"Hope and life!" interrupted Jucundus, "immortal gods! life and hope in being a Christian! do I hear aright? Why, man, a prison brings despair, not hope; and the sword brings death, not life. By Esculapius! life and hope! you choke me, Agellius. Life and hope! you are beyond three Anticyras. Life and hope! if you were old, if you were diseased, if you were given over, and had but one puff of life left in you, then you might be what you would, for me; but your hair is black, your cheek is round, your limbs are strong, your voice is full; and you are going to make all these a sacrifice to Hecate! has your good genius fed that plump frame, ripened those goods looks, nerved your arm, bestowed that breadth of chest, that strength of loins, that straightness of spine, that vigour of step, only that you may feed the crows? or to be torn on the rack, scorched in the flame, or hung on the gibbet? is this your gratitude to nature? What has been your price? for what have you sold yourself? Speak, man, speak. Are you dumb as well as dement? Are you dumb, I say, are you dumb?"
"O Jucundus," cried Agellius, irritated at his own inability to express himself or hold an argument, "if you did but know what it was to have the Truth! The Christian has found the Truth, the eternal Truth, in a world of error. That is his bargain, that is his hire; can there be a greater? Can I give up the Truth? But all this is Punic or Barbar to you."
It certainly did pose Jucundus for half a minute, as if he was trying to take in, not so much the sense, as the words of his nephew's speech. He looked bewildered, and though he began to answer him at once, it took several sentences to bring him into his usual flow of language. After one or two exclamations, "The truth!" he cried, "this is what I understand you to say,—the truth. The truth is your bargain; I think I'm right, the truth; Hm; what is truth? What in heaven and earth do you mean by truth? where did you get that cant? What oriental tomfoolery is bamboozling you? The truth!" he cried, staring at him with eyes, half of triumph, half of impatience, "the truth! Jove help the boy!—the truth! can truth pour me out a cup of melilotus? can truth crown me with flowers? can it sing to me? can it bring Glyceris to me? drop gold into my girdle? or cool my brows when fever visits me? Can truth give me a handsome suburban with some five hundred slaves, or raise me to the duumvirate? Let it do this, and I will worship it; it shall be my god; it shall be more to me than Fortune, Fate, Rome, or any other goddess on the list. But I like to see, and touch, and feel, and handle, and weigh, and measure what is promised me. I wish to have a sample and an instalment. I am too old for chaff. Eat, drink, and be merry, that's my philosophy, that's my religion; and I know no better. To-day is ours, to-morrow is our children's."
After a pause, he added, bitterly, "If truth could get Callista out of prison, instead of getting her into it, I should have something to say to truth."
"Callista in prison!" cried Agellius with surprise and distress, "what do you mean, Jucundus?"
"Yes, it's a fact; Callista is in prison," answered he, "and on suspicion of Christianity."
"Callista! Christianity!" said Agellius, bewildered, "do I hear aright? She a Christian! oh, impossible, uncle! you don't mean to say that she is in prison. Tell me, tell me, my dear, dear Jucundus, what this wonderful news means."
"You ought to know more about it than I," answered he, "if there is any meaning in it. But if you want my opinion, here it is. I don't believe she is more a Christian than I am; but I think she is over head and ears in love with you, and she has some notion that she is paying you a compliment, or interesting you in her, or sharing your fate—(I can't pretend to unravel the vagaries and tantarums of the female mind)—by saying that she is what she is not. If not, perhaps she has done it out of spite and contradiction. You can never answer for a woman."
"Whom should she spite? whom contradict?" cried Agellius, thrown for the moment off his balance. "O Callista! Callista in prison for Christianity! Oh if it's true that she is a Christian! but what if she is not?" he added with great terror, "what if she's not, and yet in prison, as if she were? How are we to get her out, uncle? Impossible! no, she's not a Christian—she is not at all. She ought not to be there! Yet how wonderful!"
"Well, I am sure of it, too," said Jucundus; "I'd stake the best image in my shop that she's not a Christian; but what if she is perverse enough to say she is? and such things are not uncommon. Then, I say, what in the world is to be done? If she says she is, why she is. There you are; and what can you do?"
"You don't mean to say," exclaimed Agellius, "that that sweet delicate child is in that horrible hole; impossible!" and he nearly shrieked at the thought. "What is the meaning of it all? dear, dear uncle, do tell me something more about it. Why did you not tell me before? What can be done?"
Jucundus thought he now had him in his hand. "Why, it's plain," he answered, "what can be done. She's no Christian, we both agree. It's certain, too, that she chooses to say she is, or something like it. There's just one person who has influence with her, to make her tell the truth."
"Ha!" cried Agellius, starting as if an asp had bitten him.
Jucundus kept silence, and let the poison of the said asp work awhile in his nephew's blood.
Agellius put his hands before his eyes; and with his elbows on his knees, began moving to and fro, as if in intense pain.
"I repeat what I have said," Jucundus observed at length; "I do really think that she imagines a certain young gentleman is likely to be in trouble, and that she is determined to share the trouble with him."
"But it isn't true," cried Agellius with great vehemence; "it's not true.... If she really is not a Christian, O my dear Lord, surely they won't put her to death as if she was?"
"But if she has made up her mind to be in the same boat with you, and will be a Christian while you are a Christian, what on earth can we do, Agellius?" asked Jucundus. "You have the whole matter in a nutshell."
"She does not love me," cried Agellius; "no, she has given me no reason to think so. I am sure she does not. She's nothing to me. That cannot be the reason of her conduct. I have no power over her; I could not persuade her. What, what does all this mean? and I shut up here?" and he began walking about the little room, as if such locomotion tended to bring him out of it.
"Well," answered Jucundus, "it is easy to ascertain. I suppose you could be let out to see her."
But he was going on too fast; Agellius did not attend to him. "Poor, sweet Callista," he exclaimed, "she's innocent, she's innocent; I mean she's not a Christian. Ah!" he screamed out in great agony, as the whole state of the case unrolled itself to his apprehension, "she will die though not a Christian; she will die without faith, without love; she will die in her sins. She will die, done to death by false report of accepting that, by which alone she could be carried safely through death unto life. O my Lord, spare me!" and he sank upon the ground in a collapse of misery.
Jucundus was touched, and still more alarmed. "Come, come, my boy," he said, "you will rouse the whole neighbourhood. Give over; be a man; all will be right. If she's not a Christian (and she's not), she shall not die a Christian's death; something will turn up. She's not in any hole at all, but in a decent lodging. And you shall see her, and console her, and all will be right."
"Yes, I will see her," said Agellius, in a sort of musing manner; "she is either a Christian, or she is not. If she is a Christian ..." and his voice faltered; "but if she is not, she shall live till she is."
"Well said!" answered Jucundus, "till she is. She shall live till she is. Yes, I can get you to see her. You shall bring her out of prison; a smile, a whisper from you, and all her fretfulness and ill-humour will vanish, like a mist before the powerful burning sun. And we shall all be as happy as the immortal gods."
"O my uncle!" said Agellius, gravely. The language of Jucundus had shocked him, and brought him to a better mind. He turned away from Jucundus, and leant his face against the wall. Then he turned round again, and said, "If she is a Christian, I ought to rejoice, and I do rejoice; God be praised. If she is not a Christian, I ought at once to make her one. If she has already the penalty of a Christian, she is surely destined for the privilege. And how should I go," he said, half speaking to himself, "how should I go to tell her that she is not yet a Christian, and bid her swear by Jupiter, because that is her god, in order that she may escape imprisonment and death? Am I to do the part of a heathen priest or infidel sophist? O Caecilius, how am I forgetting your lessons! No; I will go on no such errand. Go, I will, if I may, Jucundus, but I will go on no conditions of yours. I go on no promise to try to get her out of prison anyhow, poor child. I will not go to make her sacrifice to a false god; I go to persuade her to stay in prison, by deserving to stay. Perhaps I am not the best person to go; but if I go, I go free. I go willing to die myself for my Lord; glad to make her die for Him."
Agellius said this in so determined a way, so calmly, with such a grasp of the existing posture of affairs, and of the whole circumstances of the case, that it was now Jucundus's turn to feel surprise and annoyance. For a time he did not take in what Agellius meant, nor could he to the last follow his train of feeling. When he saw what may be called the upshot of the matter, he became very angry, and spoke with great violence. By degrees he calmed; and then the strong feeling came on him again that it was impossible, if a meeting took place between the two, that it could end in any way but one. He defied any two young people who loved each other, to come to any but one conclusion. Agellius's mood was too excited, too tragic to last. The sight of Callista in that dreadful prison, perhaps in chains, waiting, in order to be free, for ability to say the words, "I am not a Christian;" and that ability waiting for the same words from himself, would bring the affair to a very speedy issue. As if he could love a fancy better than he loved Callista! Agellius, too, had already expressed a misgiving himself on that head; so far they were agreed. And, to tell the truth, it was a very difficult transaction for a young man; and giving our poor Agellius all credit for pure intention and firm resolve, we really should have been very sorry to see him involved in a trial, which would have demanded of him a most heroic faith and the detachment of a saint. We, therefore, are not sorry that in matter of fact he gained the merit of so virtuous a determination, without being called on to execute it. For it so happened, that a most unexpected event occurred to him not many hours afterwards, which will oblige us to take up here rather abruptly the history of one of our other personages.
