, dismal self, and the deep wounds of my memory.... Poor, poor Agellius! but it was not his fault, it could not be helped," she continued, as if in thought; "it could not be helped; for, if he had nothing to give, how could he give it? After all, he wanted something to love, just as I did; and he could find nothing better than me.... And they thought to persuade her to spend herself upon him, as she had spent herself upon others. Yes, it was Jucundus and Aristo—my brother, even my own brother. They thought not of me." Here her tears gushed out violently, and she abandoned herself to a burst of emotion. "They were thinking of him. I had hoped he could lead me to what was higher; but woe, woe!" she cried, wringing her hands, "they thought I was only fit to bring him low. Well; after all, is Callista really good for much more than the work they have set her to do?"
She was absorbed in her own misery in an intense sense of degradation, in a keen consciousness of the bondage of nature, in a despair of ever finding what alone could give meaning to her existence, and an object to her intellect and affections. And Agellius on the other hand, what surprise, remorse, and humiliation came upon him! It was a strange contrast, the complaint of nature unregenerate on the one hand, the self-reproach of nature regenerate and lapsing on the other. At last he spoke, and they were his last words.
"Callista," he said, "whatever injury I may have unwillingly inflicted upon you, you at least have returned me good for evil, and have made yourself my benefactress. Certainly, I now know myself better than I did; and He who has made use of you as His instrument of mercy towards me, will not forget to reward you tenfold. One word will I say for myself; nay, not for myself, but for my Master. Do not for an instant suppose that what you thought of the Christian religion is not true. It reveals a present God, who satisfies every affection of the heart, yet keeps it pure. I serve a Master," he continued, blushing from modesty and earnestness as he spoke, "I serve a Master whose love is stronger than created love. God help my inconsistency! but I never meant to love you as I love Him. You are destined for His love. I commit you to Him, your true Lord, whom I never ought to have rivalled, for whom I ought simply to have pleaded. Though I am not worthy to approach you, I shall trace you at a distance, who knows where? perhaps even to the prison and to the arena of those who confess the Saviour of men, and dare to suffer and die for His name. And now, farewell; to His keeping and that of His holy martyrs I commit you."
He did not trust himself to look at her as he turned to the door, and left the room.
The first stages of repentance are but a fever, in which there is restlessness and thirst, hot and cold fits, vague, dreary dreams, long darkness which seems destined never to have a morning, effort without result, and collapse without reaction. These symptoms had already manifested themselves in Agellius; he spoke calmly to Callista, and sustained himself by the claims of the moment; but no sooner had he left the room and was thrown upon himself, than his self-possession left him, and he fell into an agony, or rather anarchy of tumultuous feelings. Then rose up before his mind a hundred evil spectres, not less scaring and more real than the dreams of the delirious. He thought of the singular favour which had been shown him in his reception into the Christian fold, and that at so early a date; of the myriads all around who continued in heathenism as they had been born, and of his utter insensibility to his own privilege. He felt how much would be required of him, and how little hitherto had been forthcoming. He thought of the parable of the barren fig-tree, and the question was whispered in his ear whether it would not be fulfilled in him. He asked himself in what his heart and his conduct differed from the condition of a fairly virtuous heathen. And then he thought of Callista in contrast with himself, as having done more with the mite which she possessed than he had done with many pounds. He felt that Tyre and Sidon were rising up against him in her person; or rather how the saying seemed about to be verified in her, that strangers should sit down in the kingdom from far countries, while those who were the heirs should be thrust out. He had been rebuked by one to whom he rather ought to have brought self-knowledge and compunction, and she was sensitively alive to his want of charity. She had felt bitterly that she was left in ignorance and sin by one who had what she had not. She had accused him of being zealous enough to win her to himself, when he had shown no zeal at all to win her to her Maker. If she was brought to the truth at length, there would be no thanks to him for the happy change; yet on the other hand, though he had predicted it, alas! was it likely that it would be granted? Had she not had her opportunity, which was lost because he had not improved it? Yes, she had with a deliberate mind and in set words put aside and taken leave of that which she once desired and hoped might have been her own, sorrowfully indeed, but peremptorily, as firmly persisting in rejecting it, as she might have persisted in maintaining it; and, if she died in infidelity, horrible thought! would not the burden lie on him, and was this to be the token of the love which he pretended to entertain for her?
What was he living for? what was the work he had set himself to do? Did he live to plant flowers, or to rear fruit, to maintain himself and to make money? Was that a time to pride himself on vineyards and oliveyards, when, like Eliseus, he was one among myriads who were in unbelief? Ah, the difference between a saint and him? Of what good was he on earth; why should not he die? why so chary of his life? why preserve his wretched life at all? Could he not do more by giving it than by keeping it? Might it not have been given him perchance for the very purpose that he might sacrifice it for Him who had given it? He had been timid about making a profession of his faith, which might have led to prison and death; but perhaps the very object of his life in the divine purpose, the very reason of his birth, had been that, as soon as he was grown, he should die for the truth. He might have been cut off by disease; he was not; and why, except that he might merit in his death, and that what, in the ordinary course of things, was a mere suffering, might in his case be an act of service? His death might have been the conversion of thousands, of Callista; and the fewness of his days here would have been his claim to a blessed eternity hereafter.
Nor Callista alone; he had natural friends, with nearer claims upon his charity. Had he been other than he was, he might have prevailed with his uncle; at least he might have taught him to respect the Christian Faith and Name, and restrained him from daring to attempt, for he now saw that it was an attempt, to seduce him into sin. He might have lodged a good seed in his heart, which in the hour of sickness might have germinated. And his brother again had learned to despise him; indeed he had raised in every one who came near him the suspicion that he was not really a Christian, that he was an apostate (he could not help uttering a cry of anguish as he used the word), an apostate from that which was his real life and supreme worship.
Why did he not at once go into the Basilica or the Gymnasium, and proclaim himself a Christian? There were rumours abroad that the new emperor was beginning a new policy towards his religion; let him inaugurate it in Agellius. Might he not thus perchance wash out his sin? He would be led into the amphitheatre, as his betters had been led before him; the crowds would yell, and the lion would be let loose upon him. He would confront the edict, tear it down, be seized by the apparitor, and hurried to the rack or the slow fire. Callista would hear of it, and would learn at length he was not quite the craven and the recreant which she thought him.
Then his thoughts took a turn. Callista! what was Callista to him? Why should he think of her, when she was girding him to martyrdom? Was she to be the motive which was to animate him, and her praise his reward? Alas, alas! could he gain heaven by pleasing a heathen? "But to whom then," he continued, "am I to look up? who is to give me sympathy? who is to encourage, to advise me? O my Father, pity me! a feeble child, a poor, outcast, wandering sheep, away from the fold, torn by the briars and thorns, and no one to bind his wounds and retrace his steps for him. Why am I thus alone in the world? why am I without a pastor and guide? Ah, was not this my fault in remaining in Sicca? I have no tie here; let me go to Carthage, or to Tagaste, or to Madaura, or to Hippo. I am not fit to walk the world by myself; I am too simple, and am no match for its artifices."
