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Title: Valeria - The Martyr of the Catacombs
Author: Withrow, William Henry
Language: English
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  [Illustration]

  [Illustration: SCENE IN THE CATACOMBS--AT THE MARTYR'S TOMB.]


  VALERIA,

  THE MARTYR OF THE CATACOMBS.

  A Tale of Early Christian Life in Rome.

  BY
  W.H. WITHROW, D.D.,

  _Author of "The Catacombs of Rome and their Testimony Relative
  to Primitive Christianity," Etc._


  [Illustration: "VALERIA SLEEPS IN PEACE."]


  TORONTO:

  WILLIAM BRIGGS.

  MONTREAL: C.W. COATES.
  HALIFAX: S.F. HUESTIS.



THE MARTYRS IN THE CATACOMBS.

BY CHARLES J. PETERSON.


    THEY lie all around me, countless in their number,
      Each martyr with his palm.
    No torture now can rack them: safe they slumber,
      Hushed in eternal calm!

    I read the rude inscriptions, written weeping,
      At night with hurried tears.
    Yet what a tale they tell! their secret keeping
      Through all these thousand years.

    "IN PACE." Yes, at peace. By sword, or fire,
    Virgin, or matron; youth, or gray-haired sire:
      For all, the peace of God.

    "IN CHRISTO." Died in Christ. Oh, tragic story!
      Yet, over shouts, and cries,
    And lion's roar, they heard the saints in glory
      Singing from Paradise.

    "AD DEUM." Went to God. Wide swung the portal;
      Dim sank the sands away;
    And, chanting "Alleluia," the immortal
      Passed to Eternal Day.

    Agnes, Cecilia! Names undying ever,--
      What's Cæsar's gain to this?
    He lived for self; they for their high endeavour.
      His, fame; theirs, endless bliss.

    And pagan Rome herself? Her wisest teacher
      Could teach but how to die!
    Sad, hopeless emperor, echoing the Preacher,
      "All, all is vanity."

    He slew the martyrs. Yet, through ages crying,
      This noble truth they give:
    "Life is but birth-throes. Death itself, not dying.
      We pass to God--to live."

    O blessed hope! O faith that conquers sorrow!
      Pain, heart-break, all shall cease.
    They are but gateways to a glad to-morrow.
      "IN PACE." God is peace.

[Illustration]



PREFACE.


The writer having made the early Christian Catacombs a special study for
several years, and his larger volume on that subject having been
received with great favour in Great Britain, the United States, and
Canada, has endeavoured in this story to give as popular an account as
he could of early Christian life and character as illustrated by these
interesting memorials of the primitive Church. He has been especially
careful to maintain historical accuracy in all his statements of fact,
and in the filling up of details he has endeavoured to preserve the
historical "keeping" of the picture. Persons wishing to pursue the study
of the Catacombs still further are referred to the Author's special work
on that subject. See note at the end of this volume.

W.H.W.



THE CATACOMBS.

BY HARRIET ANNIE WILKINS.

"Miles after miles of graves, and not one word or sign of the gloominess
or death." _Professor Jules De Launay._

    MILES after miles of graves,
      League after league of tombs,
    And not one sign of spectre Death,
      Waving his shadowy plumes;
    Hope, beautiful and bright,
      Spanning the arch above
    Faith, gentle, overcoming Faith,
      And Love, God's best gift, Love.

    For early Christians left
      Their darlings to their rest,
    As mothers leave their little ones
      When the sun gilds the west;
    No mourning robes of black,
      No crape upon the doors,
    For the victorious palm-bearers,
      Who tread the golden floors.

    Arrayed in garments white,
      No mournful dirges pealing,
    Bearing green branches in their hands,
      Around the tomb they're kneeling;
    This was their marching song,
      "By death we are not holden;"
    And this their glorious funeral hymn,
      "Jerusalem the golden."

    Beautiful girls sleep there,
      Waiting the Bridegroom's call.
    Each lamp is burning brilliantly,
      While the bright shadows fall;
    And baby martyrs passed
      Straight to the great I AM,
    While sturdier soldiers carved o'er each,
      "VICTOR, GOD'S LITTLE LAMB."

    Miles after miles of graves,
      League after league of tombs,
    The cross upon each conqueror's brow
      Light up the catacombs;
    "'Tis in this sign we conquer."
      Sounds on the blood-stained track;
    "'Tis in this sign we conquer,"
      We gladly answer back.

[Illustration]



  CONTENTS.

  CHAPTER I.
  ON THE APPIAN WAY                  7

  CHAPTER II.
  IN CÆSAR'S PALACE                 17

  CHAPTER III.
  EMPRESS AND SLAVE                 23

  CHAPTER IV.
  THE IMPERIAL BANQUET              33

  CHAPTER V.
  THE CHRISTIANS AND THE LIONS      43

  CHAPTER VI.
  THE MARTYR'S BURIAL               54

  CHAPTER VII.
  WITH HILARUS, THE FOSSOR          64

  CHAPTER VIII.
  WITH PRIMITIUS, THE PRESBYTER     75

  CHAPTER IX.
  A DIFFICULT QUEST                 86

  CHAPTER X.
  A WICKED PLOT                     92

  CHAPTER XI
  THE SLAVE MARKET                  97

  CHAPTER XII.
  THE LOST FOUND                   105

  CHAPTER XIII.
  FATHER AND DAUGHTER              111

  CHAPTER XIV.
  "UNSTABLE AS WATER"              117

  CHAPTER XV.
  AT THE BATHS                     124

  CHAPTER XVI.
  THE GAMING TABLE                 129

  CHAPTER XVII.
  "IN PERICULIS TUTUS"             135

  CHAPTER XVIII
  THE MIDNIGHT PLOT                142

  CHAPTER XIX
  IN THE TOILS OF THE TEMPTER      148

  CHAPTER XX
  THE PLOT THICKENS                153

  CHAPTER XXI.
  A CRIME PREVENTED                161

  CHAPTER XXII.
  THE STORM BURSTS                 168

  CHAPTER XXIII.
  THE MAMERTINE PRISON             177

  CHAPTER XXIV.
  THE EVE OF MARTYRDOM             184

  CHAPTER XXV.
  A ROMAN HOLIDAY                  188

  CHAPTER XXVI
  THE MARTYRS CROWNED              199

  CHAPTER XXVII.
  THE MARTYRS BURIED               205

  CHAPTER XXVIII.
  THE BETRAYAL--THE PURSUIT        215

  CHAPTER XXIX.
  THE DOOM OF THE TRAITOR          224

  CHAPTER XXX.
  FATE OF THE PERSECUTORS--TRIUMPH OF
    CHRISTIANITY                   229

[Illustration]



VALERIA, THE MARTYR OF THE CATACOMBS.



CHAPTER I.

THE APPIAN WAY.


[Illustration: "ENTRANCE TO A CATACOMB."]

On a bright spring morning in the year of our Lord 303--it was in the
"Ides of March," about the middle of the month, but the air was balmy as
that of June in our northern clime--two note-worthy-looking men were
riding along the famous Appian Way, near the city of Rome The elder of
the two, a man of large size and of mighty thews and sinews, was mounted
on a strong and richly-caparisoned horse. He wore the armour of a Roman
centurion--a lorica or cuirass, made of plates of bronze, fastened to a
flexible body of leather; and cothurni, or a sort of laced boots,
leaching to mid-leg. On his back hung his round embossed shield; by his
side, in its sheath, his short, straight sword, and on his head was a
burnished helmet, with a sweeping horsehair crest. His face was bronzed
with the sun of many climes. But when, for a moment, he removed his
helmet to cool his brow, one saw that his forehead was high and white.
His hair curled close to his head, except where it was worn bare at his
temples by the chafing of his helmet, and was already streaked with
grey, although he looked not more than five-and forty years of age. Yet
the eagle glance of his eye was undimmed, and his firm-set muscles, the
haughty expression of his countenance, and the high courage of his
bearing, gave evidence that his natural strength was not abated.

His companion contrasted strongly in every respect. He had a slender,
graceful figure, a mobile and expressive face, a mouth of almost
feminine softness and beauty, dark and languishing eyes, and long,
flowing hair. He wore a snowy toga, with a brilliant scarlet border of
what is still known as "Greek fret;" and over this, fastened by a brooch
at his throat, a flowing cloak. On his head sat jauntily a soft felt
hat, not unlike those still worn by the Italian peasantry, and on his
feet were low-laced shoes or sandals. Instead of a sword, he wore at his
side a metal case for his reed-pen and for a scroll of papyrus. He was
in the bloom and beauty of youth, apparently not more than twenty years
of age.

The elder of the two was the Roman officer Flaccus Sertorius, a
centurion of the 12th Legion, returning with his Greek secretary,
Isidorus, from the town of Albano, about seventeen miles from Rome,
whither he had been sent on business of state.

"This new edict of the Emperor's," remarked Sertorius to his secretary,
with an air of affable condescension, "is likely to give us both work
enough to do before long."

"Your Excellency forgets," replied Isidorus, with an obsequious
inclination of the head, "that your humble secretary has not the same
means of learning affairs of state as his noble master."

"Oh, you Greeks learn everything!" said the centurion, with a rather
contemptuous laugh. "Trust you for that."

"We try to make ourselves useful to our patrons," replied the young man,
"and it seems to be a sort of hereditary habit, for my Athenian
ancestors were proverbial for seeking to know some new thing."

"Yes, new manners, new customs, new religions; why, your very name
indicates your adherence to the new-fangled worship of Isis."

"I hold not altogether that way," replied the youth. "I belong rather to
the eclectic school. My father, Apollodorus, was a priest of Phoebus,
and named me, like himself, from the sungod, whom he worshipped; but I
found the party of Isis fashionable at court, so I even changed my name
and colours to the winning side. When one is at Rome, you know, he must
do as the Romans do."

"Yes, like the degenerate Romans, who forsake the old gods, under whom
the State was great and virtuous and strong," said the soldier, with an
angry gesture. "The more gods, the worse the world becomes. But this new
edict will make short work of some of them."

"With the Christians you mean," said the supple Greek. "A most
pernicious sect, that deserve extermination with fire and sword."

"I know little about them," replied Sertorius, with a sneer, "save that
they have increased prodigiously of late. Even in the army and the
palace are those known to favour their obscene and contemptible
doctrines."

"'Tis whispered that even their sacred highnesses the Empresses Prisca
and Valeria are infected with their grovelling superstition," said the
Greek secretary. "Certain it is, they seem to avoid being present at the
public sacrifices, as they used to be. But the evil sect has its
followers chiefly among the slaves and vile plebs of the poorest
Transtiberine region of Rome."

"What do they worship, anyhow?" asked the centurion, with an air of
languid curiosity. "They seem to have no temples, nor altars, nor
sacrifices."

"They have dark and secret and abominable rites," replied the fawning
Greek, eager to gratify the curiosity of his patron with popular
slanders against the Christians. "'Tis said they worship a low-born
peasant, who was crucified for sedition. Some say he had an ass's
head,[1] but that, I doubt not, is a vulgar superstition; and one of our
poets, the admirable Lucian, remarks that their doctrine was brought to
Rome by a little hook-nosed Jew, named Paulus, who was beheaded by the
divine Nero over yonder near the Ostian gate, beside the pyramid of
Cestius, which you may see amongst the cypresses. They have many strange
usages. Their funeral customs, especially, differ very widely from the
Greek or Roman ones. They bury the body, with many mysterious rites, in
vaults or chambers underground, instead of burning it on a funeral pyre.
They are rank atheists, refusing to worship the gods, or even to throw
so much as a grain of incense on their altar, or place a garland of
flowers before their shrines, or even have their images in their
houses. They are a morose, sullen, and dangerous people, and are said to
hold hideous orgies at their secret assemblies underground, where they
banquet on the body of a newly-slain child.[2] See yonder," he
continued, pointing to a low-browed arch almost concealed by trees in a
neighbouring garden, "is the entrance to one of their secret crypts,
where they gather to celebrate their abominable rites, surrounded by the
bones and ashes of the dead. A vile and craven set of wretches; they are
not fit to live."

"They are not all cravens; to that I can bear witness," interrupted
Sertorius. "I knew a fellow in my own company--Lannus was his name--who,
his comrades said, was a Christian. He was the bravest and steadiest
fellow in the legion;--saved my life once in Libya;--rushed between me
and a lion, which sprang from a thicket as I stopped to let my horse
drink at a stream--as it might be the Anio, there. The lion's fangs met
in his arm, but he never winced. He may believe what he pleases for me.
I like not this blood-hound business of hunting down honest men because
they worship gods of their own. But the Emperor's edict is written, as
you may say, with the point of a dagger--'The Christian religion must
everywhere be destroyed.'"

"And quite right, too, your Excellency," said the soft-smiling Greek.
"They are seditious conspirators, the enemies of Cæsar and of Rome."

"A Roman soldier does not need to learn of thee, hungry Greekling,"[3]
exclaimed the centurion, haughtily, "what is his duty to his country!"

"True, most noble sir," faltered the discomfited secretary, yet with a
vindictive glance from his treacherous eyes. "Your Excellency is always
right."

For a time they rode on in silence, the secretary falling obsequiously a
little to the rear. It was now high noon, and the crowd and bustle on
the Appian Way redoubled. This Queen of Roads[4] ran straight as an
arrow up-hill and down from Rome to Capua and Brundisium, a distance of
over three hundred miles. Though then nearly six hundred years old, it
was as firm as the day it was laid, and after the lapse of fifteen
hundred years more, during which "the Goth, the Christian, Time, War,
Flood and Fire," have devastated the land, its firm lava pavement of
broad basaltic slabs seems as enduring as ever. On every side rolled the
undulating Campagna, now a scene of melancholy desolation, then
cultivated like a garden, abounding in villas and mansions whose marble
columns gleamed snowy white through the luxuriant foliage of their
embosoming myrtle and laurel groves. On either side of the road were the
stately tombs of Rome's mighty dead-her prætors, proconsuls, and
senators some, like the mausoleum of Cæcilia Metella,[5] rising like a
solid fortress; others were like little wayside altars, but all were
surrounded by an elegantly kept green sward, adorned with parterres of
flowers. Their ruins now rise like stranded wrecks above the sea of
verdure of the tomb-abounding plain. On every side are tombs--tombs
above and tombs below--the graves of contending races, the sepulchres of
vanished generations. Across the vast field of view stretched, supported
high in air on hundreds of arches, like a Titan procession, the Marcian
Aqueduct, erected B.C. 146, which after two thousand years brings to the
city of Rome an abundant supply of the purest water from the far distant
Alban Mountains, which present to our gaze to-day the same serrated
outline and lovely play of colour that delighted the eyes of Horace and
Cicero.

As they drew nearer the gates of the city, it became difficult to thread
their way through the throngs of eager travellers--gay lecticæ or
silken-curtained carriages and flashing chariots, conveying fashionable
ladies and the gilded gallants of the city to the elegant villas without
the walls--processions of consuls and proconsuls with their guards, and
crowds of peasants bringing in the panniers of their patient donkeys
fruits, vegetables, and even snow from the distant Soracte, protected
from the heat by a straw matting--just as they do in Italy to-day. The
busy scene is vividly described in the graphic lines of Milton:

    "What conflux issuing forth or entering in;
    Prætors, proconsuls to their provinces
    Hasting, or on return, in robes of state;
    Lictors and rods, the ensigns of their power,
    Legions and cohorts, turms of horse and wings;
    Or embassies from regions far remote,
    In various habits on the Appian Road."

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[1] I have myself seen in the museum of the _Collegio Romano_ at Rome, a
rude caricature which had been scratched upon the wall of the barracks
of Nero's palace, representing a man with an ass's head upon a cross,
and beneath it the inscription, _"Alexomenos sebete Theon"_ "Alexomenos
worships his God." Evidently some Roman soldier had scratched this in an
idle hour in derision of the worship of our Lord by his Christian
fellow-soldier. Tertullian also refers to the same calumny; and Lucian,
a pagan writer, speaks of our Lord as "a crucified impostor." It is
almost impossible for us to conceive the contempt and detestation in
which crucifixion was held by the Romans. It was a punishment reserved
for the worst of felons, or the vilest of slaves.--ED.

[2] All these calumnies, and others still worse, are recorded by pagan
writers concerning the early Christians. Their celebration of the Lord's
Supper in the private meetings became the ground of the last-mentioned
distorted accusation.--ED.

[3] "Graeculus esuriens," the term applied by Juvenal to those foreign
adventurers who sought to worm their way into the employment and
confidence of great Roman houses.

[4] _Regina Viarum_, as the Romans called it.

[5] It is a circular structure sixty-five feet in diameter, built upon a
square base of still larger size. After two thousand years it still
defies the gnawing tooth of Time.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER II

IN CÆSAR'S PALACE.


Passing beneath the even then grim and hoary archway of the Porta
Capena, or Capuan Gate, with the dripping aqueduct above it, the
centurion and his secretary traversed rapidly the crowded streets of a
fashionable suburb--now mere mouldering mounds of desolation--to the
Imperial Palace on the Palatine Hill. This eminence, which is now a
mass of crumbling ruins, honey-combed with galleries and subterranean
corridors through what was once the stately apartments of the Lords of
the World, where wandering tourists peer and explore and artists sketch
the falling arch or fading fresco of the banquet halls and chambers of a
long line of emperors, was then the scene of life and activity, of pomp
and splendour. Marble courts and columned porticos stretched on in
almost endless vistas, covering many acres of ground. Flashing fountains
leaping sunward sparkled in the beams of noonday, diffusing a coolness
through the air, which was fragrant with blossoms of the orange and
magnolia trees growing in the open courts. Snowy statuary gleamed amid
the vivid foliage, and beneath the shadow of the frescoed corridors.

Having dismounted at the outer court and given their horses to
obsequious grooms, Sertorius and the Greek repaired each to a marble
bath to remove the stains of travel before entering the presence of the
Emperor. Having made their toilet they advanced to the inner court. The
guards who stood in burnished mail at the portal of the palace
respectfully made way for the well-known imperial officer, but were
about to obstruct the passage of the Greek secretary, when with a
gesture of authority Sertorius bade the soldier to permit the man to
pass.

"Quite right, Max, as a rule: but wrong this time. He accompanies me on
business of state, before the Emperor."

Two lictors in white tunics with scarlet hem, and bearing each the
fasces or bundle of rods bound with filets from the top of which
projected a polished silver axe, came forward and conducted the
centurion into the Imperial presence chamber, the secretary remaining in
an ante-room.

The lictors draw aside a heavy gold-embroidered curtain, and Sertorius
stood in the presence of the Lord of the World, the man to whom divine
honours had been ascribed, who held in his hand the lives of all his
myriads of subjects, and the word of whose mouth uttering his despotic
will might consign even the loftiest, without form or process of law, to
degradation or death.

Let us note for a moment what manner of man this god on earth, this
Diocletian, whose name is remembered with abhorrence and execration, the
degenerate usurper of the august name of the Cæsars, may be. He sits in
an ivory, purple-cushioned chair, near a table of inlaid precious woods.
His short and obese figure is enswathed in the folds of an ample
crimson-bordered toga, or fine linen vestment of flowing folds. His
broad, coarse features are of plebeian cast, for he had been originally
a Dalmatian slave, or at least the son of a slave; but the
long-continued exercise of despotic authority had given an imperious
haughtiness to his bearing. He was now in his fifty-eighth year, but his
features, coarsened and bloated by sensuality, gave him a much older
aspect. He was dictating to a secretary who sat at the table writing
with a reed pen on a parchment scroll, when the lictors, lowering their
fasces and holding their hands above their eyes, as if to protect their
dazzled eyes from the effulgence of the noonday sun, advanced into the
apartment.

"May it please your divine Majesty," said one of the servile lictors,
"the centurion whom you summoned to your presence awaits your Imperial
pleasure."

"Most humbly at your Imperial Majesty's service," said Sertorius, coming
forward with a profound inclination of his uncovered head. He had left
his helmet and sword in the ante-chamber.

"Flaccus Sertorius, I have heard that thou art a brave and faithful
soldier, skilled in affairs of State as well as in the art of war. I
have need of such to carry out my purpose here in Rome. Vitalius, the
scribe," he went on, with an allusive gesture toward the secretary, "is
copying a decree to be promulgated to the utmost limits of the empire
against the pestilent atheism of the accursed sect of Christians, who
have spawned and multiplied like frogs throughout the realm. This
execrable superstition must be everywhere destroyed and the worship of
the gods revived.[6] Even hero in Rome the odious sect swarms like
vermin, and 'tis even said that the precincts of this palace are not
free. Now, purge me this city as with a besom of wrath. Spare not young
or old, the lofty or the low; purge even this palace, and look to it
that thy own head be not the forfeit if you fail. This seal shall be
your warrant;" and lashing himself into rage till the purple veins stood
out like whipcords on his forehead, he tossed his signet ring across the
table to the scribe, who prepared a legal instrument to which he affixed
the Imperial seal.

"May it please your Imperial Majesty," said the centurion, with an
obeisance, "I am a rude soldier, unskilled to speak in the Imperial
presence; but I have fought your Majesty's enemies in Iberia, in Gaul,
in Dacia, in Pannonia, and in Libya, and am ready to fight them
anywhere. Nevertheless, I would fain be discharged from this office of
censor of the city. I know naught, save by Rumour, who is ever a lying
jade, your Imperial Majesty, against this outlawed sect. And I know some
of them who were brave soldiers in your Imperial Majesty's service, and
many others are feeble old men or innocent women and children. I pray
you send me rather to fight against the barbarian Dacians than against
these."

"I was well informed then that you were a bold fellow," exclaimed the
Emperor, his brow flushing in his anger a deeper hue; "but I have need
of such. Do thy duty, on thy allegiance, and see that thou soon bring
these culprits to justice. Is it not enough that universal rumour
condemns them? They are pestilent sedition-mongers, and enemies of the
gods and of the State."

"I, too, am a worshipper of the gods," continued the intrepid soldier,
"and will fail not to keep my allegiance to your Imperial Majesty, to
the State, and to those higher powers," and he walked backward out of
the Imperial presence. As he rejoined his secretary a cloud sat on his
brow. He was moody and taciturn, and evidently little pleased with his
newly-imposed duties. But the confirmed habit of unquestioning obedience
inherent in a Roman soldier led to an almost mechanical acceptance of
his uncongenial task. Emerging from the outer court he proceeded to his
own house, in the populous region of the Aventine Hill, now a deserted
waste, covered with kitchen gardens and vineyards. In the meantime we
turn to another part of the great Imperial palace.

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[6] Even as far west as Spain the following inscription has been found,
which seems designed as a funeral monument of dead and buried
Christianity: "DIOCLETIAN. CÆS. AVG. SVPERSTITIONE CHRIST. VBIQ.
DELETAET CVLTV, DEOR. PROPAGATO"--"To Diocletian, Cæsar Augustus, the
Christian superstition being everywhere destroyed and the worship of the
gods extended." But though apparently destroyed, Christianity, like its
divine Author, instinct with immortality, rose triumphant over all its
foes.



CHAPTER III.

EMPRESS AND SLAVE.


Using the time-honoured privilege of ubiquity accorded to imaginative
writers, we beg to conduct our readers to a part of the stately palace
of Diocletian, where, if they had really been found in their own proper
persons, it would have been at the peril of their lives. After fifteen
long centuries have passed, we may explore without let or hindrance the
most private apartments of the once all-potent masters of the world. We
may roam through their unroofed banquet-chambers. We may gaze upon the
frescoes, carvings, and mosaics which met their eyes. We may behold the
evidences of their luxury and profligacy. We may thread the secret
corridors and galleries connecting the chambers of the palace--all now
open to the light of day.

We may even penetrate to the boudoirs and tiring rooms of the proud
dames of antiquity. We may even examine at our will the secrets of the
toilet--the rouge pots and vases for cosmetics and unguents, the silver
mirrors, fibulas or brooches, armlets and jewels, and can thus
reconstruct much of that old Roman life which has vanished forever from
the face of the earth.[7]

By the light of modern exploration and discovery, therefore, we may
enter the private apartments of ladies of the Imperial household, and in
imagination re-furnish these now desolate and ruinous chambers with all
the luxury and magnificence of their former prime. A room of commodious
size is paved with tesselated marble slabs, adorned with borders and
designs of brilliant mosaic. The walls are also marble, save where an
elegant fresco on a stucco ground--flowers or fruit or graceful
landscape[8]--greet the eye. A small fountain throws up its silver
spray, imparting a grateful coolness to the air. Windows, void of
glass, but mantled and screened by climbing plants and rare exotics,
look out into a garden where snowy marble statues are relieved against
the dark green of the cypress and ilex. Around the room are busts and
effigies of the Imperial household or of historical characters. There
is, however, a conspicuous absence of the mythological figures, whose
exquisite execution does not atone for their sensuous conception, which,
rescued from the _debris_ of ancient civilization, crowd all the
Art-galleries of Europe. That this is not the result of accident but of
design is seen by an occasional empty pedestal or niche. Distributed at
intervals are couches and tables of costly woods, inlaid with ivory, and
bronze and silver candelabra, lamps and other household objects of
ornament or use. Sitting in an ivory chair amid all this elegance and
luxury was a lady in the very flower of her youth, of queenly dignity
and majestic beauty. She wore a snowy _stola_, or robe of finest linen,
with purple border, flowing in ample folds to her sandaled feet Over
this was negligently thrown a saffron-coloured veil of thinnest tissue.
She held in her hand a burnished silver mirror, at which she glanced
carelessly from time to time, while a comely slave with dark lustrous
eyes and finely-formed features carefully brushed and braided her long
and rippling hair.

This queenly presence was the young and lovely Empress Valeria, the
daughter of Diocletian and Prisca, and wife of the co-Emperor, Galerius
Cæsar. The object of envy of all the women of Borne, she lived to become
within a few short years the object of their profoundest commiseration.
Of her even the unsympathetic Gibbon remarks that "her melancholy
adventures might furnish a very singular subject for tragedy."

"Nay, now, Callirhoë," said the Empress, with a weary smile, "that will
do! Put up my hair and bind it with this fillet," and she held out a
gold-embroidered ribband. "Thou knowest I care not for the elaborate
coiffure that is now so fashionable."

"Your Majesty needs it not," said the slave, speaking Greek with a low
sweet voice, and with an Attic purity of accent. "As one of your own
poets has said, you appear 'when unadorned, adorned the most.'"

"Flatterer," said the Empress, tapping her gaily and almost caressingly
with a plumy fan of ostrich feathers which she held lightly in one hand,
"you are trying to spoil me."

"Such goodness as thine, sweet mistress," said the slave, affectionately
kissing her hand, "it would be impossible to spoil."

"Dost know, Callirhoë," said the young Empress, with a smile of
bewitching sweetness, "that I have a surprise for thee? It is, thou
knowest, my birthday, and in my honour is the banquet given to-day. But
I have a greater pleasure than the banquet can bestow. I give thee this
day thy freedom. Thou art no more a slave, but the freedwoman of the
Empress Valeria. See, here are the papers of thy manumission," and she
drew from the girdle of her robe a sealed and folded parchment, which
she handed to the now emancipated slave.

"Dearest mistress!" exclaimed the faithful creature, who had thrown
herself on the marble pavement and was kissing the sandaled feet of the
beautiful Empress, but an outburst of sobs and tears choked her
utterance.

"What! weeping!" exclaimed Valeria. "Are you sorry then?"

"Nay, they are tears of joy," exclaimed the girl, smiling through her
tears, like the sun shining through a shower; "not that I tire of thy
service; I wish never to leave it. But I rejoice that my father's
daughter can serve thee no longer as thy slave, but as thy freedwoman."

"I should indeed be sorry to lose thee," said the august lady with a
wistful smile. "If I thought I should, I would almost regret thy
manumission; for believe me, Callirhoë, I have need of true friends, and
thou, I think, wilt be a faithful one."

"What! I, but this moment a poor slave, the friend of the fairest and
most envied lady in all Rome! Nay, now thou laughest at me; but believe
me I am still heart and soul and body thy most devoted servant."

"I do believe it, child," said the Empress; "but tell me, pray, why thou
speakest in that proud melancholy tone of thy father? Was he a
freedman?"

"Nay, your Majesty, he was free-born; neither he nor his fathers were
ever in bondage to any man,"--and the fair face of the girl was suffused
with the glow of honest pride in the freeborn blood that flowed in her
veins.

"Forgive me, child, if I touched a sore spot in thy memory. Perchance I
may heal it. Money can do much, men say."

"In this case, dearest mistress, it is powerless. But from thee I can
have no secrets, if you care to listen to the story of one so long a
slave."

"I never knew thou wert aught else, child. My steward bought thee in the
slave market in the Suburra. Tell me all."

"'Tis a short story, but a sad one, your Majesty," said the girl, as she
went on braiding her mistress's hair. "My father was a Hebrew merchant,
a dealer in precious stones, well esteemed in his nation. He lived in
Damascus, where I was born. He named me after the beautiful fountain
near the Jordan of his native land."

"I thought it had been from the pagan goddess," interrupted the Empress.