In the bosom of the woods which stretched for many miles from the immediate environs of Sicca, and placed on a gravel slope reaching down to a brook, which ran in a bottom close by, was a small, rude hut, of a kind peculiar to Africa, and commonly ascribed to the wandering tribes, who neither cared, nor had leisure for a more stable habitation. Some might have called it a tent, from the goat's-hair cloth with which it was covered; but it looked, as to shape, like nothing else than an inverted boat, or the roof of a house set upon the ground. Inside it was seen to be constructed of the branches of trees, twisted together or wattled, the interstices, or rather the whole surface, being covered with clay. Being thus stoutly built, lined, and covered, it was proof against the tremendous rains, to which the climate, for which it was made, was subject. Along the centre ridge or backbone, which varied in height from six to ten feet from the ground, it was supported by three posts or pillars; at one end it rose conically to an open aperture, which served for chimney, for sky-light, and for ventilator. Hooks were suspended from the roof for baskets, articles of clothing, weapons, and implements of various kinds; and a second cone, excavated in the ground with the vertex downward, served as a storehouse for grain. The door was so low, that an ordinary person must bend double to pass through it.
However, it was in the winter months only, when the rains were profuse, that the owner of this respectable mansion condescended to creep into it. In summer she had a drawing-room, as it may be called, of nature's own creation, in which she lived, and in one quarter of which she had her lair. Close above the hut was a high plot of level turf, surrounded by old oaks, and fringed beneath with thick underwood. In the centre of this green rose a yew-tree of primeval character. Indeed, the whole forest spoke of the very beginnings of the world, as if it had been the immediate creation of that Voice which bade the earth clothe itself with green life. But the place no longer spoke exclusively of its Maker. Upon the trees hung the emblems and objects of idolatry, and the turf was traced with magical characters. Littered about were human bones, horns of wild animals, wax figures, spermaceti taken from vaults, large nails, to which portions of flesh adhered, as if they had had to do with malefactors, metal plates engraved with strange characters, bottled blood, hair of young persons, and old rags. The reader must not suppose any incantation is about to follow, or that the place we are describing will have a prominent place in what remains of our tale; but even if it be the scene of only one conversation, and one event, there is no harm in describing it, as it appeared on that occasion.
The old crone, who was seated in this bower of delight, had an expression of countenance in keeping, not with the place, but with the furniture with which it was adorned; that furniture told her trade. Whether the root of superstition might be traced deeper still, and the woman and her traps were really and directly connected with the powers beneath the earth, it is impossible to determine; it is certain she had the will, it is certain that that will was from their inspiration; nay, it is certain that she thought she really possessed the communications which she desired; it is certain, too, she so far deceived herself as to fancy that what she learned by mere natural means came to her from a diabolical source. She kept up an active correspondence with Sicca. She was consulted by numbers; she was up with the public news, the social gossip, and the private and secret transactions of the hour; and had, before now, even interfered in matters of state, and had been courted by rival political parties. But in the high cares and occupations of this interesting person, we are not here concerned; but with a conversation which took place between her and Juba, about the same hour of the evening as that of Caecilius's escape, but on the day after it, while the sun was gleaming almost horizontally through the tall trunks of the trees of the forest.
"Well, my precious boy," said the old woman, "the choicest gifts of great Cham be your portion! You had excellent sport yesterday, I'll warrant. The rats squeaked, eh? and you beat the life out of them. That scoundrel sacristan, I suppose, has taken up his quarters below."
"You may say it," answered Juba. "The reptile! he turned right about, and would have made himself an honest fellow, when it couldn't be helped."
"Good, good!" returned Gurta, as if she had got something very pleasant in her mouth; "ah! that is good! but he did not escape on that score, I do trust."
"They pulled him to pieces all the more cheerfully," said Juba.
"Pulled him to pieces, limb by limb, joint by joint, eh?" answered Gurta. "Did they skin him?—did they do anything to his eyes, or his tongue? Anyhow, it was too quickly, Juba. Slowly, leisurely, gradually. Yes, it's like a glutton to be quick about it. Taste him, handle him, play with him,—that's luxury! but to bolt him,—faugh!"
"Caeso's slave made a good end," said Juba: "he stood up for his views, and died like a man."
"The gods smite him! but he has gone up—up:" and she laughed. "Up to what they call bliss and glory;—such glory! but he's out of our domain, you know. But he did not die easy?"
"The boys worried him a good deal," answered Juba: "but it's not quite in my line, mother, all this. I think you drink a pint of blood morning and evening, and thrive on it, old woman. It makes you merry; but it's too much for my stomach."
"Ha, ha, my boy!" cried Gurta; "you'll improve in time, though you make wry faces, now that you're young. Well, and have you brought me any news from the capitol? Is any one getting a rise in the world, or a downfall? How blows the wind? Are there changes in the camp? This Decius, I suspect, will not last long."
"They all seem desperately frightened," said Juba, "lest they should not smite your friends hard enough, Gurta. Root and branch is the word. They'll have to make a few Christians for the occasion, in order to kill them: and I almost think they're about it," he added, thoughtfully. "They have to show that they are not surpassed by the rabble. 'Tis a pity Christians are so few, isn't it, mother?"
"Yes, yes," she said, "but we must crush them, grind them, many or few: and we shall, we shall! Callista's to come."
"I don't see they are worse than other people," said Juba; "not at all, except that they are commonly sneaks. If Callista turns, why should not I turn too, mother, to keep her company, and keep your hand in?"
"No, no, my boy," returned the witch, "you must serve my master. You are having your fling just now, but you will buckle to in good time. You must one day take some work with my merry men. Come here, child," said the fond mother, "and let me kiss you."
"Keep your kisses for your monkeys and goats and cats," answered Juba; "they're not to my taste, old dame. Master! my master! I won't have a master! I'll be nobody's servant. I'll never stand to be hired, nor cringe to a bully, nor quake before a rod. Please yourself, Gurta; I am a free man. You're my mother by courtesy only."
Gurta looked at him savagely. "Why, you're not going to be pious and virtuous, Juba? A choice saint you'll make! You shall be drawn for a picture."
"Why shouldn't I, if I choose?" said Juba. "If I must take service, willy nilly, I'd any day prefer the other's to that of your friend. I've not left the master to take the man."
"Blaspheme not the great gods," she answered, "or they'll do you a mischief yet."
"I say again," insisted Juba, "if I must lick the earth, it shall not be where your friend has trod. It shall be in my brother's fashion, rather than in yours, Gurta."
"Agellius!" she shrieked out with such disgust, that it is wonderful she uttered the name at all. "Ah! you have not told me about him, boy. Well, is he safe in the pit, or in the stomach of an hyena?"
"He's alive," said Juba; "but he has not got it in him to be a Christian. Yes, he's safe with his uncle."
"Ah! Jucundus must ruin him, debauch him, and then we must make away with him. We must not be in a hurry," said Gurta, "it must be body and soul."
"No one shall touch him, craven as he is," answered Juba. "I despise him, but let him alone."
"Don't come across me," said Gurta, sullenly; "I'll have my way. Why, you know I could smite you to the dust, as well as him, if I chose."
"But you have not asked me about Callista," answered Juba. "It is really a capital joke, but she has got into prison for certain, for being a Christian. Fancy it! they caught her in the streets, and put her in the guard-house, and have had her up for examination. You see they want a Christian for the nonce: it would not do to have none such in prison; so they will flourish with her till Decius bolts from the scene."
"The Furies have her!" cried Gurta: "she is a Christian, my boy: I told you so, long ago!"
"Callista a Christian!" answered Juba, "ha! ha! She and Agellius are going to make a match of it, of some sort or other. They're thinking of other things than paradise."
"She and the old priest, more likely, more likely," said Gurta. "He's in prison with her—in the pit, as I trust."
"Your master has cheated you for once, old woman," said Juba.
Gurta looked at him fiercely, and seemed waiting for his explanation. He began singing,—
"She wheedled and 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.
"She foamed and she cursed—'twas the same thing to him; She laid well her trap; but he carried his whim;— The priest scuffled off, safe in life and in limb."
Gurta was almost suffocated with passion. "Cyprianus has not escaped, boy?" she asked at length.
"I got him off," said Juba, undauntedly.
A shade, as of Erebus, passed over the witch's face; but she remained quite silent.
"Mother, I am my own master," he continued, "I must break your assumption of superiority. I'm not a boy, though you call me so. I'll have my own way. Yes, I saved Cyprianus. You're a bloodthirsty old hag! Yes, I've seen your secret doings. Did not I catch you the other day, practising on that little child? You had nailed him up by hands and feet against the tree, and were cutting him to pieces at your leisure, as he quivered and shrieked the while. You were examining or using his liver for some of your black purposes. It's not in my line; but you gloated over it; and when he wailed, you wailed in mimicry. You were panting with pleasure."
Gurta was still silent, and had an expression on her face, awful from the intensity of its malignity. She had uttered a low piercing whistle.
"Yes!" continued Juba, "you revelled in it. You chattered to the poor babe when it screamed, as a nurse to an infant. You called it pretty names, and squeaked out your satisfaction each time you stuck it. You old hag! I'm not of your breed, though they call us of kin. I don't fear you," he said, observing the expression of her countenance, "I don't fear the immortal devil!" And he continued his song—
"She beckoned the moon, and the moon came down; The green earth shrivelled beneath her frown; But a man's strong will can keep his own."
While he was talking and singing, her call had been answered from the hut. An animal of some wonderful species had crept out of it, and proceeded to creep and crawl, moeing and twisting as it went, along the trees and shrubs which rounded the grass plot. When it came up to the old woman, it crouched at her feet, and then rose up upon its hind legs and begged. She took hold of the uncouth beast and began to fondle it in her arms, muttering something in its ear. At length, when Juba stopped for a moment in his song, she suddenly flung it right at him, with great force, saying, "Take that!" She then gave utterance to a low inward laugh, and leaned herself back against the trunk of the tree upon which she was sitting, with her knees drawn up almost to her chin.
The blow seemed to act on Juba as a shock on his nervous system, both from its violence and its strangeness. He stood still for a moment, and then, without saying a word, he turned away, and walked slowly down the hill, as if in a maze. Then he sat down....