Here another thought took possession of him, which had as yet but crossed his mind, and it made him colour up with confusion and terror. "They were laying a plot for me," he said, "my uncle and Aristo; and it is Callista who has defeated it." And as he spoke, he felt how much he owed to her, and how dangerous too it was to think of his debt. Yet it would not be wrong to pray for her; she had marred the device of which she was to have been the agent. "Laqueus contritus est, et nos liberati sumus:" the net was broken and he was delivered. She had refused his devotion, that he might give it to his God; and now he would only think of her, and whisper her name, when he was kneeling before the Blessed Mary, his advocate. O that that second and better Eve, who brought salvation into the world, as our first mother brought death, O that she might bear Callista's name in remembrance, and get it written in the Book of life!
It was high noon; and all this time Agellius was walking in his present excited mood, without covering to his head, under the burning rays of the sun, not knowing which way he went, and retracing his steps, as he wandered about at random, with a vague notion he was going homewards. The few persons whom he met, creeping about under the shadow of the lofty houses, or under the porticoes of the temples, looked at him with wonder, and thought him furious or deranged. The shafts of the sun were not so hot as his own thoughts, or as the blood which shot to and fro so fiercely in his veins; but they were working fearfully on his physical frame, though they could not increase the fever of his mind. He had come to the Forum; the market people were crouching under their booths or the shelter of their baskets. The riffraff of the city, who lived by their wits, or by odd jobs, or on the windfalls of the market; lazy fellows who did nothing, who did not move till hunger urged them, like the brute; half-idiotic chewers of opium, ragged or rather naked children, the butcher boys and scavengers of the temples, lay at their length at the mouth of the caverns formed by the precipitous rock, or under the Arch of Triumph, or amid the columns of the Gymnasium and the Heracleum, or in the doorways of the shops. A scattering of beggars were lying, poor creatures, on their backs in the blazing sun, reckless of the awful maladies, the fits, the seizures, and the sudden death, which might be the consequence.
Numbers out of this mixed multitude were asleep; some were looking with dull listless eyes at the still scene, or at any accidental movements which might vary it. They saw a figure coming nearer and nearer and wildly passing by. Just then Agellius was diverted from his painful meditations by hearing one of these fellows say to another, as he roused from a sort of doze, "That's one of them. We know them all, but very poor pickings can be got out of them; but he has more than most. They're a low set in Sicca." And then the man cried out, "Look sharp, young chap! the Furies are at your heels, and the Fates are going before you. Look there at the emperor; he is looking at you, as grim and sour as you could wish him." He spoke of the equestrian statue of Severus before the Basilica on the right; and, attracted by his words, Agellius went up to a board which was fixed to its base. It was an imperial edict, and it ran as follows:—
"Cneius Trajanus Decius, Augustus; and Quintus Herennius Etruscus Decius, Caesar; Emperors, unconquerable and pious; by united council these:—
"Whereas we have experienced the benefits and the gifts of the gods, and do also enjoy the victory which they have given us over our enemies, and moreover salubrity of seasons, and abundance in the fruits of the earth;
"Therefore, acknowledging the aforesaid as our benefactors and the providers of those things which are necessary for the commonwealth, we make this our decree, that every class of the state, freemen and slaves, the army and civilians, offer to the gods expiatory sacrifices, falling down in supplication before them;
"And if any one shall presume to disobey this our divine command, which we unite in promulgating, we order that man to be thrown into chains, and to be subjected to various tortures;
"And should he thereupon be persuaded to reverse his disobedience, he shall receive from us no slight honours;
"But should he hold out in opposition, first he shall have many tortures, and then shall be executed by the sword, or thrown into the deep sea, or given as a prey to birds and dogs;
"And more than all if such a person be a professor of the Christian religion.
"Farewell, and live happy."
The old man in the fable called on Death, and Death made his appearance. We are very far indeed from meaning that Agellius uttered random words, or spoke impatiently, when he just now expressed a wish to have the opportunity of dying for the Faith. Nevertheless, what now met his eyes and was transmitted through them, sentence by sentence, into his mind, was not certainly of a nature to calm the tumult which was busy in breast and brain; a sickness came over him, and he staggered away. The words of the edict still met his eyes, and were of a bright red colour. The sun was right before him, but the letters were in the sun, and the sun in his brain. He reeled and fell heavily on the pavement. No notice was taken of the occurrence by the spectators around him. They lazily or curiously looked on, and waited to see if he would recover.
How long he lay there he could not tell, when he came to himself; if it could really be said to be coming to himself to have the power of motion, and an instinct that he must move, and move in one direction. He managed to rise and lean against the pedestal of the statue, and its shade by this time protected him. Then an intense desire came upon him to get home, and that desire gave him a temporary preternatural strength. It came upon him as a duty to leave Sicca for his cottage, and he set off. He had a confused notion that he must do his duty, and go straight forward, and turn neither to the right, nor the left, and stop nowhere, but move on steadily for his true home. But next an impression came upon him that he was running away from persecution, and that this ought not to be, and that he ought to face the enemy, or at least not to hide from him, but meekly wait for him.
As he went along the narrow streets which led down the hill towards the city gate this thought came so powerfully upon him that at length he sat down on a stone which projected from an open shop, and thought of surrendering himself. He felt the benefit of the rest, and this he fancied to be the calm of conscience consequent upon self-surrender and resignation. It was a fruiterer's stall, and the owner, seeing his exhaustion, offered him some slices of a water-melon for his refreshment. He ate one of them, and then again a vague feeling came on him that he was in danger of idolatry, and must protest against idolatry, and that he ought not to remain in the neighbourhood of temptation. So, throwing down the small coin which was sufficient for payment, he continued his journey. The rest and the refreshment of the fruit, and the continued shade which the narrow street allowed him, allayed the fever, and for the time recruited him, and he moved on languidly. The sun, however, was still high in heaven, and when he got beyond the city beat down upon his head from a cloudless sky. He painfully toiled up the ascent which led to his cottage. He had nearly gained the gate of his homestead; he saw his old household slave, born in his father's house, a Christian like himself, coming to meet him. A dizziness came over him, he lost his senses, and fell down helplessly upon the bank.
Jucundus was quite as much amused as provoked at the result of the delicate negotiation in which he had entangled his nephew. It was a gratification to him to find that its ill success had been owing in no respect to any fault on the side of Agellius. He had done his part without shrinking, and the view which he, Jucundus, had taken of his state of mind, was satisfactorily confirmed. He had nothing to fear from Agellius, and though he had failed in securing the guarantee which he had hoped for his attachment to things as they were, yet in the process of failure it had been proved that his nephew might be trusted without it. And it was a question, whether a girl so full of whims and caprices as Callista might after all have done him any permanent good. The absurd notion, indeed, of her having a leaning for Christianity had been refuted by her conduct on the occasion; still, who could rely on a clever and accomplished Greek? There were secret societies and conspiracies in abundance, and she might have involved so weak and innocent a fellow in some plans against the government, now or at a future time; or might have alienated him from his uncle, or in some way or other made a fool of him, if she had consented to have him for her slave. Why she had rejected so eligible a suitor it was now useless and idle to inquire; it might be that the haughty or greedy Greek had required him to bid higher for her favourable notice. If the negotiation had taken such a turn, then indeed there was still more gratifying evidence of Agellius having broken from his fantastic and peevish superstition.