"Nay, 'twas from the healing fountain of Callirhoë, in Judea," continued
the girl "When my mother died, my father was plunged into inconsolable
grief, and fell ill, well-nigh to death. The most skilled physician in
Damascus, Eliezer by name, brought him back to life; but his friends
thought he had better let him die, for he converted him to the hated
Christian faith. Persecuted by his kinsmen, he came to Antioch with my
brother and myself, that he might join the great and flourishing
Christian Church in that city.[9] While on a trading voyage to Smyrna,
in which we children accompanied our father, we were captured by
Illyrian pirates, and carried to the slave market at Ravenna. There I
was purchased by a slave dealer from Rome, and my father and brother
were sold I know not whither. I never saw them again,"--and she heaved a
weary and hopeless sigh.

"Poor child!" said the Empress, a tear of sympathy glistening on her
cheek, "I fear that I can give thee little help. 'Tis strange how my
heart went out toward thee when thou wert first brought so tristful and
forlorn into my presence. 'Tis a sad world, and even the Emperors can do
little to set it right."

"There is One who rules on high, dear lady, the God of our fathers, by
whom kings rule and princes decree judgment. He doeth all things well."

"Yes, child, I am not ignorant of the God of the Jews and Christians.
What a pity that there should be such bitter hate on the part of your
countrymen towards those who worship the same great God."

"Yes," said Callirhoë, "blindness in part hath happened to Israel. If
they but knew how Jesus of Nazareth fulfils all the types and prophecies
of their own Scriptures, they would hail Him as the true Messiah of whom
Moses and the prophets did write."

"Well, child, I will help thee to find thy father, if possible, though I
fear it will be a difficult task. Ask me freely anything that I can do.
As my freedwoman, you will, of course, bear my name with your own. Now
send my slave Juba to accompany me to the banquet-hall."

Callirhoë, or as we may now call her, after the Roman usage, Valeria
Callirhoë, fervently kissed the outstretched hand of her august mistress
and gracefully retired.

It may excite some surprise to find such generous sentiments and such
gentle manners as we have described attributed to the daughter of a
persecuting Emperor and the wife of a stern Roman general. But reasons
are not wanting to justify this delineation. Both Valeria and her mother
Prisca, during their long residence at Nicomedia, where the Emperor
Diocletian had established his court, became instructed in the Christian
religion by the bishop of that important see. Indeed, Eusebius informs
us that among them there were many Christian converts, both Prisca and
Valeria, in the Imperial palace. Diocletian and his truculent
son-in-law, Galerius, were bigoted pagans, and the mother of the latter
was a fanatical worshipper of the goddess Cybele. The spread of
Christianity even within the precincts of the palace provoked her
implacable resentment, and she urged on her son to active persecution. A
council was therefore held in the palace at Nicomedia, a joint edict for
the extirpation of Christianity was decreed, and the magnificent
Christian basilica was razed to the ground. The very next day the edict
was torn from the public forum by an indignant Christian, and the
Imperial palace was almost entirely destroyed by fire. The origin of
this disaster is unknown, but it was ascribed to the Christians, and
intensified the virulence of the persecution. Diocletian proceeded to
Rome to celebrate a military triumph and to concert with his western
colleagues more vigorous methods of persecution. It is at this period
that the opening scenes of our story take place.

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[7] On the Palatine Hill may still be seen, in the palace of the Flavii,
the frescoed private apartments and banquet-chambers of the emperors--in
the walls are even the lead water-pipes, stamped with the maker's name;
and the innumerable ancient relics in the museums of Rome and Naples
give such an insight as nothing else can impart of the life and
character of the palmy days of the empire.

[8] On the banquet-room mentioned in the last note are some remarkable
frescoes, among other objects being glass vases through whose
transparent sides are seen exquisitely painted fruits--as fresh,
apparently, after eighteen centuries as if executed within a few months.

[9] Shortly after this time, that Church numbered 100,000 persons.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER IV.

THE IMPERIAL BANQUET.


At the summons of Callirhoë a Nubian female slave, Juba by name, an old
family nurse, skilled in the use of herbs and potions, made her
appearance. Her huge and snowy turban and her bright-coloured dress
strikingly contrasted with her jet complexion and homely features. Yet,
as the personal attendant of the young empress, it was her duty to
accompany her mistress to the banquet-hall, to stand behind her chair,
to adjust her robes, hold her fan, and obey her every word or gesture.
As she drew aside the curtain of the apartment which shut out the light
and heat, two lictors who guarded the door sprang to their feet and
preceded the empress through the marble corridor to the _triclinium_, or
banquet chamber. It was a family party, rather than a state banquet, but
neither Greeks nor Romans practised a profuse hospitality nor held large
social or festive gatherings like those of modern times. Their feasts
were rather for the intense epicurean pleasure of a favoured few than
for the rational enjoyment of a larger company.[10]

Couches inlaid with ivory and decked with cushions surrounded three
sides of a hollow square. On these the emperor and his male guests
reclined, each resting on his left arm. On ivory chairs facing the open
side of the square sat the Empress Prisca (a majestic-looking matron of
somewhat grave aspect), Valeria, and a lady of the court, each
accompanied by her female slave. The extreme ugliness of the Nubian Juba
acted as a foil for the striking beauty of Valeria.

First of all, the guests were crowned with wreaths of fair and fragrant
flowers. Then elegantly dressed slaves brought in, to the sound of
music, the different courses: first eggs dressed with vinegar, olives
and lettuce, like our salad; then roast pheasants, peacocks' tongues and
thrushes, and the livers of capons steeped in milk; next oysters brought
alive from the distant shores of Great Britain, and, reversing our
order, fish in great variety--one of the most beautiful of these was the
purple mullet--served with high-seasoned condiments and sauces. Of solid
meats the favourite dish was a roast sucking pig, elegantly garnished.
Of vegetables they had nothing corresponding to our potatoes, but,
instead, a profusion of mallows, lentils, truffles, and mushrooms. The
banquet wound up with figs, olives, almonds, grapes, tarts and
confections, and apples--hence the phrase _ab ovo ad mala_.

After the first course the emperor poured out a libation of Falernian
wine, with the Greek formula, "to the supreme God," watching eagerly if
his wife and daughter would do the same. Lacking the courage to make a
bold confession of Christianity, and thinking, with a casuistry that we
shall not attempt to defend, that the ambiguity of the expression
excused the act, they also, apparently to the great relief of the
emperor, poured out a libation and sipped a small quantity of the wine.
The emperor then drank to the health of his wife and daughter, wishing
the latter many returns of the auspicious day they had met to celebrate.
Each of the guests also made, according to his ability, a complimentary
speech, which the ladies acknowledged by a gracious salutation. After
the repast slaves brought perfumed water and embroidered napkins for the
guests to wash their fingers, which had been largely employed in the
process of dining.

The most of the guests were sycophants and satellites of the emperor,
and in the intervals between the courses employed their art in
flattering his vanity or fomenting his prejudices. One of them,
Semphronius by name, an old fellow with a very bald and shiny head and
a very vivacious manner, made great pretensions to the character of a
philosopher or professor of universal knowledge, and was ever ready,
with a great flow of often unmeaning words, to give a theory or
explanation of every conceivable subject. Others were coarse and
sensual-looking _bon vivants_, who gave their attention chiefly to the
enjoyment of the good fare set before them. Another sinister-looking
fellow, with a disagreeable cast in one eye and a nervous habit of
clenching his hand as if grasping his sword, was Quintus Naso, the
prefect of the city. He had been a successful soldier, or rather
butcher, in the Pannonian wars, and was promoted to his bad eminence of
office on account of his truculent severity. Of very different
character, however, was a young man of noble family, Adauctus by name,
who was present in his official character as Treasurer of the Imperial
Exchequer.[11] He almost alone of the guests paid a courteous attention
to the high-born ladies of the party, to whom he frequently addressed
polite remarks while the others were intent only in fawning on the great
source of power. He, also, alone of all present, conspicuously refrained
from pouring out a libation--a circumstance which did not escape the
keen eye of the emperor. After interrupted talk on general topics, in
which the ladies took part, the conversation drifted to public matters,
on which they were not expected to meddle.

"Well, Naso, how was the edict received?" said the emperor to the
prefect, as a splendid roast peacock, with sadly despoiled plumage, was
removed.

"As every command of your divine Majesty should be received," replied
Naso, "with respectful obedience. One rash fool, indeed, attempted to
tear it down from the rostra of the Forum, like that mad wretch at
Nicomedia; but he was taken in the act. He expiates to-night his crime,
so soon as I shall have wrung from him the names of his fanatical
accomplices,"--and he clenched his hands nervously, as though he were
himself applying the instruments of torture.

"And you know well how to do that," said the emperor with a sneer, for,
like all tyrants, he despised and hated the instruments of his tyranny.

"You may well call them fanatics, good Naso," chimed in the would-be
philosopher, Semphronius; "a greater set of madmen the world never saw.
They believe that this Chrestus whom they worship actually rose from the
dead. Heard ever any man such utter folly as that! Whereas I have
satisfied myself, from a study of the official records, that he was
only a Jewish thaumaturge and conjuror, who used to work pretended
miracles by means of dupes and accomplices. And when, for his sedition,
he was put to death as the vilest of felons, these accomplices stole his
body and gave out that he rose from the dead."[12]

"I have heard," said Adauctus gravely, "that the Romans took care to
prevent such a trick as that by placing a maniple of soldiers on guard
at His grave."

"Yes, I believe they say so," went on the unabashed Semphronius; "but if
they did, the dastards were either overpowered, or they all fell asleep
while his fellow-knaves stole his body away."

"Come now, Semphronius," said the emperor, "that is too improbable a
story about a whole maniple of soldiers. You and I know too well, Naso,
the Roman discipline to accept such an absurd story as that."

"Oh, if your divine Majesty thinks it improbable, I fully admit that it
is so," the supple sophist eagerly replied. "I am inclined to identify
this impostor and a kinsman of his who was beheaded by the divine Herod
with the Janus and Jambres whose story is told in the sacred books of
the Jews. But it is evident, from the identity of name of one of these
with the god Janus, that they merely borrowed the story from the Roman
mythology. This execrable superstition, they say, was brought to Rome by
two brothers named Paulus and Simon Magus. They both expiated their
crimes, one in the Mammertine Prison, the other without the Ostian Gate.
They say also that when Simon the magician struck the prison wall, a
well of water gushed forth for some of their mystic rites; and that when
the head of Paulus was smitten off it bounded three times on the ground,
and at each spot where it touched a well of water sprang up. But these
are stories that no sane man can believe."[13]

"I quite agree with you in that," said Adauctus.

"Do you, indeed?" exclaimed the Emperor; "I am glad to know that so
brave and trusted an officer can say so."

"I believe, your Majesty, that half the stories told about the
Christians are calumnies that no candid man can receive," continued the
young officer.

"You are a bold man to say so, for they have few friends and many
enemies at court," replied Diocletian; "but we will soon extort their
secrets by this edict. Will we not, good Naso?"

"It will not be my fault if we do not, your divine Majesty," replied
that worthy, with a more hideous leer than usual in his cruel eye.

"Another thing these fools of Christians believe," interjected the
garrulous philosopher, "is, that when they die their souls shall live in
some blander clime, and breathe some more ethereal air. 'Tis this that
makes them seem to covet martyrdom, as they call it, instead of, like
all sane men, shunning death."

"But do not your own poets," chimed in the soft voice of Valeria, "speak
of the Elysian fields and the asphodel meadows where the spirits of
heroes walk, and of the bark of Charon, who ferries them across the
fatal Styx?"

"True, your most august Highness," replied the pedant with grimace
intended to be polite, "but those fables are intended for the vulgar,
and not for the cultured classes, to which your Imperial Highness
belongs. Even the priests themselves do not believe in the existence of
the gods at whose altars they minister; so that Cicero, you will
remember, said that 'he wondered how one augur could look in the face of
another without laughing.'"

"I quite admit," remarked Adauctus, "that the priests are often
impostors, deceiving the people; but our wisest philosophers--the
thoughtful Pliny, the profound Tacitus, the sage Seneca, and even the
eloquent Cicero whom you have quoted--teach the probability if not the
certainty of a future state, where virtue shall be rewarded and
wickedness punished."

"What do they know about it any more than any of us?" interrupted the
truculent Naso, to whom ethical themes were by no means familiar or
welcome. "My creed is embodied in the words of that clever fellow,
Juvenal, that I used to learn at school--

    'Esse aliquid manes, et subterranea regna,
    Nec pueri credunt, nisi qui nondum ære lavantur.'"[14]

"What's the use of all this talk?" lisped a languid-looking epicurean
fop, who, sated with dissipation, at twenty-five found life as empty as
a sucked orange. "We cannot alter fate. Life is short; let us make the
most of it. I'd like to press its nectar into a single draught and have
done with it for ever. As the easy-going Horace says, 'The same thing
happens to us all. When our name, sooner or later, has issued from the
fatal urn, we leave our woods, our villa, our pleasant homes, and enter
the bark which is to bear us into eternal exile!'"[15]

Here the Emperor made an impatient gesture, to indicate that he was
weary of this philosophic discourse. At the signal the ladies rose and
retired. Adauctus also made his official duties an excuse for leaving
the table, where Diocletian and his other guests lingered for hours in
a drunken symposium.

Thus we find that the very questions which engage the agnostics and
skeptics and pessimists of the present age--the Mallocks, and Cliffords,
and Harrisons and their tribe--have agitated the world from the very
dawn of philosophy. Did space permit, we might cite the theories of
Lucretius as a strange anticipation of the development hypothesis.
Indeed the writings of Pyrrho, Porphyry and Celsus show us that the
universal tendency of human philosophy, unaided by divine inspiration,
is to utter skepticism.

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[10] On a single supper for his friends, Lucullus, who is said to have
fed his lampreys with the bodies of his slaves, is recorded to have
expended 50,000 denarii--about $8,500.

[11] His name and office are recorded even by so skeptical a critic as
Gibbon, and his epitaph has been found in the Catacombs. See Withrow's
Catacombs, p. 46.

[12] Strauss and Renan and their rationalizing school rival this pagan
sophist in eliminating the miraculous from the sacred record.

[13] Yet these stories, too incredible for this old pagan, were gravely
related to the present writer, on the scene of the alleged miracles, by
the credulous Romans of to-day.

[14] _Sat._ ii. 49. "That the manes are anything, or the nether world
anything, not even boys believe, unless those still in the nursery."

[15] See that saddest but most beautiful of the ode of Horace, To
Delius, II. 3:

    ... Et nos in æternum
    Exilium impositura cymbæ.



CHAPTER V.

"THE CHRISTIANS TO THE LIONS."


The progress of our story transports us, on the day after the banquet
described in our last chapter, to the palace of the Prefect Naso, on the
Aventine. It was a large and pompous-looking building, with a
many-columned portico and spacious gardens, both crowded with statuary,
the spoil of foreign cities, or the product of degenerate Greek art--as
offensive in design as skilful in execution. The whole bore evidence of
the ostentation of vulgar wealth rather than of judicious taste. A crowd
of "clients" and satellites of the great man were hanging round the
doors, eager to present some petition, proffer some service, or to swell
his idle retinue, like jackals around a lion, hoping to pick up a living
as hangers-on of such a powerful and unscrupulous dispenser of
patronage. In the degenerate days of the Empire, the civic officials
especially had always a swarm of needy dependents seeking to fatten on
the spoils of office. They were supposed, in some way, to add to the
dignity of the consuls and prætors, as in later times were the retainers
of a mediæval baron. The system of slavery had made all honest labour
opprobrious, and these idle, corrupt, and dangerous parasites had to be
kept in good humour by lavish doles and constant amusements. "Bread and
the Circus," was their imperious demand, and having these, they cared
for nothing else.

On the morning in question there was considerable excitement among this
turbulent throng, for the rumour was current that there was to be an
examination of certain prisoners accused of the vile crime of
Christianity; and there were hopes that the criminals would supply fresh
victims for the games of the amphitheatre, which for some time had
languished for lack of suitable material. The temper of the mob we may
learn by the remarks that reach our ears as we elbow our way through.

"Ho, Davus! what's the news to-day?" asked a cobbler with his leathern
apron tucked up about his waist, of a greasy-looking individual who
strutted about with much affectation of dignity; "you have the run of
his Excellency's kitchen, and ought to know."

"Are _you_ there, Samos?" (a nick-name meaning Flat Nose). "Back to your
den, you slave, and don't meddle with gentlemen. _'Ne sutor,'_ you know
the rest."

"Can't you see that the cook drove him out with the basting ladle?" said
Muscus, the stout-armed blacksmith, himself a slave, and resenting the
insult to his class; and so the laugh was turned against the hungry
parasite.

"Here, good Max, you are on the guard, you can tell us," went on the
burly smith.

"News enough, as you'll soon find. There's to be more hunting of the
Christians for those who like it. For my part, I don't."

"Why not," asked Burdo, the butcher, a truculent looking fellow with a
great knife in a sheath at his girdle. "I'd like no better fun. I'd as
lief kill a Christian as kill a calf."

"It might suit your business," answered stout Max, with a sneer, "but
hunting women and children is not a soldier's trade."

"O ho! that's the game that's a-foot!" chuckled a withered little wretch
with a hungry face and cruel eyes, like a weasel. "Here's a chance for
an honest man who worships the old gods to turn an honest penny."

"Honest man!" growled Max. "Diogenes would want a good lantern to find
one in Rome to-day. He'd certainly never take thee for one. Thy very
face would convict thee of violating all the laws in the Twelve Tables."

"Hunting the Christians, that's the game, is it?" said an ill-dressed
idler, blear-eyed and besotted; "and pestilent vermin they are. I'd like
to see them all drowned in the Tiber like so many rats."

"You are more likely to see them devoured in the amphitheatre," said
Bruto, a Herculean gladiator. "The Prefect is going to give some grand
games on the Feast of Neptune. Our new lions will have a chance to
flesh their teeth in the bodies of the Christians. The wretches haven't
the courage to fight, like the Dacian prisoners, with us gladiators, nor
even with the beasts; but just let themselves be devoured like sheep."

At this juncture a commotion was observed about the door, and Naso, the
Prefect, came forth and looked haughtily around. Several clients pressed
forward with petitions, which he carelessly handed unopened to his
secretary, who walked behind. He regarded with some interest the
elegantly-dressed and graceful youth who glided through the throng and
presented a scroll, saying, as he did so--

"It is of much importance, your Excellency. It is about the Christians."

"Follow me to the Forum," said the Prefect, and our old acquaintance
Isidorus, for it was he, fell into the train of the great civic
dignitary. Arrived at the Basilica Julia, or great Court of Justice, the
Prefect beckoned to the young Greek secretary, and entered a private
ante-room. Throwing himself into a bronze chair, and pointing the Greek
to a marble seat, he asked abruptly--

"Now, what is this you know about these Christians?"

"Something of much importance to your Excellency, and I hope to learn
something still more important."

"You shall be well paid if you do," said the Prefect. "It is difficult
to convict them of any crime."

"I have secret sources of information, your Excellency. In fact, I hope
to bring you the names of the ringleaders of the accursed sect."

"How so? Are you not the secretary of Flaccus Sertorius?"

"I am, your Excellency, but he has no heart in the work of this new
edict. I would like to see more zeal in the Emperor's service."

"I like not this Sertorius," said the Prefect, half musing. "He affects
too much what they call the severe old Roman virtues to suit these
times. But how do you expect to learn the secrets of these Christians?"

"By becoming one myself, your Excellency, replied the Greek, with a
sinister expression in his eyes."

"By becoming one yourself!" exclaimed the Prefect, in a tone of anger
and surprise. Then noting the wily expression of the supple Greek, he
added, "Oh! I see, by becoming a spy upon their practices and a betrayer
of their secrets. Is that it?"

"We Greeks like not the words traitor and spy," said the youth, with a
faint blush, "but to serve the Emperor and your Excellency we would bear
even that opprobrium."

"Well, you look capable of it," said the Prefect, with an undisguised
sneer, "and I will gladly use any instruments to crush this vile sect."

"But, your Excellency," said the cringing Greek, swallowing his chagrin
and annoyance, "I shall require gold to gain the confidence of these
Christians--not to bribe them, for that is impossible, but to spend in
what they call charity--to give to their sick and poor."

"Not forgetting yourself, I'll be bound," sneered the Prefect. "But what
you say is no doubt true;" and turning to the table he wrote an order
upon the Imperial Exchequer, and handed it to the Greek, with the words,
"If you make good use of that, there is more where it comes from. The
Emperor pays his _faithful_ servants well." Then dismissing the
treacherous tool whom he himself despised, he passed into the Basilica,
or court, where the bold Christian youth who had torn down the Emperor's
edict was to receive his sentence.

Livid with the torture he had undergone to make him disclose the names
of his accomplices--tortures which he had borne with heroic fortitude
he boldly avowed his act, and defied the power of the Prefect to extort
the name of a single Christian from his lips. We will not harrow the
hearts of our readers by recounting the atrocious tortures by which the
body of the brave youth had been wrung. He was at length borne away
fainting to his cruel fate. Although the Prefect, who had sworn to have
his secret if he tore the heart out of his body, gnashed his teeth in
impotent rage at the defiance of the mangled martyr, yet he could not in
his inmost soul help feeling the vast gulf between his sublime fidelity
and the heinous guilt of the base traitor from whom he had just parted.

The pages of the contemporary historians, Eusebius and Lactantius, give
too minute and circumstantial accounts of the persecutions, of which
they were eye-witnesses, to allow us to adopt the complacent theory of
Gibbon, that the sufferings of the Christians were comparatively few
and insignificant. "We ourselves have seen," says the Bishop of Cæsarea,
"crowds of persons, some beheaded, others burned alive in a single day,
so that the murderous weapons were blunted and broken to pieces, and the
executioners, weary with slaughter, were obliged to give over the work
of blood.... They vied with each other," he continues, "in inventing new
tortures, as if there were prizes offered to him who should contrive the
greatest cruelties."[16] Men whose only crime was their religion, were
scourged with chains laden with bronze balls, till the flesh hung in
shreds, and even the bones were broken. They were bound in fetters of
red hot iron, and roasted over fires so slow that they lingered for
hours, or even days, in their mortal agony; their flesh was scraped from
the very bone with ragged shells, or lacerated with burning pincers,
iron hooks, and instruments with horrid teeth and claws, hence called
_ungulæ_, examples of which have been found in the Catacombs; molten
metal was applied to their bodies till they became one undistinguishable
wound, and mingled salt and vinegar,[17] or unslacked lime, were rubbed
upon the quivering flesh, torn and bleeding from the rack or
scourge--tortures more inhuman than savage Indian ever wreaked upon his
mortal foe. Chaste matrons and tender virgins were given over to a fate
a thousand-fold worse than death, and were subjected to indignities too
horrible for words to utter. And all these sufferings were endured,
often with joy and exultation, for the love of a Divine Master, when a
single word, a grain of incense cast upon the heathen altar, would have
released the victims from their agonies. No lapse of time, and no recoil
from the idolatrous homage paid in after ages to the martyr's relics,
should impair in our hearts the profound and rational reverence with
which we bend before his tomb.

While the examination of the Christian martyr was in progress, much
interest was manifested in his fate by the throng of idlers who were
wont to linger around the public courts, to gratify their curiosity or
their morbid love of cruelty.

"The State is in danger," said Piso, the barber, gesticulating
violently, "if such miscreants are suffered to live."

"Ay, is it," chimed in a garrulous pedagogue, "this is rank treason."

"Right, neighbour Probus," added a pettifogging lawyer. "This is the
very _crimen majestatis_. These men are the enemies of Cæsar and of the
Roman people."

"Who would think he was so wicked?" said a poor freed-woman who sold
sugar barley in the Forum. "Sure he looks innocent enough."

"He _is_ innocent," replied her neighbour, who kept a stall for the sale
of figs and olives. "'Tis that wretch who is wicked," looking fiercely
at the Prefect as he moved from the court.

"You are right," said a grave-looking man, speaking low, but with a look
of secret understanding; "but be careful. You can do the brave Lucius no
good, and may betray the others into jeopardy," and he passed swiftly
through the throng.

"'Tis time all these Atheists were exterminated," said Furbo, a sort of
hanger-on at the neighbouring temple of Saturn. "The gods are angry, and
the victims give sinister auspices. To-day when the priest slew the ram
for the sacrifice, would you believe it? it had no heart; and the sacred
chickens refused their food."

"And they certainly are to blame for the floods of the Tiber, which
destroyed all the olives and lentils in my shop," said Fronto, the oil
and vegetable seller.

"And the rain rusted all the wheat on our farm," said Macer, the
villicus or land-steward.

"And the fever has broken out afresh in the Suburra," croaked a withered
old Egyptian crone, like a living mummy, who told fortunes and sold
spells in that crowded and pest-smitten quarter, where the poor swarmed
like flies.

"And the drought has blighted all the vines," echoed Demetrius, the
wine-merchant.

"I never knew trade so dull," whined Ephraim, the Jewish money-lender.
"We'll never have good times again till these accursed Christians are
all destroyed."

"So say I," "And I," "And I," shouted one after another of the mob, till
the wild cry rang round the Forum, _"Christiani adleones"_--"The
Christians to the lions."[18]

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[16] Euseb. Hist Eccles., viii. 7.

[17] "Salt me the more, that I may be incorruptible," said Tarachus, the
martyr, as he underwent this excruciating torture.

[18] "If the Tiber overflows its banks," says Tertullian, "or if the
Nile does not; if there be drought or earthquakes, famine or pestilence,
the cry is raised, 'the Christians to the lions.' But I pray you," he
adds, in refutation of these absurd charges, "were misfortunes unknown
before Tiberius? The true God was not worshipped when Hannibal conquered
at Cannæ, or the Gauls filled the city."--Tertul. _Apol._, x.



CHAPTER VI.

THE MARTYR'S BURIAL.


The fawning Greek Isidorus had stealthily wormed his way into the
confidence of Faustus, a servant of Adauctus, by professing to be, if
not a Christian, at least a sincere inquirer after the truth, and an
ardent hater of the edict of persecution. Faustus had therefore promised
to conduct him to a private meeting of the Christians, where he might be
more fully instructed by the good presbyter, Primitius. In the short
summer twilight they therefore made their way to the villa of the
Christian matron Marcella, on the Appian Way, about two miles from the
city gates. A high wall surrounded the grounds. In this was a wicket or
door, at which Faustus knocked. The white-haired porter partly opened
the door, and recognizing the foremost figure, admitted him, but gave a
look of inquiry before passing his companion.

"It is all right," said Faustus. "He is a good friend of mine," and so
they passed on.

The grounds were large and elegant, fountains flashed in the soft
moonlight, the night-blooming cereus breathed forth its rare perfume,
and masses of cypress and ilex cast deep shadows on the pleached alleys.
But there was a conspicuous absence of the garden statuary invariably
found in pagan grounds. There was no figure of the god Terminus, nor of
the beautiful Flora, or Pomona, nor of any of the fair goddesses which
to-day people the galleries of Rome. In the spacious _atrium_, or
central apartment of the house, which was partially lighted by bronze
candalabra, was gathered a company of nearly a hundred persons, seated
on couches around the hall--the men on the right and the women on the
left. A solemn stillness brooded over the entire assembly. Near a tall
cadalabrum stood a venerable figure with a snowy beard--the presbyter
Primitius. From a parchment scroll in his hand he read in impressive
tones the holy words of hope and consolation, "Let not your hearts be
troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in me," and the rest of that
sweet, parting counsel of the world's Redeemer.

[Illustration: STAIRWAY TO CATACOMB.]

Before he was through, a procession with torches was seen approaching
through the garden. On a bier, borne by four young men, lay the body of
Lucius the martyr, wrapped in white and strewn with flowers--at rest in
the solemn majesty of death from the tortures of the rack and scourge.
The little assembly within joined the procession without, and softly
singing the holy words which still give such consolation to the stricken
heart, "Beati sunt mortui qui in Domino morientur--Blessed are the dead
who die in the Lord," through the shadowy cypress alleys wound the
solemn procession. Soon it reached an archway, like that shown in our
first chapter, the entrance to the catacomb of St. Callixtus, which lay
beneath the grounds of the Lady Marcella. Then, preceded by torches,
with careful tread the bearers of the bier slowly descended a rock-hewn
stairway, and traversed a long and gloomy corridor, lined on either side
with the graves of the dead.[19] This stairway and corridor are shown in
the engravings which accompany this chapter.