In an instant up he started again with a great cry, and began running at the top of his speed. He thought he heard a voice speaking in him; and, however fast he ran, the voice, or whatever it was, kept up with him. He rushed through the underwood, trampling and crushing it under his feet, and scaring the birds and small game which lodged there. At last, exhausted, he stood still for breath, when he heard it say loudly and deeply, as if speaking with his own organs, "You cannot escape from yourself!" Then a terror seized him; he fell down and fainted away.
A MOTHER'S BLESSING.
When his senses returned, his first impression was of something in him not himself. He felt it in his breathing; he tasted it in his mouth. The brook which ran by Gurta's encampment had by this time become a streamlet, though still shallow. He plunged into it; a feeling came upon him as if he ought to drown himself, had it been deeper. He rolled about in it, in spite of its flinty and rocky bed. When he came out of it, his tunic sticking to him, he tore it off his shoulders, and let it hang round his girdle in shreds, as it might. The shock of the water, however, acted as a sedative upon him, and the coolness of the night refreshed him. He walked on for a while in silence.
Suddenly the power within him began uttering, by means of his organs of speech, the most fearful blasphemies, words embodying conceptions which, had they come into his mind, he might indeed have borne with patience before this, or uttered in bravado, but which now filled him with inexpressible loathing, and a terror to which he had hitherto been quite a stranger. He had always in his heart believed in a God, but he now believed with a reality and intensity utterly new to him. He felt it as if he saw Him; he felt there was a world of good and evil beings. He did not love the good, or hate the evil; but he shrank from the one, and he was terrified at the other; and he felt himself carried away, against his will, as the prey of some dreadful, mysterious power, which tyrannised over him.
The day had closed—the moon had risen. He plunged into the thickest wood, and the trees seemed to him to make way for him. Still they seemed to moan and to creak as they moved out of their place. Soon he began to see that they were looking at him, and exulting over his misery. They, of an inferior nature, had had no gift which they could abuse and lose; and they remained in that honour and perfection in which they were created. Birds of the night flew out of them, reptiles slunk away; yet soon he began to be surrounded, wherever he went, by a circle of owls, bats, ravens, crows, snakes, wild cats, and apes, which were always looking at him, but somehow made way, retreating before him, and yet forming again, and in order, as he marched along.
He had passed through the wing of the forest which he had entered, and penetrated into the more mountainous country. He ascended the heights; he was a taller, stronger man than he had been; he went forward with a preternatural vigour, and flourished his arms with the excitement of some vinous or gaseous intoxication. He heard the roar of the wild beasts echoed along the woody ravines which were cut into the solid mountain rock, with a reckless feeling, as if he could cope with them. As he passed the dens of the lion, leopard, hyena, jackal, wild boar, and wolf, there he saw them sitting at the entrance, or stopping suddenly as they prowled along, and eyeing him, but not daring to approach. He strode along from rock to rock, and over precipices, with the certainty and ease of some giant in Eastern fable. Suddenly a beast of prey came across him; in a moment he had torn up by the roots the stump of a wild vine plant, which was near him; had thrown himself upon his foe before it could act on the aggressive, had flung it upon its back, forced the weapon into its mouth, and was stamping on its chest. He knocked the life out of the furious animal; and crying "Take that," tore its flesh, and, applying his mouth to the wound, sucked a draught of its blood.
He has passed over the mountain, and has descended its side. Bristling shrubs, swamps, precipitous banks, rushing torrents, are no obstacle to his course. He has reached the brow of a hill, with a deep placid river at the foot of it, just as the dawn begins to break. It is a lovely prospect, which every step he takes is becoming more definite and more various in the daylight. Masses of oleander, of great beauty, with their red blossoms, fringed the river, and tracked out its course into the distance. The bank of the hill below him, and on the right and left, was a maze of fruit-trees, about which nature, if it were not the hand of man, had had no thought except that they should be all together there. The wild olive, the pomegranate, the citron, the date, the mulberry, the peach, the apple, and the walnut, formed a sort of spontaneous orchard. Across the water, groves of palm-trees waved their long and graceful branches in the morning breeze. The stately and solemn ilex, marshalled into long avenues, showed the way to substantial granges or luxurious villas. The green turf or grass was spread out beneath, and here and there flocks and herds were emerging out of the twilight, and growing distinct upon the eye. Elsewhere the ground rose up into sudden eminences crowned with chesnut woods, or with plantations of cedar and acacia, or wildernesses of the cork-tree, the turpentine, the carooba, the white poplar, and the Phenician juniper, while overhead ascended the clinging tendrils of the hop, and an underwood of myrtle clothed their stems and roots. A profusion of wild flowers carpeted the ground far and near.
Juba stood and gazed till the sun rose opposite to him, envying, repining, hating, like Satan looking in upon Paradise. The wild mountains, or the locust-smitten track would have better suited the tumult of his mind. It would have been a relief to him to have retreated from so fair a scene, and to have retraced his steps, but he was not his own master, and was hurried on. Sorely against his determined strong resolve and will, crying out and protesting and shuddering, the youth was forced along into the fulness of beauty and blessing with which he was so little in tune. With rage and terror he recognised that he had no part in his own movements, but was a mere slave. In spite of himself he must go forward and behold a peace and sweetness which witnessed against him. He dashed down through the thick grass, plunged into the water, and without rest or respite began a second course of aimless toil and travail through the day.
The savage dogs of the villages howled and fled from him as he passed by; beasts of burden, on their way to market, which he overtook or met, stood still, foamed and trembled; the bright birds, the blue jay and golden oriole, hid themselves under the leaves and grass; the storks, a religious and domestic bird, stopped their sharp clattering note from the high tree or farmhouse turret, where they had placed their nests; the very reptiles skulked away from his shadow, as if it were poisonous. The boors who were at their labour in the fields suspended it, to look at one whom the Furies were lashing and whirling on. Hour passed after hour, the sun attained its zenith, and then declined, but this dreadful compulsory race continued. Oh, what would he have given for one five minutes of oblivion, of slumber, of relief from the burning thirst which now consumed him! but the master within him ruled his muscles and his joints, and the intense pain of weariness had no concomitant prostration of strength. Suddenly he began to laugh hideously; and he went forward dancing and singing loud, and playing antics. He entered a hovel, made faces at the children, till one of them fell into convulsions, and he ran away with another; and when some country people pursued him, he flung the child in their faces, saying, "Take that," and said he was Pentheus, king of Thebes, of whom he had never heard, about to solemnise the orgies of Bacchus, and he began to spout a chorus of Greek, a language he had never learnt or heard spoken.
Now it is evening again, and he has come up to a village grove, where the rustics were holding a feast in honour of Pan. The hideous brutal god, with yawning mouth, horned head, and goat's feet, was placed in a rude shed, and a slaughtered lamb, decked with flowers, lay at his feet. The peasants were frisking before him, boys and women, when they were startled by the sight of a gaunt, wild, mysterious figure, which began to dance too. He flung and capered about with such vigour that they ceased their sport to look on, half with awe and half as a diversion. Suddenly he began to groan and to shriek, as if contending with himself, and willing and not willing some new act; and the struggle ended in his falling on his hands and knees, and crawling like a quadruped towards the idol. When he got near, his attitude was still more servile; still groaning and shuddering, he laid himself flat on the ground, and wriggled to the idol as a worm, and lapped up with his tongue the mingled blood and dust which lay about the sacrifice. And then again, as if nature had successfully asserted her own dignity, he jumped up high in the air, and, falling on the god, broke him to pieces, and scampered away out of pursuit, before the lookers-on recovered from their surprise.
Another restless, fearful night amid the open country; ... but it seemed as if the worst had passed, and, though still under the heavy chastisement of his pride, there was now more in Juba of human action and of effectual will. The day broke, and he found himself on the road to Sicca. The beautiful outline of the city was right before him. He passed his brother's cottage and garden; it was a wreck. The trees torn up, the fences broken down, and the room pillaged of the little that could be found there. He went on to the city, crying out "Agellius;" the gate was open, and he entered. He went on to the Forum; he crossed to the house of Jucundus; few people as yet were stirring in the place. He looked up at the wall. Suddenly, by the help of projections, and other irregularities of the brickwork, he mounted up upon the flat roof, and dropped down along the tiles, through the impluvium into the middle of the house. He went softly into Agellius's closet, where he was asleep, he roused him with the name of Callista, threw his tunic upon him, which was by his side, put his boots into his hands, and silently beckoned him to follow him. When he hesitated, he still whispered to him "Callista," and at length seized him and led him on. He unbarred the street door, and with a movement of his arm, more like a blow than a farewell, thrust him into the street. Then he barred again the door upon him, and lay down himself upon the bed which Agellius had left. His good Angel, we may suppose, had gained a point in his favour, for he lay quiet, and fell into a heavy sleep.
CALLISTA IN DURANCE.
We will hope that the reader, as well as Agellius, is attracted by the word Callista, and wishes to know something about her fate; nay, perhaps finds fault with us as having suffered him so long to content himself with the chance and second-hand information which Jucundus or Juba has supplied. If we have been wanting in due consideration for him, we now trust to make up for it.
When Callista, then, had so boldly left the cottage to stop the intruders, she had in one important point reckoned without her host. She spoke Latin fluently, herself, and could converse with the townspeople, most of whom could do the same; but it was otherwise with the inhabitants of the country, numbers of whom, as we have said, were in Sicca on the day of the outbreak. The two fellows, whom she went out to withstand, knew neither her nor the Latin tongue. They were of a race which called itself Canaanite, and really was so; huge, gigantic men, who looked like the sons of Enac, described in Holy Writ. They knew nothing of roads or fences, and had scrambled up the hill as they could, the shortest way, and, being free from the crowd, with far more expedition than had they followed the beaten track. She and they could not understand each other's speech; but her appearance spoke for her, and, in consequence, they seized on her as their share of the booty, and without more ado, carried her off towards Sicca. As they came up by a route of their own, so they returned, and entered the city by a gate more to the south, not the Septimian; a happy circumstance, as otherwise she would have stood every chance of being destroyed in that wholesale massacre which the soldiery inflicted on the crowd as it returned.