Still, however, he was not without anxiety, now that the severe measures directed against the Christians were in progress. No overt act, indeed, beyond the publication of the edict, had been taken in Sicca—probably would be taken at all. The worst was, that something must be done to make a show; he could have wished that some of the multitude of townspeople, half suspected of Christianity, had stood firm, and suffered themselves to be tortured and executed. One or two would have been enough; but the magistracy got no credit with the central government for zeal and activity if no Christians were made an example of. Yet still it was a question whether the strong acts at Carthage and elsewhere would not suffice, though the lesser towns did nothing. At least, while the populace was quiet, there was nothing to press for severity. There were no rich Christians in Sicca to tempt the cupidity of the informer or of the magistrate; no political partisans among them, who had made enemies with this or that class of the community. But, supposing a bad feeling to rise in the populace, supposing the magistrates to have ill-wishers and rivals—and what men in power had not?—who might be glad to catch them tripping, and make a case against them at Rome, why, it must be confessed that Agellius was nearly the only victim who could be pitched upon. He wished Callista no harm, but, if a Christian must be found and held up in terrorem, he would rather it was a person like her, without connections and home, than the member of any decent family of Sicca, whose fair fame would be compromised by a catastrophe. However, she was not a Christian, and Agellius was, at least by profession; and his fear was lest Juba should be right in his estimate of his brother's character. Juba had said that Agellius could be as obstinate as he was ordinarily indolent and yielding, and Jucundus dreaded lest, if he were rudely charged with Christianity, and bidden to renounce it under pain of punishment, he would rebel against the tyrannical order, and go to prison and to death out of sheer perverseness or sense of honour.
With these perplexities before him, he could find nothing better than the following plan of action, which had been in his mind for some time. While the edict remained inoperative, he would do nothing at all, and let Agellius go on with his country occupations, which would keep him out of the way. But if any disposition appeared of a popular commotion, or a movement on the part of the magistracy, he determined to get possession of Agellius, and forcibly confine him in his own house in Sicca. He hoped that in the case of one so young, so uncommitted, he should have influence with the municipal authorities, or at the praetorium, or in the camp (for the camp and the praetorium were under different jurisdictions in the proconsulate), to shelter Agellius from a public inquiry into his religious tenets, or if this could not be, to smuggle him out of the city. He was ready to affirm solemnly that his nephew was no Christian, though he was touched in the head, and, from an affection parallel to hydrophobia, to which the disciples of Galen ought to turn their attention, was sent into convulsions on the sight of an altar. His father, indeed, was a malignant old atheist—there was no harm in being angry with the dead—but it was very hard the son should suffer for his father's offence. If he must be judged of by his parents, let him rather have the advantage of the thorough loyalty and religiousness of his mother, a most zealous old lady, in high repute in the neighbourhood of Sicca for her theurgic knowledge, a staunch friend of the imperial government, which had before now been indebted to her for important information, and as staunch a hater of the Christians. Such was the plan of proceedings resolved on by Jucundus before he received the news of his nephew's serious malady. It did not reach him till many days after; and then he did not go to see him, first, lest he should be supposed to be in communication with him, next, as having no respect for that romantic sort of generosity which risks the chances of contagion for the absurd ceremony of paying a compliment.
It was thus that Jucundus addressed himself to the present state of affairs, and anticipated the chances of the future. As to Aristo, he had very little personal interest in the matter. His sister might have thwarted him in affairs which lay nearer his heart than the moral emancipation of Agellius; and as she generally complied with his suggestions and wishes, whatever they were, he did not grudge her her liberty of action in this instance. Nor had the occurrence which had taken place any great visible effect upon Callista herself. She had lost her right to be indignant with her brother, and she resigned or rather abandoned herself to her destiny. Her better feelings had been brought out for the moment in her conversation with Agellius; but they were not ordinary ones. True, she was tired, but she was the slave of the world; and Agellius had only made her more sceptical than before that there was any service better. So at least she said to herself; she said it was fantastic to go elsewhere for good, and that, if life was short, then, as her brother said, it was necessary to make the most of it.
And meanwhile, what of Agellius himself? Why, it will be some little time before Agellius will be in a condition to moralize upon anything. His faithful slave half-carried, half-drew him into the cottage, and stretched him upon his bed. Then, having sufficient skill for the ordinary illnesses of the country, though this was more than an ordinary fever, he drew blood from him, gave him a draught of herbs, and left him to the slow but safe processes of nature to restore him. It could not be affirmed that he was not in considerable danger of life, yet youth carries hope with it, and his attendant had little to fear for his recovery. For some days certainly Agellius had no apprehension of anything, except of restlessness and distress, of sleepless nights, or dreary, miserable dreams. At length one morning, as he was lying on his back with his eyes shut, it came into his mind to ask himself whether Sunday would ever come. He had been accustomed upon the first day of the week to say some particular prayers and psalms, and unite himself in spirit with his brethren beyond seas. And then he tried to remember the last Sunday; and the more he thought, the less he could remember it, till he began to think that months had gone without a Sunday. This he was certain of, that he had lost reckoning, for he had made no notches for the days for a long while past, and unless his slave Asper knew, there was no one to tell him. Here he got so puzzled, that it was like one of the bad dreams which had worried him. He felt it affect his head, and he was obliged to give up the inquiry.
From this time his sleep was better and more refreshing for several days; he was more collected when he was awake, and was able to ask himself why he lay there, and what had happened to him. Then gradually his memory began to return like the dawning of the day; the cause and the circumstances of his recent visit to the city, point after point came up, and he felt first wonder, and then certainty. He recollected the Forum, and then the edict; a solemn, overpowering emotion here seized him, and for a while he dared not think more. When he recovered, and tried to pursue the events of the day, he found himself unequal to the task; all was dark, except that he had some vague remembrance of thirsting, and some one giving him to drink, and then his saying with the Psalmist, "Transivimus per ignem et aquam."
He opened his eyes and looked about him. He was at home. There was some one at the bed-head whom he could not see hanging over him, and he was too weak to raise himself and so command a view of him. He waited patiently, being too feeble to have any great anxiety on the subject. Presently a voice addressed him: "You are recovering, my son," it said.
"Who are you?" said Agellius abruptly. The person spoken to applied his mouth to Agellius's ear, and uttered lowly several sacred names.
Agellius would have started up had he been strong enough; he could but sink down upon his rushes in agitation.
"Be content to know no more at present," said the stranger, "praise God, as I do. You know enough for your present strength. It is your act of obedience for the day."
It was a deep, clear, peaceful, authoritative voice. In his present state, as we have said, it cost Agellius no great effort to mortify curiosity; and the accents of that voice soothed him, and the mystery employed his mind, and had something pleasing and attractive in it. Moreover, about the main point there was no mystery, and could be no mistake, that he was in the hands of a Christian ecclesiastic.
The stranger occupied himself for a time with a book of prayers which he carried about him, and then again with the duties of a sick-bed. He sprinkled vinegar over Agellius's face and about the room, and supplied him with the refreshment of cooling fruit. He kept the flies from tormenting him, and did his best so to arrange his posture that he might suffer least from his long lying. In the morning and evening he let in the air, and he excluded the sultry noon. In these various occupations he was from time to time removed to a distance from the patient, who thus had an opportunity of observing him. The stranger was of middle height, upright, and well proportioned; he was dressed in a peasant's or slave's dark tunic. His face was rather round than long; his hair black, yet with the promise of greyness, with what might be baldness in the crown, or a priest's tonsure. His short beard curled round his chin; his complexion was very clear. But the most striking point about him was his eyes; they were of a light or greyish blue, transparent, and shining like precious stones.