An almost supernatural fear fell upon the soul of Isidorus the Greek,
who had followed in the train of the procession, as it penetrated
further and further into the very heart of the earth. He seemed like
Ulysses with his ghostly guide visiting the grim regions of the
nether-world, and the words of the classic poet came to his mind,
"Horror on all sides, the very silence fills the soul with dread."
Already for more than two centuries these gloomy galleries had been the
receptacles of the Christian dead, and in many places the slabs that
sealed the tombs were broken, and the graves yawned weirdly as he
passed, revealing the unfleshed skeletons lying on their stony bed. To
his excited imagination they seemed to menace him with their
outstretched bony arms. Deep, mysterious shadows crouched around, full
of vague suggestions of affright. His gay, joyous and pleasure-loving
nature recoiled from the evidences of mortality around him. His
footsteps faltered, and he almost fell to the rocky pavement. The
procession swept on, the glimmering lights growing dimmer and dimmer,
and then turning an angle they suddenly disappeared. Fear lent wings to
his feet, and he fled along the narrow path with outstretched hands,
sometimes touching with a feeling of horrible recoil the bones or ashes
of the dead. He hurried along, groping from side to side, and when he
reached the passage down which the funeral procession had disappeared,
no gleam of it was visible, nor could he tell, so suddenly the lights
had disappeared, whether it had turned to the right or to the left. The
darkness was intense--a darkness that might be felt, a brooding horror
that oppressed every sense. He tried to call out, but his tongue seemed
to cleave to the roof of his mouth, and his faint cry was swallowed up
in the deep and oppressive silence. Had the vengeance of the gods
overtaken him in punishment for his meditated crime? Was he, who so
loved the light and air, and joyous sunshine, never to behold them
again? Must he be buried in these gloomy vaults for ever? These thoughts
surged through his brain, and almost drove him wild. But what sounds are
those that steal faintly on his ear? They seem like the music of heaven
heard in the heart of hell. Stronger, sweeter, clearer, come the holy
voices. And now they shape themselves to words, "Nam et si ambulavero in
medio umbræ mortis, non timebo mala--Yea, though I walk through the
valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." Was it to taunt his
terrors those strange words were sung? Then the holy chant went on,
"Quonian tu mecum es Virga tua, et baculus tuus, ipsa me consolata
sunt--For thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." What
strange secret had these Christians that sustained their souls even
surrounded by the horrors of the tomb?

[Illustration: CORRIDOR OF CATACOMB.]

Isidorus groped his way amid the gloom toward these heavenly sounds.
Soon he caught a faint glimmer of light reflected from an angle of the
corridor, and then a ray through an open doorway pierced the gloom.
Hurrying forward he found the whole company from which he had become
separated gathered in a sort of chapel hewn out of the solid rock. The
body of Lucius lay upon the bier before an open tomb, hewn out of the
wall. The venerable presbyter, by the fitful torchlight which illumined
the strange group, and lit up the pious paintings and epitaphs upon the
wall, read from a scroll the strange words, "And I saw under the altar
the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God and for the
testimony which they held, and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How
long, Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on
them that dwell on the earth?" A great fear fell upon the soul of the
susceptible Greek, for the slain man seemed, in the solemn majesty of
death, to become an accusing judge.

Then turning his scroll the presbyter read on, "What are these arrayed
in white robes and whence came they? These are they which came out of
great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in
the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and
serve Him day and night in His temple.... They shall hunger no more,
neither thirst any more ... and God shall wipe away all tears from
their eyes."

These holy words stirred strange emotions in the agitated breast of the
young Greek. Sweeter were they than ought he had ever read in Pindar's
page, and more sublime than even Homer's hymns. If these things were
true, he thought, he would gladly change places with the martyr on his
bier, if only he might exchange the torturing ambitions, strifes and
sins of time for the holy joys which that marvellous scroll revealed.

Then by loving hands the martyr's body was placed in its narrow tomb. A
marble slab, on which were simply written his name and the words,
"DORMIT IN PACE--He sleeps in peace," was cemented against the opening.
With a trowel, a palm branch, the symbol of martyrdom, was rudely traced
in the yet unhardened cement, and the little company began to disperse.

"O sir," cried the young Greek, clasping the hand of the venerable
Primitius, "teach me more fully this excellent way."

"Gladly, my son," replied the benignant old man. "Come hither to-morrow.
For here," he added with a smile, "my friends insist that I must remain
concealed till this outburst of persecution shall have passed.[20]
Hilarus, the fossor, will be thy guide. He will now conduct thee back
to thy friend Faustus, who is seeking thee."

By the dim light of a waxen taper which he carried, Hilarus led the
Greek to the entrance to the Catacomb, where they found Faustus waiting
in some alarm at the delay of his friend. In the bright moonlight they
walked back to the city. Isidorus thought well to evade giving an
account of his adventure in the Catacomb, and, to turn the conversation,
asked how the Christians had obtained the body of Lucius from the public
executioner.

"Oh, money will do anything in Rome," said Faustus, at which the Greek
visibly winced. "The Lady Marcella, in whose grounds the Catacomb is,
devotes much of her wealth to burying the poor of the Church, and her
steward had no difficulty in purchasing from Hanno, the executioner, the
mangled remains of the martyr. 'Tis like, before long, that he will have
many such to sell."

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[19] For the details above given, see Bingham's _Origines Ecclesiastica_

[20] Liberius, Bishop of Rome, lay concealed in the Catacombs for a
whole year, during a time of persecution.



CHAPTER VII.

WITH HILARUS THE FOSSOR.


"No one becomes vile all at once," said the Roman moralist, and we would
be unjust to the fickle, fawning Greek Isidorus, if we concluded that
deliberate treachery was his purpose, as, at the invitation of
Primitius, he repaired next day to the catacomb of St. Calixtus. His was
a susceptible, impressionable nature, easily influenced by its
environment, like certain substances that acquire the odour, fragrant or
foul, of the atmosphere by which they are surrounded. Amid the vileness
of the Roman court, his better feelings died, and he was willing to
become the minion of tyranny, or the tool of treachery. Amid the holy
influences of the Christian assembly, some chord responded, like an
Eolian harp, to the breathings of the airs from heaven. It was,
therefore, with strangely conflicting feelings, that he passed beneath
the Capuan Gate, and along the Appian Way, toward the Villa Marcella.
His better nature recoiled from his purposed treachery of the previous
day. His heart yearned to know more of that strange power which
sustained the Christian martyr in the presence of torture and of death.


He was recognized by the porter at the gate of the villa as the
companion of Faustus, and on his inquiry for the house of Hilarus, the
fossor, was directed to a low-walled, tile-roofed building, such as may
be seen in many parts of the Campagna to the present day. About the
house were many stone chippings, and numerous slabs of marble. Under a
sort of arbour, covered with vine branches in full leaf, stood a
grisly-visaged man, with close-cropped, iron-gray hair, chipping with
mallet and chisel at a large sarcophagus, or stone coffin, upon a
mason's bench.

"Do I address Hilarus, the fossor?" asked the Greek, with a graceful
salutation.

"I am Hilarus, at your service, noble sir," replied the old man, with a
kindly expression of countenance.

The young Greek then told of the invitation given him by the good
presbyter, Primitius, and requested to be conducted to him.

"You are, of course, known to the porter, or you would not have obtained
admission to these grounds," said Hilarus. "But you will first honour my
poor roof by partaking some refreshment after your hot walk from the
city."

"Thanks, good friend," replied the Greek, "a draught of your native
wine would not be amiss. Nay, I would prefer it here beneath the
grateful shadow of this vine," he continued, as Hilarus courteously led
the way to the open door of the cottage. This was quite small, and had
almost no furniture save some earthen pots for cooking at an open
fireplace. In a moment the old man re-appeared with an earthen flagon of
wine and a bronze salver, with bread and goat's milk cheese, and a
bronze cup.[21]

"For whom is this elegant sarcophagus?" asked Isidorus, as he sipped his
wine.

[Illustration: SARCOPHAGUS NOW IN LATERAN MUSEUM.]

"I pray it be not for her who orders it," said the old man, devoutly;
"at least not for many a long day to come. The good Lady Marcella bade
me exercise my best skill in setting forth the great truths of the
Gospel, that in death as in life, she said, she might teach the
doctrines of Christ. She often comes to see how I get on with it, and to
describe how she wishes it to be. See," said the old man, pointing to
the side--(see above)--"the general idea is all her own, the details
only are mine. These four groups exhibit four scenes in the life--or
rather in the death--of our Lord. To the extreme right we see Pilate,
warned by his wife, washing his hands and saying 'I am innocent of the
blood of this just person,' and yet, like a coward, consenting to His
death, he was as guilty as Judas, who betrayed Him."

At this the Greek visibly winced, then paled and flushed, and said,
"Well, what is the next group?"

"That is part of the same," said the sculptor, with evident pride in his
work. "It represents our Lord, guarded by a Roman soldier, witnessing a
good confession before Pontius Pilate. In the central niche are two
soldiers, types of the Christian warriors, whose only place of safety is
beneath the cross; while above are the wreath of victory, the doves of
peace, and the sacred monogram, made up, I need not tell you, who are a
Greek, of the two first letters of the word Christos. To the left you
observe a Roman soldier, putting on Jesus the crown of thorns, and in
the last, Simon the Cyrenian, guarded by a soldier, bearing His
cross."[22]

"And for whom are all these funeral tablets," said Isidorus, pointing to
a number of slabs partly executed--some with the engraved outline of a
dove, or fish, or anchor, or olive branch upon them--leaning against the
wall.

"For whom God pleases," said the old man, devoutly. "I keep them ready
to suit purchasers, and then I have only to fill the name and age, or
date."

"But see here," said the Greek, touching with his foot one on which were
effigies of Castor and Pollux, the "great twin brethren" of the Roman
mythology, and the letters, "DIS MANIBVS--To the Divine Spirits;" "this
is a pagan inscription. How come you to use that?"

"Oh, we turn up such slabs by scores, in ploughing the fields hereabout.
They may be hundreds of years old, for aught I know. We just turn that
side to the wall, or deface it with a few strokes of the chisel."

"It was a prentice hand that made _that_, I'll be bound," said the
Greek, pointing to one on which was rudely painted in black pigment, the
sprawling inscription that follows, no two letters being the same size--

LOcvSaVgvStIsvToRis.
"The Place of Augustus, the Shoemaker."

"Oh, that is the epitaph of a poor cobbler. I let my boys do that for
nothing. They will soon be able to do better. Here now is one by my
oldest son, of which I would not be ashamed myself;" and he pointed to a
neatly-cut inscription, the letters coloured with a bright vermillion
pigment, which ran thus,--

AVRELIAE THEVDOSIAE
BENIGNISSIMAE ET INCOMPARABILI FEMINAE
AVRELIVS OPTATVS
CONIVGE INNOCENTISSIMAE

"Aurelius Optatus, to his most innocent wife, Aurelia Theudosia, a most
gracious and incomparable woman."

"We will now, if you are sufficiently cool," he went on, "enter the
catacomb. It is not well to make too sudden a transition from this
sultry heat to their chilly depths."

"Thanks," said the young man, "I shall find the change from this sultry
air, I doubt not, very agreeable;" and they crossed a vineyard under a
blazing sun, that made the cool crypts exceedingly grateful. Descending
the stairway, the guide took from a niche a small terra-cotta lamp,
which he carefully trimmed and lit at another, which was always kept
burning there.[23]

"Is there not danger of losing one's way in this labyrinth?" asked the
Greek, feeling no small degree of the terror of his late adventure
returning.

"Very great danger, indeed," replied Hilarus, "unless you know the clue
and marks by which we steer, almost like ships at sea. But knowing
these, the way may become as familiar as the streets of Rome. You may,
perhaps, have heard of Cæcilia, a blind girl, who acted as guide to
these subterranean places of assembly, because to her accustomed feet
the path was as easy as the Appian Way to those who see."

"How many Greek epitaphs there are," said Isidorus, deeply interested in
scanning the inscriptions as he passed.

"Yes," said the fossor, "there are a-many of your countryfolk buried
here; and even some who are not like to have their epitaphs written in
the language in which holy Paulus wrote his epistle to the Church in
Rome."

"But what wretched scrawls the most of them are," said the Greek, with
something like a sneer; "and see, here is one even upside down."

"Yes, noble sir," continued the old man, "not many mighty, not many
noble are called--most of those who sleep around us are God's great
family of the poor. Indeed, most of them were slaves. That poor fellow
was a martyr in the last persecution. I mind it well, though it is years
agone. We buried him by stealth at dead of night, and did not notice
that the hastily written inscription was reversed."

The dim rays of their lamp and taper made but a faint ring of light
about their feet. Their steps, as they walked over the rocky floor,
echoed strangely down the long-drawn corridors and hollow vaults, dying
gradually away in the solemn stillness of this valley of the shadow of
death. The sudden transition from the brilliant Italian sunlight to this
sepulchral gloom, from the busy city of the living to this silent city
of the dead, smote the heart of the susceptible youth with a feeling of
awe. And all around in this vast necropolis, each in his narrow cell
forever laid, were unnumbered thousands, who were once like himself,
full of energy and life.

[Illustration: SECTIONAL VIEW OF GALLERY AND CHAMBERS, SHOWING LIGHT AND
AIR SHAFT]

As they advanced, a faint light in the distance seemed to penetrate the
gloom. It grew brighter as they approached, and attracted by the sound
of the footsteps, a venerable figure emerged from a doorway and stood in
the flood of light which poured down from an opening in the vaulted
roof, which extended to the bright free air above. Almost like an
apparition from the other world, in the strong, Rembrandt-like
illumination in which he stood, looked the venerable Primitius, clothed
in white, with silvery hair and flowing beard, and high, bare brow. As
Isidorus glanced up the shaft, he saw the blue sky shining far above,
and the waving of the long grass that fringed the opening for light and
air. This construction--a very frequent one in the Catacombs--is shown
in sectional view on the previous page. On each side of the corridor was
a chamber about twelve feet square, also lit up by this shaft, which,
plastered with white stucco, reflected the light into every part.

"Welcome, my son," said the venerable presbyter, as he sat down on a
bench hewn out of the dry pummice-like rock "Welcome to these abodes of
death; may they prove to thee the birthplace to eternal life;" and he
laid his hand benignantly on the head of the young man, whom he had
motioned to a seat beside him.

"Sire," said the youth, all the nobler feelings of his nature deeply
moved, "I wish above all things to sit at your feet and to learn the
lessons of wisdom which you are so well able to impart But are these
seemly surroundings for a man of your years and condition?--this rocky
vault, this utter loneliness, and these crumbling relics of mortality?"
and he shuddered as he glanced at the shattered sepulchral slabs, which
revealed the remains of what was once man in his strength, woman in her
beauty, or a sweet child in its innocence and glee.

"Why not, my son? soon I must lie down with them and be at rest. The
thought has no terrors to my soul I know no loneliness, and through the
care of kind friends my wants are all supplied. But your young blood and
sensitive imagination, I perceive, shrink from these things to which, by
long use, I have become accustomed. Let us go into the adjoining
chamber, which you will find more cheerful, and, I trust, not less
instructive."

[Illustration]

[Illustration: EARLY CHRISTIAN SCULPTURE--SARCOPHAGUS OF JUNIUS BASSUS,
ROME.]

[Illustration: CEILING PAINTING FROM CATACOMB OF ST. CALIXTUS, ROME.]

FOOTNOTES:

[21] Just such a peasant's house the writer visited on the Appian Way,
near this spot, and just such a repast he shared at the entrance of this
very catacomb. "The wine," said the guide, "is necessary to guard
against a chill." The contrast between the temperature above ground and
below was about 30°.

[22] This sarcophagus, with many others resembling it the writer studied
minutely in the Lateran Museum at Rome.

[23] The writer has some of these earthen lamps which once did service
in the Catacombs. They bear Christian symbols, inscribed before
baking--a dove, anchor, olive branch, fish, and the like.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER VIII.

WITH PRIMITIUS, THE PRESBYTER.


The venerable presbyter laid his hand familiarly on the young man's
shoulder and conducted him into a smaller, but much more elegantly
finished, apartment. It contained no graves, save an arched tomb which
had never been used; at one side was a shelf for lamps. The whole
surface of the wall was covered with hard white stucco, which was
divided into panels by bands and borders of brilliant red and blue, as
shown in the cut on next page. The vaulted ceiling was similarly
divided. The angles were filled in with elegant floral designs, and the
panels with Biblical and symbolical paintings, which Primitius began now
to explain.

[Illustration: PAINTED CHAMBER IN THE CATACOMBS]

"Thou seest, my son," he said, "that central group above the arch. That
represents the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep. Thou
perceivest He bears the lost sheep upon His shoulders, and gently leads
those which follow Him. Even so, all we, like sheep, have gone astray,
but the blessed Saviour seeks the erring, and brings them into the safe
and true fold. Thou seest to the left the figure between the two lions.
That is Daniel in the lion's den; and to the right are the three Hebrews
in the fiery furnace. These, my son, are symbols of the Church of
Christ, amid the wild beasts and the fires of persecutions. But she
shall be delivered unhurt; she shall come forth unscathed. In the
ceiling you will observe praying figures between lambs, the emblems of
the Church, the Bride which is the Lamb's wife, perpetually engaged in
adoration and prayer."

The youth was deeply impressed, and almost awed, to see the
silvery-haired old man, a refugee from persecution, in these
subterranean crypts, with the full assurance of faith, confronting all
the power of the persecuting despot of the world, and predicting the
triumph of that oppressed Church which was compelled to seek safety in
those dens and caves of the earth.

The good old man then sought to impart the great truths of our holy
religion to his new catechumen, and to implant in his soul the same
germs of lofty faith that flourished in his own. With this object he led
him through the long corridors and chambers of the vast encampment of
death--a sort of whispering gallery of the past, eloquent with the
expression of the faith and hope of the silent sleepers in their narrow
cells.

"Listen, my son," said Primitius, "to the testimony of the dead in
Christ, and of the martyrs for the truth," and pausing from time to time
before some inscribed or painted slab, he pointed out the lofty hopes
which sustained their souls in the very presence of death.

"Here," he said, entering again the chamber he had first left, "is the
sepulchre of my own beloved wife. When depressed and lonely, I come
hither and derive strength and consolation by reading the words which
she requested, with her dying breath, should be written on her tomb,"
and with deep emotion he traced with his finger the inscription:--[24]

PARCITE VOS LACRIMIS DVLCIS CVM CONIVGE NATAE
VIVENTEMQVE DEO CREDITE FLERE NEFAS.

"Refrain from tears, my sweet children and husband, and believe that it
is forbidden to weep for one who lives in God."

"And here," he went on, "is the tomb of our little child," and Isidorus
read with softened spirit the words:--

AGNELLVS DEI--PARVM STETIT APVD NOS ET
PRAECESSIT NOS IN PACE.

"God's little lamb--he stayed but a short time with us, and went before
us in peace."

"And here," said Primitius, "is the couch of our eldest daughter," and
he read, with caressing tones, her epitaph:--

ANIMA DVLCIS INNOCVA SAPIENS ET PVLCHRA--
NON MORTVA SED DATA SOMNO.

"A sweet spirit, guileless, wise, beautiful. She is not dead but
sleepeth."

"This is certainly very different," said Isidorus, "from two epitaphs I
read to-day upon the pagan tombs on the Appian Way. They ran thus:--

DECIPIMVR VOTIS ET TEMPORE FALLIMVR ET MORS
DERIDET CVRAS ANXIA VITA NIHIL.

"We are deceived by our vows, misled by time, and death derides our
cares; anxious life is naught."

INFANTI DVLCISSIMO QVEM DEI IRATI AETERNO
SOMNO DEDERVNT.

"To a very sweet child, whom the angry gods gave to eternal sleep."

"Yes," said Primitius, "nothing can sustain the soul in the presence of
death, but such faith as that of my friend Eutuchius, who sleeps here;"
and he read the lofty line:--

IN CHRISTVM CREDENS PREMIA LVCIS HABET.

"Believing in Christ, he has the rewards of the light (of heaven)."

"Similar are these also," and he pointed to the following ill-written,
but sublime, epitaphs, which Isidorus slowly spelled out:--

DVLCIS ET INNOCES _(sic)_ HIC DORMIT SEVERIANVS
SOMNO PACIS CVIVS SPIRITVS IN LVCE DOMINI
SVSCEPTVS EST,--IN SEMPETERNALE
AEVVM QVIESCIT SECVRVS.

"Here lies in the sleep of peace, the sweet and innocent Severianus,
whose spirit is received into the light of God. He rests free from care
throughout endless time."

"But how were these Christians so confident of the future life," asked
the Greek, "when the greatest of the philosophers and sages--a Socrates
or Cicero--never rose above a vague 'perhaps,' and even the philosophic
Pliny, anticipating only annihilation, writes, 'there is no more
consciousness after death than before birth?'"

"Find there thy answer, young man," exclaimed Primitius, and with a
gleam of exultation in his eyes, he pointed to the following epitaphs:--

CREDO QVIA REDEMPTOR MEVS VIVIT ET NOVISSIMO
DIE DE TERRA SVSCITABIT ME IN CARNE MEA
VIDEBO DOMINVM.

"I believe, because that my Redeemer liveth, and in the last day shall
raise me from the earth, that in my flesh I shall see the Lord."

HIC REQVIESCIT CARO MEA NOVISSIMO VERO DIE
PER CHRISTVM CREDO RECVSCITABITVR A MORTVIS.

"Here rests my flesh, but at the last day, through Christ, I believe it
will be raised from the dead."

"And must the soul, then, slumber with the body in blank unconsciousness
till this 'last day?'" asked the Greek. "Methinks I should shudder at
going out into the dark inane, like a taper extinguished in these gloomy
vaults. Better is the dim and ghostly Hades, and Elysian Fields of our
own mythology, than that."

"Not so, my son," replied Primitius, "we believe with the blessed
Paul--that as soon as the soul passes from earth's living death, it
enters into the undying life and unfading bliss of heaven." And he
pointed out, one after another, the following epitaphs corroborating his
view:--

CORPVS HABET TELLVS ANIMAM CAELESTIA REGNA.
MENS NESCIA MORTIS VIVIT ET ASPECTV
FBVITVR BENE CONSCIA CHRISTI.

"The soul lives unknowing of death, and consciously rejoices in the
vision of Christ."

PRIMA VIVIS IN GLORIA DEI ET IN PACE DOMINI
NOSTRI XR.

"Prima, thou livest in the glory of God, and in the peace of Christ our
Lord."

"This is indeed a high philosophy, beyond aught I ever heard before,"
said Isidorus, deeply moved. "Whence do you Christians derive such lofty
teachings? For as Hilarus but now said most of your sect are poor and
lowly in this world's goods and rank."

"Our teaching comes, my son, from God Himself, the Great Father of
lights, and from Jesus Christ our Lord. Behold, as the greatest favour I
can do thee, I will lend thee this precious MS. of the Gospel of the
blessed John;" and he took from a leathern case a purple vellum
parchment scroll, inscribed with letters of silver. "Cherish it
carefully; 'tis worth more than gold. When thou hast well pondered it, I
will lend thee the letter of the blessed Paul to the infant Church in
this city of Home. But here comes Hilarus to conduct thee back to the
light of day. Return hither, if thou canst, on the fourth day from now
--the day of our Sabbath assembly. My blessing be upon thee. _Pax
vobiscum et cum spiritu tuo._"

The young Greek knelt at the old man's feet, then rose and kissed his
hand, and followed in silence the fossor Hilarus. At length he broke the
silence by inquiring,--

"What's the meaning, good Hilarus, of all these strange figures which I
have noted on the tombstones as I passed. I have observed a lion, a pig,
an ass, a cobbler's last, carpenters', masons', and wool-combers'
implements; a fish, a ship, an anchor, and the like--all scratched or
painted on the stone slabs. They have no religious significance,
surely?"

[Illustration: TOMB OF THE BISHOPS, CATACOMB OF ST. CALIXTUS.

Seven of the Bishops of the early Christian Church in Rome fell in
succession by the hand of the headsman, five of them in the space of
eight years. In this chamber are buried several of those heroic martyrs
of Jesus.]

"Well, no, not all of them," said Hilarus, with a smile. "You see, many
of the Christians being lowly craftsmen, are unable to read, so the
tools or emblems of their calling are inscribed on the tombs of their
friends, that they may recognize and find them again in this vast
cemetery."

"But the ship, anchor, and fish are not signs of a handicraft, unless
that of sailor or fisherman."

"No, the fish has another and a secret meaning. I need not tell a
scholar like you, that the first letters of the Greek names for Jesus
Christ, Son of God, the Saviour, make up the word Ichthus, or fish, so
it is used as a secret symbol of our faith. The ship is the emblem, I
have been told, even in your own country, of a well-spent life, and to
us it signifies a soul entering into the haven of eternal rest. While
our holy hopes are the anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast,
entering into that within the veil."

"Well, and the lion, ass, and pig? What about them?"

"These," said the fossor, with a laugh, which seemed as incongruous to
him as it would be to a modern sexton, for such his office virtually
was, "these are a sort of play upon the names of Leo, Onager, and
Porcella, the latter was a sort of pet name, I suspect--'Little Pig'--by
which their friends, who could not read, could find their tombs."

"What wives these Christians must have had," continued the
keenly-observing Greek. "I have noticed several inscriptions, in which
they are said to have passed ten, twenty, thirty, and one even fifty
years of married life--SINE IVRGIO, SINE AEMVLATIONE, SINE DISSIDIO,
SINE QVERELA--'Without contention, without emulation, without
dissension, without strife.' There are no such wives in Rome now, I'll
be bound--at least in the Rome I am acquainted with."

"Yes," said the old man, with a sigh, "come with me into yonder chapel.
I always, in passing this way, stop there to see again the sepulchre of
the best wife God ever gave to any man." After walking in silence some
minutes, he entered a sort of family vault, and lit a bronze lamp,
shaped like a ship, hanging from the vaulted ceiling, while Isidorus
studied out the following inscription, not altogether free from errors
in spelling and grammar:--

CONIVGE VENEVANDE BONE INNOCVA FLORENTIA
DIGNA PIA AMABILIS PVDICA _(sic)_ DEO FIDELIS
DVLCIS MARITO NVTRIX FAMILIAE HVMILIS
CVNCTIS AMATRIX PAVPERVM. BIXIT MECVM
ANN. XXXII. MENS. IX. DIES V. HOR. X.
SCRVPVLOS XIL SEMPER CONCORDES SINE VLLA
QVERELA. BIXIT PLVS MINVS ANN. LII. MENS.
V. INCOMPARABILEM CONIVGEM MALE FRACTVS
CONIVX GEMITV TRISTI LACRI MIS DEFLET.

"To my wife Florentia, deserving of honour, good, guileless, worthy,
pious, amiable, modest, faithful to God, endeared to her husband, the
nurse of her family, humble to all, a lover of the poor. She lived with
me (_i.e._, was married) thirty-two years, nine months, five days, ten
hours, six scruples (about a quarter of an hour--they were very
scrupulous about this). She lived (altogether) fifty-two years, five
months, more or less. The sore-broken husband bewails, with tears and
bitter lamentation, his incomparable spouse."

"Yes, I made it all up, and carved it all myself," said the old man, as
Isidorus finished reading the long inscription; "and if I say it myself,
I don't think there is a better in the whole Catacomb; you see, I
selected the best bits from all the best epitaphs, and she deserved it
every word, dear soul," and he drew his rough hand across his moistened
eyes.

The easy-tempered Greek was too good-natured to inflict wanton pain, so
he ignored its bad Latinity, and contented himself with saying that "it
was indeed a very remarkable epitaph."

In a few minutes they emerged from the gloom of the Catacomb to the
golden glory which was flooding the broad Campagna from the westering
sun. "Would," thought Isidorus within himself, "that I could thus emerge
from the gloomy doubts and fears in which my spirit gropes, to the
golden light of Christian life."

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[24] The following, except the last one, are all authentic inscriptions
from the Catacombs, selected from many hundreds, translated by the
writer in his volume on this subject.



CHAPTER IX.

A DIFFICULT QUEST.


The Empress Valeria had not forgotten her purpose to discover, if
possible, the father of her freed-woman, Callirhoë, and at the earliest
opportunity took steps to accomplish her design. It was, she knew, a
task of much difficulty, and one that required an intelligent and
confidential agent. It was also of the utmost importance that some sign
of identity should be exhibited as a guarantee of the good faith of the
agent. With this view the Empress one day, as she sat at her toilet in
the apartment described in our third chapter, thus interrogated her
freed-woman and namesake, Valeria Callirhoë.

"Hast thou any token, child," she asked, "by which, should we find thy
father, he would be assured of thy identity?"

"I was despoiled of everything, your Majesty," said the girl, "by the
pirates by whom we were captured; except the clothes in which I stood.
All my rings and jewellery were rudely snatched away, and I never saw
them again."

"What is that little amulet I have seen thee wear?" asked the Empress;
"I think thou hast it now."

"Oh, that was so trivial and valueless," said Callirhoë, "that they
either overlooked it or thought it not worth taking;" and she drew from
the folds of her robe, where it hung suspended by a silken cord about
her neck, a cornelian stone, carved into the shape of a tiny fish,[25]
on which was inscribed the word, ΣΩΤΗΡΣΩΤΗΡ, or "Saviour," and
on the other side the letters ΚΑΛ.ΔΗΜΗΤ.ΘΥΓ--a contraction for
"Callirhoë daughter of Demetrius."

"Trivial as it is," said the girl, with emotion, "it is something which
I value above all price. My sainted mother, before she died, took it
from her neck and put it upon mine; and I hope to wear it while I live."

"You do not regard it as an amulet, or charm against evil spirits, I am
sure, like some Christians, who have not quite shaken off their pagan
superstitions."

"Nay, your Majesty, but as a symbol of our holy faith. Yet it might well
be a spell to keep my soul from sin, so sacred are its associations."