These giants, then, got possession of Callista, and she entered Sicca upon the shoulder of one of them, who danced in with no greater inconvenience than if he was carrying on it a basket of flowers, or a box of millinery. Here the party met with the city police, who were stationed at the gate.
"Down with your live luggage, you rascals," they said, in their harsh Punic; "what have you to do with plunder of this kind? and how came you by her?"
"She's one of those Christian rats, your worship," answered the fellow, who, strong as he was, did not relish a contest with some dozen of armed men. "Long live the Emperor! We'll teach her to eat asses' heads another time, and brew fevers. I found her with a party of Christians. She's nothing but a witch, and she knows the consequences."
"Let her go, you drunken animal!" said the constable, still keeping his distance. "I'll never believe any woman is a Christian, let alone so young a one. And now I look at her, so far as I can see by this light, I think she's priestess of one of the great temples up there."
"She can turn herself into anything," said the other of her capturers, "young or old. I saw her one night near Madaura, a month ago, in the tombs in the shape of a black cat."
"Away with you both, in the name of the Suffetes of Sicca and all the magistracy!" cried the official. "Give up your prisoner to the authorities of the place, and let the law take its course."
But the Canaanites did not seem disposed to give her up, and neither party liking to attack the other, a compromise took place. "Well," said the guardian of the night, "the law must be vindicated, and the peace preserved. My friends, you must submit to the magistrates. But since she happens to be on your shoulder, my man, let her even remain there, and we depute you, as a beast of burden, to carry her for us, thereby to save us the trouble. Here, child," he continued, "you're our prisoner; so you shall plead your own cause in the popina there. Long live Decius, pious and fortunate! Long live this ancient city, colony and municipium! Cheer up, my lass, and sing us a stave or two, as we go; for I'll pledge a cyathus of unmixed, that, if you choose, you can warble notes as sweet as the manna gum."
Callista was silent, but she was perfectly collected, and ready to avail herself of any opportunity to better her condition. They went on towards the Forum, where a police-office, as we now speak, was situated, but did not reach it without an adventure. The Roman military force at Sicca was not more than a century of men; the greater number were at this moment at the great gate, waiting for the mob; a few, in parties of three and four, were patrolling the city. Several of these were at the entrance of the Forum when the party came up to it; and it happened that a superior officer, who was an assistant to what may be called the military resident of the place, a young man, on whom much of the duty of the day had devolved, was with the soldiers. She had known him as a friend of her brother's, and recognised him in the gloom, and at once took advantage of the meeting.
"Help," she said, "gentlemen! help, Calphurnius! these rascals are carrying me off to some den of their own."
The tribune at once knew her voice. "What!" he cried, with great astonishment, "what, my pretty Greek! You most base, infamous, and unmannerly scoundrels, down with her this instant! What have you to do with that young lady? You villains, unless you would have me crack your African skulls with the hilt of my sword, down with her, I say!"
There was no resisting a Roman voice, but prompt obedience is a rarity, and the ruffians began to parley. "My noble master," said the constable, "she's our prisoner. Jove preserve you, and Bacchus and Ceres bless you, my lord tribune! and long life to the Emperor Decius in these bad times. But she is a rioter, my lord, one of the ringleaders, and a Christian and a witch to boot."
"Cease your vile gutturals, you animal!" cried the officer, "or I will ram them down your throat with my pike to digest them. Put down the lady, beast. Are you thinking twice about it? Go, Lucius," he said to a private, "kick him away, and bring the woman here."
Callista was surrendered, but the fellow, sullen at the usage he had met with, and spiteful against Calphurnius, as the cause of it, cried out maliciously, "Mind what you are at, noble sir, it's not our affair; you can fry your own garlic. But an Emperor is an Emperor, and an Edict is an Edict, and a Christian is a Christian; and I don't know what high places will say to it, but it's your affair. Take notice," he continued, as he got to a safer distance, raising his voice still higher, that the soldiers might hear, "yon girl is a Christian priestess, caught in a Christian assembly, sacrificing asses and eating children for the overthrow of the Emperor, and the ruin of his loyal city of Sicca, and I have been interrupted in the discharge of my duty—I, a constable of the place. See whether Calphurnius will not bring again upon us the plague, the murrain, the locusts, and all manner of larvae and maniae before the end of the story."
This speech perplexed Calphurnius, as it was intended. It was impossible he could dispose of Callista as he wished, with such a charge formally uttered in the presence of his men. He knew how serious the question of Christianity was at that moment, and how determined the Imperial Government was on the eradication of its professors; he was a good soldier, devoted to head-quarters, and had no wish to compromise himself with his superiors, or to give bystanders an advantage over him, by setting a prisoner at liberty without inquiry, who had been taken in a Christian's house. He muttered an oath, and said to the soldiers, "Well, my lads, to the Triumviri with her, since it must be so. Cheer up, my star of the morning, bright beam of Hellas, it is only as a matter of form, and you will be set at liberty as soon as they look on you." And with these words he led the way to the Officium.
But the presiding genius of the Officium was less accommodating than he had anticipated. It might be that he was jealous of the soldiery, or of their particular interference, or indignant at the butchery at the great gate, of which the news had just come, or out of humour with the day's work, and especially with the Christians; at any rate, Calphurnius found he had better have taken a bolder step, and have carried her as a prisoner to the camp. However, nothing was now left for him but to depart; and Callista fell again into the hands of the city, though of the superior functionaries, who procured her a lodging for the night, and settled to bring her up for examination next morning.
The morning came, and she was had up. What passed did not transpire; but the issue was that she was remanded for a further hearing, and was told she might send to her brother, and acquaint him where she was. He was allowed one interview with her, and he came away almost out of his senses, saying she was bewitched, and fancied herself a Christian. What precisely she had said to him, which gave this impression, he could hardly say; but it was plain there must be something wrong, or there would not be that public process and formal examination which was fixed for the third day afterwards.
WHAT CAN IT ALL MEAN?
Were the origin of Juba's madness (or whatever the world would call it) of a character which admitted of light writing about it, much might be said on the surprise of the clear-headed, narrow-minded, positive, and easy-going Jucundus, when he found one nephew substituted for another, and had to give over his wonder at Agellius, in order to commence a series of acts of amazement and consternation at Juba. He summoned Jupiter and Juno, Bacchus, Ceres, Pomona, Neptune, Mercury, Minerva, and great Rome, to witness the marvellous occurrence; and then he had recourse to the infernal gods, Pluto and Proserpine, down to Cerberus, if he be one of them; but, after all, there the portent was, in spite of all the deities which Olympus, or Arcadia, or Latium ever bred; and at length it had a nervous effect upon the old gentleman's system, and, for the first evening after it, he put all his good things from him, and went to bed supperless and songless. What had been Juba's motive in the exploit which so unpleasantly affected his uncle, it is of course quite impossible to say. Whether his mention of Callista's name was intended to be for the benefit of her soul, or the ruin of Agellius's, must be left in the obscurity in which the above narrative presents it to us; so far alone is certain, though it does not seem to throw light on the question, that, on his leaving his uncle's house in the course of the forenoon, which he did, without being pressed to stay, he was discovered prancing and gesticulating in the neighbourhood of Callista's prison, so as to excite the attention of the apparitor, or constable, who guarded the entrance, and who, alarmed at his wildness, sent for some of his fellows, and, with their assistance, repelled the intruder, who, thereupon, scudding out at the eastern gate, was soon lost in the passes of the mountain.
To one thing, however, we may pledge ourselves, that Juba had no intention of shaking, even for one evening, the nerves of Jucundus; yet shaken they were till about the same time twenty-four hours afterwards. And when in that depressed state, he saw nothing but misery on all sides of him. Juba was lost; Agellius worse. Of course, he had joined himself to his sect, and he should never see him again; and how should he ever hold up his head? Well, he only hoped Agellius would not be boiled in a caldron, or roasted at a slow fire. If this were done, he positively must leave Sicca, and the most thriving trade which any man had in the whole of the Proconsulate. And then that little Callista! Ah!—what a real calamity was there! Anyhow he had lost her, and what should he do for a finisher of his fine work in marble, or metal? She was a treasure in herself. Altogether the heavens were very dark; and it was scarcely possible for any one who knew well his jovial cast of countenance, to keep from laughing, whatever his real sympathy, at the unusual length and blankness which were suddenly imposed upon it.
While he sat thus at his shop window, which, as it were, framed him for the contemplation of passers-by, on the day of the escape of Agellius, and the day before Callista's public examination, Aristo rushed in upon him in a state of far more passionate and more reasonable grief. He had called, indeed, the day before, but he found a pleasure in expending his distress upon others, and he came again to get rid of its insupportable weight by discharging it in a torrent of tears and exclamations. However, at first the words of both "moved slow," as the poet says, and went off in a sort of dropping fire.
"Well," said Jucundus, in a depressed tone; "he's not come to you, of course?"
"Oh! Agellius! No, he's not with me." Then, after a pause, Aristo added, "Why should he be?"
"Oh, I don't know. I thought he might be. He's been gone since early morning."
"Indeed! No, I don't know where he is. How came he with you?"
"I told you yesterday; but you have forgotten. I was sheltering him; but he's gone for ever."
"And his brother's mad!—horribly mad!" and he slapped his hand against his thigh.
"I always thought it," answered Aristo.