From the day that they first interchanged words, the priest said some short prayers from time to time with Agellius—the Lord's Prayer, and portions of the Psalms. Afterwards, when he was well enough to converse, Agellius was struck with the inexpressible peculiarity of his manner. It was self-collected, serene, gentle, tender, unobtrusive, unstudied. It enabled him to say things severe and even stern, without startling, offending, or repelling the hearer. He spoke very little about himself, though from time to time points of detail were elicited of his history in the course of conversation. He said that his name was Caecilius. Asper, when he entered the room, would kneel down and offer to kiss the stranger's sandal, though the latter generally managed to prevent it.
Caecilius did not speak much about himself; but Agellius, on the other hand, found it a relief to tell out his own history, and reflect upon and describe his own feelings. As he lay on his bed, he half soliloquized, half addressed himself to the stranger. Sometimes he required an answer; sometimes he seemed to require none. Once he asked suddenly, after a long silence, whether a man could be baptized twice; and when the priest answered distinctly in the negative, Agellius replied that if so, he thought it would be best never to be baptized till the hour of death. It was a question, he said, which had perplexed him a good deal, but he never had had any one to converse with on the subject.
Caecilius answered, "But how could you promise yourself that you would be able to obtain the sacrament at the last moment? The water and the administrator might come just too late; and then where would you be, my son? And then again, how do you know you would wish it? Is your will simply in your own power? 'Carpe diem;' take God's gift while you can."
"The benefit is so immense," answered Agellius, "that one would wish, if one could, to enter into the unseen world without losing its fulness. This cannot be, if a long time elapses between baptism and death."
"You are, then, of the number of those," said Caecilius, "who would cheat their Maker of His claim on their life, provided they could (as it is said) in their last moment cheat the devil."
Agellius continuing silent, Caecilius added, "You want to enjoy this world, and to inherit the next; is it so?"
"I am puzzled, my head is weak, father; I do not see my way to speak." Presently he said, "Sin after baptism is so awful a matter; there is no second laver for sin; and then again, to sin against baptism is so great a sin."
The priest said, "In baptism God becomes your Father; your own God; your worship; your love—can you give up this great gift all through your life? Would you live 'without God in this world'?"
Tears came into Agellius's eyes, and his throat became oppressed. At last he said, distinctly and tenderly, "No."
After a while the priest said, "I suppose what you fear is the fire of judgment, and the prison; not lest you should fall away and be lost."
"I know, my dear father," answered the sick youth, "that I have no right to reckon on anything, or promise myself anything; yet somehow I have never feared hell—though I ought, I know I ought; but I have not. I deserve the worst, but somehow I have thought that God would lead me on. He ever has done so."
"Then you fear the fire of judgment," said Caecilius; "you'd put off baptism for fear of that fire."
"I did not say I would," answered Agellius; "I wanted you to explain the thing to me."
"Which would you rather, Agellius, be without God here, or suffer the fire there?"
Agellius smiled; he said faintly, "I take Him for my portion here and there: He will be in the fire with me."
Agellius lay quiet for some hours, and seemed asleep. Suddenly he began again, "I was baptized when I was only six years old. I'm glad you do not think it was wilful in me, and wrong. I cannot tell what took me," he presently continued. "It was a fervour; I have had nothing of the kind since. What does our Lord say? I can't remember: 'Novissima pejora prioribus.' "
He continued the train of thought another day, or rather the course of his argument; for on the thought itself his mind seemed ever to be working. "My spring is gone," he said, "and I have no summer. Nay, I have had no spring; it was a day, not a season. It came, and it went; where am I now? Can spring ever return? I wish to begin again in right earnest."
"Thank God, my son, for this great mercy," said Caecilius, "that, though you have relaxed, you have never severed yourself from the peace of the Church, you have not denied your God."
Agellius sighed bitterly. "O my father," he said, " 'Erravi, sicut ovis quae periit.' I have been very near denying Him, at least by outward act. You do not know me; you cannot know what has come on me lately. And I dare not look back on it, my heart is so weak. My father, how am I to repent of what is past, when I dare not think of it? To think of it is to renew the sin."
" 'Puer meus, noli timere,' " answered the priest; " 'si transieris per ignem, odor ejus non erit in te.' In penance, the grace of God carries you without harm through thoughts and words which would harm you apart from it."
"Ah, penance!" said Agellius; "I recollect the catechism. What is it, father? a new grace, I know; a plank after baptism. May I have it?"
"You are not strong enough yet to think of these things, Agellius," answered Caecilius. "Please God, you shall get well. Then you shall review all your life, and bring it out in order before Him; and He, through me, will wipe away all that has been amiss. Praise Him who has spared you for this."
It was too much for the patient in his weak state; he could but shed happy tears.
Another day he had sat up in bed. He looked at his hands, from which the skin was peeling; he felt his lips, and it was with them the same; and his hair seemed coming off also. He smiled and said, "Renovabitur, ut aquila, juventus mea."
Caecilius responded, as before, with sacred words which were new to Agellius: " 'Qui sperant in Domino mutabunt fortitudinem; assument pennas, sicut aquilae,' 'Sursum corda!' you must soar, Agellius."
" 'Sursum corda!' " answered he; "I know those words. They are old friends; where have I heard them? I can't recollect; but they are in my earliest memories. Ah! but, my father, my heart is below, not above. I want to tell you all. I want to tell you about one who has enthralled my heart; who has divided it with my True Love. But I daren't speak of her, as I have said; I dare not speak, lest I be carried away. O, I blush to say it; she is a heathen! May God save her soul! Will He come to me, and not to her? 'Investigabiles viae ejus.' "
He remained silent for some time; then he said, "Father, I mean to dedicate myself to God, simply, absolutely, with His grace. I will be His, and He shall be mine. No one shall come between us. But O this weak heart!"
"Keep your good resolves till you are stronger," said the priest. "It is easy to make them on a sick-bed. You must first reckon the charges."
Agellius smiled. "I know the passage, father," he said, and he repeated the sacred words: "If any man come to Me, and hate not his father and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple."
Another time Agellius said: "The Martyrs; surely the old bishop used to say something about the Martyrs. He spoke of a second baptism, and called it a baptism of blood; and said, 'Might his soul be with the Martyrs!' Father, would not this wash out every thing, as the first?"
It was now Caecilius who smiled, and his eyes shone like the sapphires of the Holy City; and he seemed the ideal of him who, when
"Called upon to face Some awful moment to which heaven has joined Great issues, good or bad for humankind, Is happy as a lover, and attired With sudden brightness, like a man inspired."
However, he soon controlled himself, and said, "Quo ego vado, non potes me modo sequi; sequeris autem postea."
A SMALL CLOUD.
