A slight impulse determines the movements of an excited multitude. Off they went to the quarter in question, where certainly there was the very large and handsome store of a substantial dealer in grain of all sorts, and in other produce. The shop, however, seemed on this occasion to be but poorly furnished; for the baker was a prudent man, and feared a display of provisions which would be an invitation to a hungry multitude. The assailants, however, were not to be baffled; some one cried out that the man had withdrawn his corn from the market for his own ends, and that great stores were accumulated within. They avail themselves of the hint; they pour in through the open front, the baker escapes as he may, his mills and ovens are smashed, the house is ransacked; whatever is found is seized, thrown about, wasted, eaten, as the case may be; and the mob gains strength and appetite for fresh exploits.
However, the rioters have no definite plan of action yet. Some of them have penetrated into the stable behind the house in search of corn. They find the mill-ass which ground for the baker, and bring it out. It is a beast of more than ordinary pretensions, such as you would not often see in a mill, showing both the wealth of the owner and the flourishing condition of his trade. The asses of Africa are finer than those in the north; but this is fine for an African. One fellow mounts upon it, and sets off with the world before him, like a knight-errant, seeking an adventure, the rabble at his tail acting as squire. He begins the circuit of the Forum, and picks up its riff-raff as he goes along—here some rascal boys, there some drunken women, here again a number of half-brutalized country slaves and peasants. Partly out of curiosity, partly from idleness, from ill temper, from hope of spoil, from a vague desire to be doing something or other, every one who has nothing to lose by the adventure crowds around and behind him. And on the contrary, as he advances, and the noise and commotion increase, every one who has a position of any sort, the confidential vernae of great families, farmers, shopkeepers, men of business, officials, vanish from the scene of action without delay.
"Africa, Africa!" is now the cry; the signal in that country, as an ancient writer tells us, that the parties raising it have something new in hand, and have a mind to do it.
Suddenly, as they march on, a low and awful growl is heard. It comes from the booth of a servant of the imperial court. He is employed as a transporter of wild beasts from the interior to the coast, where they are shipped for Rome; and he has charge at present of a noble lion, who is sitting majestically, looking through the bars of his cage at the rabble, who now begin to look at him. In demeanour and in mental endowments he has the advantage of them. It was at this moment, while they were closing, hustling each other, staring at the beast, and hoping to provoke him, that a shrill voice cried out, "Christianos ad leones, Christianos ad leones!" the Christians to the lions! A sudden and dead silence ensued, as if the words had struck the breath out of the promiscuous throng. An interval passed; and then the same voice was heard again, "Christianos ad leones!" This time the whole Forum took it up from one end to the other. The fate of the day, the direction of the movement, was decided; a distinct object was obtained, and the only wonder was that the multitude had been so long to seek and so slow to find so obvious a cause of their misfortunes, so adequate a subject of their vengeance. "Christianos ad leones!" was shouted out by town and country, priests and people. "Long live the emperor! long live Decius! he told us this long ago. There's the edict; it never has been obeyed. Death to the magistrates! To the Christians! to the Christians! Up with great Jove, down with the atheists!"
They were commencing their march when the ass caught their eye. "The Christians' god!" they shouted out; "the god of the Christians!" Their first impulse was to give the poor beast to the lion, their next to sacrifice it, but they did not know to whom. Then they said they would make the Christians worship it; and dressing it up in tawdry finery, they retained it at the head of their procession.
CHRISTIANOS AD LEONES.
By the time that they had got round again to the unlucky baker's, the mob had been swollen to a size which even the area of the Forum would not contain, and it filled the adjacent streets. And by the same time it had come home to its leaders, and, indeed, to every one who used his reason at all, that it was very far from certain that there were any Christians in Sicca, and if so, still very far from easy to say where they were. And the difficulty was of so practical a character as to keep them inactive for the space of several hours. Meanwhile their passions were excited to the boiling point by the very presence of the difficulty, as men go mad of thirst when water is denied them. At length, after a long season of such violent commotion, such restless pain, such curses, shrieks, and blasphemies, such bootless gesticulations, such aimless contests with each other, that they seemed to be already inmates of the prison beneath, they set off in a blind way to make the circuit of the city as before they had paraded round the Forum, still in the knight-errant line, looking out for what might turn up where they were sure of nothing, and relieving the intense irritation of their passions by locomotion, if nothing more substantial was offered to them.
It was an awful day for the respectable inhabitants of the place; worse than anything that even the most timid of them had anticipated, when they had showed their jealousy of a popular movement against the proscribed religion; for the stimulus of famine and pestilence was added to hatred of Christianity, in that unreasoning multitude. The magistrates shut themselves up in dismay; the small body of Roman soldiery reserved their strength for the defence of themselves; and the poor wretches, not a few, who had fallen from the faith, and offered sacrifice, hung out from their doors sinful heathen symbols, to avert a storm against which apostasy was no sufficient safeguard. In this conduct the Gnostics and other sectaries imitated them, while the Tertullianists took a more manly part, from principle or pride.
It would require the brazen voice which Homer speaks of, or the magic pen of Sir Walter, to catalogue and to picture, as far as it is lawful to do either, the figures and groups of that most miserable procession. As it went forward it gained a variety and strength, which the circuit of the Forum could not furnish. The more respectable religious establishments shut their gates, and would have nothing to do with it. The priests of Jupiter, the educational establishments of the Temple of Mercury, the Temple of the Genius of Rome near the Capitol, the hierophants of Isis, the Minerva, the Juno, the Esculapius, viewed the popular rising with terror and disgust; but these were not the popular worships. The vast homestead of Astarte, which in the number and vowed profligacy of its inhabitants rivalled the vaults upon the Forum; the old rites, many and diversified, if separately obscure, which came from Punic times; the new importations from Syria and Phrygia, and a number of other haunts and schools of depravity and crime, did their part in swelling or giving character to the concourse. The hungry and idle rabble, the filthy beggars who fed on the offal of the sacrifices, the drivers and slaughterers of the beasts sacrificed; the tumblers and mountebanks who amused the gaping market-people; dancers, singers, pipers from low taverns and drinking-houses; infamous creatures, young and old, men and boys, half naked and not half sober; brutal blacks, the aboriginal race of the Atlas, with their appetites written on their skulls and features; Canaanites, as they called themselves, from the coast; the wild beast-keepers from the amphitheatre; troops of labourers from the fields, to whom the epidemic was a time of Saturnalia; and the degraded company, alas! how numerous and how pitiable, who took their nightly stand in long succession at the doors of their several cells in the deep galleries under the Thermae; all these, and many others, had their part and place in the procession. There you might see the devilish emblems of idolatry borne aloft by wretches from the great Punic Temple, while frantic forms, ragged and famished, wasted and shameless, leapt and pranced around them. There too was a choir of Bacchanals, ready at a moment with songs as noisy as they were unutterable. And there was the priest of the Punic Saturn, the child-devourer, a sort of Moloch, to whom the martyrdom of Christians was a sacred rite; he and all his attendants in fiery-coloured garments, as became a sanguinary religion. And there, moreover, was a band of fanatics, devotees of Cybele or of the Syrian goddess, if indeed the two rites were distinct. They were bedizened with ribbons and rags of various colours, and smeared over with paint. They had long hair like women, and turbans on their heads. They pushed their way to the head of the procession, being quite worthy of the post of honour, and, seizing the baker's ass, put their goddess on the back of it. Some of them were playing the fife, others clashing cymbals, others danced, others yelled, others rolled their heads, and others flogged themselves. Such was the character of the frenzied host, which progressed slowly through the streets, while every now and then, when there was an interval in the hubbub, the words "Christianos ad leones" were thundered out by some ruffian voice, and a thousand others fiercely responded.
Still no Christian was forthcoming; and it was plain that the rage of the multitude must be discharged in other quarters, if the difficulty continued in satisfying it. At length some one recollected the site of the Christian chapel, when it existed; thither went the multitude, and effected an entrance without delay. It had long been turned to other purposes, and was now a store of casks and leather bottles. The miserable sacristan had long given up any practical observance of his faith, and remained on the spot a keeper of the premises for the trader who owned them. They found him, and dragged him into the street, and brought him forward to the ass, and to the idol on its back, and bade him worship the one and the other. The poor wretch obeyed; he worshipped the ass, he worshipped the idol, and he worshipped the genius of the emperor; but his persecutors wanted blood; they would not submit to be cheated of their draught; so when they had made him do whatever they exacted, they flung him under the feet of the multitude, who, as they passed on, soon trod all life and breath out of him, and sent him to the powers below, to whom he had just before been making his profession.