"Did you? Yes, so it is; but it's very different from what it ever was. The furies have got hold of him with a vengeance! He's frantic! Oh, if you had seen him! Two boys, both mad! It's all the father!"
"I thought you'd like to hear something about dear, sweet Callista," said her brother.
"Yes, I should indeed!" answered Jucundus. "By Esculapius! they're all mad together!"
"Well, it is like madness!" cried Aristo, with great vehemence.
"The world's going mad!" answered Jucundus, who was picking up, since he began to talk, an exercise which was decidedly good for him. "We are all going mad! I shall get crazed. The townspeople are crazed already. What an abominable, brutal piece of business was that three days ago! I put up my shutters. Did it come near you?—all on account of one or two beggarly Christians, and my poor boy. What harm could two or three, toads and vipers though they be, do here? They might have been trodden down easily. It's another thing at Carthage. Catch the ringleaders, I say; make examples. The foxes escape, and our poor ganders suffer!"
Aristo, pierced with his own misery, had no heart or head to enter into the semi-political ideas of Jucundus, who continued,—
"Yes, it's no good. The empire's coming to pieces, mark my words! I told you so, if those beasts were let alone. They have been let alone. Remedies are too late. Decius will do no good. No one's safe! Farewell, my friends! I am going. Like poor dear Callista, I shall be in prison, and, like her, find myself dumb!... Ah! yes, Callista; how did you find her?"
"O dear, sweet, suffering girl!" cried her brother.
"Yes, indeed!" answered Jucundus; "yes!" meditatively. "She is a dear, sweet, suffering girl! I thought he might perhaps have taken her off—that was my hope. He was so set upon hearing where she was, whether she could be got out. It struck me he had made the best of his way to her. She could do anything with him. And she loved him, she did!—I'm convinced of it!—nothing shall convince me otherwise! 'Bring them together,' I said, 'and they will rush into each other's arms.' But they're bewitched!—The whole world's bewitched! Mark my words,—I have an idea who is at the bottom of this."
"Oh!" groaned out Aristo; "I care not for top or bottom!—I care not for the whole world, or for anything at all but Callista! If you could have seen the dear, patient sufferer!" and the poor fellow burst into a flood of tears.
"Bear up! bear up!" said Jucundus, who by this time was considerably better; "show yourself a man, my dear Aristo. These things must be;—they are the lot of human nature. You remember what the tragedian says: stay! no!—it's the comedian,—it's Menander"——
"To Orcus and Erebus with all the tragedy and comedy that ever was spouted!" exclaimed Aristo. "Can you do nothing for me? Can't you give me a crumb of consolation or sympathy, encouragement or suggestion? I am a stranger in the country, and so is this dear sister of mine, whom I was so proud of; and who has been so good, and kind, and gentle, and sweet. She loved me so much, she never grudged me anything; she let me do just what I would with her. Come here, go there,—it was just as I would. There we were, two orphans together, ten years since, when I was double her age. She wished to stay in Greece; but she came to this detestable Africa all for me. She would be gay and bright when I would have her so. She had no will of her own; and she set her heart upon nothing, and was pleased anywhere. She had not an enemy in the world. I protest she is worth all the gods and goddesses that ever were hatched! And here, in this ill-omened Africa, the evil eye has looked at her, and she thinks herself a Christian, when she is just as much a hippogriff, or a chimaera."
"Well, but, Aristo," said Jucundus, "I was going to tell you who is at the bottom of it all. Callista's mad; Agellius is mad; Juba is mad; and Strabo was mad;—but it was his wife, old Gurta, that drove him mad;—and there, I think, is the beginning of our troubles.——Come in! come in, Cornelius!" he cried, seeing his Roman friend outside, and relapsing for the moment into his lugubrious tone; "Come in, Cornelius, and give us some comfort, if you can. Well, this is like a friend! I know if you can help me, you will."
Cornelius answered that he was going back to Carthage in a day or two, and came to embrace him, and had hoped to have a parting supper before he went.
"That's kind!" answered Jucundus: "but first tell me all about this dreadful affair; for you are in the secrets of the Capitol. Have they any clue what has become of my poor Agellius?"
Cornelius had not heard of the young man's troubles, and was full of consternation at the news.
"What! Agellius really a Christian?" he said, "and at such a moment? Why, I thought you talked of some young lady who was to keep him in order?"
"She's a Christian too," replied Jucundus; and a silence ensued. "It's a bad world!" he continued. "She's imprisoned by the Triumviri. What will be the end of it?"
Cornelius shook his head, and looked mysterious.
"You don't mean it?" said Jucundus. "Not anything so dreadful, I do trust, Cornelius. Not the stake?"
Cornelius still looked gloomy and pompous.
"Nothing in the way of torture?" he went on; "not the rack, or the pitchfork?"
"It's a bad business, on your own showing," said Cornelius: "it's a bad business!"
"Can you do nothing for us, Cornelius?" cried Aristo. "The great people in Carthage are your friends. O Cornelius! I'd do anything for you!—I'd be your slave! She's no more a Christian than great Jove. She has nothing about her of the cut;—not a shred of her garment, or a turn of her hair. She's a Greek from head to foot—within and without. She's as bright as the day! Ah! we have no friends here. Dear Callista! you will be lost because you are a foreigner!" and the passionate youth began to tear his hair. "O Cornelius!" he continued, "if you can do anything for us! Oh! she shall sing and dance to you; she shall come and kneel down to you, and embrace your knees, and kiss your feet, as I do, Cornelius!" and he knelt down, and would have taken hold of Cornelius's beard.
Cornelius had never been addressed with so poetical a ceremonial, which nevertheless he received with awkwardness indeed, but with satisfaction. "I hear from you," he said with pomposity, "that your sister is in prison on suspicion of Christianity. The case is a simple one. Let her swear by the genius of the Emperor, and she is free; let her refuse it, and the law must take its course," and he made a slight bow.
"Well, but she is under a delusion," persisted Aristo, "which cannot last long. She says distinctly that she is not a Christian, is not that decisive? but then she won't burn incense; she won't swear by Rome. She tells me she does not believe in Jupiter, nor I; can anything be more senseless? It is the act of a mad woman. I say, 'My girl, the question is, Are you to be brought to shame? are you to die by the public sword? die in torments?' Oh, I shall go mad as well as she!" he screamed out. "She was so clever, so witty, so sprightly, so imaginative, so versatile! why, there's nothing she couldn't do. She could model, paint, play on the lyre, sing, act. She could work with the needle, she could embroider. She made this girdle for me. It's all that Agellius, it's Agellius. I beg your pardon, Jucundus; but it is;" and he threw himself on the ground, and rolled in the dust.
"I have been telling our young friend," said Jucundus to Cornelius, "to exert self-control, and to recollect Menander, 'Ne quid nimis.' Grieving does no good; but these young fellows, it's no use at all speaking to them. Do you think you could do anything for us, Cornelius?"
"Why," answered Cornelius, "since I have been here, I have fallen in with a very sensible man, and a man of remarkably sound political opinions. He has a great reputation, he is called Polemo, and is one of the professors at the Mercury. He seems to me to go to the root of these subjects, and I'm surprised how well we agreed. He's a Greek, as well as this young gentleman's sister. I should recommend him to go to Polemo; if any one could disabuse her mind, it is he."
"True, true," cried Aristo, starting up, "but, no, you can do it better; you have power with the government. The Proconsul will listen to you. The magistrates here are afraid of him; they don't wish to touch the poor girl, not they. But there's such a noise everywhere, and so much ill blood, and so many spies and informers, and so much mistrust—but why should it come upon Callista? Why should she be a sacrifice? But you'd oblige the Duumvirs as much as me in getting her out of the scrape. But what good would it do, if they took her dear life? Only get us the respite of a month; the delusion would vanish in a month. Get two months, if you can; or as long as you can, you know. Perhaps they would let us steal out of the country, and no one the wiser; and no harm to any one. It was a bad job our coming here."
"We know nothing at Rome of feelings and intentions, and motives and distinctions," said Cornelius; "and we know nothing of understandings, connivances, and evasions. We go by facts; Rome goes by facts. The question is, What is the fact? Does she burn incense, or does she not? Does she worship the ass, or does she not? However, we'll see what can be done." And so he went on, informing the pair of mourners that, as far as his influence extended, he would do something in behalf both of Agellius and Callista.
AM I A CHRISTIAN?
The sun had now descended for the last time before the solemn day which was charged with the fate of Callista, and what was the state of mind of one who excited such keen interest in the narrow circle within which she was known? And how does it differ from what it was some weeks before, when Agellius last saw her? She would have been unable to say herself. "So is the kingdom of God: as if a man should cast seed into the earth, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, whilst he knoweth not." She might, indeed, have been able afterwards, on looking back, to say many things of herself; and she would have recognised that while she was continually differing from herself, in that she was changing, yet it was not a change which involved contrariety, but one which expanded itself in (as it were) concentric circles, and only fulfilled, as time went on, the promise of its beginning. Every day, as it came, was, so to say, the child of the preceding, the parent of that which followed; and the end to which she tended could not get beyond the aim with which she set out. Yet, had she been asked, at the time of which we speak, where was her principle and her consistency, what was her logic, or whether she acted on reason, or on impulse, or on feeling, or in fancy, or in passion, she would have been reduced to silence. What did she know about herself, but that, to her surprise, the more she thought over what she heard of Christianity, the more she was drawn to it, and the more it approved itself to her whole soul, and the more it seemed to respond to all her needs and aspirations, and the more intimate was her presentiment that it was true? The longer it remained on her mind as an object, the more it seemed (unlike the mythology or the philosophy of her country, or the political religion of Rome) to have an external reality and substance, which deprived objections to it of their power, and showed them to be at best but difficulties and perplexities.