This sort of intercourse, growing in frequency and fulness, went on for about a week, till Agellius was able to walk with support, and to leave the cottage. The priest and his own slave took him between them, and seated him one evening in sight of the glorious prospect, traversed by the long shadow of the far mountains, behind which the sun was making its way. The air was filled with a thousand odours; the brilliant colouring of the western heavens was contrasted with the more sober but varied tints of the rich country. The wheat and barley harvest was over; but the beans were late, and still stood in the fields. The olives and chestnut-trees were full of fruit; the early fig was supplying the markets with food; and the numerous vineyards were patiently awaiting the suns of the next month slowly to perfect their present promise. The beautiful scene had a moral dignity, from its associations with human sustenance and well-being. The inexpressible calmness of evening was flung, like a robe, over it. Its sweetness was too much for one who had been confined to the monotony of a sick-room, and was still an invalid. He sat silent, and in tears. It was life from the dead; and he felt he had risen to a different life. And thus he came out evening after evening convalescent, gradually and surely advancing to perfect restoration of his health.
One evening he said, after feeding his eyes and thoughts for some time with the prospect, " 'Mansueti hereditabunt terram.' They alone have real enjoyment of this earth who believe in its Maker. Every breath of air seems to whisper how good He is to me."
Caecilius answered, "These sights are the shadows of that fairer Paradise which is our home, where there is no beast of prey, no venomous reptile, no sin. My child, should I not feel this more than you? Those who are shut up in crowded cities see but the work of man, which is evil. It is the compensation of my flight from Carthage that I am brought before the face of God."
"The heathen worship all this, as if God Himself," said Agellius; "how strange it seems to me that any one can forget the Creator in His works!"
Caecilius was silent for a moment, and sighed; he then said, "You have ever been a Christian, Agellius."
"And you have not, my father?" answered he; "well, you have earned that grace which came to me freely."
"Agellius," said the priest, "it comes freely to all; and is only merited when it has already prevailed. Yet I think you earned it too, else why the difference between you and your brother?"
"What do you know of us?" asked Agellius quickly.
"Not a great deal," answered he, "yet something. Three or four years back an effort was made to rekindle the Christian spirit in these parts, and to do something for the churches of the proconsulate, and to fill up the vacant sees. Nothing has come of it as yet; but steps were taken towards it: one was to obtain a recovery of the Christians who remained in them. I was sent here for that purpose, and in this way heard of you and your brother. When my life was threatened by the persecution, and I had to flee, I thought of your cottage. I was obliged to act secretly, as we did not know friends from foes."
"You were led here for other purposes towards me, my father," said Agellius; "yet you cannot have a safer refuge. There is nothing to disturb, nothing to cause suspicion here. In this harvest time numbers of strangers pour in from the mountains, of various races; there is nothing to distinguish you from one of them, and my brother is away convoying some grain to Carthage. Persecution drove you hither, but you have not been suffered to be idle, my father, you have brought home a wanderer." He added, after a pause, "I am well enough to go to confession to you now. May it be this evening?"
"It will be well," answered Caecilius; "how long I shall still be here, I cannot tell. I am expecting my trusty messenger with despatches. It is now three days since he was here. However, this I say without misgiving, we do not part for long. What do you here longer? you must come to me. I must prepare you, and send you back to Sicca, to collect and restore this scattered flock."
Agellius turned, and leaned against the priest's shoulder, and laughed. "I am laughing," he said, "not from lightness of mind, but from the depth of surprise and of joy that you should so think of me. It was a dream which once I had; but impossible! you do not think that I, weak I, shall ever be able to do more than save my own soul?"
"You will save your own soul by saving the souls of others," said Caecilius; "my child, I could tell you more things if I thought it good for you."
"But, my father, I have so weak, so soft a heart," cried Agellius; "what am I to do with myself? I am not of the temper of which heroes are made."
" 'Virtus in infirmitate perficitur,' " said the priest. "What! are you to do any thing of yourself? or are you to be simply the instrument of Another? We shall have the same termination, you and myself, but you long after me."
"Ah, father, because you will burn out so much more quickly!" said Agellius.
"I think," said Caecilius, "I see my messenger; there is some one who has made his way by stealth into the garden, or at least not by the beaten way."
There was a visitor, as Caecilius had said; however, it was not his messenger, but Juba, who approached, looking with great curiosity at Caecilius, and absorbed in the sight. Caecilius in turn regarded him steadfastly, and then said to Agellius, "It is your brother."
"What brings you here, Juba?" said the latter.
"I have been away on a distant errand," said Juba; "and find you have been ill. Is this your nurse?" he eyed him almost sternly, and added, "'Tis a Christian priest."
"Has Agellius no acquaintance but Christians?" asked Caecilius.
"Acquaintance! O surely!" answered Juba; "agreeable, innocent, sweet acquaintance of another sort; myself to begin with. My lad," he continued, "you did not rise to their price, but you did your best."
"Juba," said his brother, "if you have any business here, say it, and have done. I am not strong enough to hold any altercation with you."
"Business!" said Juba, "I can find quite business enough here, if I choose. This is a priest of the Christians. I am sure of it."
Caecilius looked at him with such calmness and benevolence, that at length Juba turned away his eyes with something of irritation. He said, "If I am a priest, I am here to claim you as one of my children."
Juba winced, but said scornfully, "You are mistaken there, father; speak to those who own you. I am a free man."
"My son," Caecilius answered, "you have been under instruction; it is your duty to go forward, not back."
"What do you know about me?" said Juba; "he has been telling."
"Your face, your manner, your voice, tells a tale; I need no information from others. I have heard of you years ago; now I see you."
"What do you see in me?" said Juba.
"I see pride in bodily shape, treading down faith and conviction," said Caecilius.
Juba neighed rather than laughed, so fierce and scornful was its expression. "What you slaves call pride," he said, "I call dignity."
"You believe in a God, Creator of heaven and earth, as certainly as I do," said the priest, "but you deliberately set yourself against Him."
Juba smiled. "I am as free," he said, "in my place, as He in His."
"You mean," answered Caecilius, "free to do wrong, and free to suffer for it."
"You may call it wrong, and call it suffering," replied Juba; "but for me, I do not call wrong what He calls wrong; and if He puts me to pain, it is because He is the stronger."
The priest stopped awhile; there was no emotion on either side. It was strange to see them so passionless, so antagonistic, like St. Michael and his adversary.
"There is that within you," said Caecilius, "which speaks as I speak. That inward voice takes the part of the Creator, and condemns you."
"He put it there," said Juba; "and I will take care to put it out."
"Then He will have justice as well as power on His side," said the priest.
"I will never fawn or crouch," said Juba; "I will be lord and master in my own soul. Every faculty shall be mine; there shall be no divided allegiance."
Caecilius paused again; he said at length, "My son, my soul tells me, or rather my Maker tells me, and your Maker, that some heavy judgment is impending over you. Do penance while you may."
"Tell your forebodings to women and children," said Juba; "I am prepared for anything. I will not be crushed."
Agellius was not strong enough to bear a part in such a scene. "Father," he said, "it is his way, but don't believe him. He has better thoughts. Away with you, Juba, you are not wanted here."