Their next adventure was with a Tertullianist, who stationed himself at his shop-door, displayed the sign of the cross, and walking leisurely forward, seized the idol on the ass's back, broke it over his knee, and flung the portions into the crowd. For a few minutes they stared on him with astonishment, then some women fell upon him with their nails and teeth, and tore the poor fanatic till he fell bleeding and lifeless upon the ground.
In the higher and better part of the city, which they now approached, lived the widow of a Duumvir, who in his day had made a bold profession of Christianity. The well connected lady was a Christian also, and was sheltered by her great friends from the persecution. She was bringing up a family in great privacy, and with straitened means, and with as much religious strictness as was possible under the circumstances of the place. She kept them from all bad sights and bad company, was careful as to the character of the slaves she placed about them, and taught them all she knew of her religion, which was quite sufficient for their salvation. They had all been baptized, some by herself in default of the proper minister, and, as far as they could show at their tender ages, which lay between thirteen and seven, the three girls and the two boys were advancing in the love of truth and sanctity. Her husband, some years back, when presiding in the Forum, had punished with just severity an act of ungrateful fraud; and the perpetrator had always cherished a malignant hatred of him and his. The moment of gratifying it had now arrived, and he pointed out to the infuriated rabble the secluded mansion where the Christian household dwelt. He could not offer to them a more acceptable service, and the lady's modest apartment was soon swarming with enemies of her God and His followers. In spite of her heartrending cries and supplications, her children were seized, and when the youngest boy clung to her, the mother was thrown senseless upon the pavement. The whole five were carried off in triumph; it was the greatest success of the day. There was some hesitation how to dispose of them; at last the girls were handed over to the priestesses of Astarte, and the boys to the loathsome votaries of Cybele.
Revenge upon Christians was the motive principle of the riot; but the prospect of plunder stimulated numbers, and here Christians could not minister to their desires. They began the day by the attack upon the provision-shop, and now they had reached the aristocratic quarter of the city, and they gazed with envy and cupidity at the noble mansions which occupied it. They began to shout out, "Bread, bread!" while they uttered threats against the Christians; they violently beat at the closed gates, and looked about for means of scaling the high walls which defended them in front. The cravings of famished men soon take form and organization; they began to ask relief from house to house. Nothing came amiss; and loaves, figs, grapes, wine, found their way into the hands and mouths of those who were the least exhausted and the least enfeebled. A second line of fierce supplicants succeeded to the first; and it was plain that, unless some diversion were effected, the respectable quarter of Sicca had found a worse enemy than the locust.
The houses of the government susceptor, or tax collector, of the tabularius or registrar, of the defensor or city counsel, and one or two others, had already been the scene of collisions between the domestic slaves and the multitude, when a demand was made upon the household of another of the Curia, who held the office of Flamen Dialis. He was a wealthy, easy-going man, generally popular, with no appetite for persecution at all, but still no desire to be persecuted. He had more than tolerated the Christians, and had at this time a Christian among his slaves. This was a Greek, a splendid cook and perfumer, and he would not have lost him for a large sum of money. However, life and limb were nearer to him even than his dinner, and a Jonah must be cast overboard to save the ship. In trepidation, yet with greater satisfaction, his fellow-domestics thrust the poor helpless man out of the house, and secured the door behind him. He was a man of middle age, of a grave aspect, and he looked silently and calmly upon the infuriated and yelling multitude, who were swarming up the hill about him, and swelling the number of his persecutors. What had been his prospects, had he remained in his earthly master's service? his fill of meat and drink while he was strong and skilful, the stocks or scourge if he ever failed to please him, and the old age and death of the worn-out hack who once has caracoled in the procession, or snorted at the coming fight. What are his prospects now? a moment's agony, a martyr's death, and the everlasting beatific vision of Him for whom he died. The multitude cry out, "To the ass or to the lion!" worship the ass, or fight the lion. He was dragged to the ass's head and commanded to kneel down before the irrational beast. In the course of a minute he had lifted up his eyes to heaven, had signed himself with the cross, had confessed his Saviour, and had been torn to pieces by the multitude. They anticipated the lion of the amphitheatre.
A lull followed, sure to be succeeded by a fresh storm. Not every household had a Christian cook to make a victim of. Plunder, riot, and outrage were becoming the order of the day; successive messengers were sent up in breathless haste to the capitol and the camp for aid, but the Romans returned for answer that they had enough to do in defending the government buildings and offices. They suggested measures, however, for putting the mob on a false scent, or involving them in some difficult or tedious enterprise, which would give the authorities time for deliberation, and for taking the rioters at disadvantage. If the magistrates could get them out of the city, it would be a great point; they could then shut the gates upon them, and deal with them as they would. In that case, too, the insurgents would straggle, and divide, and then they might be disposed of in detail. They were showing symptoms of returning fury, when a voice suddenly cried out, "Agellius the Christian! Agellius the sorcerer! Agellius to the lions! To the farm of Varius—to the cottage of Agellius—to the south-west gate!" A sudden yell burst forth from the vast multitude when the voice ceased. The impulse had been given as at the first; the tide of human beings ebbed and retreated, and, licking the base of the hill, rushed vehemently on one side, and roared like a torrent towards the south-west. Juba, thy prophecy is soon to be fulfilled! The locusts will bring more harm on thy brother's home than imperial edict or local magistrate. The decline of day will hardly prevent the visitation.
A change had passed over the fair face of Nature, as seen from the cottage of Agellius, since that evening on which our story opened; and it is so painful to contemplate waste, decay, and disappointment, that we mean to say little about it. There was the same cloudless sky as then; and the sun travelled in its silent and certain course, with even a more intense desire than then to ripen grain and fruit for the use of man; but its occupation was gone, for fruit and grain were not, nor man to collect and to enjoy them. A dark broad shadow passed across the beautiful prospect and disfigured it. When you looked more closely, it was as if a fire had burned up the whole surface included under that shadow, and had stripped the earth of its clothing. Nothing had escaped; not a head of khennah, not a rose or carnation, not an orange or an orange blossom, not a boccone, not a cluster of unripe grapes, not a berry of the olive, not a blade of grass. Gardens, meadows, vineyards, orchards, copses, instead of rejoicing in the rich variety of hue which lately was their characteristic, were now reduced to one dreary cinder-colour. The smoke of fires was actually rising from many points, where the spoilt and poisonous vegetation was burning in heaps, or the countless corpses of the invading foe, or of the cattle, or of the human beings whom the pestilence had carried off. The most furious inroad of savage hordes, of Vandals, or of Saracens, who were destined at successive eras to come and waste that country, could not have spread such thorough desolation. The slaves of the farm of Varius were sorrowfully turning to a new employment, that of clearing away the wreck and disappointment of the bright spring from flower-bed, vineyard, and field.
It was on the forenoon of the eventful day whose course we have been tracing in the preceding Chapters, that a sharp-looking boy presented himself to Agellius, who was directing his labourers in their work. "I am come from Jucundus," he said; "he has instant need of you. You are to go with me, and by my way; and this is the proof I tell you truth. He sends you this note, and wishes you in a bad time the best gifts of Bacchus and Ceres."
Agellius took the tablets, and went with them across the road to the place where Caecilius was at work, in appearance a slave. The letter ran thus:—"Jucundus to Agellius. I trust you are well enough to move; you are not safe for many days in your cottage; there is a rising this morning against the Christians, and you may be visited. Unless you are ambitious of Styx and Tartarus, follow the boy without questioning." Agellius showed the letter to the priest.
"We are no longer safe here, my father," he said; "whither shall we go? Let us go together. Can you take me to Carthage?"
"Carthage is quite as dangerous," answered Caecilius, "and Sicca is more central. We can but leap into the sea at Carthage; here there are many lines to retreat upon. I am known there, I am not known here. Here, too, I hear all that goes on through the proconsulate and Numidia."
"But what can we do?" asked Agellius; "here we cannot remain, and you at least cannot venture into the city. Somewhither we must go, and where is that?"
The priest thought. "We must separate," he said. The tears came into Agellius's eyes.
"Though I am a stranger," continued Caecilius, "I know more of the neighbourhood of Sicca than you who are a native. There is a famous Christian retreat on the north of the city, and by this time, I doubt not, or rather I know, it is full of refugees. The fury of the enemy is extending on all hands, and our brethren, from as far as Cirtha round to Curubis, are falling back upon it. The only difficulty is how to get round to it without going through Sicca."