But then again, if she had been asked, what was Christianity, she would have been puzzled to give an answer. She would have been able to mention some particular truths which it taught, but neither to give them their definite and distinct shape, nor to describe the mode in which they were realised. She would have said, "I believe what has been told me, as from heaven, by Chione, Agellius, and Caecilius:" and it was clear she could say nothing else. What the three told her in common and in concord was at once the measure of her creed and the ground of her acceptance of it. It was that wonderful unity of sentiment and belief in persons so dissimilar from each other, so distinct in their circumstances, so independent in their testimony, which recommended to her the doctrine which they were so unanimous in teaching. She had long given up any belief in the religion of her country. As to philosophy, it dwelt only in conjecture and opinion; whereas the very essence of religion was, as she felt, a recognition of the worshippers on the part of the Object of it. Religion could not be without hope. To worship a being who did not speak to us, recognise us, love us, was not religion. It might be a duty, it might be a merit; but her instinctive notion of religion was the soul's response to a God who had taken notice of the soul. It was loving intercourse, or it was a name. Now the three witnesses who had addressed her about Christianity had each of them made it to consist in the intimate Divine Presence in the heart. It was the friendship or mutual love of person with person. Here was the very teaching which already was so urgently demanded both by her reason and her heart, which she found nowhere else; which she found existing one and the same in a female slave, in a country youth, in a learned priest.
This was the broad impression which they made upon her mind. When she turned to consider more in detail what it was they taught, or what was implied in that idea of religion which so much approved itself to her, she understood them to say that the Creator of heaven and earth, Almighty, All-good, clothed in all the attributes which philosophy gives Him, the Infinite, had loved the soul of man so much, and her soul in particular, that He had come upon earth in the form of a man, and in that form had gone through sufferings, in order to unite all souls to Him; that He desired to love, and to be loved; that He had said so; that He had called on man to love Him, and did actually bring to pass this loving intercourse of Him and man in those souls who surrendered themselves to Him. She did not go much further than this; but as much as this was before her mind morning, noon, and night. It pleaded in her; it importuned her; it would not be rebuffed. It did not mind her moods, or disgusts, or doubts, or denials, or dismissals, but came again and again. It rose before her, in spite of the contempt, reproach, and persecution which the profession of it involved. It smiled upon her; it made promises to her; it opened eternal views to her; and it grew upon her convictions in clearness of perception, in congruity, and in persuasiveness.
Moreover, the more she thought of Chione, of Agellius, and of Caecilius the more surely did she discern that this teaching wrought in them a something which she had not. They had about them a simplicity, a truthfulness, a decision, an elevation, a calmness, and a sanctity to which she was a stranger, which spoke to her heart and absolutely overcame her. The image of Caecilius, in particular, came out prominently and eloquently in her memory,—not in his words so much as in his manner. In spite of what she had injuriously said to him, she really felt drawn to worship him, as if he were the shrine and the home of that Presence to which he bore such solemn witness.
O the change, when, as if in punishment for her wild words against him, she found herself actually in the hands of lawless men, who were as far below her in sentiment as he was above her! O the change, when she was dizzied by their brutal vociferations and rapid motion, and that breath and atmosphere of evil which steamed up from the rankness of their impiety! O the thankfulness which rose up in her heart, though but vaguely directed to an object, when she found the repose and quiet, though it was that of a prison! for young as she was, she had become tired of all things that were seen, and had no strong desire, except for meditation on the great truths which she did not know.
One day passes and then another; and now the morning and the hour is come when she must appear before the magistrates of Sicca. With dread, with agitation, she looks forward to the moment. She has not yet a peace within her. Her peace is the stillness of the room in which she is imprisoned. She knows it will pass away when she leaves it; she knows that again she must be in the hands of cruel, godless men, with whom she has no sympathy; but she has no stay whereon to lean in the terrible trial. Her brother comes to her: he affects to forget her perverseness or delusion. He comes to her with a smile, and throws his arms around her; and Callista repels, from some indescribable feeling, his ardent caress, as if she were no longer his. He has come to accompany her to court, by an indulgence which he had obtained; to support her there,—to carry her through, and to take her back in triumph home. My sister,—why that strange, piteous look upon thy countenance?—why that paleness of thy cheek?—why that whisper of thy lips?—why those wistful, gentle pleadings of thine eyes? Sweet eyes, and brow, and cheek, in which I have ever prided myself! Why so backward?—why so distant and unfriendly? Am I not come to rescue thee from a place where thou never shouldst have been?—where thou ne'er shalt be again? Callista, what is this mystery?—speak!
Such as this was the mute expostulation conveyed in Aristo's look, and in the fond grasp of his hand; while treading down forcibly within him his memory and his fears of her great change, he determined she should be to him still all that she had ever been. But how altered was that look, and how relaxed that grasp, when at length her misery found words, and she said to him in agitation, "My time is short: I want some Christian, a Christian priest!"
It was as though she had never shown any tendency before to the proscribed religion. The words came to him with the intensity of something new and unimagined hitherto. He clasped his hands in emotion, turned white, and could but say, "Callista!" If she had made confession of the most heinous of crimes,—if she had spoken of murder, or some black treachery against himself,—of some enormity too great for words, it might have been; but his sister!—his pride and delight, after all and certainly a Christian! Better far had she said she was leaving him for ever, to abandon herself to the degrading service of the temples; better had she said she had taken hemlock, or had an asp in her bosom, than that she should choose to go out of the world with the tortures, the ignominy, the malediction of the religion of slaves.
Time waits for no man, nor does the court of justice, nor the subsellia of the magistrate. The examination is to be held in the Basilica at the Forum, and it requires from us a few words of explanation beforehand. The local magistrates then could only try the lesser offences, and decide civil suits; cases of suspected Christianity were reserved for the Roman authorities. Still, preliminary examinations were not unfrequently conducted by the city Duumvirs, or even in what may be called the police courts. And this may have especially been the case in the Proconsulates. Propraetors and Presidents were in the appointment of the Emperor, and joined in their persons the supreme civil and military authority. Such provinces, perhaps, were better administered; but there would be more of arbitrariness in their rule, and it would not be so acceptable to the ruled. The Proconsuls, on the other hand, were representatives of the Senate, and had not the military force directly in their hands. The natural tendency of this arrangement was to create, on the one hand, a rivalry between the civil and military establishments; and, on the other, to create a friendly feeling between the Proconsul and the local magistracy. Thus, not long before the date of this history, we read of Gordian, the Proconsul, enjoying a remarkable popularity in his African province; and when the people rose against the exactions of the imperial Procurator, as referred to in a former page, they chose and supported Gordian against him. But however this might be in general, so it was at this time at Sicca, that the Proconsular Officium and the city magistrates were on a good understanding with each other, whereas there was some collision between the latter and the military. Not much depends in the conduct of our story upon this circumstance; but it must be taken to account for the examination of Callista in the Forum, and for some other details which may follow before we come to the end of it.
The populace was collected about the gates and within the ample space of the Basilica, but they gave expression to no strong feeling on the subject of a Christian delinquent. The famine, the sickness, and, above all, the lesson which they had received so lately from the soldiers, had both diminished their numbers and cowed their spirit. They were sullen, too, and resentful; and, with the changeableness proverbial in a multitude, had rather have witnessed the beheading of a magistrate, or the burning of a tribune, than the torture and death of a dozen of wretched Christians. Besides, they had had a glut of Christian blood; a reaction of feeling had taken place, and, in spite of the suspicion of witchcraft, the youth and the beauty of Callista recommended her to their compassion.
The magistrates were seated on the subsellia, one of the Duumvirs presiding, in his white robe bordered with purple; his lictors, with staves, not fasces, standing behind him. In the vestibule of the court, to confront the prisoner on her first entrance, were the usual instruments of torture. The charge was one which can only be compared, in the estimation of both state and people in that day, to that of witchcraft, poisoning, parricide, or other monstrous iniquity in Christian times. There were the heavy boiae, a yoke for the neck, of iron, or of wood; the fetters; the nervi, or stocks, in which hands and feet were inserted, at distances from each other which strained or dislocated the joints. There, too, were the virgae, or rods with thorns in them; the flagra, lori, and plumbati, whips and thongs, cutting with iron or bruising with lead; the heavy clubs; the hook for digging into the flesh; the ungula, said to have been a pair of scissors; the scorpio, and pecten, iron combs or rakes for tearing. And there was the wheel, fringed with spikes, on which the culprit was stretched; and there was the fire ready lighted, with the water hissing and groaning in the large caldrons which were placed upon it. Callista had lost for ever that noble intellectual composure of which we have several times spoken; she shuddered at what she saw, and almost fainted, and, while waiting for her summons, leaned heavily against the merciless cornicularius at her side.
At length the judge began—"Let the servant from the Officium stand forth." The officialis answered that he had brought a prisoner charged with Christianity; she had been brought to him by the military on the night of the riot.
The scriba then read out the deposition of one of the stationarii, to the effect that he and his fellow-soldiers had received her from the hands of the civic force on the night in question, and had brought her to the office of the Triumvirs.
"Bring forward the prisoner," said the judge; she was brought forward.
"Here she is," answered the officialis, according to the prescribed form.
"What is your name?" said the judge.
She answered, "Callista."
The judge then asked if she was a freewoman or a slave.
She answered, "Free; the daughter of Orsilochus, lapidary, of Proconnesus."
Some conversation then went on among the magistrates as to her advocate or defensor. Aristo presented himself, but the question arose whether he was togatus. He was known, however, to several magistrates, and was admitted to stand by his sister.
Then the scriba read the charge—viz., that Callista was a Christian, and refused to sacrifice to the gods.
It was a plain question of fact, which required neither witnesses nor speeches. At a sign from the Duumvir in came two priests, bringing in between them the small altar of Jupiter; the charcoal was ready lighted, the incense at the side, and the judge called to the prisoner to sprinkle it upon the flame for the good fortune of Decius and his son. All eyes were turned upon her.