"I want you to give it to me," said the Empress.

"It is yours, your Majesty," said the girl, taking it from her neck, and
passionately kissing it. "To no one else on earth would I give it; but
from my best benefactress I can withhold nothing."

"I would not put thee to the pain of parting with it," said the Empress,
with a kind caress, "but I need it as a clue, to find, if possible, thy
father, and when found, as an identification of his child. I do not wish
to raise hopes which may be doomed to disappointment; but I am about to
make a strenuous effort to discover thy sire."

"A thousand thanks, dearest lady," exclaimed the grateful girl, kissing
her mistress's hands and bedewing them with her tears. "I feel sure that
God will reward your efforts, and answer my ceaseless prayers."

In pursuance of her purpose, the Empress wrote upon a scroll of
parchment the following letter to her faithful counsellor, Adauctus:--

    "Valeria, consort of the co-Emperor Galerius Cæsar--to Adauctus,
    Treasurer of the Imperial Exchequer, greeting:

    "Honoured Servant,--Thy mistress hath need of a faithful and
    intelligent agent, to execute a delicate and difficult mission.
    He must be of good address, and must be a man whom I can
    implicitly trust. When thou hast found such, bring him with thee
    to the palace." L.S.

Having bound the scroll with a silken cord, and affixed her signet in
purple wax, and addressed the document to the Imperial Treasurer, she
sent it by a soldier of the guard, whom we would describe in modern
parlance as an orderly-in-waiting, to Adauctus.

During the latter part of the day, the chamberlain announced a visit
from "His Excellency the Imperial Treasurer." That officer was received
with much honour by the Empress, who was attended only by her faithful
freed woman.

"Many thanks, your Excellency, for your prompt attendance. Have you
found me the paragon whom I require?"

"I cannot avouch for that, your Majesty, but he is highly commended by
his master, an honest soldier, who places him at your Majesty's service.
Of his nimble wit and subtle parts, I can myself bear witness, and my
own servant testifies that if not a Christian, he is at least a sincere
inquirer after the truth."

The Empress briefly explained the nature of the commission which she
wished executed, and asked that the proposed agent, who waited in an
ante-room, might be presented. In a moment the chamberlain announced our
old friend Isidorus. With bowed head and hands folded upon his breast,
he stood on the threshold, and then advancing, knelt gracefully before
the Empress. He evidently made a good impression, for her Majesty smiled
graciously and said:--

"It is a difficult quest on which I would send thee, but thou shalt be
well rewarded for thy fidelity and zeal."

"My humble services, my life, are at your Majesty's disposal," said the
Greek. "I shall deem myself well rewarded by your Majesty's favour."

"See'st thou this lady?" asked the Empress, pointing to Callirhoë. "To
find her sire in this wide world--that is thy task;" and she briefly
explained the nature of the commission.

The youth gazed long and earnestly on the fair face of the girl, and
replied, "Those features once seen can never be forgotten. If I find
anywhere on earth aught resembling them, I shall not fail to recognize
the likeness. In such a quest I would gladly search the wide world
over."

"My chamberlain will amply equip you for your journey, and will give you
a letter, with the Emperor's seal, to all the Roman prefects in Italy;
and, by the Divine favour, I trust you will bring us good tidings."

"So may it be," said the youth, as he retired from the presence, giving,
as he did so, a lingering look at Callirhoë, who, with dilated eyes and
parted lips, gazed at him with an intensity of entreaty that would have
proved an inspiration to a less susceptible nature than his.

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[25] These objects, of which the writer has examined several, were given
to neophytes on the occasion of their baptism, as an emblem of their
holy faith. (See explanation of the symbol of the fish in last chapter,
p. 82.) They were often used as a sign of membership in the Christian
Church, somewhat like our modern class-tickets.



CHAPTER X.

A WICKED PLOT.


We have already mentioned the fact that Fausta, the mother of the
Emperor Galerius, was a fanatical pagan. The especial object of her
regard was the goddess Cybele, who was worshipped in Rome with rites of
the most degrading superstition. Fausta was intensely bitter in her
hatred of the Christian name, and strenuously endeavoured to incite her
son, the Emperor, to persecution. She was especially virulent towards
her daughter-in-law, the beautiful Valeria, and sought by every means to
embitter the mind of Galerius against her. In this she was strongly
abetted, or rather inspired, by Furca, the vicious old priest of Cybele,
whose wicked influence over her was very great. This worthy pair, the
day after the interview above described, were engaged in a secret
conclave or conspiracy against Valeria and the Christians, while the
latter was seeking to carry out her benevolent enterprise.

The scene of their interview was the reception-room of Fausta, in the
palace of the Emperor Galerius. It was far more sumptuously furnished
and decorated than that of the Empress Valeria, and at one end, in a
marble niche, stood an ugly image of the goddess Cybele, with her crown
of many towers, rudely carved out of olive wood, but quite embrowned,
and almost blackened with age. It was bedizened with costly jewels, and
was deemed to be of special sanctity. Before it was a small marble
altar, on which burned, day and night, a silver censer.

At the moment of which we write, Fausta approached the altar, and
kissing her hand to the image--an ancient mode of worship, from which we
get the word "adore"--she took some costly Sabean incense from a small
gold coffer, and sprinkled it on the glowing coals of the censer. Dense
white fumes arose, whose rich aromatic odour filled the large apartment.
Fausta had been an Illyrian peasant, and, notwithstanding her
embroidered robes and costly jewels, she still exhibited much of the
rude peasant character and lack of culture. Her coarse and wrinkled
features and swarthy complexion, were all the more striking by their
contrast with the snowy mantle, with its gold-embroidered border, which
she wore; and her bright black eyes glittered with an expression of
deadly malice like those of a serpent. While she stood before the altar,
a servant announced that Furca, the arch-priest of Cybele, had obeyed
her summons. As the curtain of the door was drawn aside, a little
weazened old man, as dark as mahogany, wearing a thick crop of snow
white hair, appeared.

"Thanks, good Furca," said Fausta, "I desire your counsel on a matter of
much importance to the State, and to the worship of the holy Cybele."

"At your service, your Excellency," said the obsequious priest, who also
kissed his hand to the black-faced image, and sprinkled a few grains of
incense on the censer.

"Thou knowest how the worship of the Galilean Christus has increased,
not only among the common people, the vile plebs, and the still viler
slave population, but even among the patricians and nobles. I have
evidence that even in this palace, and very near the throne, the
execrable superstition is cherished."

"Alas! your Excellency, I fear it is only too true," whined the bigot
arch-priest. "Certain it is that neither of the Empresses, Prisca or
Valeria, ever take part in the public worship of the gods, as from their
lofty station it is their duty to do."

"Yes, and I have reason to believe that there is plotting and conniving
between the Empress and the accursed Christian sect."

"Hast any proof of this?" asked the arch-priest, eagerly. "This is a
crime against the State."

"The black slave Juba," replied Fausta, "is, as thou knowest, a faithful
worshipper of Cybele, and she told me even now, that Adauctus, the
Imperial Treasurer, had been only yesterday closeted with the Empress,
and plotting to restore to the favour of the Emperor a certain
Demetrius, a Christian renegade, who is in hiding for his crimes."

"Oh, ho!" chuckled the priest, with a wicked grin, "my fine lady need
not think herself so high and mighty as to be above the reach of the
law, or beyond the anger of the insulted gods."

"I would almost give my eyes," hissed through her teeth the revengeful
Fausta, "if I could only see that painted doll, Valeria, abased and
degraded. She has too long held a sway, of which I, the mother of the
Emperor, have been deprived."

"I trust you may not only see it," said Furca, gloating in anticipation
over the prospect, "but also see her pale, proud mother, the Empress
Prisca, humbled at your feet."

"Accomplish this, good Furca," exclaimed Fausta, with exultation, "and
the goddess Cybele shall have such an offering as she never had
before."

"We must be wary," said the priest, "or we may ourselves be crushed.
They are too powerful to be attacked openly. We must plot against them
secretly. I'll be a _furca_ to them indeed," he added, punning upon his
own name, which had also the signification of an instrument of
punishment, something like a cross; and the conspirators parted with
this pledge of mutual hate against their destined victims.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XI

THE SLAVE MARKET.


In the meantime Isidorus, with well-filled purse, and armed with
credentials under the Imperial seal, had set off upon his difficult and
doubtful quest.

"However it turn out," he said to himself, "it will be strange if I do
not climb a few steps higher on the ladder on which my feet are now
placed. Being the confidential agent of the Empress is better than
being the secretary of the rude soldier, Sertorius, and being snubbed by
him every day, too."

Mounted on one of the best horses in the Imperial stables, he rode forth
upon the famous Salarian Way, which led straight as an arrow over the
wide Campagna, and over the rugged Appenines to the distant city of
Ravenna, among the marshes of the Adriatic. Now a decayed and
grass-grown city, six miles from the sea, it was then a great and busy
port, and had been for two centuries and a half an important see of the
Christian Church. Not to the prefect of the city, but to the bishop of
Ravenna, Isidorus, with his natural tact and shrewdness, betook himself.
The sign manual of the Emperor, which he confidently exhibited, did not
command that regard which he had anticipated; but a private letter from
Adauctus, commending Isidorus to all Christian bishops and presbyters,
procured for him a much more cordial reception. He was hospitably
entertained, and every possible assistance given him in his quest. The
bishop called together the deacons who had the care of the poor of the
Church, but none of them knew anything of Demetrius. The bishop had
ransomed many Christian slaves--prisoners taken in war, or captured by
pirates. A few years before, when the resources of the Church had been
completely exhausted by the exercise of this charity,[26] a company of
captives had been sold by pirates to a Jewish slave-dealer named Ezra,
and conveyed by him to the city of Mediolanum, or as we now call it,
Milan, as offering, next to Rome, the best market for his wares. And one
of the deacons remembered among this slave-gang an old man who resembled
the description given of Demetrius.

To Milan, therefore, crossing again the Appenines, and riding up the
broad, rich valley of the Po, went Isidorus. He was surprised to find a
city, almost rivalling in extent Rome itself, and with a history
reaching back to the times of the Etruscans, well-nigh a thousand years.
First he sought the Jewish slave-dealer, who kept a regular mart for the
sale or hire of human beings, just as one now-a-days keeps a
livery-stable for the sale or hire of horses. There was as much fraud,
too, in selling slaves then, as has been proverbially connected with
horse-dealing and jockeying in every age. The _ergastulum_, or slave-pen
of Ezra, was a large prison-like structure, surrounding the four sides
of a hollow square. There were no windows to the street, and only very
small iron-grated ones to the inner court; with heavy, iron-studded
doors to the stable-like stalls, where the slaves were chained to a
stout beam running along the wall.

A slave-auction was in progress when Isidorus arrived, so he had to wait
till it was over before plying his quest. A gang of slaves, unchained,
but guarded by keepers, armed with whips and spears, awaited their fate.
Stripped nearly naked, they were rudely examined, pinched, handled, and
made to stoop, lift heavy weights, walk, run, and show their paces like
horses for sale. Many had their ears bored--a sign of servitude from the
time of Moses--and others were seamed with scars of the cruel lash.
This, however, lessened their market value, as it was evidence of their
intractable and troublesome character.

Slavery was, at the time of which we write, one of the greatest evils of
the Roman empire. It was a deadly canker, eating out the national life.
It cast a stigma of disgrace on labour, and prevented the formation of
that intelligent middle class which is the true safeguard of liberty.
Never in the history of the world was society so based upon the abject
misery of vast multitudes of human beings. The slaves outnumbered, many
times, their masters. They were forbidden to wear a peculiar garb, lest
they should recognize their numbers and their strength, and rise in
universal revolt. As it was, servile insurrections were of frequent
occurrence. But they were crushed and punished with ruthless severity.
In one slave revolt, 60,000 of these wretched beings were slain. The
first question about a man's property was, _"Quot pascit servos?"_--"How
many slaves does he keep?" Ten was considered the least number
consistent with any degree of respectability. Four hundred slaves
deluged with their blood the funeral pyre of Pedanius Secundus. Vidius
Pollio fed his lampreys with the bodies of his human chattels. A single
freed-man left over 4,000 at his death. Some 2,000 men were lords of the
Roman world, and the great mass of the rest were slaves. Their condition
was one of inconceivable wretchedness. They had no rights of marriage,
nor any claim to their children. Their food was a pound of bread a day,
with a little salt and oil. Flesh they never tasted, and even wine,
which flowed like water, almost never. Colossal piles, built by their
blood and sweat, attest to the present day the bitterness of their
bondage. The lash of the taskmaster was heard in the fields, and
crosses, bearing aloft their quivering victims, polluted the wayside.

This dumb, weltering mass of humanity, crushed by power, and led by
their lusts, became a hot-bed of vice, in which every evil passion grew
apace. To these wretched beings came the gospel of liberty, with a
strange, a thrilling power. The oppressed slave, in the intervals of
toil or torture, caught with joy the emancipating message, and sprang up
enfranchised by an immortalizing hope. He exulted in a new-found freedom
in Christ, which no wealth could purchase, no chains of slavery fetter,
nor even death itself destroy. In the Christian Church the distinctions
of worldly rank were abolished.[27] The highest spiritual privileges
were opened to the lowliest slave. In the ecclesiastical hierarchy were
no rights of birth, and no privileges of blood. In the inscriptions of
the Catacombs, no badges of servitude, no titles of honour appear. The
wealthy noble, the lord of many acres, recognized in his lowly servant a
fellow heir of glory. They bowed together at the same table of the Lord,
saluted each other with the mutual kiss of charity, and side by side in
their narrow graves, at length returned to indistinguishable dust. The
story of Onesimus was often repeated, and the patrician master received
his returning slave, "not now as a servant, but above a servant--a
brother beloved." Nay, he may even have bowed to him as his
ecclesiastical superior, and received from his plebeian hands the
emblems of their common Lord.

We return from this digression to the slave-market of Milan. Very few of
Ezra's stock were black--not more than half a dozen, from Nubia and
Libya. Most of them were as white as himself, or whiter still. There
were Dalmatians, Illyrians, Iberians, Gauls, Greeks, Syrians, and many
other nationalities. Ezra was engaged in busy converse, in a broken
mixture of Latin and Greek, with the wealthy patrician, Vitellius, the
lord of wide corn lands on the fertile banks of the Po.

"Field hands your Excellency wants? I have some splendid ones," he said,
eagerly. "Here, you fellows, step out there and show your muscles;" and
he struck with his whip-lash two brawny white-skinned, blue-eyed,
yellow-haired British slaves.

"Sullen dogs these British often are," he said, "but they are as good as
gold. They never run away like the Germans, nor steal like the Greeks,
nor kill themselves like the Gauls."[28]

"Glad of that," said Vitellius. "I have had a perfect epidemic of
suicide among my slaves. I had to kill several of them to keep them from
killing themselves"--a sad but frequent comment on the utter
wretchedness of their condition, from which death itself was the only
refuge.

"Does your Excellency want anything of a higher grade?" asked Ezra.
"Some skilled workmen to finish your elegant villa, for instance. I have
a splendid Greek sculptor, almost another Phidias, and another a second
Zeuxis with the brush. Then if you want a steward, or bookkeeper, or
secretary, or reader, or a skilled physician, I have them all; or a
hand-maid for your Excellency's wife. I have a beautiful Greek girl
here, highly accomplished; can embroider, play the zither, sing in two
languages. I sold her sister last week for 100,000 sesterces[29]--nieces
of an ex-archon. I felt really sorry for them, but what would
you?--trade is trade. Times are bad. Poor Ezra has had bad luck. Several
of his slaves kill themselves. Market glutted; price falls. I sell them
very cheap--very cheap."

Vitellius made his purchases, had them chained together in a gang, and
driven by his steward, like cattle, to his farm. The account of Ezra's
interview with Isidorus we must defer to another chapter.

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[26] This might easily happen, for after successful raids or slave
hunts, the victims were sold by their pirate captors by the thousand.
The fact is on record, that at Delos, a famous slave market, 60,000 were
sold by Celician pirates in a single day.

[27] Apud nos inter pauperes et divites, servos et dominos, interest
nihil. Lactant. _Div. Inst._ v. 14, 15.

[28] These were the most common faults of slaves, for attempting which
they were often branded on cheek or brow.

[29] Over $4,000 of our money. Very beautiful or accomplished slaves
sometimes brought twice that amount.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XII.

THE LOST FOUND.


"Do you remember buying or selling a slave named Demetrius, a Jew?"
asked Isidorus of Ezra, the slave-dealer of Milan. He wasted no words in
circumlocution, for he knew that there was no use in trying to deceive
the keen-eyed Jewish dealer in his fellowman; and that his best chances
of success were in coming directly to the point.

"Selling a Jew? Oh, no! I never sell my own kinsmen. That's against our
law. It is like seething a kid in its mother's milk. I often ransom them
from pirates and set them free."

"But this Demetrius was a Christian Jew--a convert from Moses to Jesus,"
said the Greek.

"A Christian dog," cried Ezra with a wicked execration. "He was no Jew.
He had sold his birthright like Esau, and had no part nor lot with
Israel. Of course, I'd sell him if I got him--to the mines, or to the
galleys, or the field gang, to the hardest master I could find. But I
know naught about your Demetrius, who was he?"

"He was a Jew of Antioch," said Isidorus, "captured by Illyrian pirates
and sold in the slave market of Ravenna."

"That is a common tale," replied Ezra. "There are many such. How long
since this occurred?"

"'Tis now five years since he was last seen by her who seeks him, and
who will pay well for his recovery."

"Just my luck," grumbled the greedy Jew. "Some one else will gain the
prize. 'Tis not for me."

"Then you cannot help me in this quest?" said the Greek.

"How can I remember the scores and hundreds of Christian dogs that I
have bought and sold? Go ask these monks, they know more of the vermin
than I do."

Acting on this hint, Isidorus made his way to the Convent of San
Lorenzo, the ancient chapel of which still remains. Knocking at a
bronze-studded gateway he was admitted to a quadrangle surrounded by
cloisters or covered galleries upon which opened the doors of the
different apartments. It was more like a hospital and alms-house than
like what is now understood as a convent. It served as a sort of school
of theology, youthful acolytes and deacons being here trained for the
office and work of presbyters in the Church. Isidorus presented his
letter from Adauctus to the good Bishop Paulinus, and was most cordially
received.

"Right welcome art thou, my son," said the bishop, "bearing, as thou
dost, the commendation of the worthy Adauctus; and right glad shall we
be to promote thy search. I myself know naught that can throw light upon
it, inasmuch as I lived not at Milan, but was bishop of Nola at the time
of which thou speakest."

The scriptor, or secretary, of the convent was also consulted without
avail, no record being found in the annals of the house that gave any
hope of discovery.

"Come lunch with us in the refectory," said the bishop, "and I will ask
if any of the brethren know aught of this mystery."

The refectory was a large bare-looking room--its only furniture being a
long and solid table with a shorter one across the end for the bishop,
and presbyters, and visitors. Of this latter there were frequently
several, as such houses were the chief places for entertaining the
travelling clergy or even lay members of the Christian brotherhood. Upon
the walls were certain somewhat grim-looking frescoes, representing
Biblical scenes and characters like those in the Catacombs described in
chapter VIII. At one side of the room was a _bema_, or reading-desk, at
which one of the lectors a distinct ecclesiastical office,[30] with its
special ordination--read, while the brethren partook of their meals, the
lessons for the day from the Gospels and Epistles, as well as passages
from the writings of Clement, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and Origen. For
this usage the scarcity and high price of MS. books, and the desire to
improve every moment of time was deemed a sufficient ground.

After the meal--which was almost ascetic in its simplicity, consisting
chiefly of vegetable pottage, lentils, and bread was over, and the
reading ended, the bishop explained the cause of the presence among them
of a stranger from Rome.

"My brethren," he said in conclusion, "this is a common story. Many are
the victims of cruelty and wrong in this great empire. Be it ours, so
far as God may give us power, to succour the oppressed and redress their
wrongs."

As he sat down a venerable presbyter rose and said, "Father, five years
have I been under this hospitable roof, ransomed from bondage by your
predecessor in office. Five years have I mourned the loss of a son and
daughter, sold from my arms to I know not what cruel fate. It may be
that God is about to restore me my children, the flesh of my flesh. Hast
thou, stranger, any sign or token by which I may be assured of their
identity?"

"Of thy son I have no tidings; but know thou if this be a token of thy
daughter's rescue," and Isidorus exhibited the small cornelian _tessara_
of the fish of which we have spoken.

Eagerly the old man clasped it, and scanned the inscription, and
joyfully exclaimed, while tears of gladness flowed down his aged cheeks
and silvery beard, "Thank God, my child yet lives. I shall again behold
her before I die. See, here is her very name, 'Callirhoë, daughter of
Demetrius.' I carved it with my own hands one happy day in our dear home
in Damascus. God is good. I never hoped to see her again. Tell me,
stranger, is she, too, a slave?"

"Nay," said Isidorus with emotion, for even his careless nature was
touched with sympathy at the joy of the old man, "She is the freed woman
of the Empress Valeria, and high in favour, too, I should judge, from
the interest her august mistress showed in seeking for thee."

"_Benedic, anima mea, Domino,_" exclaimed the aged presbyter with
fervour. "_Et omnia, quæ intra me sunt, nomini sacro ejus_--Bless the
Lord, my soul: and all that is within me bless His holy name. He hath
heard my prayer. He hath answered my supplication."

The old man's story was soon told. He had been rescued from the slave
pen of Ezra, and employed in the service of the convent. His familiar
knowledge of Greek led to his appointment as instructor in that language
of the young acolytes and deacons who were in training for the office of
the ministry. At length his superior gifts and fervent piety led to his
own ordination as a presbyter of the Church of Milan.

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[30] This office was possibly derived from the synagogue. As requiring
good scholarship it was one of much honour, and was even sought by
laymen. The Emperor Julian, in his youth, and his brother Gallus, were
readers in the Church of Nicomedia. Many epitaphs of readers occur in
the Catacombs.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XIII.

FATHER AND DAUGHTER.


Demetrius was now eager to set out for Rome to behold once more the
child whom he had scarce hoped ever to see again. A happy leave-taking
of the brethren of Milan, who rejoiced in fraternal sympathy, followed;
and on a gently ambling mule, at break of day, the old man rode forth
beside the gallantly equipped Isidorus. He beguiled the weary way with
questions about his long-lost daughter, as to her growth, appearance,
her apparent health, and even the very garb she wore. He was never tired
hearing about her, and recounting incidents of her childhood and youth.
The only shadow upon his joy was the vague mystery concerning the fate
of his son. But he said cheerfully: "God is good. He has restored to me
one of my children. I feel confident that in His own good time He will
restore also the other."

Beneath the fatigue of the long journey of nearly three hundred miles
his powers would have failed, had he not been inspirited and sustained
by the thrilling anticipation of beholding once more his beloved child.

At length, near sunset, on the tenth day, they drew near the great
metropolis of the Empire. Clearer and clearer to the view rose the
seven-hilled city's pride, the snowy marble peristyles and pediments of
palace and temple, gleaming in the rosy light like transparent
alabaster. To the left rose the cliff-like walls of the Colosseum, even
then venerable with the time-stains of over two hundred years. In the
foreground stretched the long Aurelian Wall, with its towers and
battlements and strong arched gates. They crossed the Tiber by the
Milvian Bridge, built three hundred years before, and destined to
witness within ten years that fierce struggle for the mastery of the
empire, between Constantine and Maxentius, when the British-born Cæsar
saw, or thought he saw, in the mid-day heavens a blazing cross, and
exclaiming "By this sign we conquer," overwhelmed his adversary in the
rushing river.[31]

Passing under the hill crowned with the famous gardens of Lucullus, now
known as the Pincio, and beneath the heavy-arched gateway in the wall,
they made their way through the narrow streets towards the centre of the
city the--Forum and the Palatine. It was a day of festival--the last day
of the _Quinquatria_, or festival of Minerva. Garlands of flowers, and
wreaths of laurel, festooned many of the houses, in front of which
blazed coloured cressets and lamps. Sacred processions were passing
through the streets, with torches and music and chantings of priests;
and ever and anon the shrill blare of the sacred trumpets pierced the
ear of night. In the Forum the temples of Saturn, and of Castor, and
Pollux were richly adorned and brilliantly illuminated, and a great
throng of merry-makers filled the marble square.

Turning to the left, our travellers ascended the slope of the Palatine
Hill, amid ever-increasing grandeur of architecture. Demetrius, though
he had travelled far and seen much, was struck with astonishment at the
splendour and magnificence of the buildings. Not at Jerusalem, or
Damascus, or Antioch, not at Ravenna or Milan, had he witnessed such
wealth of porphyry and marble, such stately colonades and peristyles,
covering acres of ground--now but a mound of mouldering ruins.

"Whither art thou leading me?" asked Demetrius, as they stood before a
palace of snowy marble which, bathed in the mellow radiance of the
rising moon, seemed transformed into translucent alabaster.

"To the abode where dwells thy daughter, the favoured freed-woman of the
mistress of all this splendour," replied Isidorus, enjoying the wonder
and admiration of his companion in travel.

A fountain splashed in the centre of the square, its waters flashing
like silver in the moonlight. The burnished mail of the Roman soldiers
gleamed as the guard was changed, and their armour clashed as they
grounded their spears and saluted the officer of the watch.

"What, Max, are you on duty to-night?" said Isidorus as he recognized a
soldier of the guard. "Any promotion in your service yet?"

"No, but I see that there is in yours," said the bluff out-spoken
guardsman.

"Well, yes, I flatter myself that there is," replied the vain-glorious
Greek, "and I hope for still more."

Announcing to the chamberlain of the palace that he had just arrived
from a journey of important business for the Empress Valeria, he with
Demetrius were taken to a marble bath, where with the aid of a skilful
slave, they made their toilet for immediate presentation to the Empress.

Valeria was attended as usual by her freed-woman Callirhoë, when the
Greek was announced.

"We heard," she said to Isidorus, "by thy letters, of the failure of thy
quest at Ravenna and Milan, but we hope----"

At this moment, with an exclamation of intensest emotion Callirhoë
rushed forward and flung herself in the arms of the venerable figure
who had followed the Greek into the apartment.

"My father!" she cried in tones which thrilled every heart, and then she
embraced him again and again. The impassioned love and joy and gratitude
of her soul struggling for expression, she burst into a flood of tears.

"My daughter, child of my beloved Rachel," exclaimed the old man, as,
heedless of the presence of the Empress, he fondly caressed her, "do I
again embrace thee? Thou art the very image of thy angel-mother, as I
first beheld her in the rose gardens of Sharon. Truly God is good. Now,
Lord, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace--the cup of my happiness
runneth over."

"Nay, good father," broke in the soft voice of the Empress, who was
deeply moved by the scene, "rather live to share thy daughter's love and
happiness."

"Pardon, august lady," said Demetrius, falling on his knees, and
gratefully kissing the Empress's hand. "Pardon, that in the joy of
finding my child I forgot the duty I owe to my sovereign."

"Thy first duty was there," said Valeria, pointing to the lovely
Callirhoë, who, smiling through her tears, was now leaning on her
father's arm. "We leave you to exchange your mutual confidences. Good
Isidorus it shall be our care to bestow a reward commensurate with thy
merit;" and she withdrew to her own apartment.

"My everlasting gratitude thou hast," said Callirhoë, with her sweetest
smile, frankly extending her hand.

"I am, indeed, well repaid," said the Greek, as he respectfully kissed
it. "I would gladly show my zeal in much more arduous service," and
bowing low, he was accompanied by the chamberlain to the vestibule. That
official gave him, by command of the Empress, a purse of gold, and
assured him of still further reward.

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[31] A magnificent painting in the Vatican represents with vivid realism
this scene, the drowning of the Pagan Emperor, and the defeat and flight
of all his army.



CHAPTER XIV.

"UNSTABLE AS WATER."


It was with feelings highly elated at his successful achievement, which
presaged still further advancement, that Isidorus sought his lodgings.
On the way he met many late revellers returning from the festival,
"flown with insolence and wine," and making night hideous with their
riot. Among them, his garments dishevelled, and a withering garland
falling from his brow, was an old acquaintance, Calphurnius, the son of
the Perfect, who with maudlin affection embraced him and exclaimed:--

"Friend of my soul, where hast thou hidden thyself? Our wine parties
lack half their zest, since thou hast turned anchorite. Come, pledge our
ancient friendship in a goblet of Falernian. The wine shop of Turbo, the
ex-gladiator, is near at hand."

"You have not turned Christian, have you?" hiccoughed the drunken
reveller; "no offence, but I heard you had, you know."

Isidorus gave a start. Were his visits to the Catacomb known to this
fashionable fop? Were they a matter of sport to him and his boon
companions? Was he to be laughed out of his nascent convictions by these
empty-headed idlers? No, he determined. He despised the whole crew. But
he was not the stuff out of which martyrs are made, and he lacked the
courage to confess to this gilded butterfly, his as yet faltering
feeling towards Christianity.

"Who says I am?" he asked, anxious to test his knowledge on the subject.

"Who says so? I don't know. Why everybody," was the rather vague reply.