"Agellius," said the priest, "such words are not strange to me. I am not young, and have seen much of the world; and my very office and position elicits blasphemies from others from time to time. I knew a man who carried out his bad thoughts and words into act. Abjuring his Maker, he abandoned himself to the service of the evil one. He betrayed his brethren to death. He lived on year after year, and became old. He was smitten with illness; then I first saw him. I made him contemplate a picture; it was the picture of the Good Shepherd. I dwelt on the vain efforts of the poor sheep to get out of the fold; its irrational aversion to its home, and its desperate resolution to force a way through the prickly fence. It was pierced and torn with the sharp aloe; at last it lay imprisoned in its stern embrace, motionless and bleeding. Then the Shepherd, though He had to wound His own hands in the work, disengaged it, and brought it back. God has His own times; His power went along with the picture, and the man was moved. I said, 'This is His return for your enmity: He is determined to have you, cost Him what it will.' I need not go through the many things that followed, but the issue may be told in few words. He came back; he lived a life of penance at the Church's door; he received the peace of the Church in immediate prospect of the persecution, and has within the last ten days died a martyr's death."
Juba had listened as if he was constrained against his will. When the priest stopped he started, and began to speak impetuously, and unlike his ordinary tone. He placed his hands violently against his ears. "Stop!" he said, "no more. I will not betray them; no: I need not betray them;" he laughed; "the black moor does the work himself. Look," he cried, seizing the priest's arm, and pointing to a part of the forest, which happened to be to windward. "You are in their number, priest, who can foretell the destinies of others, and are blind to their own. Read there, the task is not hard, your coming fortunes."
His finger was directed to a spot where, amid the thick foliage, the gleam of a pool or of a marsh was visible. The various waters round about issuing from the gravel, or drained from the nightly damps, had run into a hollow, filled with the decaying vegetation of former years, and were languidly filtered out into a brook, more healthy than the vast reservoir itself. Its banks were bordered with a deep, broad layer of mud, a transition substance between the rich vegetable matter which it once had been, and the multitudinous world of insect life which it was becoming. A cloud or mist at this time was hanging over it, high in air. A harsh and shrill sound, a whizzing or a chirping, proceeded from that cloud to the ear of the attentive listener. What these indications portended was plain. "There," said Juba, "is what will tell more against you than imperial edict, informer, or proconsular apparitor; and no work of mine."
He turned down the bank and disappeared. Agellius and his guest looked at each other in dismay. "It is the locusts," they whispered to each other, as they went back into the cottage.
The plague of locusts, one of the most awful visitations to which the countries included in the Roman empire were exposed, extended from the Atlantic to Ethiopia, from Arabia to India, and from the Nile and Red Sea to Greece and the north of Asia Minor. Instances are recorded in history of clouds of the devastating insect crossing the Black Sea to Poland, and the Mediterranean to Lombardy. It is as numerous in its species as it is wide in its range of territory. Brood follows brood, with a sort of family likeness, yet with distinct attributes, as we read in the prophets of the Old Testament, from whom Bochart tells us it is possible to enumerate as many as ten kinds. It wakens into existence and activity as early as the month of March; but instances are not wanting, as in our present history, of its appearance as late as June. Even one flight comprises myriads upon myriads passing imagination, to which the drops of rain or the sands of the sea are the only fit comparison; and hence it is almost a proverbial mode of expression in the East (as may be illustrated by the sacred pages to which we just now referred), by way of describing a vast invading army, to liken it to the locusts. So dense are they, when upon the wing, that it is no exaggeration to say that they hide the sun, from which circumstance indeed their name in Arabic is derived. And so ubiquitous are they when they have alighted on the earth, that they simply cover or clothe its surface.
This last characteristic is stated in the sacred account of the plagues of Egypt, where their faculty of devastation is also mentioned. The corrupting fly and the bruising and prostrating hail had preceded them in that series of visitations, but they came to do the work of ruin more thoroughly. For not only the crops and fruits, but the foliage of the forest itself, nay, the small twigs and the bark of the trees are the victims of their curious and energetic rapacity. They have been known even to gnaw the door-posts of the houses. Nor do they execute their task in so slovenly a way, that, as they have succeeded other plagues so they may have successors themselves. They take pains to spoil what they leave. Like the Harpies, they smear every thing that they touch with a miserable slime, which has the effect of a virus in corroding, or, as some say, in scorching and burning it. And then, as if all this were little, when they can do nothing else, they die;—as if out of sheer malevolence to man, for the poisonous elements of their nature are then let loose, and dispersed abroad, and create a pestilence; and they manage to destroy many more by their death than in their life.
Such are the locusts,—whose existence the ancient heretics brought forward as their palmary proof that there was an evil creator, and of whom an Arabian writer shows his national horror, when he says that they have the head of a horse, the eyes of an elephant, the neck of a bull, the horns of a stag, the breast of a lion, the belly of a scorpion, the wings of an eagle, the legs of a camel, the feet of an ostrich, and the tail of a serpent.
And now they are rushing upon a considerable tract of that beautiful region of which we have spoken with such admiration. The swarm to which Juba pointed grew and grew till it became a compact body, as much as a furlong square; yet it was but the vanguard of a series of similar hosts, formed one after another out of the hot mould or sand, rising into the air like clouds, enlarging into a dusky canopy, and then discharged against the fruitful plain. At length the huge innumerous mass was put into motion, and began its career, darkening the face of day. As became an instrument of divine power, it seemed to have no volition of its own; it was set off, it drifted, with the wind, and thus made northwards, straight for Sicca. Thus they advanced, host after host, for a time wafted on the air, and gradually declining to the earth, while fresh broods were carried over the first, and neared the earth, after a longer flight, in their turn. For twelve miles did they extend from front to rear, and their whizzing and hissing could be heard for six miles on every side of them. The bright sun, though hidden by them, illumined their bodies, and was reflected from their quivering wings; and as they heavily fell earthward, they seemed like the innumerable flakes of a yellow-coloured snow. And like snow did they descend, a living carpet, or rather pall, upon fields, crops, gardens, copses, groves, orchards, vineyards, olive woods, orangeries, palm plantations, and the deep forests, sparing nothing within their reach, and where there was nothing to devour, lying helpless in drifts, or crawling forward obstinately, as they best might, with the hope of prey. They could spare their hundred thousand soldiers twice or thrice over, and not miss them; their masses filled the bottoms of the ravines and hollow ways, impeding the traveller as he rode forward on his journey, and trampled by thousands under his horse-hoofs. In vain was all this overthrow and waste by the road-side; in vain their loss in river, pool, and watercourse. The poor peasants hastily dug pits and trenches as their enemy came on; in vain they filled them from the wells or with lighted stubble. Heavily and thickly did the locusts fall: they were lavish of their lives; they choked the flame and the water, which destroyed them the while, and the vast living hostile armament still moved on.