"I am not a Christian," she said; "I told you so before. I have never been to a Christian place of worship, nor taken any Christian oath, nor joined in any Christian sacrifice. And I should lie did I say that I was in any sense a Christian."
There was a silence; then the judge said, "Prove your words; there is the altar, the flame, and the incense; sacrifice to the genius of the Emperor."
She said, "What can I do? I am not a Christian." The judges looked at each other, as much as to say, "It is the old story; it is that inexplicable, hateful obstinacy, which will neither yield to reason, common sense, expediency, or fear."
The Duumvir only repeated the single word, "Sacrifice."
She stopped awhile; then she came forward with a hurried step. "O my fate!" she cried, "why was I born? why am I in this strait? I have no god. What can I do? I am abandoned; why should I not do it?" She stopped; then she went right on to the altar; she took the incense: suddenly she looked up to heaven and started, and threw it away. "I cannot! I dare not!" she cried out. There was a great sensation in court. "Evidently insane," said some of the more merciful of the Decurions; "poor thing, poor thing!" Her brother ran up to her; talked to her, conjured her, fell down on his knees to her; took her hand violently, and would have forced her to offer. In vain; all he could get from her was, "I am not a Christian; indeed, I am not a Christian. I have nothing to do with them. O the misery!"
"She is mad!" cried Aristo; "my lord judges, listen to me. She was seized by brutal ruffians during the riot, and the fright and shock have overcome her. Give her time, oh! give her time, and she will get right. She's a good religious girl; she has done more work for the temples than any girl in Sicca; half the statues in the city are her finishing. Many of you, my lords, have her handiwork. She works with me. Do not add to my anguish in seeing her deranged, by punishing her as a criminal, a Christian: do not take her from me. Sentence her, and you end the whole matter; give her a chance, and she will certainly be restored to the gods and to me. Will you put her to death because she is mad?"
What was to be done? The court was obsequious to the Proconsul, afraid of Rome; jealous that the mob should have been more forward than the magistracy. Had the city moved sooner, as soon as the edict came, there would have been no rising, no riot. Already they had been called on for a report about that riot and an explanation; if ever they had need to look sharp what they were doing, it was now. On the other hand, Callista and her brother had friends among the judges, as we have said, and their plea was at once obvious and reasonable. "If she persists, she persists, and nothing can be said; we don't wish to be disloyal, or careless of the emperor's commands. If she is obstinate, she must die; but she dies quite as usefully to us, with quite as much effect, a month hence as now. Not that we ask you to define a time on your own authority; simply do this, write to Carthage for advice. The government can answer within an hour, if it chooses. Merely say, 'Here is a young woman, who has ever been religious and well conducted, of great accomplishments, and known especially for her taste and skill in religious art, who since the day of the riot has suddenly refused to take the test. She can give no reason for her refusal, and protests she is not a Christian. Her friends say that the fright has turned her brain, but that if kindly treated and kept quiet, she will come round, and do all that is required of her. What are we to do?' "
At last Callista's friends prevailed. It was decided that the judges should pass over this examination altogether, as if it had been rendered informal by Callista's conduct. Had they recognised it as a proper legal process, they must have sentenced and executed her. Such a decision was of this further advantage to her, that nothing was altered as to her place of confinement. Instead of being handed over to the state prison, she remained in her former lodging, though in custody, and was allowed to see her friends. There had been very little chance of her recovery, supposing she was mad, or of ever coming out, if she had once gone into the formidable Carcer. Meanwhile the magistrates sent to Carthage for instructions.
A SICK CALL.
Aristo was not a fellow to have very long distresses; he never would have died of love or of envy, for honour or for loss of property; but his present calamity was one of the greatest he could ever have, and weighed upon him as long as ever any one could. His love for his sister was real, but it would not do to look too closely into the grounds of it; if we are obliged to do so, we must confess to a suspicion that it lay rather in certain outward, nay, accidental attributes of Callista, than in Callista herself. Did she lose her good looks, or her amiable unresisting submission to his wishes, whatever they were, she would also lose her hold upon his affections. This is not to make any severe charge against him, considering how it is with the common run of brothers and sisters, husbands and wives; at the same time, most people certainly are haunted by the memory of the past, and love for "Auld lang syne," and this Aristo might indeed have had, and perhaps had not. He loved chiefly for the present, and by the hour.
However, at the present time he was in a state of acute suffering, and, under its paroxysm, he bethought him again of Cornelius's advice, which he had rejected, to betake himself to Polemo. He had a distant acquaintance with him, sufficient for his purpose, and he called on him at the Mercury after the latter's lecture. Polemo was no fool, though steeped in affectation and self-conceit, and Aristo fancied that his sister might be more moved by a philosophical compatriot than any one else. Polemo's astonishment, however, when the matter was proposed to him surpassed words, and it showed how utterly Aristo was absorbed in his own misery, that the possibility of such a reception should not have occurred to him. What, he, the friend of Plotinus, of Rogatian, and the other noble men and women who were his fellow-disciples at Rome; he, a member of the intellectual aristocracy of the metropolis of the world; what, he to visit a felon in prison! and when he found the felon was a Christian, he fully thought that Aristo had come to insult him, and was on the point of bidding him leave him to himself. Aristo, however, persisted; and his evident anguish, and some particulars which came out, softened him. Callista was a Greek; a literate, or blue stocking. She had never indeed worn the philosophic pallium (as some Christian martyrs afterwards, if not before, have done—St. Catherine and St. Euphemia), but there was no reason why she should not do so. Polemo recollected having heard of her at the Capitol, and in the triclinium of one of the Decurions, as a lady of singular genius and attainments; and he lately had made an attempt to form a female class of hearers, and it would be a feather in his cap to make a convert of her. So, not many days after, one evening, accompanied by Aristo, he set out in his litter to the lodging where she was in custody; not, however, without much misgiving when it came to the point, some shame, and a consequent visible awkwardness and stiffness in his manner. All the perfumes he had about him could not hinder the disgust of such a visit rising up into his nostrils.
Callista's room was very well for a prison; it was on the ground-floor of a house of many stories, close to the Officium of the Triumvirate. Though not any longer under their strict jurisdiction, she was allowed to remain where she had first been lodged. She was in one of the rooms belonging to an apparitor of that Officium, and, as he had a wife, or at least a partner, to take care of her, she might consider herself very well off. However, the reader must recollect that we are in Africa, in the month of July, and our young Greek was little used to heats, which made the whole city nothing less than one vast oven through the greater part of the twenty-four hours. In lofty spacious apartments the resource adopted is to exclude the external air, and to live as Greenlanders, with closed windows and doors; this was both impossible, and would have been unsuccessful, if attempted in the small apartment of Callista. But fever of mind is even worse than the heat of the sky; and it is undeniable that her health, and her strength, and her appearance are affected by both the physical and the moral enemy. The beauty, which was her brother's delight, is waning away; and the shadows, if not the rudiments of a diviner loveliness, which is of expression, not of feature, which inspires not human passion, but diffuses chaste thoughts and aspirations, are taking its place. Aristo sees the change with no kind of satisfaction. The room has a bench, two or three stools, and a bed of rushes in one corner. A staple is firmly fixed in the wall; and an iron chain, light, however, and long, if the two ideas can be reconciled, reaches to her slender arm, and is joined to it by an iron ring.
On Polemo's entering the room, his first exclamation was to complain of its closeness; but he had to do a work, so he began it without delay. Callista, on her part, started; she had no wish for his presence. She was reclining on her couch, and she sat up. She was not equal to a controversy, nor did she mean to have one, whatever might be the case with him.
"Callista, my life and joy, dear Callista," said her brother, "I have brought the greatest man in Sicca to see you."
Callista cast upon him an earnest look, which soon subsided into indifference. He had a rose of Cyrene in his hand, whose perfume he diffused about the small room.
"It is Polemo," continued Aristo, "the friend of the great Plotinus, who knows all philosophies and all philosophers. He has come out of kindness to you."
Callista acknowledged his presence; it was certainly, she said, a great kindness for any one to visit her, and there.
Polemo replied by a compliment; he said it was Socrates visiting Aspasia. There had always been women above the standard of their sex, and they had ever held an intellectual converse with men of mind. He saw one such before him.
Callista felt it would be plunging her soul still deeper into shadows, when she sought realities, if she must take part in such an argument. She remained silent.
"Your sister has not the fit upon her?" asked Polemo of Aristo aside, neither liking her reception of him, nor knowing what to say. "Not at all, dear thing," answered Aristo; "she is all attention for you to begin."
"Natives of Greece," at length said he, "natives of Greece should know each other; they deserve to know each other; there is a secret sympathy between them. Like that mysterious influence which unites magnet to magnet; or like the echo which is a repercussion of the original voice. So, in like manner, Greeks are what none but they can be," and he smelt at his rose and bowed.
She smiled faintly when he mentioned Greece. "Yes," she said, "I am fonder of Greece than of Africa."
"Each has its advantages," said Polemo; "there is a pleasure in imparting knowledge, in lighting flame from flame. It would be selfish did we not leave Greece to communicate what they have not here. But you," he added, "lady, neither can learn in Greece nor teach in Africa, while you are in this vestibule of Orcus. I understand, however, it is your own choice; can that be possible?"
"Well, I wish to get out, if I could, most learned Polemo," said Callista sadly.
"May Polemo of Rhodes speak frankly to Callista of Proconnesus?" asked Polemo. "I would not speak to every one. If so, let me ask, what keeps you here?"
"The magistrates of Sicca and this iron chain," answered Callista. "I would I could be elsewhere; I would I were not what I am."