"Let us go together," said Agellius.
Caecilius showed signs of perplexity, and his mind retired into itself. He seemed for the moment to be simply absent from the scene about him, but soon his intelligence returned. "No," he said, "we must separate,—for the time; it will not be for long. That is, I suppose, your uncle will take good care of you, and he has influence. We are safest just now when most independent of each other. It is only for a while. We shall meet again soon; I tell you so. Did we keep together just now, it would be the worse for each of us. You go with the boy; I will go off to the place I mentioned."
"O my father," said the youth, "how will you get there? What shall I suffer from my fears about you?"
"Fear not," answered Caecilius, "mind, I tell you so. It will be a trying time, but my hour is not yet come. I am good for years yet; so are you, for many more than mine. He will protect and rescue me, though I know not how. Go, leave me to myself, Agellius!"
"O my father, my only stay upon earth, whom God sent me in my extreme need, to whom I owe myself, must I then quit you; must a layman desert a priest; the young the old?... Ah! it is I really, not you, who am without protection. Angels surround you, father; but I am a poor wanderer. Give me your blessing that evil may not touch me. I go."
"Do not kneel," said the priest; "they will see you. Stop, I have got to tell you how and where to find me." He then proceeded to give him the necessary instructions. "Walk out," he said, "along the road to Thibursicumbur to the third milestone, you will come to a country road; pursue it; walk a thousand steps; then again for the space of seven paternosters; and then speak to the man upon your right hand. And now away with you, God speed you, we shall not long be parted," and he made the sign of the cross over him.
"That old chap gives himself airs," said the boy, when Agellius joined him; "what may he be? one of your slaves, Agellius?"
"You're a pert boy," answered he, "for asking me the question."
"They say the Christians brought the locusts," said Firmian, "by their enchantments; and there's a jolly row beginning in the Forum just now. The report goes that you are a Christian."
"That's because your people have nothing better to do than talk against their neighbours."
"Because you are so soft, rather," said the boy. "Another man would have knocked me down for saying it; but you are lackadaisical folk, who bear insults tamely. Arnobius says your father was a Christian."
"Father and son are not always the same religion now-a-days," said Agellius.
"Ay, ay," answered Firmian, "but the Christians came from Egypt: and as cook there is the son of cook, and soldier is son of soldier, so Christian, take my word for it, is the son of a Christian."
"Christians boast, I believe," answered Agellius, "that they are of no one race or country, but are members of a large unpatriotic family, whose home is in the sky."
"Christians," answered the boy, "would never have framed the great Roman empire; that was the work of heroes. Great Caesar, Marius, Marcus Brutus, Camillus, Cicero, Sylla, Lucullus, Scipio, could never have been Christians. Arnobius says they are a skulking set of fellows."
"I suppose you wish to be a hero," said Agellius.
"I am to be a pleader," answered Firmian; "I should like to be a great orator like Cicero, and every one listening to me."
They were walking along the top of a mud wall, which separated Varius's farm from his neighbour's, when suddenly Firmian, who led the way, leapt down into a copse, which reached as far as the ravine in which the knoll terminated towards Sicca. The boy still went forward by devious paths, till they had mounted as high as the city wall.
"You are bringing me where there is no entrance," said Agellius.
The boy laughed. "Jucundus told me to bring you by a blind way," he said. "You know best why. This is one of our ways in and out."
There was an aperture in the wall, and the bricks and stones about it were loose, and admitted of removal. It was such a private way of passage as schoolboys know of. On getting through, Agellius found himself in a neglected garden or small close. Everything was silent about them, as if the inhabitants were away; there was a great noise in the distance, as if something unusual were going on in the heart of the town. The boy told him to follow him as fast as he could without exciting remark; and, leading him by lanes and alleys unknown to Agellius, at last brought him close upon the scene of riot. At this time the expedition in search of Christians had just commenced; to cross the Forum was to shorten his journey, and perhaps was safer than to risk meeting the mob in the streets. Firmian took the step; and while their attention was directed elsewhere, brought Agellius safely through it. They then proceeded cautiously as before, till they stood before the back door of the house of Jucundus.
"Say a good word for me to your uncle," said the boy, "I have done my job. He must remember me handsomely at the Augustalia," and he ran away.
Meanwhile Caecilius had been anxiously considering the course which it was safest for him to pursue. He must move, but he must wait till dusk, when the ways were clear, and the light uncertain. Till then he must keep close in-doors. There was a remarkable cavern in the mountains above Sicca, which had been used as a place of refuge for Christians from the very time they had first suffered persecution in Roman Africa. No spot in its whole territory seemed more fit for what is called a base of operations, from which the soldiers of the Cross might advance, or to which they might retire, according as the fury of their enemy grew or diminished. While it was in the midst of a wilderness difficult of access, and feared as the resort of ghosts and evil influences, it was not far from a city near to which the high roads met from Hippo and from Carthage. A branch of the Bagradas, navigable for boats, opened a way from it through the woods, where flight and concealment were easy on a surprise, as far as Madaura, Vacca, and other places; at the same time it commanded the vast plain on the south which extended to the roots of the Atlas. Just now, the persecution growing, many deacons, other ecclesiastics, and prominent laymen from all parts of the country had fallen back upon this cavern or grotto; and in no place could Caecilius have better means than here of learning the general state of affairs, and of communicating with countries beyond the seas. He was indeed on his way thither, when the illness of Agellius made it a duty for him to stop and restore him, and attend to his spiritual needs; and he had received an inward intimation, on which he implicitly relied, to do so.
The problem at this moment was how to reach the refuge in question. His direct road lay through Sicca; this being impracticable at present, he had to descend into the ravine which lay between him and the city, and, turning to the left, to traverse the broad plain, the Campus Martius of Sicca, into which it opened. Here the mountain would rise abruptly on his right with those steep cliffs which we have already described as rounding the north side of Sicca. He must traverse many miles before he could reach the point at which the rock lost its precipitous character, and changed into a declivity allowing the traveller to ascend. It was a bold undertaking; for all this he had to accomplish in the dark before the morning broke, a stranger too to the locality, and directing his movements only by the information of others, which, however accurate and distinct, could scarcely be followed, even if without risk of error, at least without misgiving. However, could he master this point before the morning he was comparatively safe; he then had to strike into the solitary mountains, and to retrace his steps for a while towards Sicca along the road, till he came to a place where he knew that Christian scouts or videttes (as they may be called) were always stationed.
This being his plan, and there being no way of mending it, our confessor retired into the cottage, and devoted the intervening hours to intercourse with that world from which his succour must come. He set himself to intercede for the Holy Catholic Church throughout the world, now for the most part under persecution, and for the Roman Empire, not yet holy, which was the instrument of the evil powers against her. He had to pray for the proconsulate, for Numidia, Mauretania, and the whole of Africa; for the Christian communities throughout it, for the cessation of the trial then present, and for the fortitude and perseverance of all who were tried. He had to pray for his own personal friends, his penitents, converts, enemies; for children, catechumens, neophytes; for those who were approaching the Church, for those who had fallen away, or were falling away from her; for all heretics, for all troublers of unity, that they might be reclaimed. He had to confess, bewail and deprecate the many sins and offences which he knew of, foreboded, or saw in prospect as to come. Scarcely had he entered on his charge at Carthage four years before, when he had had to denounce one portentous scandal in which a sacred order of the ministry was implicated. What internal laxity did not that scandal imply! And then again what a low standard of religion, what niggardly faith, and what worn-out, used-up sanctity in the community at large, was revealed in the fact of those frequent apostasies of individuals which then were occurring! He prayed fervently that both from the bright pattern of martyrs, and from the warning afforded by the lapsed, the Christian body might be edified and invigorated. He saw with great anxiety two schisms in prospect, when the persecution should come to an end, one from the perverseness of those who were too rigid, the other from those who were too indulgent towards the fallen; and in proportion to his gift of prescience was the earnestness of his intercession that the wounds of the Church might be healed with the least possible delay. He then turned to the thought of his own correspondence then in progress with the Holy Roman Church, which had lately lost its bishop by martyrdom. This indeed was no unusual event with the see of Peter, in which the successors of Peter followed Peter's steps, as Peter had been bidden to follow the King and Exemplar of Martyrs. But the special trouble was, that months had passed, full five, since the vacancy occurred, and it had not yet been supplied. Then he thought of Fabian, who made the vacancy, and who had already passed through that trial which was to bring to so many Christians life or condemnation, and he commended himself to his prayers against the hour of his own combat. He thought of Fabian's work, and went on to intercede for the remnant of the seven apostles whom that Pope had sent into Gaul, and some of whom had already obtained the martyr's crown. He prayed that the day might come, when not the cities only of that fair country, but its rich champaigns and sunny slopes should hear the voice of the missionary. He prayed in like manner for Britain, that the successful work of another Pope, St. Eleutherius, might be extended even to its four seas. And then he prayed for the neighbouring island on the west, still in heathen darkness, and for the endless expanse of Germany on the east, that there too the one saving name and glorious Faith might be known and accepted.