They moved right on like soldiers in their ranks, stopping at nothing, and straggling for nothing: they carried a broad furrow or wheal all across the country, black and loathsome, while it was as green and smiling on each side of them and in front, as it had been before they came. Before them, in the language of prophets, was a paradise; and behind them a desert. They are daunted by nothing; they surmount walls and hedges, and enter enclosed gardens or inhabited houses. A rare and experimental vineyard has been planted in a sheltered grove. The high winds of Africa will not commonly allow the light trellis or the slim pole; but here the lofty poplar of Campania has been possible, on which the vine plant mounts so many yards into the air, that the poor grape-gatherers bargain for a funeral pile and a tomb as one of the conditions of their engagement. The locusts have done what the winds and lightning could not do, and the whole promise of the vintage, leaves and all, is gone, and the slender stems are left bare. There is another yard, less uncommon, but still tended with more than common care; each plant is kept within due bounds by a circular trench round it, and by upright canes on which it is to trail; in an hour the solicitude and long toil of the vine-dresser are lost, and his pride humbled. There is a smiling farm; another sort of vine, of remarkable character, is found against the farm-house. This vine springs from one root, and has clothed and matted with its many branches the four walls; the whole of it is covered thick with long clusters, which another month will ripen:—on every grape and leaf there is a locust. Into the dry caves and pits, carefully strewed with straw, the harvest-men have (safely, as they thought just now) been lodging the far-famed African wheat. One grain or root shoots up into ten, twenty, fifty, eighty, nay, three or four hundred stalks: sometimes the stalks have two ears apiece, and these again shoot into a number of lesser ones. These stores are intended for the Roman populace, but the locusts have been beforehand with them. The small patches of ground belonging to the poor peasants up and down the country, for raising the turnips, garlic, barley, watermelons, on which they live, are the prey of these glutton invaders as much as the choicest vines and olives. Nor have they any reverence for the villa of the civic decurion or the Roman official. The neatly arranged kitchen-garden, with its cherries, plums, peaches, and apricots, is a waste; as the slaves sit round, in the kitchen in the first court, at their coarse evening meal, the room is filled with the invading force, and news comes to them that the enemy has fallen upon the apples and pears in the basement, and is at the same time plundering and sacking the preserves of quince and pomegranate, and revelling in the jars of precious oil of Cyprus and Mendes in the store-rooms.
They come up to the walls of Sicca, and are flung against them into the ditch. Not a moment's hesitation or delay; they recover their footing, they climb up the wood or stucco, they surmount the parapet, or they have entered in at the windows, filling the apartments, and the most private and luxurious chambers, not one or two, like stragglers at forage or rioters after a victory, but in order of battle, and with the array of an army. Choice plants or flowers about the impluvia and xysti, for ornament or refreshment, myrtles, oranges, pomegranates, the rose and the carnation, have disappeared. They dim the bright marbles of the walls and the gilding of the ceilings. They enter the triclinium in the midst of the banquet; they crawl over the viands and spoil what they do not devour. Unrelaxed by success and by enjoyment, onward they go; a secret mysterious instinct keeps them together, as if they had a king over them. They move along the floor in so strange an order that they seem to be a tesselated pavement themselves, and to be the artificial embellishment of the place; so true are their lines, and so perfect is the pattern they describe. Onward they go, to the market, to the temple sacrifices, to the baker's stores, to the cook-shops, to the confectioner's, to the druggists; nothing comes amiss to them; wherever man has aught to eat or drink, there are they, reckless of death, strong of appetite, certain of conquest.
They have passed on; the men of Sicca sadly congratulate themselves, and begin to look about them, and to sum up their losses. Being the proprietors of the neighbouring districts, or the purchasers of its produce, they lament over the devastation, not because the fair country is disfigured, but because income is becoming scanty, and prices are becoming high. How is a population of many thousands to be fed? where is the grain, where the melons, the figs, the dates, the gourds, the beans, the grapes, to sustain and solace the multitudes in their lanes, caverns, and garrets? This is another weighty consideration for the class well-to-do in the world. The taxes, too, and contributions, the capitation tax, the percentage upon corn, the various articles of revenues due to Rome, how are they to be paid? How are cattle to be provided for the sacrifices and for the tables of the wealthy? One-half, at least, of the supply of Sicca is cut off. No longer slaves are seen coming into the city from the country in troops with their baskets on their shoulders, or beating forward the horse, or mule, or ox, overladen with its burden, or driving in the dangerous cow, or the unresisting sheep. The animation of the place is gone; a gloom hangs over the Forum; and if its frequenters are still merry there is something of sullenness and recklessness in their mirth. The gods have given the city up; something or other has angered them. Locusts, indeed, are no uncommon visitation, but at an earlier season. Perhaps some temple has been polluted, or some unholy rite practised, or some secret conspiracy has spread.
Another and a still worse calamity. The invaders, as we have already intimated, could be more terrible still in their overthrow than in their ravages. The inhabitants of the country had attempted, where they could, to destroy them by fire and water. It would seem as if the malignant animals had resolved that the sufferers should have the benefit of this policy to the full; for they had not got more than twenty miles beyond Sicca when they suddenly sickened and died. Thus after they had done all the mischief they could by their living, when they had made their foul maws the grave of every living thing, then they died themselves, and made the desolated land their own grave. They took from it its hundred forms and varieties of beautiful life, and left it their own fetid and poisonous carcases in payment. It was a sudden catastrophe; they seemed making for the Mediterranean, as if, like other great conquerors, they had other worlds to subdue beyond it; but whether they were overgorged, or struck by some atmospheric change, or that their time was come and they paid the debt of nature, so it was that suddenly they fell, and their glory came to nought, and all was vanity to them as to others, and "their stench rose up, and their corruption rose up, because they had done proudly."
The hideous swarms lay dead in the moist steaming underwoods, in the green swamps, in the sheltered valleys, in the ditches and furrows of the fields, amid the monuments of their own prowess, the ruined crops and the dishonoured vineyards. A poisonous element, issuing from their remains, mingled with the atmosphere, and corrupted it. The dismayed peasant found that a pestilence had begun; a new visitation, not confined to the territory which the enemy had made its own, but extending far and wide, as the atmosphere extends, in all directions. Their daily toil, no longer claimed by the produce of the earth, which has ceased to exist, is now devoted to the object of ridding themselves of the deadly legacy which they have received in its stead. In vain; it is their last toil; they are digging pits, they are raising piles, for their own corpses, as well as for the bodies of their enemies. Invader and victim lie in the same grave, burn in the same heap; they sicken while they work, and the pestilence spreads. A new invasion is menacing Sicca, in the shape of companies of peasants and slaves, (the panic having broken the bonds of discipline,) with their employers and overseers, nay the farmers themselves and proprietors, rushing thither from famine and infection as to a place of safety. The inhabitants of the city are as frightened as they, and more energetic. They determine to keep them at a distance; the gates are closed; a strict cordon is drawn; however, by the continued pressure, numbers contrive to make an entrance, as water into a vessel, or light through the closed shutters, and anyhow the air cannot be put into quarantine; so the pestilence has the better of it, and at last appears in the alleys, and in the cellars of Sicca.
WORSE AND WORSE.
"O wretched minds of men! O blind hearts!" truly cries out a great heathen poet, but on grounds far other than the true ones. The true ground of such a lamentation is, that men do not interpret the signs of the times and of the world as He intends who has placed these signs in the heavens; that when Mane, Thecel, Phares, is written upon the ethereal wall, they have no inward faculty to read them withal; and that when they go elsewhere for one learned in tongues, instead of taking Daniel, who is used to converse with Angels, they rely on Magi or Chaldeans, who know only the languages of earth. So it was with the miserable population of Sicca now; half famished, seized with a pestilence which was sure to rage before it assuaged, perplexed and oppressed by the recoil upon them of the population whom they had from time to time sent out into the surrounding territory, or from whom they had supplied their markets, they never fancied that the real cause of the visitation which we have been describing was their own iniquity in their Maker's sight, that His arm inflicted it, and that its natural and direct interpretation was, "Do penance, and be converted." On the contrary, they looked only at their own vain idols, and at the vain rites which these idols demanded, and they thought there was no surer escape from their misery than by upholding a lie, and putting down all who revolted from it; and thus the visitation which was sent to do them good turned through their wilful blindness to their greater condemnation.