"You don't know what you are talking about, man," said the Greek, with a
forced laugh. "Go home and sleep off your carouse."

"All right. I told them so. The Christians, indeed, the vermin! Come to
the Baths of Caracalla at noon to-morrow and I'll tell you all about
it."

Isidorus went to his lodgings and retired to his couch, but not to
slumber. He was like a boat drifting rudderless upon the sea, the sport
of every wind that blew. He had no strength of will, no fixedness of
purpose, no depth of conviction. His susceptible disposition was easily
moved to generous impulses and even to noble aspirations, yet he had no
moral firmness. He is portrayed to the life by the words of the great
Teacher, "He that received the seed into stony places, the same is he
that heareth the Word, and anon, with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not
root in himself, but dureth for a while; for when tribulation or
persecution ariseth because of the Word, bye-and-bye he is offended."

"Did his boon companions," he questioned, "suspect that any serious
convictions had penetrated beneath his light and careless exterior?" All
his good resolutions had begun like wax in a furnace to melt and give
way at the sneer and jeer of the shallow fool from whom he had just
parted--a creature whom in his inmost heart he despised. Strange
contradiction of human nature! Like the epicurean poet, he saw and
approved the better way and yet he followed the worse.[32] He seemed to
gain in the few casual words he had heard, a glimpse of the
possibilities of persecution which menaced him if faithful to his
convictions, and he had act moral fibre enough to encounter them. And
yet his conscience stung and tortured him as he tossed upon his restless
couch. Toward morning he fell asleep and it was broad day when he awoke.
His reflections were as different from those with which he fell asleep
as the brilliant daylight was from the gloomy shadows of night. The air
was full of the busy hum of life. Water sellers and fruit pedlers and
the like were crying "_Aqua Gelata_" "Fresh Figs," and "White wine and
red." Cohorts of soldiers were clattering in squadrons, through the
streets, the sunlight glittering on their spearpoints and on the bosses
of their shields and armour. Jet black Nubian slaves, clad in snowy
white, were bearing in gold-adorned _lecticæ_ or palanquins, proud
patrician dames, robed in saffron and purple, to visit the shops of the
jewellers and silk mercers. Senators and civic officials were flocking
to the Forum with their murmuring crowd of clients. Gilded youths were
hastening to the schools of the rhetoricians or of the gladiators, both
alike deemed necessary instructors of these pinks of fashion. The
streets and squares were a perfect kaleidoscope of colour and
movement--an eddying throng, on business or on pleasure bent.

The stir and animation of the scene dispelled all serious thoughts from
the mind of the frivolous Greek. He plunged like a strong swimmer into
the stream of eager busy life surging through the streets. He was one of
the gayest of the gay, ready with his laugh and joke as he met his
youthful comrades.

"Ho, Rufus, whither away in such mad haste," he cried as he saw a young
officer of the 12th Legion dashing past in his chariot, driving with
admirable skill two milk-white steeds through the crowded streets.

"Oh! are you there? Where have you hidden yourself for the last month?"
exclaimed Rufus, as he sharply reined up his steeds. "To the Baths of
Caracalla; will you go?"

"Yes, very gladly," said Isidorus, stepping upon the low platform of the
open bronze chariot. "I have been beyond the Po, on a special service--a
barbarous region. No baths, circus, or games like those of Rome."

"There is but one Rome," said the fiery young Hotspur, "but I am
beginning to hate it. I am fairly rusting with idleness and long for
active service--whether amid Libyian sands or Pannonian forests, I care
not."

"It seems to me," replied the effeminate Greek, "that I could console
myself with your horses and chariot--the coursers of Achilles were not
more swift--and with the delights which Rome and its fair dames are
eager to lavish on that favourite of fortune, Ligurius Rufus."

"_Vanitas vanitatis_," yawned the youth. "Life is a tremendous bore. I
was made for action, for conquest, for state craft; but under this
despotism of the Cæsars, we are all slaves together. You and I fare a
little better than that Nubian porter yonder, that is all."

"Yet you seem to bear your bondage very comfortably," laughed the
light-hearted Greek, "and had I your fortune, so would I."

"Mehercule! the fetters gall though they be golden," ejaculated the
soldier, lashing his steeds into swifter flight, as if to give vent to
his nervous excitement. "I plunge into folly to forget that I am a
slave. Lost a hundred thousand sesterces at dice last night. The empire
is hurrying to chaos. There are no paths of honour and ambition open to
a man. One must crouch like a hound or crawl like a serpent to win
advancement in the state. I tell you the degenerate Romans of to-day are
an effete and worn out race. The rude Dacians beyond the Tiber possess
more of the hardy virtues of the founders of the Republic than the
craven creatures who crawl about the feet of the modern Colossi, who
bestride the world and are worshipped almost as gods. And unless Rome
mends her ways they will be the masters of the Empire yet."

"One would think you were Cato the Censor," laughed the Greek. "For my
part, I think the best philosophy is that of my wise countryman,
Epicurus--'to take the times as they come, and make the most of them.'
But here we are at the Thermæ."

Giving his horses to one of the innumerable grooms belonging to the
establishment, Rufus and his friend disappeared under the lofty arched
entrance of the stately Baths of Caracalla.

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[32]  Video, proboque meliora,
      Deterioraque sequor.--_Hor._



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XV

AT THE BATHS.


Nothing can give one a more striking conception of Roman life under the
Empire than the size, number, and magnificence of the public baths.
Those of Caracalla are a typical example. They covered an area of
fifteen hundred by twelve hundred and fifty feet, the surrounding
grounds being a mile in circumference. They formed a perfect wilderness
of stately halls, and corridors, and chambers, the very mouldering
remains of which strike one with astonishment. Of this very structure,
the poet Shelley, in the preface of his "Prometheus Unbound," remarks:
"This poem was chiefly written upon the mountainous ruins of the Baths
of Caracalla, among the flowery glades and thickets of odoriferous
blossoming trees, which are extended in ever-widening labyrinths upon
its immense platforms, and dizzy arches suspended in the air." Piers of
sold masonry soar aloft like towers, on the summit of which good-sized
trees are growing. Climbing one of those massive towers, the present
writer enjoyed a glorious sunset-view of the mighty maze, of the
crumbling ruins which rose like stranded wrecks above the sea of verdure
all around, and of the far spreading and desolate Campagna.

The great hypocausts, or subterranean furnaces, can be still examined,
as also the caleducts in the walls for hot air, and the metal pipes for
hot and cold water. The baths were supplied by an aqueduct constructed
for that purpose, the arches of which may be seen bestriding the
Campagna for a distance of fourteen miles from the city. There were hot,
and cold, and tepid baths, _caldaria_, or sweating chambers,
_frigidaria_, or cooling rooms, _unctoria_, or anointing rooms, and many
others sufficient to accommodate sixteen hundred bathers at once. There
were also a vast gymnasium for exercise, a _stadium_, or race-course,
and a _pinacotheca_, or art gallery. Here were found the famous Farnese
Bull, the largest group of ancient statuary extant, and many _chefs
d'œuvre_ of classic sculpture and mosaics.

The Baths of Diocletian, built by the labours of the Christians during
the last great persecution, one authority says, were twice as large, and
could accommodate eighteen thousand bathers in a day, but that seems
incredible. One of its great halls, a hundred yards by thirty in area,
and thirty yards high, was converted by Michael Angelo into a church. Of
the remainder, part is used as a monastery, part as barracks, and part
as an orphanage, a poor-house, and an asylum for the blind, and much is
in ruins. At Pompeii is a public bath in perfect preservation, with the
niches for the clothing, soaps, and unguents of the bathers, and even
the _strigils_, or bronze instruments for scraping the skin--the same
after eighteen hundred years as though used but yesterday. By these
means we are able to reconstruct the outward circumstances of that old
Roman life, almost as though we had shared its busy movement.

As Ligurius Rufus drew aside the heavy matting of the doorway of the
Thermæ, of Caracalla, which then, as now, kept out the summer heat from
the buildings of Rome, a busy scene burst upon his view. A great hall,
lighted by openings in the roof, was filled with gay groups of patrician
Romans, sauntering, chatting, laughing, exchanging news, betting on the
next races, and settling bets on the last. As the modern clubman goes to
his club to see the papers and learn the current gossip, so all the
idlers in Rome came to the baths as to a social exchange, to learn the
latest bit of court scandal or public news.

"Ho, Calphurnius!" said Rufus, to the now sobered son of the city
Prefect; "what's in the wind to-day? You know all the mischief that's
going."

"Sorry I cannot maintain my reputation then. Things are dull as an old
_strigil_. Oh, by the way," and he beckoned them into a recess behind a
porphyry pillar, "there is going to be a precious row up at the palace.
I tell you in confidence. The old vixen, Fausta, has got a new spite
against the Empress Valeria, whom all the people of the palace love. The
termagant is not fit to carry water for her bath. She has found some
mare's nest of a Christian plot,--by the way you are mixed up in it,
friend Isidorus. I would advise you to have a care. In the fight of
Pagan against Christian, I fear Valeria will get the worst of it, _dii
avertant_."

"The palace walls are not glass," laughed Isidorus, "nor have you a
Dionysius' ear. How know you all this?"

"As if the Roman Prefect did not know what goes on, that he thinks worth
knowing, in every house in Rome! He has eyes and ears in his pay
everywhere; and when honest Juba, or Tubal, come with their secret
intelligence, they are not above accepting double pay and letting me
into the secret, too. Besides that crafty old vulture Furca was closeted
with the Prefect for an hour by the clepshydra, and you always smell
carrion when he is hovering round."

"What is it all about?" asked Rufus. "I am sure Valeria is as much
beloved by the people as the old termagant Fausta is hated."

"There's the rub--a bit of spiteful jealousy," answered Calphurnius.
"But when that old basilisk hates, she will find a way to sting."

"But what have I to do with the quarrels of the palace?" asked Isidorus,
a little anxiously, for he knew not how far he might be compromised by
the commission he had executed, of which he had felt not a little proud.

"You know best yourself," answered Calphurnius with a laugh. "If you
have done a service to Valeria or the Christians, you have made an enemy
of Fausta and the Pagans."

"Is this what you spoke of last night, and promised to explain to-day?"
asked the Greek.

"Yes, I suppose so. I have no very distinct recollection of what I said.
I had been supping with Rufus here, and some other roystering blades,
and the Folernian was uncommonly good. Come, _amicus meus_," he went on
turning to Ligurius, "don't you want revenge for those sesterces you
lost last night?"

"I don't mind if I do punish you a little," yawned the young soldier.
"It will kill the time for awhile, at all events."

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XVI

THE GAMING TABLE.


Gaming was a perfect passion among the Romans, and indeed among most
ancient nations. Dice of bone and ivory, like those in use to-day, have
been found in the tombs of Thebes and Luxor. Æschylus and Sophocles
describe their use four hundred years before Christ, and in an ancient
Greek picture now before us, a female figure is shown tossing _tali_, or
gaming cubes, and catching them on the back of her hand, as children now
play "Jacks." Soldiers from the enforced idleness of much of their time
and the intense excitement of the rest of it, have in every age been
addicted to gambling to beguile the _ennui_ of their too ample
leisure--from those of Alexander down to the raw recruits of to-day. Our
friend, Ligurius Rufus, had undergone frequent experience of the pains
and pleasures of this siren vice; but was eager to return to its
embrace. Such vast estates had been squandered, and great families
impoverished, and large fortunes often staked upon a single throw of the
dice--beyond anything that Homburg or Monaco ever saw--that gambling was
forbidden by successive Roman laws. But when were not the rich able to
indulge in their favourite vices, even under a much purer Government
than that of Rome? So even in this place of public resort, were numerous
alcoves in which stood gaming tables, while money changers--generally
Jews--had tables near for giving good Roman sesterces in exchange for
the _oboloi_ or _drachmai_ of Greece, the shekels of Jerusalem, or the
scarabæus coins of Egypt. Into one of these alcoves the three friends
now turned, Isidorus promising himself that he would only look on. He
had been excessively addicted to play, but had, notwithstanding
occasional success, lost so much money that he had abjured the seductive
vice, especially since his visit to the Catacomb with his friend
Faustus, who had urged him to forsake a practice so perilous in itself,
and so opposed to Christian conduct.

Calphurnius and Rufus sat down to the gaming table, and the Greek stood
looking on. The gold was placed in two piles on the board. The dice
rattled, and eager eyes took in at a glance the number of red spots on
the upper surface. Rufus seemed to have recovered his good fortune.
Throw after throw was successful.

"That is the _Jadus Venereus_," he exclaimed with exultation, as he made
the cast that counted highest. "We must have wine and I must be
toast-master," for so was called the leader of the revels.

The Greek watched with honest interest the play, his eye flashing and
his pulse quickening under its strange spell. The richest wines of Chios
and Lesbos were ordered; and as the wine was poured into jewelled
goblets, he required slight urging to partake of the fragrant vintage of
the Isles of Greece. The eager play was resumed. The Greek noted each
practised turn of the wrist and cast of the dice--his eye kindling and
his brain throbbing with the subtle intoxication of both the game and
the wine.

"I've won enough," said Rufus, "I've got back my own, and more. I don't
want to ruin you, my good fellow," and he positively declined to play
any more. His honest nature recoiled from taking that for which he gave
no value, beyond recouping his previous losses.

"Will you try a cast," he added, turning to Isidorus. "Our friend has
lots of money to lose?" and he lounged away to watch the game of ball in
the Gymnasium.

"Yes, take a turn, my luck is wretched to-day!" exclaimed Calphurnius.
"Come, I will stake that pile of gold on a single cast."

The Greek's whole frame was tingling with excitement--yet he was
withheld by some lingering restraint of his promise to Faustus to
abandon play. Calphurnius again rattled the dice, the cast was a
complete blank--the worst possible combination.

"'Twas lucky for me you were not playing then," he said, laughing; "but
I'll risk another if you will."

"It must only be for a small stake--a single sesterce," said the
infatuated youth, quaffing a goblet of wine. "I have given up gambling."

"All right," said his friend, "it's only for amusement that I play," and
he cast again, and laughing paid over his forfeit.

Isidorus continued to win, each time taking a sip of the strong heady
wine. The baleful enchantment was upon him.

"Double the stakes!" he cried.

"I thought you would tire of our playing like slaves with jackstones,"
replied the cool-headed Calphurnius. "This is something like play," he
continued, as they doubled every time, till the stakes were soon
enormous. The tide of fortune now turned; but the Greek had become
perfectly reckless. Conscience was dead, a demon greed for gain had
taken possession of his soul, the gaming-madness surged through his
brain. He doubled and redoubled his stakes, till before he rose he had
lost even the gold received from Valeria the night before, and was
beggared to his last denarius. With blood-shot eyes and staggering gait
he reeled away from the table, his handsome features convulsed with rage
and wicked imprecations pouring from his lips.

"Don't be so vexed about it, man," said his tormentor, for so he
regarded Calphurnius. "Better luck to-morrow. Here I'll lend you enough
to set you up. Let us have a bath, we both of us need it to quiet our
nerves."

Isidorus, in his maudlin intoxication, accepted the offer, and declared,
with much idle babble, that there was more money where that which he had
lost came from--that his services were too valuable to the state to be
overlooked--and that he knew a thing or two--that he could tell some
secrets, if he would--and much more to the same purpose.

This was just what Calphurnius wanted. He had been set on by his father,
the Prefect Naso to worm from the Greek the secrets of the Palace and
the Catacomb, and this by a series of wheedling questions he completely
succeeded in doing. With some difficulty he got his victim home after he
had extorted from him all that he cared to know. When Isidorus awoke
next morning it was with feelings of intense disgust with himself and
with all the world. He felt that he had played the fool, but how far he
knew not. He remembered that he had lost all his money, yet he found a
few coins in his purse. He felt that he had forfeited the confidence of
his new patron Adauctus, of the Empress, and even was undeserving of the
gratitude or respect of the beautiful freed-woman, Callirhoë, whose
father he had restored. He had learned that there was a plot on foot
against them all. Indeed he had an impression that he had somehow added
to their peril by his indiscreet revelations. He determined to warn them
of their danger and try to save them.

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XVII.

"IN PERICULIS TUTUS."


With this purpose the young Greek assuming his most decorous and sober
attire, proceeded to what would now be called the bureau of the
Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was situated near the Forum, in the
cloister around which were grouped the shops of the _argentarii_ and
_mensarii_, or private and public bankers of Rome. It held about the
same relation to those that the Treasury Department at New York does to
the bankers' offices and Gold Board in Wall Street. On every side were
evidences of the concentrated wealth and power of the august mistress of
the world. A vast granite building, as strong and solid as a prison, was
before him. Roman sentinels paced the street, hugging the wall to share
the protection from the noontide heat offered by its grateful shade.
Convoys of specie, guarded by cohorts of soldiers with unsheathed
swords, were continually arriving or departing. Gangs of sturdy porters,
naked to the waist, were conveying the heavy iron-bound coffers to and
from the vaults. Officers were counting the tallies and checking the
vouchers, giving and accepting receipts. Publicans and tax farmers of
many hues and varied garbs were there from many distant climes--the
swart Egyptian, the olive Syrian, the graceful Greek, the pale-faced
yellow-haired German or Briton. But most prominent of all, everywhere
was seen the pushing, aggressive, keen-eyed, hook-nosed Jew, who in
every age and every land seems to have had a genius for finance,
banking, and the handling of money.

From the hundred provinces of Rome the tribute money wrung from wretched
peasants, to support Imperial luxury, to maintain the conquering
legions, to pay for the largess of corn that fed the Roman plebs, and
for the _fêtes_ of the circus that amused them, and to carry on the
vast governmental administration of the Empire--all poured into this
greatest focus of moneyed wealth in the world. Like Daniel in Babylon,
Adauctus, the Christian, was set over all this treasure, "because an
excellent spirit was in him, forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was
there any error or fault found in him." The Emperors, when amid
prevailing corruption, extortion, and fraud, they found an honest
servant and able administrator, winked pretty hard at his private
opinions, so long as they did not conflict with his duty to the State.
Hence, from the days of St. Paul, we find that enrolled among the
fellowship of Christ's Church were "they of Cæsar's household;" and
among the epitaphs of the Catacombs we find frequent examples of
Christians of lofty rank, and holding important offices of trust; as for
instance: "Secretary of the Patrician Order," "Sergeant of the
Exchequer," "Prefect of the City," "Ex-Quæstor of the Sacred Palace,"
"Master of the Imperial Household," and the like.

Making his way to the private apartment, or office of Adauctus, the
Greek found him dictating despatches to a secretary. At a nod from his
chief, the secretary retired, and Adauctus, with warm interest,
addressed Isidorus in the words:

"Right welcome, after your successful quest. You have skilfully
performed a difficult task. The Empress is greatly gratified, and you
may count your fortune as good as made."

"Your Excellency is too kind," replied the Greek, with a graceful
salutation; "I feel that I do not deserve your praise."

"Your modesty, my friend," remarked Adauctus with a smile, "shall not
prevent your promotion, It is too rare a gift not to be encouraged."

"I have come, your Excellency," said Isidorus, with some degree of
trepidation, "upon a business that nearly concerns yourself, and some to
whom you wish well."

"It is very good of you," Adauctus calmly replied, "but I do not think
you can give me any information that I do not already possess."

"I am in duty bound," continued the Greek, "to reveal to your
Excellency, what is a secret which is sedulously kept from your
knowledge. You have enemies who have vowed your destruction--the
Princess Fausta, Furca, the arch-priest of Cybele, and the Prefect Naso.
They menace also the Empresses Prisca and Valeria, and others in high
places suspected of Christianity."

"Is that all you can tell me?" asked Adauctus, with a smile. "Look
you," and unlocking an ivory cabinet, he took out a wax-covered tablet
on which were inscribed the names of several other conspirators against
his life, with the particulars of their plots.

"I have not sought one of these disclosures," he went on, "yet they have
come to me from trustworthy sources; sometimes from men who are
themselves Pagan, yet with honest souls that recoil from treachery and
murder."

"And you know all this and remain thus calm!" exclaimed the Greek in
amazement.

"With such a sword of Damocles hanging over _my_ head, I am sure I could
neither eat nor sleep."

"Have you never read the words," asked Adauctus solemnly, "'The very
hairs of your head are all numbered?' and not a sparrow shall fall
without your Father's notice. Have you never read of righteous Daniel
whom his enemies cast into the lions' den, and how God shut the lions'
mouths that they did him no harm. You have seen the pictured story in
the Catacombs. So will my God deliver me from the mouth of the lion,"
and a look of heroic faith transfigured his face--"or," he whispered
lower, but with an expression of even more utter trust, "or give a
greater victory and take me to Himself."

"Such stoical philosophy, my master," said the Greek with bated breath,
"neither Zeno nor Seneca ever taught."

"Nay," said the noble Roman, "it is not stoicism, it is faith. Not in
the Porch or Academy is this holy teaching learned, but in the school of
Jesus Christ."

"Oh, wretched coward that I am!" cried the Greek, with an impassioned
aspiration after a moral courage which he felt almost beyond his
comprehension, "would that I had such faith."

"Seek it, my brother," said Adauctus solemnly, "where alone it may be
found, at the Cross of Christ. Whoso apprehends in his soul the meaning
of the Great Sacrifice, will thenceforth count not his life dear unto
him for the testimony of Jesus."

"But is the way of the Cross such a thorny, bloodstained path?" asked
the Greek, with quavering voice. "Are those noble souls, the highborn
and beautiful Valeria, the good and gentle Callirhoë, exposed to such
appalling perils?"

"We live in troublous times," answered Adauctus. "Christ came not to
send peace on the earth but a sword. Whoso will save his life by
cowardice and treachery shall basely lose it. Whoso will lose it for
Christ's sake shall gloriously and forever find it!"

These words burned into the heart and brain of the craven Greek, and he
winced and shrank beneath them as if a hot iron were searing his
quivering flesh.

"But we must hope for the best," went on Adauctus more cheerfully. "We
must take every precaution. Life and liberty are glorious gifts. We may
not rashly imperil them. I trust that our august mistress, standing so
near the throne, stands in no peculiar peril; and you may be sure her
power will be used for the protection of her friends. So," he added with
a laugh of keen intelligence, "if thou hast any special interest in the
fair Callirhoë, be sure she enjoys the most potent patronage in Rome."

"But you, take you no precaution for yourself?" entreated the Greek.
"You know not the bitterness of the jealousy and hate of your enemies."

"Oh, yes, I do," the Imperial treasurer calmly replied, "As for me, my
work is here. By ruling righteously and dealing justly I can prevent
much fraud, and wrong, and suffering. I can shield the innocent and
frustrate the villany of public thieves--and there are many such in the
high places of this degenerate city. Our heroic ancestors decreed that
we must never dispair of our country. But I confess, were it not for
that salt of Christian faith that preserves the old Roman world, I
believe it would sink into moral putrescence. It is this divine leaven
which alone can leaven the whole mass."

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XVIII

THE MIDNIGHT PLOT.


The scene of our story is now transferred to the Palace of the Emperor
Galerius, one of the most sumptuous of the group of marble buildings
which crowned the Palatine Hill. It is the hour of midnight; and in one
of the most private chambers of the palace a secret conspiracy is in
progress, which has for its object the destruction of the
Christians--especially of those high in rank and influence. The lamps
in the aula and vestibule burned dimly, and, in iron sockets along the
outside of the palace walls, flared and smoked torches made of tow
covered with a coating of clay or plaster.[33]

Fausta, the mother of Galerius, and Furca, the high-priest of Cybele,
were already conferring upon their secret plot. With them was Black
Juba, who had just returned from gathering, at "the witching hour of
night," upon the unhallowed ground set apart for the burning of the
dead, certain baleful plants--wolf's bane, bitter briony, and
aconite--which she used in wicked spells and incantations. In her native
Nubia she had an evil reputation as a sorceress, and in Rome she still
carried on by stealth her nefarious art. It was hinted, indeed, in the
palace, that by her subtle, deadly potions she fulfilled her own
prophecies of ill against the objects of the hatred of her employers.

"'Tis certain," hissed through her teeth the spiteful old Fausta, while
murder gleamed from her sloe-black eyes, "that Galerius will not include
in the Imperial rescript that painted doll, Valeria. She exerts
unbounded fascination over him. It must be the spell of her false
religion."

"The spell of her beauty and grace, rather," answered Furca, with a
grin.

"What! Are you duped by her wiles, too?" asked Fausta, with bitterness.

"No; I hate her all the more," said the priest; "but I cannot close my
eyes to what every one sees."

"It is something that I, at least, do not see," muttered the withered
crone, whose own harsh features seemed the very incarnation of hatred
and cruelty. "If we cannot get rid of her under the decree," she went
on, "we can, at least, in a surer but more perilous way. Cunning Juba,
here, has access to her person; and by her skilled decoctions can make
her beauty waste, and her life flicker to extinction, like a lamp
unreplenished with oil."

"Yes, Juba has learned, in the old land of the Nile, some of the dark
secrets of Egypt," whispered, with bated breath, the dusky African. "But
it is very perilous to use them. The palace is full of suspicion; and
that new favourite, Callirhoë,--how I hate her!--keeps watch over her
mistress like the wild gazelle of the desert over its mate. It will
take much gold to pay for the risk."

"Gold thou shalt have to thy heart's content, if thou do but rid me of
that cockatrice, who has usurped my place in my son's affections,"
hissed the wicked woman, who still felt a fierce, tiger-like love for
the soldier-son whom she had trained up like a tiger cub. And Juba
retired, to await further orders.

"But if she die thus," said Furca, with a malignant gleam in his eyes,
"she dies alone. What we want is to have her drag others down with
her--her mother, Prisca; that haughty Adauctus, who holds himself so
high, and the rest of the accursed Christian brood."

"Yes, that is what we want, if it can be done," said Fausta; "but I fear
it is impossible. You do not know how headstrong Galerius is in his own
way; and the more he is opposed, the fiercer he is."

"Here comes Naso," said the arch priest. "He hates the Christians, if he
does not love the gods. We will hear his counsel."

"Welcome, good Naso," exclaimed Fausta, as the Prefect of the city was
ushered into the room. "We need your advice in the matter of this edict
against the Christians: how we may use it as a net to snare the higher
game of the palace and the Imperial household."

"We must be wary as the weasel, sleepless as the basilisk, deadly as the
aspic," said Naso, sententiously.

"Just what I have been saying," remarked Furca.

"Methinks we must employ the aspic's secret sting, rather than the
public edict."

"I declare for the edict," exclaimed with energy the truculent Naso.
"Let its thunders smite the loftiest as well as the lowly. It will carry
greater terror, and make the ruin of the Christian party more complete.
What is the use of lopping off the twigs, when the trunk and main
branches are unscathed? I possess proof that will doom Adauctus, the
senator Aurelius, and others who stand higher still. The Christians to
the lions--every one, say I."

"And so say I," ejaculated Furca, with malicious fervour; "but her
Excellency thinks that Galerius will interpose to protect one who stands
near the throne, though she be the chief encouragement of the Christian
vermin that crawl at her feet."

"Madam, he dare not," exclaimed Naso, with his characteristic gesture of
clenching his hand as if grasping his sword. "His own crown would stand
in peril if beneath its shadow he would protect traitors to the State
and enemies of the gods, however high their station."

"As head of the State," interjected the priest, "he is the champion of
the gods, and bound to avenge their insulted majesty."

"You know not what he would dare," replied Fausta. "He would defy both
gods and men, if he took the whim."

"An accusation will be made before me," said Naso, "which not even the
Emperors can over-look, against the Imperial Consort, Valeria, for
intriguing with the Christians and bringing their priests to Rome, and
conniving at their crimes against the State. We will see whether the
majesty of the Empire or the beauty of a painted butterfly weighs the
heavier in the scales."

"I will second in private what your accusation demands in public," said
the implacable Fausta. "Methinks I could die content if I might only
trample that minion under my feet."

"And I," said Furca, "will menace him with the wrath of the gods if he
refuse to avenge their wrongs."

"Between us all," added Naso, "it will go hard if we do not crush the
Christian vermin, even beneath the shadow of the throne."

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[33] Such torch-holders may still be seen on the walls of the Palazzo
Strozzi and in Florence and elsewhere. Torches of the sort we have
described were purchased by the writer at Pozzuoli, near Naples.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XIX.

IN THE TOILS OF THE TEMPTER.


In his statement as to the accusation of the Empress before his
tribunal, Naso, after his manner, took counsel of his truculent desires
rather than of his cool reason. He had learned from his scapegrace son,
Calphurnius, that Isidorus had returned to town from executing a
commission for the Empress, the general purpose of which that hopeful
youth had extorted from the drunken maunderings of the inconstant and
unhappy Greek. Naso took it for granted, from his previous acquaintance
with human nature of the baser sort, that Isidorus was trying to serve
two masters, and that while acting as the agent of Valeria he would be
willing to betray her secrets. Unaware of his vacillation of character
and of his transient impulses toward Christianity, he further believed
that the supple Greek, in accordance with his compact, would act as
public accuser of the Christians. He had impressed upon Calphurnius, who
was very prompt to learn the lesson, that it was of the utmost
importance to bring the Greek under his personal influence and control,
and especially to induce him to come again to the tribunal of the
Prefect in the Forum.