His thoughts then travelled back to Rome and Italy, and to the martyrdoms which had followed that of St. Fabian. Two Persians had already suffered in the imperial city; Maximus had lost his life, and Felix had been imprisoned, at Nola. Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt had already afforded victims to the persecution, and cried aloud to all Christians for their most earnest prayers and for repeated Masses in behalf of those who remained under the trial. Babylas, Bishop of Antioch, the third see in Christendom, was already martyred in that city. Here again Caecilius had a strong call on him for intercession, for a subtle form of freethinking was there manifesting itself, the issue of which was as uncertain as it might be frightful. The Bishop of Alexandria, that second of the large divisions or patriarchates of the Church, the great Dionysius, the pupil of Origen, was an exile from his see, like himself. The messenger who brought this news to Carthage had heard at Alexandria a report from Neocaesarea, that Gregory, another pupil of Origen's, the Apostle of Pontus, had also been obliged to conceal himself from the persecution. As for Origen himself, the aged, laborious, gifted, zealous teacher of his time, he was just then engaged in answering the works of an Epicurean called Celsus, and on him too the persecution was likely to fall; and Caecilius prayed earnestly that so great a soul might be kept from such high untrue speculations as were threatening evil at Antioch, and from every deceit and snare which might endanger his inheriting that bright crown which ought to be his portion in heaven. Another remarkable report had come, viz., that some young men of Egypt had retired to the deserts up the country under the stress of the persecution,—Paul was the name of one of them,—and that they were there living in the practice of mortification and prayer so singular, and had combats with the powers of darkness and visitations from above so special, as to open quite a new era in the spiritual history of the Church.
And then his thoughts came back to his poor Agellius, and all those hundred private matters of anxiety which the foes of the Church, occupied only with her external aspect, little suspected. For Agellius, he prayed, and for his; for the strange wayward Juba, for Jucundus, for Callista; ah! that Callista might be brought on to that glorious consummation, for which she seemed marked out! But the ways of the Most High are not as our ways, and those who to us seem nearest are often furthest from Him; and so our holy priest left the whole matter in the hands of Him to whom he prayed, satisfied that he had done his part in praying.
This was the course of thought which occupied him for many hours, after (as we have said) he had closed the door upon him, and knelt down before the cross. Not merely before the symbol of redemption did he kneel; for he opened his tunic at the neck, and drew thence a small golden pyx which was there suspended. In that carefully fastened case he possessed the Holiest, his Lord and his God. That Everlasting Presence was his stay and guide amid his weary wanderings, his joy and consolation amid his overpowering anxieties. Behold the secret of his sweet serenity, and his clear unclouded determination. He had placed it upon the small table at which he knelt, and was soon absorbed in meditation and intercession.
A PASSAGE OF ARMS.
How many hours passed while Caecilius was thus employed, he did not know. The sun was declining when he was roused by a noise at the door. He hastily restored the sacred treasure to its hiding-place in his breast, and rose up from his knees. The door was thrown back, and a female form presented itself at the opening. She looked in at the priest, and said, "Then Agellius is not here?"
The woman was young, tall, and graceful in person. She was clad in a yellow cotton tunic, reaching to her feet, on which were shoes. The clasps at her shoulders, partly visible under the short cloak or shawl which was thrown over them, and which might, if necessary, be drawn over her head, seemed to serve the purpose, not only of fastening her dress, but of providing her with sharp prongs or minute stilettos for her defence, in case she fell in with ruffians by the way; and though the expression of her face was most feminine, there was that about it which implied she could use them for that purpose on an emergency. That face was clear in complexion, regular in outline, and at the present time pale, whatever might be its ordinary tint. Its charm was a noble and majestic calm. There is the calm of divine peace and joy; there is the calm of heartlessness; there is the calm of reckless desperation; there is the calm of death. None of these was the calm which breathed from the features of the stranger who intruded upon the solitude of Caecilius. It was the calm of Greek sculpture; it imaged a soul nourished upon the visions of genius, and subdued and attuned by the power of a strong will. There was no appearance of timidity in her manner; very little of modesty. The evening sun gleamed across her amber robe, and lit it up till it glowed like fire, as if she were invested in the marriage flammeum, and was to be claimed that evening as the bride of her own bright god of day.
She looked at Caecilius, first with surprise, then with anxiety; and her words were, "You, I fear, are of his people. If so, make the most of these hours. The foe may be on you to-morrow morning. Fly while you can."
"If I am a Christian," answered Caecilius, "what are you who are so careful of us? Have you come all the way from Sicca to give the alarm to mere atheists and magic-mongers?"
"Stranger," she said, "if you had seen what I have seen, what I have heard of to-day, you would not wonder at my wish to save from a like fate the vilest being on earth. A hideous mob is rioting in the city, thirsting for the blood of Christians; an accident may turn it in the direction of Agellius. He is gone; where is he? Murderous outrages have already been perpetrated; you remain."
"She who is so tender of Christians," answered the priest, "must herself have some sparks of the Christian flame in her own breast."
Callista sat down half unconsciously upon the bench or stool near the door; but she at once suddenly started up again, and said, "Away, fly! perhaps they are coming; where is he?"
"Fear not," said Caecilius; "Agellius has been conveyed away to a safe hiding-place; for me, I shall be taken care of; there is no need for hurry; sit down again. But you," he continued, "you must not be found here."
"They know me," she said; "I am well known here. I work for the temples. I have nothing to fear. I am no Christian;" and, as if from an inexplicable overruling influence, she sat down again.
"Not a Christian yet, you mean," answered Caecilius.
"A person must be born a Christian, sir," she replied, "in order to take up the religion. It is a very beautiful idea, as far as I have heard anything about it; but one must suck it in with one's mother's milk."
"If so, it never could have come into the world," said the priest.
She paused for a while. "It is true," she answered at length; "but a new religion begins by appealing to what is peculiar in the minds of a few. The doctrine, floating on the winds, finds its own; it takes possession of their minds; they answer its call; they are brought together by that common influence; they are strong in each other's sympathy; they create and throw around them an external form, and thus they found a religion. The sons are brought up in their fathers' faith; and what was the idea of a few becomes at length the profession of a race. Such is Judaism; such the religion of Zoroaster, or of the Egyptians."
"You will find," said the priest, "that the greater number of African Christians at this moment, for of them I speak confidently, are converts in manhood, not the sons of Christians. On the other hand, if there be those who have left the faith, and gone up to the capitol to sacrifice, these were Christians by hereditary profession. Such is my experience, and I think the case is the same elsewhere."
She seemed to be speaking more for the sake of getting answers than of objecting arguments. She paused again, and thought; then she said, "Mankind is made up of classes of very various mental complexion, as distinct from each other as the colours which meet the eye. Red and blue are incommensurable; and in like manner, a Magian never can become a Greek, nor a Greek a Coelicolist. They do but make themselves fools when they attempt it."
"Perhaps the most deeply convinced, the most tranquil-minded in the Christian body," answered Caecilius, "will tell you, on the contrary, that there was a time when they hated Christianity, and despised and ill-treated its professors."
"I never did any such thing," cried Callista, "since the day I first heard of it. I am not its enemy, but I cannot believe in it. I am sure I never could; I never, never should be able."
"What is it you cannot believe?" asked the priest.
"It seems too beautiful," she said, "to be anything else than a dream. It is a thing to talk about, but when you come near its professors you see it is impossible. A most beautiful imagination, that is what it is. Most beautiful its precepts, as far as I have heard of them; so beautiful, that in idea there is no difficulty. The mind runs along with them, as if it could accomplish them without an effort. Well, its maxims are too beautiful to be realized; and then on the other hand, its dogmas are too dismal, too shocking, too odious to be believed. They revolt me."
"Such as what?" asked Caecilius.