"What could you wish to be more than you are?" answered Polemo; "more gifted, accomplished, beautiful than any daughter of Africa."
"Go to the point, Polemo," said Aristo, nervously, though respectfully; "she wants home-thrusts."
"I see my brother wants you to ask how far it depends on me that I am here," said Callista, wishing to hasten his movements; "it is because I will not burn incense upon the altar of Jupiter."
"A most insufficient reason, lady," said Polemo.
Callista was silent.
"What does that action mean?" said Polemo; "it proposes to mean nothing else than that you are loyal to the Roman power. You are not of those Greeks, I presume, who dream of a national insurrection at this time? then you are loyal to Rome. Did I believe a Leonidas could now arise, an Harmodius, a Miltiades, a Themistocles, a Pericles, an Epaminondas, I should be as ready to take the sword as another; but it is hopeless. Greece, then, makes no claim on you just now. Nor will I believe, though you were to tell me so yourself, that you are leagued with any obscure, fanatic sect who desire Rome's downfall. Consider what Rome is;" and now he had got into the magnificent commonplace, out of his last panegyrical oration with which he had primed himself before he set out. "I am a Greek," he said, "I love Greece, but I love truth better; and I look at facts. I grasp them, and I confess to them. The wide earth, through untold centuries, has at length grown into the imperial dominion of One. It has converged and coalesced in all its various parts into one Rome. This, which we see, is the last, the perfect state of human society. The course of things, the force of natural powers, as is well understood by all great lawyers and philosophers, cannot go further. Unity has come at length, and unity is eternity. It will be for ever, because it is a whole. The principle of dissolution is eliminated. We have reached the apotelesma of the world. Greece, Egypt, Assyria, Libya, Etruria, Lydia, have all had their share in the result. Each of them, in its own day, has striven in vain to stop the course of fate, and has been hurried onwards at its wheels as its victim or its instrument. And shall Judaea do what profound Egypt and subtle Greece have tried in vain? If even the freedom of thought, the liberal scepticism, nay, the revolutionary theories of Hellas have proved unequal to the task of splitting up the Roman power, if the pomp and luxury of the East have failed, shall the mysticism of Syria succeed?"
"Well, dear Callista, are you listening?" cried Aristo, not over-confident of the fact, though Polemo looked round at him with astonishment.
"Ten centuries," he continued, "ten centuries have just been completed since Rome began her victorious career. For ten centuries she has been fulfilling her high mission in the dispositions of Destiny, and perfecting her maxims of policy and rules of government. For ten centuries she has pursued one track with an ever-growing intensity of zeal, and an ever-widening extent of territory. What can she not do? just one thing; and that one thing which she has not presumed to do, you are attempting. She has maintained her own religion, as was fitting; but she has never thrown contempt on the religion of others. This you are doing. Observe, Callista, Rome herself, in spite of her great power, has yielded to that necessity which is greater. She does not meddle with the religions of the peoples. She has opened no war against their diversities of rite. The conquering power found, especially in the East, innumerable traditions, customs, prejudices, principles, superstitions, matted together in one hopeless mass; she left them as they were; she recognised them; it would have been the worse for her if she had done otherwise. All she said to the peoples, all she dared say to them, was, 'You bear with me, and I will bear with you.' Yet this you will not do; you Christians, who have no pretence to any territory, who are not even the smallest of the peoples, who are not even a people at all, you have the fanaticism to denounce all other rites but your own, nay, the religion of great Rome. Who are you? upstarts and vagabonds of yesterday. Older religions than yours, more intellectual, more beautiful religions, which have had a position, and a history, and a political influence, have come to nought; and shall you prevail, you, a congeries, a hotch-potch of the leavings, and scraps, and broken meat of the great peoples of the East and West? Blush, blush, Grecian Callista, you with a glorious nationality of your own to go shares with some hundred peasants, slaves, thieves, beggars, hucksters, tinkers, cobblers, and fishermen! A lady of high character, of brilliant accomplishments, to be the associate of the outcasts of society!"
Polemo's speech, though cumbrous, did execution, at least the termination of it, upon minds constituted like the Grecian. Aristo jumped up, swore an oath, and looked round triumphantly at Callista, who felt its force also. After all, what did she know of Christians?—at best she was leaving the known for the unknown: she was sure to be embracing certain evil for contingent good. She said to herself, "No, I never can be a Christian." Then she said aloud, "My Lord Polemo, I am not a Christian;—I never said I was."
"That is her absurdity!" cried Aristo. "She is neither one thing nor the other. She won't say she's a Christian, and she won't sacrifice!"
"It is my misfortune," she said, "I know. I am losing both what I see, and what I don't see. It is most inconsistent: yet what can I do?"
Polemo had said what he considered enough. He was one of those who sold his words. He had already been over-generous, and was disposed to give away no more.
After a time, Callista said, "Polemo, do you believe in one God?"
"Certainly," he answered; "I believe in one eternal, self-existing something."
"Well," she said, "I feel that God within my heart. I feel myself in His presence. He says to me, 'Do this: don't do that,' You may tell me that this dictate is a mere law of my nature, as is to joy or to grieve. I cannot understand this. No, it is the echo of a person speaking to me. Nothing shall persuade me that it does not ultimately proceed from a person external to me. It carries with it its proof of its divine origin. My nature feels towards it as towards a person. When I obey it, I feel a satisfaction; when I disobey, a soreness—just like that which I feel in pleasing or offending some revered friend. So you see, Polemo, I believe in what is more than a mere 'something.' I believe in what is more real to me than sun, moon, stars, and the fair earth, and the voice of friends. You will say, Who is He? Has He ever told you anything about Himself? Alas! no!—the more's the pity! But I will not give up what I have, because I have not more. An echo implies a voice; a voice a speaker. That speaker I love and I fear."
Here she was exhausted, and overcome too, poor Callista! with her own emotions.
"O that I could find Him!" she exclaimed, passionately. "On the right hand and on the left I grope, but touch Him not. Why dost Thou fight against me?—why dost Thou scare and perplex me, O First and Only Fair? I have Thee not, and I need Thee." She added, "I am no Christian, you see, or I should have found Him; or at least I should say I had found Him."
"It is hopeless," said Polemo to Aristo, in much disgust, and with some hauteur of manner: "she is too far gone. You should not have brought me to this place."
"Shall I," she continued, "worship any but Him? Shall I say that He whom I see not, whom I seek, is our Jupiter, or Caesar, or the goddess Rome? They are none of them images of this inward guide of mine. I sacrifice to Him alone."
The two men looked at each other in amazement: one of them in anger.
"It's like the demon of Socrates," said Aristo, timidly.
"I will acknowledge Caesar in every fitting way," she repeated; "but I will not make him my God."
Presently she added, "Polemo, will not that invisible Monitor have something to say to all of us,—to you,—at some future day?"
"Spare me! spare me, Callista!" cried Polemo, starting up with a violence unsuited to his station and profession. "Spare my ears, unhappy woman!—such words have never hitherto entered them. I did not come to be insulted. Poor, blind, hapless, perverse spirit—I separate myself from you for ever! Desert, if you will, the majestic, bright, beneficent traditions of your forefathers, and live in this frightful superstition! Farewell!"
He did not seem better pleased with Aristo than with Callista, though Aristo helped him into his litter, walked by his side, and did what he could to propitiate him.
If there is a state of mind utterly forlorn, it is that in which we left the poor prisoner after Polemo had departed. She was neither a Christian, nor was she not. She was in the midway region of inquiry, which as surely takes time to pass over, except there be some almost miraculous interference, as it takes time to walk from place to place. You see a person coming towards you, and you say, impatiently, "Why don't you come faster?—why are you not here already?" Why?—because it takes time. To see that heathenism is false,—to see that Christianity is true,—are two acts, and involve two processes. They may indeed be united, and the truth may supplant the error; but they may not. Callista obeyed, as far as truth was brought home to her. She saw the vanity of idols before she had faith in Him who came to destroy them. She could safely say, "I discard Jupiter:" she could not say, "I am a Christian." Besides, what did she know of Christians? How did she know that they would admit her, if she wished it? They were a secret society, with an election, an initiation, and oaths;—not a mere philosophical school, or a profession of opinion, open to any individual. If they were the good people that she fancied them to be,—and if they were not, she would not think of them at all,—they were not likely to accept of her.
Still, though we may account for her conduct, its issue was not, on that account, the less painful. She had neither the promise of this world, nor of the next, and was losing earth without gaining heaven. Our Lord is reported to have said, "Be ye good money-changers." Poor Callista did not know how to turn herself to account. It had been so all through her short life. She had ardent affections, and keen sensibilities, and high aspirations; but she was not fortunate in the application of them. She had put herself into her brother's hands, and had let him direct her course. It could not be expected that he would be very different from the world. We are cautioned against "rejoicing in our youth." Aristo rejoiced in his without restraint; and he made his sister rejoice in hers, if enjoyment it was. He himself found in the pleasures he pointed out a banquet of fruits:—she dust and ashes. And so she went on; not changing her life, from habit, from the captivity of nature, but weary, disappointed, fastidious, hungry, yet not knowing what she would have; yearning after something, she did not well know what. And as heretofore she had cast her lot with the world, yet had received no price for her adhesion, so now she had bid it farewell; yet had nothing to take in its place.
As to her brother, after the visit of Polemo, he got more and more annoyed—angry rather than distressed, and angry with her. One more opportunity occurred of her release, and it was the last effort he made to move her. Cornelius, in spite of his pomposity, had acted the part of a real friend. He wrote from Carthage, that he had happily succeeded in his application to government, and, difficult and unusual as was the grace, had obtained her release. He sent the formal documents for carrying it through the court, and gained the eager benediction of the excitable Aristo. He rushed with the parchments to the magistrates, who recognised them as sufficient, and got an order for admission to her room.