"We must keep our thumb on him. We can use him to our advantage," said
the Prefect to his son.

"I think I have him under a screw that will extort from him whatever you
wish," replied the hopeful youth. "He owes me money, and he shall pay
good interest on the loan. He is not the material of which heroes are
made, like that young Christian who suffered martyrdom, as they call it,
a few weeks ago."

"Well, give your screw another turn," said Naso with a hideous chuckle.
"That's the way I do when I have them on the rack. Keep him in debt.
Lure him on. Make him lose money at dice and lend him more. We will
wring his heart-strings by-and-bye. If we can only secure the death of
Adauctus and some of his wealthy friends, their fair estates will help
to line our purses, for the Emperors cannot leave such a zealous servant
as the Prefect Naso unrewarded," and this well matched pair--the
offspring of the corruption and cruelty of the Empire--parted, each
intent on his purposes of evil.

The young scapegrace, Calphurnius--young in years, but old in
vice--followed only too successfully this Satanic advice. He attached
himself closely to Isidorus and became his very shadow--his other self.
He lured him on to ostentatious extravagance of expenditure, often
allowing him to win large sums at dice to replenish his depleted purse,
and again winning from him every sesterce, and binding the Greek's
fortunes more firmly to his own by lending him large sums, yet demanding
usurious interest. The easy, pleasure-loving nature of Isidorus, intent
on enjoying the passing hour and shrinking from suffering of body or
anxiety of mind, made this _descensus Averni_ all the more facile. He
was thus led to forget all his good resolutions and noble purposes, and
to plunge into the fashionable follies of the most corrupt society in
the world. From the maundering remarks which fell from his lips in his
fits of drunkenness, for he rapidly lapsed into this baneful vice,
Calphurnius constructed a monstrous story of treachery which he used to
create an utter rupture between the Greek and the Christians, alleging
that he had too irreparably betrayed them to be ever forgiven, and that
the only way of escaping the doom which menaced them was to throw
himself into the arms of the party in power. It was with feelings of
horror that in his rare moments of sober reflection Isidorus realized
how fast and how far he had drifted from the thoughts, and feelings, and
purposes of the hour when he knelt, in the Catacomb of Callixtus, at the
feet of the good presbyter Primitius; or since he returned from Milan
the restorer to the fair Callirhoë of her sire; or even since, a few
days before, he had conversed with Adauctus and beheld with admiration
his serenity of spirit under the shadow of persecution and death.

Calphurnius exhausted every art to wring from his lips a legal
accusation of the Christians, for even the ruthless persecutors wished
to observe some forms of law in the destruction of their destined
victims.

"You have already betrayed them beyond reparation," he said, "and you
may as well obtain the reward. You have told all about your employment
by Adauctus in a treasonable mission to the Christian sectaries at
Ravenna and Milan. You have been present at their assemblies at the
Villa Marcella and in the Catacombs. A short hand notary[34] has taken
down every word you said, and it shall be used against you unless you
turn evidence for the State, and save yourself by bringing its enemies
to justice."

"Wretch!" cried the exasperated Greek. "Cease to torment me! 'Tis you
who have tempted me to this perfidy, and now you seek to goad me to
perdition. The Christians are no traitors to the State, and you know
it."

"The edict of the Emperors declares that they are," said Calphurnius,
with a sneer, "perhaps you can persuade their Divine Majesties that they
are mistaken."

"What would you? What further infamy would you have me commit?"
exclaimed the tortured Isidorus.

"Only declare before the Prefect what you have already divulged to me.
By refusing you only imperil yourself," replied his tormentor.

"I consent," moaned the craven-hearted Greek, and he went on with a
shudder, "I am double-dyed in infamy already. I can acquire no deeper
stain."

"'Tut, man! don't be a fool! Rome can pay her servants well. You will
soon be well rewarded," and like an incarnate Diabolus, the accuser of
the brethren proceeded to earn, as another Judas, the wages of iniquity
by betraying innocent blood.

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[34] These tachugraphoi were in common employment in the courts, and the
sermons of Chrysostom were also reported by their skill.



CHAPTER XX.

THE PLOT THICKENS.


Isidorus reluctantly accompanied Calphurnius to the tribunal of the
Prefect; and there, partly through intimidation, partly through
cajolery, he gave such information as to his expedition to Ravenna and
Milan as the Prefect chose to ask. This was tortured, by that
unscrupulous officer, into an accusation against the Empress Valeria of
conspiracy with the Chancellor, Adauctus, and others of the Christian
sect, against the worship of the gods of Rome, and so, constructively,
of treason against the State. This indictment--_accusatio_, as it was
technically called was duly formulated, and attested under the seal of
the Prefect's Court. Naso, the Prefect, and Furca, the priest, found a
congenial task in submitting the document to the Emperor Galerius, and
asking his authority to proceed against the accused. They visited the
palace at an hour when it had been arranged that the Emperor's evil
genius, the cruel Fausta, should be with him, to exert her malign
influence in procuring the downfall of the object of her malice--the
Empress Valeria--and the destruction of the Christian sect. "The
insulted gods appeal to your Divine Majesty for protection, and for the
punishment of the atheists who despise their worship and defy their
power," began the high-priest of Cybele, seeking to work upon the
superstition of the Illyrian herdsman, raised to the Imperial purple.

"Well, my worthy friend," replied the Emperor in a bantering tone, "what
is the matter now. Has any one been poaching on your preserves?"

"This is not a matter of private concern, Your Majesty," remarked the
Prefect gravely. "It touches the welfare of the State and the stability
of your throne."

"Yes, and your personal and domestic honour, too," whispered Fausta in
his ear.

"It must be something pretty comprehensive to do all that. Come, out
with it at once," laughed the Emperor.

Thus adjured, Furca began to recount the insults offered to the gods by
the Christians, and, especially, that the Empress no longer attended
their public festivals.

"Oh yes, I understand," said the Emperor, with a yawn, "your craft is in
danger. The offerings at your altars are falling off; and we all know
where _they_ went. The gods are all alike to me; I believe in none of
them."

"But they are necessary, to keep the mob in subjection," said Naso.
"Some are amused with their pageants, and others are awed by menaces of
their wrath."

"Yes, I grant you, they are of some use for that; and that is all they
are good for," replied this ancient Agnostic.

"But the Christians are traitors to the State," continued the Prefect;
"rank sedition-mongers. They are secretly sworn to serve another Lord
than the Cæsars, and they are ceaselessly striving to undermine your
Imperial Majesty's authority."

"You do well," continued the cruel Galerius, a fire of deadly hate
burning in his eyes, "to exterminate that accursed vermin, wherever
found. Burn, crucify, torture, as you will."

"And the estates of the rebels, they escheat to the temples of the
insulted gods?" asked the priest, with hungry eyes.

"Nay, to the State, I think," laughed the Emperor. "Is it not so, good
Naso?"

"Half to the State and half to the _delator_, or accuser," answered that
worthy, learned in the law of pillage.

"Let not the wolves fall out about the prey," said the Emperor, with a
sneer; "only make sure work."

"Be so good then, Your Majesty, as to affix your seal to these decrees
of death. With such high officers as Adauctus and Aurelius my authority
as Prefect is not sufficient."

"And the Empress Valeria; she, too, as traitor to your person and crown,
is included in the decree," insinuated, in a wheedling tone, the crafty
priest.

"Base hound," roared the Emperor, laying his hand upon his sword;
"breathe but the name of the Empress again, and I will pluck thy vile
tongue from thy throat."

"Nay, Your Majesty," said the crafty Fausta, while the abject priest
cowered like a whipped cur; "'tis but his excess of zeal for Your
Majesty's honour, which I fear the Empress betrays."

"Madam," said Galerius, sternly, "I am the guardian of my own honour.
What the Christians are, I neither know nor care. What the Empress is, I
know--the noblest soul that breathes in Rome. Who wags his tongue
against her shall be given to the crows and kites. _Dixi Fiat_--I have
spoken--so let it be," and his terrible frown, as he stalked from the
room, showed that he meant what he said.

The three conspirators, for a moment, stared at each other in
consternation. Then the wily Fausta faltered out, "Said I not, he would
defy both gods and men? We must do by stealth what we cannot do by
force. Juba must ply her most secret and most deadly arts. I have
certain subtle spells myself; and if mortal hate can give them power, I
will make her beauty waste away like a fading flower, and her strength
wane like a dying lamp."

"'Tis a dangerous game," replied Naso. "Be wary how you play it. As for
me, armed with this edict, I will strike at mine ancient foe, for whom I
long have nursed a bitter spite. Curse him! I am tired of hearing him
called Adauctus the Just. He held me to such a strict account that I had
to make a full return of all the fines and mulcts paid in, without
taking the toll which is my right." And he departed to gratify his
double passion of revenge and greed.

It may seem strange that such a truculent monster as Galerius, of whom,
in his later days, his Christian subjects were wont to say that "he
never supped without human blood--_Nec unquam sine cruore humano
cœnabat,_"[35]--should be so under the spell of his Christian wife. But
the statement is corroborated by the records of history, and by the
philosophy of the human mind. There is a power in moral goodness that
can awe the rudest natures, a winsome spell that can subdue the hardest
hearts. It was the story of Una and the Lion, of Beauty and the Beast
over again; and one of the severest trials for a Christian wife in those
days of the struggle between Christianity and Paganism for the mastery
of the world, was that of being allied to a pagan husband. Tertullian,
in the third century, thus describes the difficulties which a Christian
woman married to an idolater must encounter in her religious life:

"At the time for worship the husband will appoint the use of the bath;
when a fast is to be observed he will invite company to a feast When she
would bestow alms, both safe and cellar are closed against her. What
heathen will suffer his wife to attend the nightly meetings of the
Church, the slandered Supper of the Lord, to visit the sick even in the
poorest hovels, to kiss the martyrs' chains in prison, to rise in the
night for prayer, to show hospitality to stranger brethren?"[36]

In time of persecution, or in the case of persons of such exalted rank
as that of Valeria, the difficulty of adorning a Christian life, amid
their pagan surroundings, was all the greater. Yet not a word of scandal
has been breathed upon the character of the wife of the arch persecutor
of the Christians; and even the sneering pen of Gibbon has only words of
commendation for the Christian Empress who herself under subsequent
persecution, remained steadfast even unto death.

The beauty and dignity of Christian wedlock in an age of persecution
and strife are nobly expressed by Tertullian in the following passage,
addressed to his own wife: "How can I paint the happiness," he exclaims,
"of a marriage which the Church ratines, the Sacrament confirms, the
benediction seals, angels announce, and our heavenly Father declares
valid! What a union of two believers--one hope, one vow, one discipline,
one worship! They are brother and sister, two fellow-servants, one
spirit and one flesh. They pray together, fast together, exhort and
support one another. They go together to the house of God, and to the
table of the Lord. They share each other's trials, persecutions, and
joys. Neither avoids, nor hides anything from the other. They delight to
visit the sick, succour the needy, and daily to lay their offerings
before the altar without scruple, and without constraint. They do not
need to keep the sign of the cross hidden, nor to express secretly their
Christian joy, nor to receive by stealth the eucharist. They join in
psalms and hymns, and strive who best can praise God. Christ rejoices at
the sight, and sends His peace upon them. Where two are in His name He
also is; and where He is, there evil cannot come."

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[35] Lactantius, _De Mortibus Persecutorum._

[36] Tertull, _Ad Uzorem_, ii. 8.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XXI.

A CRIME PREVENTED.


The deadly malice of Fausta, Furca, and Naso towards the Empress
Valeria, foiled in its attempt to invoke upon her the penalties of the
edict against the Christians, sought, by secret means, to procure her
death. Juba, the black slave, was heavily bribed to prepare some of her
most subtle poisons and procure their administration. But here a
difficulty presented itself, and it is a striking illustration of the
corruption of the Empire and of the daily peril in which the inhabitants
of the Imperial palace dwelt--a state of peril which finds its modern
analogue only in the continual menace under which the Czar of all the
Russias lives, with a sword of Damocles suspended by a single hair above
his head. Such was the atmosphere of suspicion which pervaded the whole
palace, such the dread of assassination or of poisoning, that trusty
guards and officers swarmed in the ante-chambers and prevented access to
the members of the Imperial family except under the most rigid
precautions of safety; and a special officer was appointed, whose duty,
as his title of _Prægustalor_ implies, was to taste every kind of food
or drink provided for the Imperial table. Regard for his personal safety
was, of course, a guarantee that the utmost precautions were observed in
preparing the daily food of the Imperial household. Juba in vain
attempted to bribe some of the kitchen scullions and cooks to mix with
the savoury viands designed for the use of Valeria, who generally
lunched in her private apartments, a potent poison. They accepted,
indeed, her bribes, but prudently declined to carry out their part of
the agreement, well knowing that she dare not venture to criminate
herself by an open rupture with them.

At length she resolved on attempting a more subtle but less certain mode
of administering a deadly drug. While in the service of a priest of Isis
in Egypt, she had extorted or cajoled from an Abyssinian slave in his
service certain dark secrets, learned it was said by the Queen of Sheba
from Solomon, and handed down from age to age as the esoteric lore of
the realm. One of these was the preparation of a volatile poison so
subtle and powerful that its mere inhalation was of deadly potency. As a
means of conveying this to her victim, and at the same time of
disguising the pungent aromatic odour, a basket of flowers which she had
plentifully sprinkled with the deadly poison was sent to the Empress. To
make assurance doubly sure, she concealed among the flowers one of
those beautiful but deadly asps, such as that from the bite of which the
dusky Queen of Egypt, the wanton Cleopatra, died. This, for purposes
connected with her nefarious arts, she had procured as what evil thing
could not be procured?--from the dealers in deadly drugs, philtres, and
potions in the crowded Ghetto of Rome.

To ensure the conveyance of the deadly gift to the hands of Valeria
herself, Juba invented the fiction that they were a thankoffering from
the young Greek, Isidorus, to his Imperial patroness for favours
received. With her characteristic cunning Juba had possessed herself of
the secret of his services rendered to the Empress, and of the interest
felt in him by her august mistress.

Valeria was in her _boudoir_ with her favourite and now inseparable
Callirhoë, as her tire woman, dressing her hair, when the fatal missive
arrived. As Callirhoë received the basket from the hands of Juba, the
eyes of the slave gleamed with the deadly hate of a basilisk, and she
muttered as she turned away--

"May the curse of Isis rest on them both. My fine lady has driven black
Juba from the tiring room of the Empress. May she now share her fate,"
and, like a sable Atropos, she glided from the chamber with stealthy and
cat-like tread.

"Oh! what fresh and fragrant flowers," exclaimed the Empress Valeria, as
she bent over them, "see how the dew is yet fresh upon their petals."
Here she raised the basket so as more fully to inhale their fragrance.
At that moment the concealed and deadly asp whose dark green and glossy
skin had prevented its detection among the acanthus and lily leaves,
seized, with his envenomed fang, the damask cheek of the fair Valeria,
and for a moment clung firmly there.

"God, save her!" exclaimed Callirhoë, who in a moment recognized the
cruel aspic, of which, as a child, she had been often warned in her
native Antioch, and with an eager gesture she flung the venomous reptile
to the ground and crushed its head beneath her sandal's heel. On the
quick instinct of the moment and without stopping to think of the
consequences to herself, she threw her arms about her Imperial mistress'
neck, and pressing her lips to her cheek, sucked the venom from the yet
bleeding wound.

The cry of the Empress as the little serpent stung her cheek brought a
swarm of attendants and slaves into the room, among them black Juba and
the officer of the guard who was responsible for the Empress' safety.
Valeria had fainted and lay pale as ashes on her couch, a crimson stream
flowing from her cheek.

"Dear heart!" exclaimed Juba, with an ostentatious exhibition of
well-feigned grief, "let her inhale this fragrant elixir. It is a potent
restorative in such deadly faints," and she attempted to complete her
desperate crime by thrusting the poisonous perfume under Valeria's
nostrils.

"Who was last in the presence before this strange accident--if it be an
accident--occurred?" demanded the officer.

"I and Juba, were the only ones," faltered Callirhoë, when a deathly
pallor passed over her face, and with a convulsive shudder she fell
writhing on the ground.

"You are under arrest," said the officer to. Juba, and then to a soldier
of the guard, "Go, seize and seal up her effects--everything she has;
and you," turning to another, "send at once the court physician."

The attendants meanwhile were fanning and sprinkling with water the
seemingly inanimate forms of the Empress and Callirhoë. When the
physician came and felt the fluttering pulse and noted the dilated eyes
of his patients, he pronounced it a case of acrid poisoning and
promptly ordered antidotes. The Empress, in a few days rallied and
seemed little the worse beyond a strange pallor which overspread her
features and an abnormal coldness, almost as of death, which pervaded
her frame. From these she never fully recovered, but throughout her life
was known in popular speech as "The White Lady."

Upon Callirhoë the effects of the poison were still more serious. By her
prompt action in sucking the aspic virus from the envenomed wound, she
had saved the life of her beloved mistress, but at the peril of her own.
The venom coursed through her veins, kindling the fires of fever in her
blood. Her dilated eyes shone with unusual brilliance; her speech was
rapid; her manner urgent; and her emotions and expressions were
characterized by a strange and unwonted intenseness. The physician in
answer to the eager questioning of Valeria, gravely shook his head, and
said that the case was one that baffled his skill--that cure there was
none for the aspic's poison if absorbed into the system, although as it
had not in this case been communicated directly to the blood, possibly
the youth and vigour of the patient might overcome the toxic effect of
the contagium--so he learnedly discoursed.

"My dear child, you have given your life for mine," exclaimed the
Empress, throwing her arms around her late enfranchised slave, and
bedewing her cheek with her tears.

"God grant it be so," said Callirhoë, with kindling eye. "I would gladly
die to save you from a sorrow or a pain. I owe you more than life. I owe
you liberty and a life more precious than my own."

"All that love and skill can do, dear heart, shall be done," said the
Empress caressingly, "to preserve you to your new-found liberty, and to
your sire."

"As God wills, dearest lady," answered Callirhoë, kissing her mistress'
hand. "In His great love I live or die content. I bless Him every hour
that He has permitted me to show in some weak way, the love I bear my
best and dearest earthly friend."

And with such fond converse passed the hours of Valeria's convalescence,
and of Callirhoë's deepening decline.

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XXII

THE STORM BURSTS.


The crafty Juba, when she found herself arrested in _flagrante
delicto_--in the very act of her attempted crime--determined to use, if
possible, the fiction she had employed with reference to Isidorus, as a
means of escape from the very serious dilemma in which she was placed.
It will be remembered that she had stated, in order to procure the
acceptance of her fatal gift, that it was a thank-offering from the
young Greek who had rendered such service to the Empress and Callirhoë.
Happy if Valeria had remembered and practised the ancient adage, "_Timeo
Danaos et dona ferentes._" But suspicion was foreign to her generous
nature, and even if the wise saw had occurred to her, she would have
lightly laughed away its cynical suggestion.

When the treacherous slave was examined as to her share in the attempted
crime, she stoutly adhered to her fictitious story, and protested that
she knew nothing of the contents of the basket, but that she had
received it from Isidorus, and had been well paid for conveying it to
the Empress without suspicion of any sinister design.

The Greek, when charged with the crime of attempting to procure, by
poison, the death of the Empress Valeria, manifested the greatest
astonishment. Summoned before the Quæstor of the Palace, an officer of
co-ordinate jurisdiction with the Prefect of the city, he stoutly
protested his innocence. But all his protestations were regarded by that
official, as only the very perfection of art--the well-feigned evasions
of a mendacious Greek. And certainly appearances were very much against
him. The Prefect Naso, now that he had extorted from him all the
information he had to give, abandoned him as a worn-out tool and
divulged to the Quæstor the damning fact that the Greek by a formal
document had accused the Empress of treason against the State, and of
conspiracy with the Christians--for so he represented the confessions
which, by his diabolical arts, he had wrung from his unhappy victim.
Confronted by this evidence Isidorus was dumb. He saw the trap into
which he had been snared, and that by no efforts of his own could he
extricate himself. He saw, too, the ruin he had brought upon his
friends, for Naso had procured the immediate arrest of Adauctus,
Aurelius, and Demetrius, the father of Callirhoë, and other Christians
connected with the Imperial household. Callirhoë herself was also placed
under arrest, upon the monstrous accusation of conspiracy with Isidorus
and Juba to procure the death of the Empress Valeria. One would have
thought that her self-devotion and almost sacrifice of her life to save
that of her mistress would have been a sufficient vindication from such
a charge. But the unreasoning terror of the Emperors and the unreasoning
hatred of all who bore the Christian name, fostered as these were by the
machinations and evil suggestions of the Quæstor of the Palace, the
Prefect of the city, the arch priest of Cybele, and the cruel, crafty
Fausta, thirsty for the blood of her victim, rendered possible the
acceptance of any charge, however improbable. "Any stick will do to beat
a dog," and any accusation, however absurd, was considered available
against the Christians.

Even Galerius who, left to himself, would, soldier-like, have braved any
personal danger, completely lost his judgment at the peril menacing the
Empress. The tortures of slaves and servants by the perverted tribunals,
miscalled of justice, fomented by the cruel, crafty priests, and the
eager greed of Prefect and Quæstor, caused an outburst of persecution
against all who bore the Christian name. The estates of Adauctus, and
Aurelius were expropriated by the persecutors, and as a consequence
their late possessors were pre-judged to death. Valeria who would fain
have interposed her protection, had suffered such a physical shock as
to be incapable of exercising any authority or influence she might
possess. And the Empress Prisca, less courageous in spirit, less
beautiful in person, and less potent in influence, was completely cowed
by the domineering violence of the Emperor Diocletian, who was quite
beside himself at the conspiracy against the gods, and against the
Imperial Household which he persuaded himself had been discovered.

"Madam," he replied, in answer to a weak remonstrance against the
persecution, "was it not enough that our palace at Nicomedia was burned
over our heads, that you must apologise for treason in our very
household and the menace of our very person. No; the Christian
superstition must be stamped out, and the worship of the gods
maintained."[37]

Hence throughout the wide empire, in the sober language of history,
"Edict followed edict, rising in regular gradations of angry barbarity.
The whole clergy were declared enemies of the State; and bishops,
presbyters, and deacons were crowded into the prisons intended for the
basest malefactors"[38]--"an innumerable company," says the Christian
bishop Eusebius, "so that there was no room left for those condemned for
crime." "We saw with our own eyes," writes a contemporary historian,
"our houses of worship thrown down, the sacred Scriptures committed to
the flames, and the shepherds of the people become the sport of their
enemies--scourge with rods, tormented with the rack and excruciating
scrapings, in which some endured the most terrible death. Then men and
women, with a certain divine and inexpressible alacrity rushed into the
fire. The persecutors, constantly inventing new tortures, vied with one
another as if there were prizes offered to him who should invent the
greatest cruelties. The men bore fire, sword, and crucifixions, savage
beasts, and the depths of the sea, the maiming of limbs and searing with
red hot iron, digging out of the eyes and mutilations of the whole body,
also hunger, the mines, and prison. The women also were strengthened by
the Divine Word, so that some of them endured the same trials as the
men, and bore away the same prize. It would exceed all powers of
detail," he goes on, "to give an idea of the sufferings and tortures
which the martyrs endured. And these things were done, not for a few
days, but for a series of whole years. We ourselves," he adds, "have
seen crowds of persons, some beheaded, some burned alive, in a single
day, so that the murderous weapons were blunted and broken in pieces,
and the executioners, weary with slaughter, were obliged to give over
the work of blood."[39] And he goes on to describe deeds of shame and
torture of which he was an eye-witness, which our pen refuses to record.

The enthusiasm for martyrdom prevailed at times almost like an epidemic.
It was one of the most remarkable features of the ages of persecution.
Notwithstanding the terrific tortures to which they were exposed, the
zeal of the Christian heroes burned higher and brighter in the fiercest
tempest of heathen rage. Age after age summoned the soldiers of the
Cross to the conflict whose highest guerdon was death. They bound
persecution as a wreath about their brows, and exulted in the "glorious
infamy" of suffering for their Lord. The brand of shame became the badge
of highest honour. Besides the joys of heaven they won imperishable fame
on earth; and the memory of a humble slave was often haloed with a glory
surpassing that of a Curtius or Horatius. The meanest hind was ennobled
by the accolade of martyrdom to the loftiest peerage of the skies. His
consecration of suffering was elevated to a sacrament, and called the
baptism of fire or of blood.

Burning to obtain the prize, the impetuous candidates for death often
pressed with eager haste to seize the palm of victory and the martyr's
crown. They trod with joy the fiery path to glory, and went as gladly to
the stake as to a marriage feast. "Their fetters," says Eusebius,
"seemed like the golden ornaments of a bride."[40] They desired
martyrdom more ardently than men afterward sought a bishopric.[41] They
exulted amid their keenest pangs that they were counted worthy to suffer
for their divine Master. "Let the ungulæ tear us," exclaims
Tertullian;[42] "the crosses bear our weight, the flames envelope us,
the sword divide our throats, the wild beasts spring upon us; the very
posture of prayer is a preparation for every punishment." "These
things," says St. Basil, "so far from being a terror, are rather a
pleasure and a recreation to us."[43] "The tyrants were armed;" says St.
Chrysostom; "and the martyrs naked; yet they that were naked got the
victory, and they that carried arms were vanquished."[44] Strong in the
assurance of immortality, they bade defiance to the sword.

Though weak in body they seemed clothed with vicarious strength, and
confident that though "counted as sheep for the slaughter," naught could
separate them from the love of Christ. Wrapped in their fiery vesture
and shroud of flame, they yet exulted in their glorious victory. While
the leaden hail fell on the mangled frame, and the eyes filmed with the
shadows of death, the spirit was enbraved by the beatific vision of the
opening heaven, and above the roar of the mob fell sweetly on the inner
sense the assurance of eternal life. "No group, indeed, of Oceanides was
there to console the Christian Prometheus; yet to his upturned eye
countless angels were visible--their anthem swept solemnly to his ear
--and the odours of an opening paradise filled the air. Though the dull
ear of sense heard nothing, he could listen to the invisible Coryphæus
as he invited him to heaven and promised him an eternal crown."[45] The
names of the "great army of martyrs," though forgotten by men, are
written in the Book of Life. "The Lord knoweth them that are His."

    There is a record, traced on high,
    That shall endure eternally;
    The angel standing by God's throne
    Treasures there each word and groan;
    And not the martyr's speech alone,
    But every wound is there depicted,
    With every circumstance of pain
    The crimson stream, the gash inflicted
    And not a drop is shed in vain.[46]

This spirit of martyrdom was a new principle in society. It had no
classical counterpart.[47] Socrates and Seneca suffered with fortitude,
but not with faith. The loftiest pagan philosophy dwindled into
insignificance before the sublimity of Christian hope. This looked
beyond the shadows of time and the sordid cares of earth to the grandeur
of the Infinite and the Eternal. The heroic deaths of the believers
exhibited a spiritual power mightier than the primal instincts of
nature, the love of wife or child, or even of life itself. Like a solemn
voice falling on the dull ear of mankind, these holy examples urged the
inquiry, "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose
his own soul?" And that voice awakened an echo in full many a heart. The
martyrs made more converts by their deaths than in their lives. "Kill
us, rack us condemn us, grind us to powder," exclaims the intrepid
Christian Apologist; "our numbers increase in proportion as you mow us
down."[47] The earth was drunk with the blood of the saints, but still
they multiplied and grew, gloriously illustrating the perennial
truth--_Sanguis martyrum semen ecclesiæ_.

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[37] These are the very words of the edict quoted in note to Chapter II.

[38] Milman, History of Christianity, Book II., Chapter ix.

[39] Eusebius' "Ecclesiastical History," Book viii., Chaps, ii-xiv.

[40] Hist. Eccles., v. I.

[41] Multique avidius tum martyria gloriosis mortibus quærebantur quam
nunc episcopatus pravis ambitionibus appetuntur.--Sulpic. Sever. Hist.,
lib. II.

[42] Apol. c. 30.

[43] Gregory Nazianzen. Orat. de Laud. Basil. See also the striking
language of Ignatius. Euseb. Hist. Eccles. III. 36.

[44] Chrys. Horn. 74, de Martyr.

[45] Kip, p. 88--from Maitland, p. 146. Sometimes the ardour for
martyrdom rose into a passion. Eusebius says (Hist. Eccles., viii., 6)
that in Nicomedia "Men and women with a certain divine and inexpressible
alacrity rushed into the fire."

    Inscripta CHRISTO pagina immortalis est,
    Excepit adstans angelus coram Deo.
    Et quæ locutus martyr, et quæ pertulit:
    Nec verbum solum disserentis condidit,
    Omnis notata est sanguinis dimensio,
    Quæ vis doloris, quive segmenti modus:
    Guttam cruoris ille nullam perdidit. _Peristeph._

[46] Video, proboque meliora,
     Deterioraque sequor.--_Hor._

[47] The pagans called the martyrs βιαθἁυατοι, or self
murderers.

[48] Tertul., Apol., c. 50.