"Such as this," answered Callista. "Nothing will ever make me believe that all my people have gone and will go to an eternal Tartarus."
"Had we not better confine ourselves to something more specific, more tangible?" asked Caecilius, gravely. "I suppose if one individual may have that terrible lot, another may—both may, many may. Suppose I understand you to say that you never will believe that you will go to an eternal Tartarus."
Callista gave a slight start, and showed some uneasiness or displeasure.
"Is it not likely," continued he, "that you are better able to speak of yourself, and to form a judgment about yourself, than about others? Perhaps if you could first speak confidently about yourself, you would be in a better position to speak about others also."
"Do you mean," she said, in a calm tone, "that my place, after this life, is an everlasting Tartarus?"
"Are you happy?" he asked in turn.
She paused, looked down, and in a deep clear voice said, "No." There was a silence.
The priest began again: "Perhaps you have been growing in unhappiness for years; is it so? you assent. You have a heavy burden at your heart, you don't well know what. And the chance is, that you will grow in unhappiness for the next ten years to come. You will be more and more unhappy the longer you live. Did you live till you were an old woman, you would not know how to bear your existence."
Callista cried out as if in bodily pain, "It is true, sir, whoever told you. But how can you have the heart to say it, to insult and mock me!"
"God forbid!" exclaimed Caecilius, "but let me go on. Listen, my child. Be brave, and dare to look at things as they are. Every day adds to your burden. This is a law of your present being, somewhat more certain than the assertion which you just now so confidently made, the impossibility of your believing in that law. You cannot refuse to accept what is not an opinion, but a fact. I say this burden which I speak of is not simply a dogma of our creed, it is an undeniable fact of nature. You cannot change it by wishing; if you were to live on earth two hundred years, it would not be reversed, it would be more and more true. At the end of two hundred years you would be too miserable even for your worst enemy to rejoice in it."
Caecilius spoke, as if half in soliloquy or meditation, though he was looking towards Callista. The contrast between them was singular: he thus abstracted; she too, utterly forgetful of self, but absorbed in him, and showing it by her eager eyes, her hushed breath, her anxious attitude. At last she said impatiently, "Father, you are speaking to yourself; you despise me."
The priest looked straight at her with an open, untroubled smile, and said, "Callista, do not doubt me, my poor child; you are in my heart. I was praying for you shortly before you appeared. No; but, in so serious a matter as attempting to save a soul, I like to speak to you in my Lord's sight. I am speaking to you, indeed I am, my child; but I am also pleading with you on His behalf, and before His throne."
His voice trembled as he spoke, but he soon recovered himself. "Suffer me," he said. "I was saying that if you lived five hundred years on earth, you would but have a heavier load on you as time went on. But you will not live, you will die. Perhaps you will tell me that you will then cease to be. I don't believe you think so. I may take for granted that you think with me, and with the multitude of men, that you will still live, that you will still be you. You will still be the same being, but deprived of those outward stays and reliefs and solaces, which, such as they are, you now enjoy. You will be yourself, shut up in yourself. I have heard that people go mad at length when placed in solitary confinement. If, then, on passing hence, you are cut off from what you had here, and have only the company of yourself, I think your burden will be, so far, greater, not less than it is now.
"Suppose, for instance, you had still your love of conversing, and could not converse; your love of the poets of your race, and no means of recalling them; your love of music, and no instrument to play upon; your love of knowledge, and nothing to learn; your desire of sympathy, and no one to love: would not that be still greater misery?
"Let me proceed a step further: supposing you were among those whom you actually did not love; supposing you did not like them, nor their occupations, and could not understand their aims; suppose there be, as Christians say, one Almighty God, and you did not like Him, and had no taste for thinking of Him, and no interest in what He was and what He did; and supposing you found that there was nothing else anywhere but He, whom you did not love and whom you wished away: would you not be still more wretched?
"And if this went on for ever, would you not be in great inexpressible pain for ever?
"Assuming then, first, that the soul always needs external objects to rest upon; next, that it has no prospect of any such when it leaves this visible scene; and thirdly, that the hunger and thirst, the gnawing of the heart, where it occurs, is as keen and piercing as a flame; it will follow there is nothing irrational in the notion of an eternal Tartarus."
"I cannot answer you, sir," said Callista, "but I do not believe the dogma on that account a whit the more. My mind revolts from the notion. There must be some way out of it."
"If, on the other hand," continued Caecilius, not noticing her interruption, "if all your thoughts go one way; if you have needs, desires, aims, aspirations, all of which demand an Object, and imply, by their very existence, that such an Object does exist also; and if nothing here does satisfy them, and if there be a message which professes to come from that Object, of whom you already have the presentiment, and to teach you about Him, and to bring the remedy you crave; and if those who try that remedy say with one voice that the remedy answers; are you not bound, Callista, at least to look that way, to inquire into what you hear about it, and to ask for His help, if He be, to enable you to believe in Him?"
"This is what a slave of mine used to say," cried Callista, abruptly; "... and another, Agellius, hinted the same thing.... What is your remedy, what your Object, what your love, O Christian teacher? Why are you all so mysterious, so reserved in your communications?"
Caecilius was silent for a moment, and seemed at a loss for an answer. At length he said, "Every man is in that state which you confess of yourself. We have no love for Him who alone lasts. We love those things which do not last, but come to an end. Things being thus, He whom we ought to love has determined to win us back to Him. With this object He has come into His own world, in the form of one of us men. And in that human form He opens His arms and woos us to return to Him, our Maker. This is our Worship, this is our Love, Callista."
"You talk as Chione," Callista answered; "only that she felt, and you teach. She could not speak of her Master without blushing for joy.... And Agellius, when he said one word about his Master, he too began to blush...."
It was plain that the priest could hardly command his feelings, and they sat for a short while in silence. Then Callista began, as if musing on what she had heard.
"A loved One," she said, "yet ideal; a passion so potent, so fresh, so innocent, so absorbing, so expulsive of other loves, so enduring, yet of One never beheld;—mysterious! It is our own notion of the First and only Fair, yet embodied in a substance, yet dissolving again into a sort of imagination.... It is beyond me."
"There is but one Lover of souls," cried Caecilius, "and He loves each one of us, as though there were no one else to love. He died for each one of us, as if there were no one else to die for. He died on the shameful cross. 'Amor meus crucifixus est.' The love which he inspires lasts, for it is the love of the Unchangeable. It satisfies, for He is inexhaustible. The nearer we draw to Him, the more triumphantly does He enter into us; the longer He dwells in us, the more intimately have we possession of Him. It is an espousal for eternity. This is why it is so easy for us to die for our faith, at which the world marvels."
Presently he said, "Why will not you approach Him? why will not you leave the creature for the Creator?"
Callista seldom lost her self-possession; for a moment she lost it now; tears gushed from her eyes. "Impossible!" she said, "what, I? you do not know me, father!" She paused, and then resumed in a different tone, "No! my lot is one way, yours another. I am a child of Greece, and have no happiness but that, such as it is, which my own bright land, my own glorious race, give me. I may well be content, I may well be resigned, I may well be proud, if I possess that happiness. I must live and die where I have been born. I am a tree which will not bear transplanting. The Assyrians, the Jews, the Egyptians, have their own mystical teaching. They follow their happiness in their own way; mine is a different one. The pride of mind, the revel of the intellect, the voice and eyes of genius, and the fond beating heart, I cannot do without them. I cannot do without what you, Christian, call sin. Let me alone; such as nature made me I will be. I cannot change."
This sudden revulsion of her feelings quite overcame Caecilius; yet, while the disappointment thrilled through him, he felt a most strange sympathy for the poor lost girl, and his reply was full of emotion. "Am I a Jew?" he exclaimed; "am I an Egyptian, or an Assyrian? Have I from my youth believed and possessed what now is my Life, my Hope, and my Love? Child, what was once my life? Am not I too a brand plucked out of the fire? Do I deserve anything but evil? Is it not the Power, the Mighty Power of the only Strong, the only Merciful, the grace of Emmanuel, which has changed and won me? If He can change me, an old man, could He not change a child like you? I, a proud, stern Roman; I, a lover of pleasure, a man of letters, of political station, with formed habits, and life-long associations, and complicated relations; was it I who wrought this great change in me, who gained for myself the power of hating what I once loved, of unlearning what I once knew, nay, of even forgetting what once I was? Who has made you and me to differ, but He who can, when He will, make us to agree? It is His same Omnipotence which will transform you, if you will but come to be transformed."