The Forum, which at all times was the resort of idleness and dissipation, now became more and more the haunt of famine and sickness, of robust frames without work, of slavish natures virtually and for the time emancipated and uncontrolled, of youth and passion houseless and shelterless. In groups and companies, in and out of the porticoes, on the steps of the temples, and about the booths and stalls of the market, a multitude grows day by day, from the town and from the country, and of all the various races which town and country contain. The civil magistracy and the civil force to which the peace of the city was committed, were not equal to such an emergency as the present; and the milites stationarii, a sort of garrison who represented the Roman power, though they were ready to act against either magistrates or mob impartially, had no tenderness for either, when in collision with each other. Indeed the bonds of society were broken, and every political element was at war with every other, in a case of such great common calamity, when every one was angry with every one else, for want of some clearly defined object against which the common anger might be discharged with unanimity.
They had almost given over sacrificing and consulting the flame or the entrails; for no reversal or respite of their sufferings had followed their most assiduous acts of deprecation. Moreover the omens were generally considered by the priests to have been unpropitious or adverse. A sheep had been discovered to have, instead of a liver, something very like a gizzard; a sow had chewed and swallowed the flowers with which it had been embellished for the sacrifice; and a calf, after receiving the fatal blow, instead of lying down and dying, dashed into the temple, dripping blood upon the pavement as it went, and at last fell and expired just before the sacred adytum. In despair the people took to fortune-telling and its attendant arts. Old crones were found in plenty with their strange rites, the stranger the more welcome. Trenches were dug in by-places for sacrifices to the infernal gods; amulets, rings, counters, tablets, pebbles, nails, bones, feathers, Ephesian or Egyptian legends, were in request, and raised the hopes, or beguiled and occupied the thoughts, of those who else would have been directly dwelling on their sufferings, present or in prospect.
Others were occupied, whether they would or no, with diversions fiercer and more earnest. There were continual altercations between farmers, small proprietors of land, government and city officials,—altercations so manifold and violent, that, even were there no hubbub of voices, and no incoherence of wrath and fear to complicate them, we should despair of setting them before the reader. An officer from the camp was expostulating with one of the municipal authorities that no corn had been sent thither for the last six or seven days, and the functionary attacked had thrown the blame on the farmer, and he in turn had protested that he could not get cattle to bring the waggons into Sicca; those which he had set out with had died of exhaustion on the journey. A clerk, as we now speak, in the Officium of the society of publicans or collectors of annona was threatening a number of small tenants with ejection for not sending in their rated portion of corn for the Roman people:—the Officium of the Notarius, or assistant prefect, had written up to Sicca from Carthage in violent terms; and come it must, though the locusts had eaten up every stack and granary. A number of half-starved peasants had been summoned for payment of their taxes, and in spite of their ignorance of Latin, they had been made to understand that death was the stern penalty of neglecting to bring the coin. They, on the other hand, by their fierce doggedness of manner, seemed to signify by way of answer that death was not a penalty, unless life was a boon.
The villicus of one of the decurions, who had an estate in the neighbourhood, was laying his miseries before the man of business of his employer. "What are we to do?" he said. "Half the gang of slaves is dead, and the other half is so feeble, that I can't get through the work of the month. We ought to be sheep-shearing; you have no chance of wool. We ought to be swarming the bees, pressing the honey, boiling and purifying the wax. We ought to be plucking the white leaves of the camomile, and steeping the golden flowers in oil. We ought to be gathering the wild grapes, sifting off the flowers, and preserving the residue in honey. We ought to be sowing brassicum, parsley, and coriander against next spring. We ought to be cheese-making. We ought to be baking white and red bricks and tiles in the sun; we have no hands for the purpose. The villicus is not to blame, but the anger of the gods." The country employe of the procurator of the imperial Baphia protests that the insect cannot be found from which the dye is extracted; and argues that the locusts must have devoured them, or the plant on which they feed, or that they have been carried off by the pestilence. Here is old Corbulus in agonies for his febrifuge, and a slave of his is in high words with the market-carrier, who tells him that Mago, who supplied it, is dead of a worse fever than his master's. "The rogue," cried the slave, "my master has contracted with him for the year, and has paid him the money in advance." A jeering and mocking from the crowd assailed the unfortunate domestic, who so truly foreboded that his return without the medicine would be the signal for his summary committal to the pistrinum. "Let old Corbulus follow Mago in his passage to perdition," said one of the rabble; "let him take his physic with Pluto, and leave us the bread and wine on which he's grown gouty." "Bread, bread!" was the response elicited by this denunciation, and it spread into a circle larger than that of which the slave and the carrier were part.
"Wine and bread, Ceres and Liber!" cried a young legionary, who, after a night of revelry, was emerging still half-intoxicated from one of the low wine-shops in the vaults which formed the basement of the Thermae or hot baths; "make way there, you filthy slime of the earth, you half-kneaded, half-fermented Africans, who never yet have quite been men, but have ever smelt strong of the baboon, who are three quarters must, and two vinegar, and a fifth water,—as I was saying, you are like bad liquor, and the sight of you disagrees with the stomach and affects the eyes."
The crowd looked sullenly, and without wincing, at his shield, which was the only portion of his military accoutrements which he had preserved after his carouse. The white surface, with a silver boss in the centre, surrounded by first a white and then a red circle, and the purple border, showed that he belonged to the Tertiani or third Italic Legion, which had been stationed in Africa since the time of Augustus. "Vile double-tongued mongrels," he continued, "what are you fit for but to gather the fruits of the earth for your owners and lords, 'Romanos dominos rerum'? And if there are now no fruits to reap, why your service is gone. Go home and die, and drown yourselves, for what are you fit for now, except to take your dead corpses away from the nostrils of a Roman, the cream of humankind? Ye base-born apes, that's why you catch the pestilence, because our blood mantles and foams in our ruddy veins like new milk in the wine cup, which is too strong for this clime, and my blood is up, and I drink a full measure of it to great Rome; for what does old Horace say, but 'Nunc est bibendum'? and so get out of my way."
To a good part of the multitude, both peasantry and town rabble, Latin was unintelligible; but they all understood vocabulary and syntax and logic, as soon as he drew his knuckles across one fellow's face who refused to move from his path, and as soon as his insult was returned by the latter with a thrust of the dagger. A rush was made upon him, on which he made a face at them, shook his fist, and leaping on one side, ran with great swiftness to an open space in advance. From his quarrelsome humour rather than from fear, he raised a cry of alarm; on which two or three fellow-soldiers made their appearance from similar dens of intoxication and vice, and came up to the rescue. The mob assailed them with stones, and the cream of human nature was likely to be roughly churned, when, seeing matters were becoming serious, they suddenly took to their heels, and got into the Temple of Esculapius on one side of the Forum. The mob followed, the ministers of the sacred place attempted to shut the gates, a scuffle ensued, and a riot was in progress. Self-preservation is the first law of man; trembling for the safety of his noble buildings, and considering that it was a bread riot, as it really was, the priest of the god came forward, rebuked the mob for its impiety, and showed the absurdity of supposing that there were loaves in his enclosure to satisfy its wants; but he reminded them that there was a baker's shop at the other end of the Forum, which was one of the most considerable in Sicca.