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE MAMERTINE PRISON.


Let us now turn our attention to the fate of the characters in our tale
of Christian trial and triumph, around whom its interest chiefly
centres. They have been consigned to one of the most dismal of the many
gloomy dungeons of Rome--the thrice terrible Mamertine prison--haunted
with memories of long centuries of cruelty and crime. Manacled each to a
Roman soldier, Adauctus, Aurelius, Demetrius, and Callirhoë, together
with other Christians condemned to martyrdom, marched through the
streets under the noontide glare of a torrid sun. A guard armed _cap à
pié_, flung open an iron-studded door, and admitted them to a gloomy
vault a few steps below the level of the street. Here a brawny Vulcan,
with anvil and hammer, with many a brutal gibe smote off the fetters
that linked the prisoners and soldiers together, and riveted them again
so that these victims of oppression were bound together in pairs.
Sometimes it happened that one of a pair thus bound together died, and
the survivor endured the horror of being inseparably fettered to a
festering corpse. To this the apostle refers when, groaning over the
corruptions of his sinful nature, he exclaims: "O wretched man that I
am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"

"My dainty lady," said the hideous Cyclops, as he rudely seized the arm
of Callirhoë, "this is not the sort of bracelet you've been used to
wear. I should not much mind, being bound to such as you myself, only I
would prefer silken fetters to those iron gyves." Then, as she shrank
from his touch and winced as he bruised her tender flesh in unriveting
the fetters, he said, with an insolent jeer, "I wont hurt you more than
I can help, my beauty. You are not used to having such a rough
chamberlain;" and he uttered a coarse jest with which we shall not
pollute our page.

A rosy flush stormed the brow of the maiden as she turned her blushing
cheek to the mildewed and cold stone wall, in haughty silence disdaining
a word of reply to the brutal ruffian.

"Nay, my fine gentlemen," went on this typical Roman jailer, as Adauctus
and the aged Demetrius, weary with their march, sank upon a stone bench,
"this is too luxurious an apartment for you. For you we have a deeper
depth." And Be pointed to an opening in the floor, hitherto unnoticed in
the gloom. "Nay, you need not shrink, old man," he went on, as Demetrius
recoiled from the grave-like opening at his feet. "Your betters have
been there before you."

"Father, your blessing e'er you go," exclaimed Callirhoë, and flinging
herself on his breast, she received his kiss and benediction.

By means of a leathern strap beneath their arms, the prisoners were one
by one let down into a hideous vault, like men to a living burial. Into
this lower dungeon no beam of light struggled, save a precarious ray
from the opening in the floor above. The loathsome cell was even then
dank with the slime of well-nigh a thousand years, its construction
being attributed to Ancus Martius, the fourth king of Rome. Here the
African prince, Jugurtha, was starved to death. "What a cold bath is
this!" he exclaimed, as he descended into its chilly gloom. Here the
Gallic king, Vercingetorix, also died. Here the usurper Sejanus was
executed, and here the fellow conspirators of Cataline lingered to
death. If we would accept Roman tradition, we would also believe that
St. Peter and St. Paul were immured in this dismal vault, and in the
case of the latter illustrious martyr it is more than likely that the
story is true. A stairway has now been constructed to this lower depth,
and the present writer has stood upon the stone pavement worn by the
feet of generations of victims of oppression, and has drunk of a spring
at which the Apostle of the Gentiles may have quenched his thirst.

The prisoners enjoyed not long even this sad reprieve from death. They
were destined soon to finish their course by a glorious martyrdom. The
Emperors determined to gratify at once their own persecuting fury and
the cruel thirst for blood of the Roman mob, by offering a holocaust of
victims in the amphitheatre. The _Acta Diurna_, a sort of public gazette
of the day, which circulated in the great houses, and baths, and other
places of concourse, contained the announcement of a grand exhibition of
the _ludi circenses_, or gladiatorial games, to be celebrated in honour
of the god Neptune--_Neptunus Equestris_. In the public spaces of the
Forum, and in the neighbourhood of the Flavian Amphitheatre and
elsewhere, where the crowd around them would not obstruct the highway,
were displayed large white bulletin boards, on which were written in
coloured chalks a list of the games--like the playbills which placard
the streets of great cities to-day--and heralds proclaimed through every
street, even in the crowded Ghetto, the splendour of the approaching
games. These were on a scale on which no modern manager ever dreamed.
Trajan exhibited games which lasted a hundred and twenty-three days, in
which 10,000 gladiators fought and 11,000 fierce animals were killed.
Sometimes the vast arena was flooded with water, and _naumachia_ or
sea-fights were exhibited. The vast flood-gates and cisterns by which
this was accomplished may still be seen.

The chief attraction of the games provided by the Emperors Diocletian
and Galerius, however, was not the conflict of what might almost be
called armies of trained gladiators, nor the slaughter of hundreds of
fierce Libyan leopards and Numidian lions, but the sacrifice of some
scores of helpless and unarmed Christians--old men, weak women, and
tender and innocent children.

There was much excitement in the schools of the gladiators--vast stone
barracks, where they were drilled in their dreadful trade. They were
originally captives taken in war, or condemned malefactors; but in the
degenerate days of the Empire, knights, senators, and soldiers sought
distinction in the arena, and even unsexed women fought half-naked in
the ring, or lay dead and trampled in the sands. To captives of war was
often offered, as a reward for special skill or courage, their freedom
and fierce and fell were conflicts to which men wore spurred by the
double incentives of life and liberty.

Special interest was given to the forthcoming games by the distinguished
reputation of one of the volunteer gladiators, a brilliant young
military officer, our friend Ligurius Rufus, who, sated and sickened
with the most frenzied dissipations that Rome could offer, plunged into
this mimic war to appease by its excitement the gnawing ennui of his
life.

The bets ran high upon the reckless young noble who was the favourite of
the sporting spend-thrifts and profligates of the city. The vilest
condition of society that ever cursed the earth was filling up the
measure of its iniquity, and invoking the wrath of Heaven. The wine
shops in the Suburra and the gladiators' quarter were overflowing with a
brawling, blaspheming, drunken mob, the vilest dregs of the vilest city
the patient earth has ever borne upon its bosom.

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XXIV.

THE EVE OF MARTYRDOM.


Far different was the scene presented by another spot not far distant--a
vaulted chamber beneath the stone seats of the Coliseum, whither the
destined Christian martyrs had been removed on the eve before the day of
their triumph. As an act of grace, some coarse straw, the refuse of a
lion's lair, had been given them, and the relief to their fetter-cramped
limbs, stiffened with lying on a rough stone floor, was in itself an
indescribable delight. But they had a deeper cause of joy. They were
found worthy to witness a good confession for Christ before Cæsar, like
the beloved Apostle Paul; and even as their Lord Himself before Pontius
Pilate. And now the day of their espousals to their Heavenly Bridegroom
was at hand.

The silvery-haired Demetrius, a holy calm beaming in his eyes, uttered
words of peace and comfort. The coarse black barley-bread and muddy wine
which had been given them lest death should cheat the mob of their
promised delight on the morrow, the venerable priest had consecrated to
the Supper of the Lord--the last viaticum to strengthen their souls on
their journey to the spirit world. Sitting at his feet, faint and wan,
but with a look of utter content upon her face, was his daughter
Callirhoë, a heavenly smile flickering about her lips. With an undaunted
courage, a heroic resolve beaming from his eyes, stood Adauctus,
waiting, like a valiant soldier at his post, the welcome word of the
great Captain of his salvation: "Well done! good and faithful servant,
enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."

Ever and anon the deep-mouthed roar of a hungry lion rent the air, his
fierce bound shook the walls of his cage, and his hot breath came
through the bars as he keenly sniffed the smell of human flesh. But
though it caused at times a tremor of the quivering nerves of the wan
and wasted girl, it shook not her unfaltering soul Listen to the holy
words calmly spoken by the venerable Demetrius: "'_Non turbetur cor
vestrum_--Let not your heart be troubled. In my Father's house are many
mansions. I go to prepare a place for you.' Yes, daughter. Yes, brave
friend; before another sun shall set we shall see the King in His
beauty, and the laud that is very far off. Mine aged eyes shall see,
too, the beloved Rachel of my youth, to behold whom they have ached
these many years. And thou, child, shalt see the mother after whom thy
heart hath yearned."

"If only, dear father, my brother Ezra were with us," whispered
Callirhoë, "we soon would be an unbroken family in the city of the great
King."

"God's will be done, my child," answered the patriarch. "He doeth all
things well. He could bid His angels fly swiftly, and shut the lions'
mouths, or better still, convoy our spirits to the marriage supper of
the Lamb--to the repose of Abraham's bosom. Your brother is a child of
the covenant, an heir of the promises, the son of many prayers. God will
count him also in the day when He maketh up His jewels." Then, as if
gifted with the spirit of prophecy, he exclaimed: "Not always shall the
servants of the Most High be persecuted unto death. But this very
structure, now dedicated to slaughter and cruelty, shall hereafter be
consecrated to the service of the true God"--a prediction which, after
long centuries, has been literally fulfilled.

Thus in holy converse wore the hours away. And then through the rocky
vaults of the Coliseum stole the sweet accents of their last evening
hymn before they should sing the song of Moses and the Lamb on high:--

"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide
under the shadow of the Almighty."

"I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in Him
will I trust."

"He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy
ways."

"Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder; the young lion and the dragon
shalt thou trample under foot."

As this pæan of triumph swelled into louder strain, the gladiators, awed
by its strange power, paused amid their ribald jests, and even the lion
hushed his hungry roar, and the tiger his angry growl.

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XXV

A ROMAN HOLIDAY.


Early next morning the army of slaves who had charge of the Coliseum,
under the direction of Fulvus, the freedman, were hard at work. Some at
the very summit of the building, with much shouting and pulling of
ropes, were stretching the great _velarium_ or awning, as a protection
from the rays of the sun. Others were sweeping the sand of the arena to
a smooth and even surface. Many cart loads of fresh sand were heaped
around the base of the podium, for the ghastly purpose of being spread
upon the blood-stained surface after each act of the sanguinary drama of
the day. Others were decorating with garlands of flowers, and with gold
and purple bannerets, the seats of the Emperors Diocletian and Galerius,
and those of the senators and other persons of distinction. The great
structure seemed even more striking in its vastness, as a few score
figures crawled like flies over its empty seats, than when filled with
its tumultuous throng of spectators. It was an immense oval six hundred
and fifteen feet in its longer diameter, and five hundred and ten feet
in the shorter. The circling seats rose tier on tier to the giddy height
of one hundred and fifty feet.

[Illustration: INTERIOR OF THE COLISEUM, ROME.]

As the present writer climbed those cliff-like walls, now crumbling into
ruin, he tried to re-people those long-deserted seats with the eager and
excited throngs which had often filled them to overflowing, when twice
eighty thousand cruel eyes were wont to gloat upon the dying martyr's
pang, "butchered to make a Roman holiday."[49] Then he wandered through
the vast vaulted corridors and stairways, eighty in number, and bearing
still the old Roman numerals by which access was gained to the different
galleries. These were so capacious that the whole multitude could in a
few minutes disperse, and were thence called _vomitoria_. He then
explored the dens and caves for the wild beasts, and the rocky chambers
in which the gladiators and martyr victims awaited the signal that
called them to their doom. The row of seats just above the podium was
reserved for the equestrian order; those higher still, for the
_populus_, or common people; and the highest of all, for persons of the
lowest rank. Early in the day, multitudes of spectators began to arrive,
mostly arrayed in gala dress, and many wearing the colours of their
favourite gladiatorial champion. With a loud flourish of trumpets the
great gates of the imperial entrance opened, and the chariots of the
Emperors and their respective _suites_ entered and took their places in
the grand tribune reserved for these august occupants. It was noted with
dissatisfaction by the multitude that neither of the Empresses Prisca or
Valeria, were present. But the withered old crone Fausta, mother of
Galerius, seemed to gloat like a foul harpy on the anticipated spectacle
of blood, and near by was her sinister shadow, the black-browed priest
of Cybele.

Our old acquaintance, Burdo, the butcher, was rubicund with joy at the
approaching conflict, for which, he said, he long had hungered. "But
why," he asked, "are not their majesties, the Empresses, in the state
tribune. 'Tis a contempt of a festival sacred to the gods."

"Our dainty Empress," jeered Samos, the "Flat-nose," "has small stomach
to see her friends the Christians given to the lions, and I suspect the
old one is tarred with the same stick."

"If I thought that I'd denounce her myself," growled Bruto, the
gladiator; "Empress or slave, the crime of being a Christian levels all
ranks."

"And lose your head for your pains," chimed in Piso, the barber. "Don't
you know that she winds the Emperor round her finger like a silken
thread."

"Does she favour the accursed Nazarenes?" croaked Ephraim the Jew. "May
the same fate overtake her."

"I thought they were friends of yours," said our old friend Max, who was
one of the soldiers on guard. "They say this Christus whom they worship
was a Jew."

We dare not repeat the wicked imprecation which burst from the lips of
the exasperated Israelite. But it is notorious that the Jews were far
more malignant persecutors of the Christians than even the Pagans
themselves--as is apparent from the Acts of the Apostles and other
records of the early Church.

The time for beginning the games having come, the priest of Neptune
poured a libation to the god, and heaped incense on his altar, placed
near the Imperial tribune. In this act of worship--for these old gods
were worshipped with the blood of men slain as a holiday pageant--he was
followed by the Emperors and their chief officers.

Then with another peal of trumpets a procession of gladiators in
burnished armour entered the arena and marched around its vast circuit.
Pausing before the tribune of the Emperors they chanted with a loud
voice: "_Cæsares Augusti, morituri salutarus vos_--Great Cæsars, we who
are about to die salute you."

First there was a sort of sham battle--_prælusio_, as it was called, in
which the gladiators fought with wooden swords. But the multitude were
speedily impatient of that, and demanded the combat _a l'outrance_--to
the death.

"We came not here to witness such child's play as that," said Burdo, the
butcher. "I want to see the blood flow as it does in my own shambles;" a
brutal sentiment which met with much favour from his neighbours.

Soon their desires were gratified. First there was a combat of
_Andabatæ_, that is, men who wore helmets without any aperture for the
eyes, so that they were obliged to fight blindfold, and thus excited the
mirth of the spectators. Although they inflicted some ugly wounds upon
each other, none of these were mortal, and the mob called loudly for the
_Hoplomachi_, who were next on the play-bill. These were men who fought
in a complete suit of armour. They were as completely encased as crabs
in their shells, but as they could see each other through the bars of
their visors, they were able skilfully to direct their weapons at the
joints of their antagonist's armour. Soon the arena was red with blood,
and more than one victim lay dead and trampled on the sands.

"Good! this is something like the thing," cried Burdo. "But these
fellows are so cased in their shells it is hard to get at them. Let us
have the _Retiarii_."

"Yes, the _Retiarii_ and _Mirmillones_," shouted the mob; and they soon
marched upon the scene.

This conflict promised abundance of excitement The _Retiarii_ wore no
armour, and their only weapons were a net (_rete_, hence their name) and
a trident or three-pronged spear. The _Retiarius_ endeavoured to throw
the net over his antagonist, and then to despatch him with the spear. If
he missed his aim in throwing his net, he betook himself to flight, and
endeavoured to prepare his net for a second cast, while his adversary
followed him round the arena in order to kill him before he could make a
second attempt. It was a cruel sport, and kindled to fury the fierce
passions of the eager spectators.

Then came a conflict between skilled gladiators--the most accomplished
swordsmen of the gladiatorial school. The vast multitude watched with
fevered interest the wary fencing, the skilful guard and rapid thrust
and stroke of those trained butchers of their fellow-men. When a
swordsman was wounded, the spectators rent the air with cries of
"_Habet! Habet!_" and the one who was vanquished lowered his arms in
token of submission. His fate, however, depended upon the will of the
people, who sometimes, when a vanquished swordsman had exhibited
especial dexterity and skill, gave the signal to spare him by
stretching out their hands with the thumbs turned down. But if, as was
more frequently the case, their bloodthirsty passions were roused to
insatiable fury, they demanded his death by turning their thumbs
upwards, and shouting, "_Recipe ferrum_!" Without a tremor the victim
then bared his breast to the sword, and the victor thrust it home to the
hilt, while the cruel mob shouted their huzzas over the bloody tragedy.

Such is the scene brought vividly before our minds by the matchless
antique statue of the Dying Gladiator, found in the Gardens of Sallust,
now in the museum of the Capitol. As one gazes with a strange
fascination on that wondrous marble, instinct, it seems, with mortal
agony, callous must be the heart that is unmoved by its touching pathos.
The exquisite lines of Byron nobly express the emotions which it awakens
in every breast:--

    I see before me the Gladiator lie:
    He leans upon his hand--his manly brow
    Consents to death, but conquers agony,
    And his drooped head sinks gradually low--
    And through his side the last drops ebbing slow
    From the red gash fall heavy, one by one,
    Like the first of a thunder shower; and now
    The arena swims around him--he is gone,
    Ere ceased the inhuman shout which hailed the wretch who won.

    He heard it, but he heeded not--his eyes
    Were with his heart, and that was far away.
    He recked not of the life he lost nor prize,
    But where his rude hut by the Danube lay,
    _There_ were his young barbarians all at play,
    _There_ was their Dacian mother--he, their sire,
    Butchered to make a Roman holiday.

An unwonted interest was given to this cruel scene in the Roman
amphitheatre, by a novel and unheard of incident which occurred. The
brilliant young Roman officer, Ligurius Rufus, we have said, was
announced to take part in these games. It was no uncommon thing for
military fops, eager to win the applause of the multitude, or to goad
their jaded weariness of life into a momentary excitement by a spice of
real danger, to enter the lists of the arena; and Ligurius was at once
the most brilliant swordsman in the Twelfth Legion, and the most
_ennuyée_ and world-weary man in Rome.

He was pitted against a brawny Hercules, the strongest and hugest of the
whole school of gladiators--a British prisoner of war, who had been long
the pride and boast of the arena. As they stood face to face, the young
officer in burnished armour, inlaid with silver and gold, and the
mighty thews of his opponent encased in leather and bronze, the betting
was heavy in favour of the British giant. Each felt that he had a foeman
worthy of his steel. They walked warily around each other, each watching
with eager eye every movement of his antagonist. Every thrust on either
side was skilfully parried, any advantage of strength on the part of the
British warrior being matched by the superior nimbleness of the Roman
officer. At last a rapid thrust by Ligurius severed a tendon in the
sword-arm of his foe, and it fell nerveless by his side. With a giant
effort the disabled warrior sprang upon the Roman as if to crush him by
sheer weight; but Ligurius nimbly sprang aside, and his antagonist,
slipping in the gory sand, fell headlong to the ground. In an instant
the Roman's foot was on his neck and his sword at his breast. With a
courteous gesture, Ligurius raised his sword and waved it toward the
Emperors' tribune and to the crowded seats of the podium, as if asking
the signal to spare the vanquished gladiator, while the despairing look
of the latter seemed with mute eloquence to ask for life. "_Habet!
Habet!_" rang round the Coliseum, but not a single sign of mercy was
made, not a single thumb was reversed. "_Recipe ferrum_," roared the mob
at the prostrate giant; and then shouted to Ligurius, "_Occide!
Occide!_--Kill! Kill!"

The gallant Roman heeded them as he would heed the howl of wolves. "I am
not a butcher," he said, with a defiant sneer, and he sheathed his sword
and, much to the surprise of his discomfitted foe, lent his hand to
raise him from the ground.

"You are a brave man," he said, "I want you as a standard bearer for the
Twelfth Legion. That is better than making worm's meat of you. Rome may
need such soldiers before long."

The Emperors were not unwilling to grant this novel request of a
favourite officer, and the grateful creature, in token of his fidelity,
humbly kissed the hand of Ligurius, and followed him from the arena. The
cruel mob, however, angered at being deprived of their anticipated
spectacle of blood, howled with rage, and demanded the crowning scene of
the day's sports--the conflict between the wild beasts and the Christian
martyrs.

These hateful scenes had become the impassioned delight of all classes,
from the Emperors to the "vile plebs" of Rome. Even woman's pitiful
nature forgot its tenderness, and maids and matrons gloated on the cruel
spectacle, and the honour was reserved for the Vestal Virgin to give the
signal for the mortal stroke. Such scenes created a ferocious thirst
for blood throughout society. They overthrew the altar of pity, and
impelled to every excess and refinement of barbarity. Even children
imitated the cruel sport in their games, schools of gladiators were
trained for the work of slaughter, women fought in the arena or lay dead
and trampled in the sand.

It is to the eternal praise of Christianity that it suppressed these
odious contests, and forever averted the sword of the gladiator from the
throat of his victim. The Christian city of Constantinople was never
polluted by the atrocious exhibition. A Christian poet eloquently
denounced the bloody spectacle. A Christian monk, roused to indignation
by the hateful scene, leaped over the barrier to separate the gladiators
in the very frenzy of the conflict. The maddened mob, enraged at this
interruption of their sport, stoned him to death. But his heroic
martydom produced a moral revulsion against the practice, and the laws
of Honorius, to use the language of Gibbon, "abolished forever the human
sacrifices of the amphitheatre."

It remains to notice in another chapter the last scene in the stern
drama of this "Roman holiday."

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[49] On this very arena perished the venerable Ignatius, linked by
tradition with the Saviour Himself as one of the children whom He took
in His arms and blessed. "Suffer me to be the food of wild beasts," he
exclaimed, "by whom I shall attain unto God. For I am the wheat of God,
and I shall be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, that I may become the
pure bread of Christ."



CHAPTER XXVI.

THE MARTYRS CROWNED.


At a flourish of trumpets the iron-studded doors of the cells in which
the Christians were confined were thrown open, and the destined martyrs
walked forth on the arena in the sight of assembled thousands. It was a
spectacle to arrest the attention of even the most thoughtless, and to
move the sympathy of even the most austere. At the head of the little
company walked the good presbyter, Demetrius, his silvery hair and beard
and benignant expression of countenance giving him a strikingly
venerable aspect. Leaning heavily on his arm, evidently faint in frame
but strong in spirit, was his daughter Callirhoë. Robed in white, she
looked the embodiment of saintly purity, and in her eyes there beamed a
heroic courage which inspired a wonder that so brave a soul should be
shrined in so frail a body. Adauctus, Aurelius, and other Christian
confessors condemned to death, made up the little contingent of the
noble army of martyrs.

The prefect Naso, from his place in the tribune, near the Emperors, read
the sentence of the court, that the accused having been proven by ample
testimony to be the enemies of the Cæsars and of the gods, had been
condemned to death by exposure to wild beasts.

"Nay, not the enemies of the Cæsars," exclaimed the aged Demetrius. "We
are the friends of all, the enemies of none.[50] We pray for the Cæsars
at all our assemblies."

"Will you do homage to the gods?" demanded Diocletian. "Will you burn
incense to Neptune? Here is his altar and here are his priests."

"We worship the true God who made the heavens and the earth, the sea and
all that in them is," replied the venerable man, with uplifted and
reverent countenance, "and Him only will we serve. They be no gods which
are made by man's device, and 'tis idolatry to serve them."

"Away with the Atheists," cried the priests of Neptune; "they blaspheme
the holy gods."

"The Christians to the lions!" roared the mob, and at the signal from
the Emperor to the master of the games, the dens of the wild beasts were
thrown open, and the savage brutes, starved into madness, bounded into
the arena. The defenceless martyrs fell upon their knees in prayer, and
seemed conscious only of the presence of Him who stood with the three
Hebrews in the fiery furnace, so rapt was the expression of faith and
courage on their upturned faces.

The fierce Numidian lions, and tigers from the Libyan desert, instead of
bounding upon their prey, began to circle slowly around them, lashing
their tawny flanks meanwhile, glaring at their victims from bloodshot
fiery eyes, and uttering horrid growls.

At this moment a loud shout was heard, and a soldier, clad in burnished
mail, and with his drawn sword in his hand, one of the body guards of
the Emperors, leaped from the tribune and bounded with clashing armour
into the arena. Striding across the sand, he hurled aside his iron
helmet and his sword, and flung himself at the feet of the aged priest,
with the words:--

"Father, your blessing; Callirhoë, your parting kiss. I, too, am a
Christian. Long time have I sought you, alas! only to find you thus. But
gladly will I die with you, and, separated in life, we are united in
death and forever."

"_Nunc dimittis, Domine!_" exclaimed the old man, raising his eyes to
heaven. "'Now, Lord, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.'" And he
laid his hands in blessing on the head of his long-lost son.

"Ezra, my brother!" exclaimed Callirhoë, folding him in her arms. "To
think we were so near, yet knew not of each other. Thank God, we go to
heaven together; and, long divided on earth, we shall soon, with our
beloved mother, be a united family forever in the skies. 'And God shall
wipe away all tears from our eyes; and there shall be no more death,
neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.'"

"Amen! even so, come, Lord Jesus!" spake the young soldier, as he
enfolded, as if in a sheltering embrace, the gray-haired sire and the
fair-faced girl.

The utmost consternation was exhibited on the countenance of the old
Emperor Diocletian. "What! have we Christians and traitors even in our
body guard? Our very life is at the mercy of those wretches!"

"I would feel safer with them," said the more stoical or more courageous
Galerius, "than with the _delators_ and informers who betray them," and
he glanced with mingled contempt and aversion at Naso, the prefect, and
Furca, the priest. "When a Christian gives his word, 'tis sacred as all
the oaths of Hecate. I want no better soldiers than those of the
Thundering Legion."[51]

Meanwhile the wild beasts, startled for a moment by the sudden
apparition of the mail-clad soldier, seemed roused thereby to ten-fold
fury. Crouching stealthily for the fatal spring, they bounded upon their
prey, and in a moment crashing bones and streaming gore appeased the
growing impatience of the cruel mob, who seemed, like the very wild
beasts, to hunger and thirst for human flesh and blood.

We dwell not on the painful spectacle. The gallant young soldier was the
first to die. The brave girl, with a gesture of maiden modesty, drew her
dishevelled robe about her person, and with a queenly dignity awaited
the wild beast's fatal spring. She was mercifully spared the spectacle
of her father's dying agony. Her over-strung nerves gave way, and she
fell in a swoon upon the sands. Demetrius met his fate praying upon his
knees. Like Stephen, he gazed steadfastly up into heaven, and the
fashion of his countenance was suddenly transfigured as he exclaimed:
"Lord Jesus! Rachel, my beloved! we come, we come." And above the roar
of the ribald mob and the growl of the savage beasts, fell sweetly on
his inner ear the song of the redeemed, and burst upon his sight the
beatific vision of the Lord he loved, and for whom he gladly died.

So, too, like brave men, victorious o'er their latest foe, Adauctus,
Aurelius, and the others calmly met their fate. When all the rest were
slain, a lordly lion approached the prostrate form of Callirhoë, but she
was already dead. She had passed from her swoon, without a pang, to the
marriage supper of the Lamb--to the presence of the Celestial
Bridegroom--the fairest among ten thousand, the one altogether
lovely--to whom the homage of her young heart had been fully given. She
was spared, too, the indignity, of being mangled by the lion's jaws.
When the king of beasts found that she was already dead, he raised his
massy head, gave a mournful howl, and strode haughtily away.

In the great gallery of Doré paintings at London, is one of this Flavian
Amphitheatre after a human sacrifice such as we have described. There
lie the mangled forms upon the gory and trampled sands. The sated wild
beasts prowl listlessly over the arena. The circling seats rise tier
above tier, empty and desolate. But poised in air, with outspread wings,
above the slain, with a countenance of light and a palm of victory, is a
majestic angel; and sweeping upward in serried ranks, amid the shining
stars, is a cloud of bright-winged angels, the convoy of the martyrs'
spirits to the skies. So, doubtless, God sent a cohort of sworded
seraphim to bear the martyrs of our story blessed company, and to sweep
with them through the gates into the city.

FOOTNOTES:

[50] This famous phrase dates from the time of Tertullian, in the 3rd
century, and is also recorded in the Catacombs.

[51] The _Legio Tonans_, tradition affirms, was a legion composed wholly
of Christians, whose prayers in a time of drought brought on a violent
thunder-storm, which confounded the enemy and saved the army.



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE MARTYRS BURIED.


Darker and darker grew the shadows of night over the great empty and
desolate amphitheatre, but a few hours before clamorous with the shouts
and din of the tumultuous mob. The silence seemed preternatural, and a
solemn awfulness seemed to invest the shrouded forms which lay upon the
sand. By a merciful provision of the Roman law, it made not war upon the
dead, and the bodies even of criminals were given up to their friends,
if they had any, that they might not be deprived of funeral rites.
Having wreaked his cruel rage upon the living body, the pagan
magistrate at least did not deny the privilege of burial to the
martyrs' mutilated remains. It was esteemed by the primitive believers
as much an honour as a duty, to ensepulchre with Christian rites the
remains of the sacred dead.[52]

Faustus, the faithful freedman of Adauctus, Hilarus, the fossor, and the
servants of the Christian matron, Marcella, came at the fall of night to
bear away the bodies of the martyrs to their final resting-place in the
silent Catacomb. The service was not devoid of danger, for vile
informers prowled around seeking to discover and betray whomsoever would
pay the rites of sepulture to the remains of the Christian martyrs. But
there are golden keys which will unlock any doors and seal any lips, and
Marcella spared not her wealth in this sacred service.