But a reaction had come over the proud and sensitive mind of the Greek girl. "So after all, priest," she said, "you are but a man like others; a frail, guilty person like myself. I can find plenty of persons who do as I do; I want some one who does not; I want some one to worship. I thought there was something in you special and extraordinary. There was a gentleness and tenderness mingled with your strength which was new to me. I said, Here is at last a god. My own gods are earthly, sensual; I have no respect for them, no faith in them. But there is nothing better anywhere else.... Alas!..." She started up, and said with vehemence, "I thought you sinless; you confess to crime.... Ah! how do I know," she continued with a shudder, "that you are better than those base hypocrites, priests of Isis or Mithras, whose lustrations, initiations, new birth, white robes, and laurel crowns, are but the instrument and cloak of their intense depravity?" And she felt for the clasp upon her shoulder.
Here her speech was interrupted by a hoarse sound, borne upon the wind as of many voices blended into one and softened by the distance, but which, under the circumstances, neither of the parties to the above conversation had any difficulty in assigning to its real cause. "Dear father," she said, "the enemy is upon you."
HE SHALL NOT LOSE HIS REWARD.
There was no room for doubt or for delay. "What is to become of you, Callista?" he said; "they will tear you to pieces."
"Fear nothing for me, father," she answered; "I am one of them. They know me. Alas, I am no Christian! I have not abjured their rites! but you, lose not a moment."
"They are still at some distance," he said, "though the wind gives us merciful warning of their coming." He looked about the room, and took up the books of Holy Scripture which were on the shelf. "There is nothing else," he said, "of special value here. Agellius could not take them. Here, my child, I am going to show you a great confidence. To few persons not Christians would I show it. Take this blessed parchment; it contains the earthly history of our Divine Master. Here you will see whom we Christians love. Read it; keep it safely; surrender it, when you have the opportunity, into Christian keeping. My mind tells me I am not wrong in lending it to you." He handed to her the Gospel of St. Luke, while he put the two other volumes into the folds of his own tunic.
"One word more," she said; "your name, should I want you."
He took up a piece of chalk from the shelf, and wrote upon the wall in distinct characters,
"Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus, Bishop of Carthage."
Hardly had she read the inscription when the voices of several men were heard in the very neighbourhood of the cottage; and hoping to effect a diversion in favour of Caecilius, and being at once unsuspicious of danger to herself, and careless of her life, she ran quickly forward to meet them. Caecilius ought to have taken to flight without a moment's delay, but a last sacred duty detained him. He knelt down and took the pyx from his bosom. He had eaten nothing that day; but even if otherwise, it was a crisis which allowed him to consume the sacred species without fasting. He hastily opened the golden case, adored the blessed sacrament, and consumed it, purifying its receptacle, and restoring it to its hiding-place. Then he rose at once and left the cottage.
He looked about; Callista was nowhere to be seen. She was gone; so much was certain, no enemy was in sight; it only remained for him to make off too. In the confusion he turned in the wrong direction; instead of making off at the back of the cottage from which the voices had scared him, he ran across the garden into the hollow way. It was all over with him in an instant; he fell at once into the hands of the vanguard of the mob.
Many mouths were opened upon him all at once. "The sorcerer!" cried one; "tear him to shreds; we'll teach him to brew his spells against the city." "Give us back our grapes and corn," said a second. "Have a guard," said a third; "he can turn you into swine or asses while there is breath in him," "Then be the quicker with him," said a fourth, who was lifting up a crowbar to discharge upon his head. "Hold!" said a tall swarthy youth, who had already warded off several blows from him, "hold, will you? don't you see, if you kill him he can't undo the spell. Make him first reverse it all; make him take the curse off us. Bring him along; take him to Astarte, Hercules, or old Saturn. We'll broil him on a gridiron till he turns all these canes into vines, and makes olive berries of the pebbles, and turns the dust of the earth into fine flour for our eating. When he has done all this he shall dance a jig with a wild cow, and sit down to supper with an hyena."
A loud scream of exultation broke forth from the drunken and frantic multitude. "Along with him!" continued the same speaker in a jeering tone. "Here, put him on the ass and tie his hands behind his back. He shall go back in triumph to the city which he loves. Mind, and don't touch him before the time. If you kill him, you'll never get the curse off. Come here, you priests of Cybele," he added, "and be his body-guard." And he continued to keep a vigilant eye and hand over the old man, in spite of them.
The ass, though naturally a good-tempered beast, had been most sadly tried through the day. He had been fed, indeed, out of mockery, as being the Christians' god; but he did not understand the shouts and caprices of the crowd, and he only waited for an opportunity to show that he by no means acquiesced in the proceedings of the day. And now the difficulty was to move at all. The people kept crowding up the hollow road, and blocked the passage, and though the greater part of the rioters had either been left behind exhausted in Sicca itself, or had poured over the fields on each side of Agellius's cottage, or gone right over the hill down into the valley beyond, yet still it was some time before the ass could move a step, and a time of nervous suspense it was both to Caecilius and the youth who befriended him. At length what remained of the procession was persuaded to turn about and make for Sicca, but in a reversed order. It could not be brought round in so confined a space, so its rear went first and the ass and its burden came last. As they descended the hill back again, Caecilius, who was mounted upon the linen and silk which had adorned the Dea Syra before the Tertullianist had destroyed the idol, saw before him the whole line of march. In front were flaunted the dreadful emblems of idolatry, so far as their bearers were able still to raise them. Drunken women, ragged boys mounted on men's shoulders, ruffians and bullies, savage-looking Getulians, half-human monsters from the Atlas, monkeys and curs jabbering and howling, mummers, bacchanals, satyrs, and gesticulators, formed the staple of the procession. Midway between the hill which he was descending and the city lay the ravine, of which we have several times spoken, widening out into the plain or Campus Martius, which reached round to the steep cliffs on the north. The bridle-path, along which he was moving, crossed it just where it was opening and became level, so as to present no abrupt descent and ascent at the place where the path was lowest. On the left every vestige of the ravine soon ceased, and a free passage extended to the plain.
The youth who had placed Caecilius on the ass still kept close to him and sung at the pitch of his voice, in imitation of the rest—
"Sporting and snorting in shades of the night, His ears pricking up, and his hoofs striking light, And his tail whisking round, in the speed of his flight."
"Old man," he continued to Caecilius in a low voice, and in Latin, "your curse has not worked on me yet."
"My son," answered the priest, "you are granted one day more for repentance."
"Lucky for you as well as for me," was the reply: and he continued his song:—
"Gurta, the witch, was out with the rest; Though as lame as a gull, by his highness possessed, She shouldered her crutch, and danced with the best.
"She stamped and she twirled in the shade of the yew, Till her gossips and chums of the city danced too; They never are slack when there's mischief to do.
"She danced and she coaxed, but he was no fool; He'd be his own master, he'd not be her tool: Not the little black moor should send him to school."
He then turned to Caecilius and whispered, "You see, old father, that others, besides Christians, can forgive and forget. Henceforth call me generous Juba." And he tossed his head.
By this time they had got to the bottom of the hill, and the deep shadows which filled the hollow showed that the sun was rapidly sinking in the west. Suddenly, as they were crossing the bottom as it opened into the plain, Juba seized and broke the thong which bound Caecilius's arms, and bestowing a tremendous cut with it upon the side of the ass, sent him forward upon the plain at his greatest speed. The youth's manoeuvre was successful to the full. The asses of Africa can do more on an occasion of this kind than our own. Caecilius for the moment lost his seat; but, instantly recovering it, took care to keep the animal from flagging; and the cries of the mob, and the howlings of the priests of Cybele cooperated in the task. At length the gloom, increasing every minute, hid him from their view; and even in daylight his recapture would have been a difficult matter for a wearied-out, famished, and intoxicated rabble. Before Caecilius well had time to return thanks for this unexpected turn of events, he was out of pursuit, and was ambling at a pace more suitable to the habits of the beast of burden that carried him, over an expanse of plain which would have been a formidable night-march to a fasting man.
We must not conclude the day without relating what was its issue to the persecutors, as well as to their intended victim. It is almost a proverb that punishment is slow in overtaking crime; but the present instance was an exception to the rule. While the exiled Bishop of Carthage escaped, the crowd, on the other hand, were caught in the trap which had been laid for them. We have already said it was a ruse on the part of the governing authorities of the place to get the rioters out of the city, that they might at once be relieved of them, and then deal with them just as they might think fit. When the mob was once outside the walls, they might be refused re-admittance, and put down with a strong hand. The Roman garrison, who, powerless to quell the tumult in the narrow and winding streets and multiplied alleys of the city, had been the authors of the manoeuvre, now took on themselves the stern completion of it, and determined to do so in the sternest way. Not a single head of all those who poured out in the afternoon should return at night. It was not to be supposed that the soldiers had any tenderness for the Christians, but they abominated and despised the rabble of the town. They were indignant at their rising, thought it a personal insult to themselves, and resolved they should never do so again. The gates were commonly in the custody of the city guard, but the Porta Septimiana, by which the mob passed out, was on this occasion claimed by the Romans. It was most suitably circumstanced for the use they intended to make of it. Immediately outside of it was a large court of the same level as the ground inside, bordered on the right and left by substantial walls, which after a time were drawn to meet each other, and contracted the space to the usual breadth of a road. The walls continued to run along this road for some distance, till they joined the way which led to the Campus Martius, and from this point the ground was open till it reached the head of the ravine. The soldiers drew up at the gate, and as the worn-out and disappointed, brutalized and half-idiotic multitudes returned towards it from the country, those who were behind pushed on between the border walls those who were in front, and, while they jammed together their ranks, also made escape impossible. It was now that the Roman soldiers began their barbarous, not to say cowardly, assault upon them. With heavy maces, with the pike, with iron gauntlets, with stones and bricks, with clubs, with scourge, with the sword, with the helmet, with whatever came to hand, they commenced the massacre of that large concourse of human beings, who did not offer one blow in return. They slaughtered them like sheep; they trampled them down; they threw the bodies of the wounded over the walls. Attempting to run back, numbers of the poor wretches came into conflict with the ranks behind them, and an additional scene of confusion and overthrow took place; many of them straggled over to the open country or woods, and perished, either from the weather, or from hunger, or even from the wild beasts. Others, weakened by excess and famine, fell a prey to the pestilence that was raging. After some days a remnant of them was allowed silently and timidly to steal back into the city as best they could. It was a long day before the Plebs Siccensis ventured to have any opinion of its own upon the subject of Christianity, or any other political, social, or ecclesiastical topic whatever.
When Jucundus rose next morning, and heard the news, he considered it to be more satisfactory than he could have supposed possible. He was a zealous imperialist, and a lover of tranquillity, a despiser of the natives and a hater of the Christians. The Christians had suffered enough to vindicate the Roman name, to deter those who were playing at Christianity, and to show that the people of Sicca had their eyes about them. And the mob had received a severe lesson too; and the cause of public order had triumphed, and civic peace was re-established. His anxiety, too, about Agellius had terminated, or was terminating. He had privately denounced him to the government, come to an understanding with the military authorities, and obtained the custody of him. He had met him at the very door to which the boy Firmian brought him, with an apparitor of the military staff (or what answered to it), and had clapped him into prison in an underground cellar in which he kept damaged images, and those which had gone out of fashion, and were otherwise unsaleable. He was not at all sorry, by some suffering, and by some fright, to aid the more potent incantation which Callista was singing in his ears. He did not, however, at all forget Juba's hint, and was careful not to overdo the rack-and-gridiron dodge, if we may so designate it; yet he thought just a flavour or a thought of the inconveniences which the profession of Christianity involved might be a salutary reflection in the midst of the persuasives which the voice and eyes of Callista would kindle in his heart. There was nothing glorious or heroic in being confined in a lumber cellar, no one knowing anything about it; and he did not mean to keep him there for ever.
As the next day wore on towards evening, rumour brought a piece of news which he was at first utterly unable to credit, and which for the moment seemed likely to spoil the appetite which promised so well for his evening repast. He could hardly believe his ears when he was told that Callista was in arrest on a charge of Christianity, and at first it made him look as black as some of those Egyptian gods which he had on one shelf of his shop. However, he rallied, and was very much amused at the report. The imprisonment indeed was a fact, account for it as one could; but who could account for it? "Varium et mutabile:" who could answer for the whims and fancies of womankind? If she had fallen in love with the owl of Minerva, or cut off her auburn tresses, or turned rope-dancer, there might have been some shrugging of shoulders, but no one would have tried to analyze the motive; but so much his profound sagacity enabled him to see, that, if there was one thing more than another likely to sicken Agellius of Christianity, it was to find one who was so precious to him suffering from the suspicion of it. It was bad enough to have suffered one's self in such a cause; still he could conceive, he was large-minded enough to grant, that Agellius might have some secret satisfaction in the antagonist feeling of resentment and obstinacy which that suffering might engender: but it was carrying matters too far, and no comfort in any point of view, to find Callista, his beloved, the object of a similar punishment. It was all very well to profess Christianity as a matter of sentiment, mystery, and singularity; but when it was found to compromise the life or limbs of another, and that other Callista, why it was plain that Agellius would be the very first to try and entreat the wayward girl to keep her good looks for him, and to be loyal to the gods of her country; and he chuckled over the thought, as others have done in other states of society, of a love-scene or a marriage being the termination of so much high romance and fine acting.
However, the next day Aristo came down to him himself, and gave him an account at once more authentic and more extended on the matter which interested him. Callista had been called up before the tribunal, and had not been discharged, but remanded. The meaning of it was as obscure as ever; Aristo could give no account of it; it almost led him to believe in the evil eye; some unholy practices, some spells such as only potent wizards know, some deplorable delusion or hallucination, had for the time got the mastery of his sister's mind. No one seemed quite to know how she had found her way into the hands of the officers; but there she was, and the problem was how to get her out of them.
However, whatever mystery, whatever anxiety, attached to the case, it was only still more urgent to bring the matter home to Agellius without delay. If time went on before the parties were brought together, she might grow more obstinate, and kindle a like spirit in him. Oh that boys and girls would be giving old people, who wish them well, so much trouble! However, it was no good thinking of that just then. He considered that, at the present moment, they would not be able to bear the sight of each other in suffering and peril; that mutual tenderness would make them plead with each other in each other's behalf, and that each would be obliged to set the example to each of a concession, to which each exhorted each; and on this fine philosophical view he proceeded to act.
JUCUNDUS PROPOUNDS HIS VIEW OF THE SITUATION.
For thirty-six hours Agellius had been confined in his underground receptacle, light being almost excluded, a bench and a rug being his means of repose, and a full measure of bread, wine, and olives being his dole. The shrieks and yells of the rioters could be distinctly heard in his prison, as the day of his seizure went on, and they passed by the temple of Astarte; but what happened at his farm, and how it fared with Caecilius, he had no means of conjecturing; nor indeed how it was to fare with himself, for on the face of the transaction, as was in form the fact, he was in the hands of the law, and only indulged with the house of a relative for his prison. On the second night he was released by his uncle's confidential slave, who brought him up to a small back closet on the ground floor, which was lighted from the roof, and next morning, being the second day after the riot, Jucundus came in to have his confidential conversation with him.
His uncle began by telling him that he was a government prisoner, but that he hoped by his influence in high places to get him off and out of Sicca without any prejudice to his honour. He told him that he had managed it privately, and if he had treated him with apparent harshness up to the evening before, it was in order to save appearances with the apparitors who had attended him. He then went on to inform him that the mob had visited his cottage, and had caught some man there; he supposed some accomplice or ally of his nephew's. They had seized him, and were bringing him off, but the fellow had been clever enough to effect his escape. He did not know more than this, but it had happened very fortunately, for the general belief in the place was, that it was Agellius who had been taken, and who had managed to give them the slip. Since it could not any longer be safely denied that he was a Christian, though he (Jucundus) did not think so himself, he had encouraged or rather had given his confirmation to the report; and when some persons who had means of knowing had asserted that the culprit was double the age of his nephew and more, and not at all of his make or description, but a sort of slave, or rather that he was the slave of Agellius who had belonged to his father Strabo, Jucundus had boldly asserted that Agellius, in the emergency, had availed himself of some of the remarkably powerful charms which Christians were known to possess, and had made himself seem what he really was not, in order to escape detection. It had not indeed answered the purpose entirely, for he had actually been taken; but no blame in the charm, which perhaps, after all, had enabled him to escape. However, Agellius was gone, he told people, and a good riddance, and he hoped never to see him again. "But you see, my dear boy," he concluded, "this was all talk for the occasion, for I hope you will live here many years in respectability and credit. I intend you should close my eyes when my time comes, and inherit whatever I have to leave you; for as to that fellow Juba, he inspires me with no confidence in him at all."
Agellius thanked his uncle with all his heart for his kind and successful efforts on his behalf; he did not think there was a word he had said, in the future he had sketched for him, which he could have wished altered. But he thought Jucundus over-sanguine; much as he should like to live with him and tend him in his old age, he did not think he should ever be permitted to return to Sicca. He was a Christian, and must seek some remote corner of the world, or at least some city where he was unknown. Every one in Sicca would point at him as the Christian; he would experience a thousand rubs and collisions, even if the mob did not rise against him, without corresponding advantage; on the other hand, he would have no influence. But were he in the midst of a powerful and widely-extended community of Christians, he might in his place do work, and might extend the faith as one of a number, unknown himself, and strong in his brethren. He therefore proposed as soon as possible to sell his effects and stock, and retire from the sight of men, at least for a time.
"You think this persecution, then, will be soon at an end?" asked Jucundus.
"I judge by the past," answered Agellius; "there have been times of trial and of rest hitherto, and I suppose it will be so again. And one place has hitherto been exempt from the violence of our enemies, when another has been the scene of it."
"A new time is coming, trust me," said Jucundus, gravely. "Those popular commotions are all over. What happened two days ago is a sample of what will come of them; they have received their coup-de-grace. The State is taking up the matter, Rome itself, thank the gods! a tougher sort of customer than these villain ratcatchers and offal-eaters, whom you had to do with two days since. Great Rome is now at length in earnest, my boy, which she ought to have been a long time back, before you were born; and then you know," and he nodded, "you would have had no choice; you wouldn't have had the temptation to make a fool of yourself."
"Well, then," answered Agellius, "if a new time is really coming, there is less chance than ever of my continuing here."
"Now be a sensible fellow, as you are when you choose," said his uncle; "look the matter in the face, do. You cannot wrestle with impossibilities, you cannot make facts to pattern. There are lawful religions, there are illicit. Christianity is illicit; it is not tolerated; that's not your fault; you cannot help it; you would, if you could; you can't. Now you have observed your point of honour; you have shown you can stand up like a man, and suffer for your own fancy. Still Rome does not give way; and you must make the best of it. You must give in, and you are far too good (I don't compliment, I speak my mind), far too amiable, excellent, sweet a boy for so rascally a superstition."
"There is something stronger than Rome," said the nephew almost sternly.
Jucundus cut him short. "Agellius!" he said, "you must not say that in this house. You shall not use that language under my roof. I'll not put up with it, I tell you. Take your treason elsewhere.... This accursed obstinacy!" he said to himself; "but I must take care what I am doing;" then aloud, "Well, we both of us have been railing; no good comes of railing; railing is not argument. But now, I say, do be sensible, if you can. Is not the imperial government in earnest now? better late than never, but it is now in earnest. And now mark my words, by this day five years, five years at the utmost,—I say by this day five years there will not be a single ragamuffin Christian in the whole Roman world." And he looked fierce. "Ye gods! Rome, Rome has swept from the earth by her very breath conspiracies, confederacies, plots against her, without ever failing; she will do so now with this contemptible, Jew-begotten foe."
"In what are we enemies to Rome, Jucundus?" said Agellius; "why will you always take it for granted?"
"Take it for granted!" answered he, "is it not on the face of the matter? I suppose they are enemies to a state, whom the state calls its enemies. Besides, why a pother of words? Swear by the genius of the emperor, invoke the Dea Roma, sacrifice to Jove; no, not a bit of it, not a whisper, not a sign, not a grain of incense. You go out of your way to insult us; and then you come with a grave face, and say you are loyal. You kick our shins, and you wish us to kiss you on both cheeks for it. A few harmless ceremonies; we are not entrapping you; we are not using your words against yourselves; we tell you the meaning beforehand, the whole meaning of them. It is not as if we tied you to the belief of the nursery: we don't say, 'If you burn incense, you profess to believe that old Jupiter is shivering atop of Olympus;' we don't say, 'You swear by the genius of Caesar, therefore he has a genius, black, or white, or piebald,' No, we give you the meaning of the act; it is a mere expression of loyalty to the empire. If then you won't do it, you confess yourself ipso facto disloyal. It is incomprehensible." And he had become quite red.
"My dear uncle," said Agellius, "I give you my solemn word, that the people whom you so detest do pray for the welfare of the imperial power continually, as a matter of duty and as a matter of interest."
"Pray! pray! fudge and nonsense!" cried Jucundus, almost mimicking him in his indignation; "pray! who thanks you for your prayers? what's the good of prayers? Prayers, indeed! ha, ha! A little loyalty is worth all the praying in the world. I'll tell you what, Agellius; you are, I am sorry to say it, but you are hand and glove with a set of traitors, who shall and will be smoked out like a nest of wasps. You don't know; you are not in the secret, nor the wretched slave, poor beast, who was pulled to pieces yesterday (ah! you don't know of him) at the Flamen's, nor a multitude of other idiots. But, d'ye see," and he chucked up his head significantly, "there are puppets, and there are wires. Few know what is going on. They won't have done (unless we put them down; but we will) till they have toppled down the state. But Rome will put them down. Come, be sensible, listen to reason; now I am going to put facts before my poor, dear, well-meaning boy. Oh that you saw things as I do! What a trouble you are to me! Here am I"——
"My dearest uncle, Jucundus," cried Agellius, "I assure you, it is the most intense pain to me"——
"Very well, very well," interrupted the uncle in turn, "I believe it, of course I believe it; but listen, listen. Every now and then," he continued in a more measured and lower tone, "every now and then the secret is blabbed—blabbed. There was that Tertullianus of Carthage, some fifty years since. He wrote books; books have done a great deal of harm before now; but read his books—read and ponder. The fellow has the insolence to tell the proconsul that he and the whole government, the whole city and province, the whole Roman world, the emperors, all but the pitiful clique to which he belongs, are destined, after death, to flames for ever and ever. There's loyalty! but the absurdity is greater than the malevolence. Rightly are the fellows called atheists and men-haters. Our soldiers, our statesmen, our magistrates, and judges, and senators, and the whole community, all worshippers of the gods, every one who crowns his head, every one who loves a joke, and all our great historic names, heroes, and worthies,—the Scipios, the Decii, Brutus, Caesar, Cato, Titus, Trajan, Antoninus,—are inmates, not of the Elysian fields, if Elysian fields there be, but of Tartarus, and will never find a way out of it."
"That man, Tertullianus, is nothing to us, uncle," answered Agellius; "a man of great ability, but he quarrelled with us, and left us."
"I can't draw nice distinctions," said Jucundus. "Your people have quarrelled among themselves perhaps on an understanding; we can't split hairs. It's the same with your present hierophant at Carthage, Cyprianus. Nothing can exaggerate, I am told, the foulness of his attack upon the gods of Rome, upon Romulus, the Augurs, the Ancilia, the consuls, and whatever a Roman is proud of. As to the imperial city itself, there's hardly one of their high priests that has not died under the hands of the executioner, as a convict. The precious fellows take the title of Pontifex Maximus; bless their impudence! Well, my boy, this is what I say; be, if you will, so preternaturally sour and morose as to misconceive and mislike the innocent, graceful, humanising, time-honoured usages of society; be so, for what I care, if this is all; but it isn't all. Such misanthropy is wisdom, absolute wisdom, compared with the Titanic presumption and audacity of challenging to single combat the sovereign of the world. Go and kick down Mount Atlas first."
"You have it all your own way, Jucundus," answered his nephew, "and so you must move in your own circle, round and round. There is no touching you, if you first assume your premisses, and then prove them by means of your conclusion."
"My dear Agellius," said his uncle, giving his head a very solemn shake, "take the advice of an old man. When you are older than you are, you will see better who is right and who is wrong. You'll be sorry you despised me, a true, a prudent, an experienced friend; you will. Shake yourself, come do. Why should you link your fortunes, in the morning of life, with desperate men, only because your father, in his last feeble days, was entrapped into doing so? I really will not believe that you are going to throw away hope and life on so bad a bargain. Can't you speak a word? Here you've let me speak, and won't say one syllable for yourself. I don't think it kind of you."
Thus adjured, Agellius began. "Well," he said, "it's a long history; you see, we start, my dear uncle, from different points. How am I possibly to join issue with you? I can only tell you my conclusion. Hope and life, you say. Why, my only hope, my only life, my only joy, desire, consolation, and treasure is that I am a Christian."