On the present occasion, too, special facility was given for carrying
out this pious purpose. Through the influence of the Empress Valeria,
Hilarus, the fossor, was enabled to show to the chief custodian of the
amphitheatre an authorization under the hand of Galerius for removing
the bodies of the "criminals who had paid the penalty of the law"--so
ran the rescript.

Beneath the cliff-like shadow of the Coliseum gathered this little
Christian company. The iron gates opened their ponderous jaws. By the
fitful flare of a torch weirdly lighting up the vaulted arches, with
gentle and reverent hands, as though the cold clay could still feel
their lightest touch, the bodies of the dead were laid upon the biers.
Through the silent streets, devout men in silence bore the martyrs to
their burial. Through the Porta Capena, which opened to the magic spell
of the Emperor's order; through the silent "Street of Tombs," still
lined with the monuments of Rome's mighty dead, wended slowly the solemn
procession. There was no wailing of the pagan _nænia_ or funeral dirge,
neither was there the chanting of the Christian hymn. But in silence, or
with only whispered utterance, they reached the door of the private
grounds of the Villa Marcella.

First the bodies were borne to the villa, where, by loving hands, the
stains of dust and blood were washed away. Then, robed in white and
bestrewn with flowers, they were placed on the biers in the marble
atriun. Again the good presbyter Primitius read the words of life as at
the burial of Lucius, the martyr,[53] and vows and prayers were offered
up to God.

While this solemn service was in progress, a lady, deeply-veiled, was
seen to be agitated by violent grief. Convulsive sobs shook her frame,
and her tears fell fast. When the forms of the martyrs were uncovered,
that their friends might take their last farewell, the Empress Valeria,
for it was she, flung herself on her knees beside the body of the late
slave maiden, and rained tears of deep emotion on her face. More lovely
in death than in life, the fine-cut features seemed like the most
exquisite work of the sculptor carved in translucent alabaster. A crown
of asphodel blossoms the emblems of immortality--encircled her brow, and
a palm branch--the symbol of the martyr's victory--was placed upon her
breast.

"Give her an honoured place among the holy dead," said the Empress, amid
her sobs, to the venerable Primitius.

"I have given orders," said the Lady Marcella, "that she, with her
father and brother, shall sleep side by side in the chamber prepared as
the last resting-place for my own family. We shall count it a precious
privilege, in God's own good time, to be laid to rest near the dust of
His holy confessors and martyrs."

"Aurelius shall share the tomb," said Hilarus, the fossor, "which he
made for himself while yet alive, beside his noble wife, Aurelia
Theudosia."

"Be it mine to honour with a memorial tablet the remains of my good
master Adauctus," said Faustus, the freedman, with deep emotion.[54]

"It shall be my privilege," said the Empress, "to provide for my beloved
handmaiden, as a mark of the great love I bore her, a memorial of her
saintly virtues; and let her bear my name in death as in life, so that
those who read her epitaph may know she was the freedwoman and friend of
an unhappy Empress."

The Empress Valeria now retired, and with her trusty escort, returned
to the city.

With psalms and hymns, and the solemn chanting of such versicles as:
_"Convertere anima mea, in requiem tuam"_--"Return unto thy rest, O my
soul;" and _"Si ambulavero in medio umbræ mortis, non timebo
mala"_--"Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I
shall fear no evil," the funeral procession wound its way, by gleaming
torchlight, through the cypress glades of the garden to the entrance of
the Catacomb of Callixtus. Here additional torches and tapers were
lighted, and carefully the sacred burdens were carried down the long and
narrow stair, and through the intricate passages to the family vault of
the Lady Marcella.

[Illustration: SUBTERRANEAN ORATORY, CATACOMB OF CALLIXTUS.]

This vault was one of unusual size and loftiness, and had been
especially prepared for holding religious service during the outbreak of
persecution. Marcella held the office of deaconess in the Christian
Church, and when even the privacy of her own house was not a sufficient
safeguard against the prying of pagan spies, she was wont to retire to
the deeper seclusion of this subterranean place of prayer. On each side
of the door were seats hewn in the solid rock, one for the deaconess,
the other for the female catechist who shared her pious labours. Around
the wall was a low stone seat for the female catechumens, for the most
part members of her own household, who here received religious
instruction. The accompanying engraving indicates the appearance of this
ancient oratory or class-room, its main features unchanged, although the
lapse of centuries has somewhat marred its structure and defaced its
beauty.

With solemn rites and prayers the remains of the martyrs were consigned
to their last long resting-place. Amid the sobs and tears of the
mourners, the good presbyter Primitius paid a loving tribute to their
holy lives and heroic death--all the more thrilling because they
themselves stood in jeopardy every hour. In the presence of the martyred
dead the venerable pastor then broke the bread and poured the wine of
the Last Supper of the Lord, and the little company of worshippers
seemed united in still closer fellowship with those who now kept the
sacred feast in the kingdom of their common Father and God.

Before they left the chamber, Hilarus, after he had hermetically sealed
the tombs of Demetrius and Ezra, his son, cemented with plaster a marble
slab against the opening of that on which was laid--rude couch for form
so fair--the body of the chief subject of our "ower true tale." As it
was designed to be but a temporary memorial of the virgin martyr, until
the costly epitaph which the Empress was to provide should be ready, he
took the little pot of pigment which he had brought for the purpose, and
with his brush in, scribed the brief sentence:--

VALERIA DORMIT IN PACE.
ANIMA DULCIS, INNOCVA, SAPIENS ET PVLCHP IN XRO.
QVI VIXIT ANNOS XVIII. EN. V. DIES X.

"Valeria sleeps in peace. A sweet spirit guileless, wise, beautiful in
Christ. She lived eighteen years, five months, ten days."

[Illustration: "VALERIA SLEEPS IN PEACE."]

Alas! the time never came when that costly memorial should be reared.
The violence of persecution soon drove the Empress herself an exile from
her home, and when the storm rolled away there was none left to carry
out her pious wish. Through the long centuries that humble epitaph was
all the memorial of one of the noblest, sweetest, bravest souls that
ever lived. And even that rude slab was not destined always to cover her
remains. After the re-discovery of the Catacombs in the sixteenth
century, many of their tombs were pillaged for relics, or in the vain
search for treasure. By some ruthless rifler of the grave this very
slab was shivered, and the lower part of the epitaph destroyed; and
there upon its rocky bed, on which it had reposed for well-nigh fifteen
hundred years, lay in mouldering dust the remains of the maiden martyr,
Valeria Callirhoë. Verily _Pulvis et umbra sumus_!

Primitius and Hilarus, with the little company of devout men who bore
the martyrs to their burial, now proceeded to the entombment, in a
neighbouring crypt, of the bodies of Adauctus and Aurelius. As they
advanced through the dark corridors, but dimly lighted by their tapers'
feeble rays, the silence of that under-world seemed almost appalling.
Black shadows crouched around, and their footsteps echoed strangely down
the distant passages, dying gradually away in this vast valley of the
shadow of death. Almost in silence their sacred task was completed, and
they softly sang a funeral hymn before they turned to leave their
martyred brethren to their last long sleep.

Suddenly there was heard the tumultuous "tramp, tramp," as of armed men.
Then the clang of iron mail and bronze cuirass resounded through the
vaulted corridors. The glare of torches was seen at the end of a long
arched passage, and the sharp, swift word of military command rang out
stern and clear.

"Forward! Seize the caitiffs! Let not one escape! Slay if they resist!"
and a rush was made to the chamber where the notes of the Christian
psalm had but now died away.

"Out with your lights!" exclaimed, in a muffled tone, Hilarus, the
fossor. "Follow me as closely and as quietly as you can. Good Father
Primitius, your arm. By God's help we will disappoint those hunters of
men of their anticipated prey."

"Or join our brethren in martyrdom, as is His will," devoutly added
Primitius. "He doeth all things well."

But we must go back a little to learn the cause and means of this armed
invasion of the Catacombs.

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[52] See Eusebius, Hist. Eccl, vii., 16 and 22. Eutychianus, a Roman
Christian, is recorded to have buried three hundred and forty-two
martyrs with his own hands.

[53] See Chapter VI.

[54] Through the long lapse of ages this memorial has been preserved,
and may still be read in Grater's great collection of ancient
inscriptions. It is also referred to in Gibbon. In the epitaph occur the
following fine lines:

INTEMERATA FIDE CONTEMPTO PRINCIPE MVNDI CONFESSVS XRM CAELESTIA REGNA
PETISTI.

"With unfaltering faith, despising the lord of the world, having
confessed Christ, thou dost seek the celestial realms."



CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE BETRAYAL--THE PURSUIT.


When the unhappy Isidorus discovered that through his cowardice and
tergiversation, and through the confessions extorted from his
distempered mind, a criminal charge had been trumped up against the fair
Callirhoë, whose beauty and grace had touched his susceptible
imagination, he was almost beside himself with rage and remorse. He
protested to the Prefect Naso and his disreputable son, Calphurnius,
that she was as innocent as an unweaned babe of the monstrous crime
alleged against her--that of conspiracy to poison her beloved mistress.

"Accursed be the day," cried the wretched Isidorus, clenching his hands
till his nails pierced the flesh, "accursed be the day when I first came
to your horrid den to betray innocent blood. Would I had perished e'er
it dawned."

"Hark you, my friend," said Naso, "do you remember by what means you
promised to earn the good red gold with which I bought you?"

"Do not remind me of my shame in becoming a spy upon the Christians,"
cried the Greek with a look of self-loathing and abhorrence.

"Nay; 'by becoming one yourself,' that was the phrase as I wrote it on
my tablets," sneered the prefect.

"Would that I could become one!" exclaimed the unhappy man.

"Suppose I take you at your word and believe you are one?" queried Naso
with a malignant leer.

"What new wickedness is this you have in your mind?" asked the Greek.

"How would you like to share the doom of your friends, the old Jew and
his pretty daughter, who are to be thrown to the lions to-day," went on
the remorseless man, toying with his victim like a tiger with its prey.

"Gladly, were I but worthy," said the Greek. "Had I their holy hopes, I
would rejoice to bear them company."

"But don't you see," said Naso, "a word of mine would send you to the
arena, whether you like it or not? Your neck is in the noose, my
handsome youth, and I do not think, with all your dexterity, you can
wriggle out of it."

"Oh! any fate but that!" cried the Greek, writhing in anguish. "Let me
die as a felon, a conspirator, an assassin, if you will; but not by the
doom of the martyrs."

"Well, you see," went on the prefect, "justice is meted out to the
Christians so much more swiftly and certainly than even against the
worst of felons, that I am tempted to take this plan to secure you your
deserts."

The craven-spirited Greek, to whom the very idea of death was torture,
blanched with terror and stood speechless, his tongue literally cleaving
to the roof of his mouth.

When the prefect perceived that he was sufficiently unnerved for his
final experiment he unveiled his diabolical purpose.

"Hark you, my friend," he whispered or rather hissed into his ear, "you
may do the State, yourself, and me a service, that will procure you life
and liberty and fortune. You know the way to the secret assemblies of
the accursed Christian sect; lead hither a maniple of soldiers and your
fortune's made."

"Tempter, begone!" exclaimed the Greek in a moment of virtuous
indignation, "you would make me worse than Judas whom the Christians
execrate as the betrayer of his Master whom they worship."

"As you please, my dainty youth," answered Naso, with his characteristic
gesture of clutching his sword. "Prepare to feed the lions on the
morrow," and he consigned him to a cell in the vaults of the Coliseum.

Very different was the night spent by this craven soul to that of the
destined martyrs. The darkness, to his distempered imagination, seemed
full of accusing eyes, which glared reproach and vengeance upon him. The
hungry lions' roar smote his soul with fearful apprehensions. When the
savage bounds of the wild beasts shook his cell he cowered upon the
ground, the picture of abject misery and despair.

When by these mental tortures his nerves were all unstrung, the arch
tempter silently entered his cell and whispered in his ear, "Well, my
dainty Greek, are you ready for the games?"

"Save me! save me!" cried the unhappy man, "any death but that! I will
do anything to escape such a fearful doom."

"I thought you would come to terms," replied the prefect, well skilled
in the cruel arts of his office. "Life is sweet. Here is gold. By the
service I require you shall earn liberty," and the compact was sealed
whereby the Greek was to betray the subterranean hiding-places of the
Christians to their enemies.

Hence it was that at the dead of night, a band of Roman soldiers,
reckless ruffians trained to slaughter in many a bloody war, marched
under cover of darkness along the Appian Way to the villa of the Lady
Marcella. It was the work of a moment to force the door of the vineyard
and they soon reached the entrance to the Catacomb.

"It is like a badger's burrow," said the officer in command. "We will
soon bag our game, Here the old priest has his lair. Secure him at any
cost. He is worth a score of the meaner vermin."

Lighting their torches they inarched on their devious way under the
guidance of Isidorus, who had written on a rude chart the number of
turns to be made to the right or left. With Roman military foresight,
the officer marked with chalk the route they took, and fixed
occasionally a torch in the niches in the wall.

Soon the soft, low cadence of the funeral hymn was heard, stealing
weirdly on the ear, and a faint light glimmered from the chamber in
which the Christians were paying the last rites to their martyred
brethren.

"They are at their incantations now," said the Centurion. "'Tis a fit
place for their abominable orgies. Let us hasten, and we will spoil
their wicked spells!" and he gave the command, at which the soldiers
rushed forward toward the distant light.

Instantly it disappeared, and when they reached the spot naught was
seen, save the tomb of Adauctus; and in the distant darkness was heard
the sound of hurrying feet.

"The rats have fled," cried the officer; "after them, ferrets! Let not
one escape!" and at the head of the maniple he darted down the echoing
corridor.

But Hilarus guided his friends amid the darkness more swiftly than the
soldiers could pursue by the light of their torches. He followed many a
devious winding, especially contrived to frustrate capture, and
facilitate escape. Threading a very narrow passage, he drew from a niche
a wooden ladder, and placing it against the wall reached a stairway
which began high up near the roof. The whole party followed, and
Hilarus, drawing up the ladder after him, completely cut off pursuit.
They soon reached the comparatively lofty vaults of a deserted
_arenarium_, or sand pit, which communicated with the open air. As he
stood with bared brow beneath the light of the silent stars, the good
Presbyter Primitius devoutly exclaimed:--"_Anima nostra sicut passer
erepta est de lagueo venantium_--Our soul is escaped as a bird out the
snare of the fowler, the snare is broken and we are escaped."

The writer has not drawn upon his imagination in describing the
arrangements for escape made by the persecuted Christians, when taking
refuge in these dens and caves of the earth. In this very Catacomb of
Callixtus, such a secret stairway still exists, and is illustrated by
drawings in his book on this subject. The main entrance was completely
obstructed and the stairway partially destroyed, so as to prevent
ingress to the Catacomb, and a narrow stairway was constructed in the
roof which could only be reached by a moveable ladder, connecting it
with the floor. By drawing up this ladder pursuit could be easily cut
off, and escape to a neighbouring _arenarium_ secured. Stores of corn,
and oil, and wine have been found in these crypts, evidently as a
provision in time of persecution; frequent wells also occur, amply
sufficient for the supply of water; and the multitude of lamps which
have been found would dispel the darkness, while their sudden extinction
would prove the best concealment from attack by their enemies. Hence the
Christians were stigmatized as a skulking, darkness-loving race,[55] who
fled the light of day to burrow like moles in the earth. These
labyrinths were admirably adapted for eluding pursuit. Familiar with
their intricacies, and following a well-known clew, the Christian could
plunge fearlessly into the darkness, where his pursuer would soon be
inextricably lost.

Such hairbreadth escapes as we have described from the Roman soldiers,
like sleuth hounds tracking their prey, must have been no uncommon
events in those troublous times. But sometimes the Christians were
surprised at their devotions, and their refuge became their sepulchre.
Such was the tragic fate of Stephen, slain even while ministering at the
altar; such the event described by Gregory of Tours, when a hecatomb of
victims were immolated at once by heathen hate; such the peril which
wrung from a stricken heart the cry, not of anger but of grief, recorded
on a slab in the Catacombs: _Tempora infausta, quibus inter sacra et
vota ne in cavernis quidem salvari possimus!_--"Oh! sad times in which,
among sacred rites and prayers, even in caverns, we are not safe." It
requires no great effort of imagination to conceive of the dangers and
escapes which must have been frequent episodes in the heroic lives of
the early soldiers of the cross.

With what emotions must the primitive believers, seeking refuge in these
crypts, have held their solemn worship and heard the words of life,
surrounded by the dead in Christ! With what power would come the
promise of the resurrection of the body, amid the crumbling relics of
mortality! How fervent their prayers for their companions in
tribulation, when they themselves stood in jeopardy every hour! Their
holy ambition was to witness a good confession even unto death. They
burned to emulate the zeal of the martyrs of the faith, the plumeless
heroes of a nobler chivalry than that of arms, the Christian athletes
who won in the bloody conflicts of the arena, or amid the fiery tortures
of the stake, not a crown of laurel or of bay, but a crown of life,
starry and unwithering, that can never pass away. Their humble graves
are grander monuments than the trophied tombs of Rome's proud conquerors
upon the Appian Way. Reverently may we mention their names. Lightly may
we tread beside their ashes.

Though the bodily presence of those conscripts of the tomb no longer
walked among men, their intrepid spirit animated the heart of each
member of that little community of persecuted Christians, "of whom the
world was not worthy; who wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in
dens and caves of the earth, ... being destitute, afflicted,
tormented."[56]

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[55] Latebrosa et lucifugax natio. _Minuc. Felix._

[56] Compare the following spirited lines of Bernis:--
    "La terre avail gemi sous le fer des tyrans;
    Elle cachait encore des martyrs expirans,
    Qui dans les noirs detours des grottes reculees
    Derobaient aux bourreaux leurs tetes mutilees."
         _Poeme de la Religion Vengee,_ chap. viii.



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE DOOM OF THE TRAITOR


But what, meantime, had become of the pursuers? Baffled in their effort
to seize their prey, and fearful of losing their way in this tangled
labyrinth they had sullenly retreated, tracing their steps by the
chalk-marks they had made upon the walls. At last, they returned to the
stairway by which they had entered and so found their way above ground.

"This is no work for soldiers," muttered the disgusted officer, "hunting
these rats through their underground runs. They are a skulking set of
vermin."

"What has become of that coward Greek?" asked the second in command. "He
didn't seem to half like the job."

"Is he not here? Then he must have made his escape," said the Centurion.
"But if he is caught in that rat-trap, there let him stay. I'll not risk
a Roman soldier's life to save a craven Greek," and he gave the command
to march back to the city.

Meanwhile, how fares it with the unhappy Isidorus?

When the soldiers caught sight of the Christians and began their
pursuit, he had no heart to join in it, and lingered in the vaulted
chamber where the funeral rites had been interrupted. The first thing
that caught his eye was the epitaph of the noble Adauctus. With
quavering voice he read the lines we have already given: "With
unfaltering faith, despising the lord of the world, having confessed
Christ, thou dids't seek the celestial realms."

"And this was he," he soliloquised, "who gave up name, and fame, and
fortune, high office, and the favour of the Emperor, and embraced shame,
and persecution, and a cruel death for conscience sake. How grand he
was that day when I warned him of the machinations of his foes--so
undaunted and calm. But grander he is as he lies in the majesty of death
behind that slab. I felt myself a coward in his living presence then,
but in the presence of this dead map, I feel a greater coward still. His
memory haunts, it tortures me, I must away!" and turning from, the
chamber, he wandered by the dim light of his taper down the grave-lined
corridor, pausing at times to read their humble inscriptions:--

    Rudely written, but each letter
    Full of hope, and yet of heart-break,
    Full of all the tender pathos
    Of the here and the hereafter.

And their calmness and peacefulness seemed to reproach his
conscience-smitten and unrestful soul.

Listlessly he turned into another chamber, when, what was it that met
his startled vision!--

VALERIA DORMIT IN PACE.

There slept in the sleep of death another victim of his perfidy, one
whom he had longed to save, one whose beauty had fascinated his
imagination, whose goodness had touched his heart. Overcome by his
emotion he flung himself on the ground, and bursting into convulsive
sobs that shook his frame, he passionately kissed the cold stone slab
on which was written the much-loved name.

"Would that I, too, slept the sleep of death," he exclaimed; "if I might
also sleep in peace; if I might seek celestial realms.... So near and
yet so far ... A great gulf fixed ... Never to see thee more ... in time
nor in eternity."

Here the drip, drip of water which had infiltrated through the roof and
fell upon the floor, jarred upon his excited nerves, and suddenly, with
a hissing splash, fell a great drop on his taper and utterly
extinguished its light. For a moment, so intense and sudden was the
darkness, he was almost dazed; but instantly the greatness of his peril
flashed upon his mind.

"Lost! Lost!" he frantically shrieked. "The outer darkness, the eternal
wailing while she is in the light of life! Well I remember now the words
of Primitius, in this very vault, as he spoke of the joys of heaven, the
pains of hell;" and in the darkness he tried to trace with his finger
the words, "DORMIT IN PACE"--"Sleeps in peace."

_"Vale! Vale! Eternum Vale!"_ he sobbed, as he kissed once more the
marble slab, "an everlasting farewell! I must try to find the
Christians, or the soldiers, or a way of escape from this prison-house
of graves."

He groped his way to the door of the vault and listened, oh! so
eagerly--all the faculties of his body and mind seeming concentered in
his sense of hearing. But "the darkness gave no token and the silence
was unbroken." Nay, so awful was the stillness that brooded over this
valley of death, that it seemed as if the motion of the earth on its
axis must be audible, and the pulses of his temples were to his tortured
ear like the roaring of the distant sea.

Venturing forth, he groped his way from grave to grave, from vault to
vault, from corridor to corridor, but no light, no sound, no hope! Ever
denser seemed the darkness, ever deeper the silence, ever more appalling
the gloom. For hours he wandered on and on till, faint with hunger,
parched with thirst, the throbbings, of his heart shaking his unnerved
frame, he fell into a merciful swoon from which he never awoke.
Centuries after, an explorer of this vast necropolis found crouching in
the corner of one of its chambers a fleshless skeleton, and on the tomb
above he read the words, VALERIA DORMIT IN PACE. Was it accident or
Providence, or some strange instinct of locality that had brought this
poor blighted wreck to breathe his latest sigh at the tomb of one whom
he had so loved and so wronged?

The peasants of the Campagna tell to the present day of certain strange
sounds heard at midnight from those hollow vaults--at times like the
hooting of an owl, at times like the wailing of the wind, and at times,
they whisper with bated breath, like the moaning of a soul in pain. And
the guides to the Catacombs aver, that ever on the anniversary of the
martyrdom of Valeria Callirhoë, sighs and groans echo through the hollow
vaults--the sighs and groans, tradition whispers, of a wretched apostate
who in the ages of persecution betrayed the early Christians to a
martyr's doom.

[Illustration: ROMAN COLUMRARIUM

The Columbaria were the Pagan Roman underground sepulchres. In the many
niche-like dovecots--hence the name were placed the urns containing the
ashes of the dead whose bodies had been burned on the funeral pile.]

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XXX.

FATE OF THE PERSECUTORS--TRIUMPH OF CHRISTIANITY.


It remains only to trace briefly the fate of the unfortunate Empress
Valeria--less happy than her lowly namesake, the martyr of the
Catacombs--and the doom of the persecuting tyrants. In the violent and
bloody deaths, often more terrible than those which they inflicted on
the Christians, which overtook, with scarce an exception, these enemies
of the Church of God, the early believers recognized a divine
retribution no less inexorable than the avenging Nemesis of the Pagan
mythology.[56]

Diocletian, smitten by a mental malady, abandoned the throne of the
world for the solitude of his palace on the Illyrian shores of the
Adriatic, where tradition avers that he died by his own hand.

A still more dreadful doom befell the fierce persecutor, Galerius.
Consumed by the same loathsome and incurable disease which is recorded
to have smitten his great rivals in bloodshed, Herod the Great and
Philip II., from his dying couch he implored the prayers of the
Christians, and, stung by remorse for his cruelties, commanded the
surcease of their long and bitter persecution.

The Empress Valeria, his widow, by her beauty had the ill fortune to
attract the regards of his successor in persecution, the Emperor
Maximin. Spurning his suit with the scorn becoming a pure and
high-souled woman, at once the daughter and widow of an Emperor, she
encountered his deadly hate. Her estates were confiscated, her trusted
servants tortured, and her dearest friends put to death.

"The Empress herself," says Gibbon, "together with her mother, Prisca,
was condemned to exile; and as they were ignominiously hurried from
place to place, before they were confined to a sequestered village in
the deserts of Syria, they exposed their shame and distress to the
provinces of the East, which during thirty years, had respected their
august dignity." On the death of Maximin, Valeria escaped from exile and
repaired in disguise to the court of his successor, Licinius, hoping for
more humane treatment. But these hopes, to use again the language of
Gibbon, "were soon succeeded by horror and astonishment, and the bloody
execution which stained the palace of Nicomedia sufficiently convinced
her that the throne of Maximin was filled by a tyrant more inhuman than
himself. Valeria consulted her safety by hasty flight, and, still
accompanied by her mother Prisca, they wandered above fifteen months
through the provinces in the disguise of plebeian habits. They were at
length discovered at Thessalonica; and as the sentence of their death
was already pronounced, they were immediately beheaded and their bodies
thrown into the sea. The people gazed on the melancholy spectacle; but
their grief and indignation were suppressed by the terrors of a military
guard. Such was the unworthy fate of the wife and daughter of
Diocletian. We lament their misfortunes, we cannot discover their
crimes."[58]

At length, on the triumph of the British-born Emperor, Constantine, over
his rivals for the throne of the world, like the trump of Jubilee, the
edict of the toleration of Christianity, pealed through the land. It
penetrated the gloomy dungeon, the darksome mine, the Catacombs' dim
labyrinth, and from their sombre depths, vast processions of "noble
wrestlers for religion," thronged to the long-forsaken churches, with
grateful songs of praise to God.

Christianity, after long repression, became at length triumphant. It
emerged from the concealment of the Catacombs to the sunshine of
imperial favour. Constantine, himself, proclaimed to eager thousands the
New Evangel--the most august lay preacher the Church has ever known. The
legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus strikingly illustrates the
wondrous transformation of society. These Christian brothers, taking
shelter in a cave during the Decian persecution, awoke, according to the
legend, after a slumber of over a century, to find Christianity
everywhere dominant, and a Christian Emperor on the throne of the
Cæsars.[59] The doctrines of Christ, like the rays of the sun, quickly
irradiated the world. With choirs and hymns, in cities and villages, in
the highways and markets, the praises of the Almighty were sung. The
enemies of God were as though they had not been.[60] The Lord brought up
the vine of Christianity from a far country, and cast out the heathen,
and planted and watered it, till it twined round the sceptre of the
Cæsars, wreathed the columns of the Capitol, and filled the whole land.
The heathen fanes were deserted, the gods discrowned, and the pagan
flamen no longer offered sacrifice to the Capitoline Jove, Rome, which
had dragged so many conquered deities in triumph at its chariot wheels,
at length yielded to a mightier than all the gods of Olympus. The old
faiths faded from the firmament of human thought as the stars of
midnight at the dawn of day. The banished deities forsook their ancient
seats. They walked no longer in the vale of Tempe nor in the grove of
Daphne. The naiads bathed not in Scamander's stream nor Simois, nor the
nereids in the waters of the bright Ægean Sea. The nymphs and dryads
ceased to haunt the sylvan solitudes. The oriads walked no more in light
on Ida's lofty top.

    O ye vain false gods of Hellas!
    Ye are vanished evermore!

Long before the recognition of Christianity as the religion of the
empire, its influence had been felt permeating the entire community.
Amid the disintegration of society it was the sole conservative
element--the salt which preserved it from corruption. In the midst of
anarchy and confusion a community was being organized on a principle
previously unknown in the heathen world, ruling not by terror but by
love; by moral power, not by physical force; inspired by lofty faith
amid a world of unbelief, and cultivating moral purity amid the reeking
abominations of a sensual age.

We should do scant justice to the blameless character, simple dignity,
and moral purity of the primitive Christians, if we forgot the
thoroughly effete and corrupt society by which they were surrounded. It
would seem almost impossible for the Christian graces to grow in such a
foetid atmosphere. Like the snow-white lily springing in virgin purity
from the muddy ooze, they are more lovely by contrast with the
surrounding pollutions. Like flowers that deck a sepulchre, breathing
their fragrance amid scenes of corruption and death, are these holy
characters, fragrant with the breath of heaven amid the social
rottenness and moral death of their foul environment.

It is difficult to imagine, and impossible to portray, the abominable
pollutions of the times. "Society," says Gibbon, "was a rotten, aimless
chaos of sensuality." It was a boiling Acheron of seething passions,
unhallowed lusts, and tiger thirst for blood, such as never provoked
the wrath of Heaven since God drowned the world with water, or destroyed
the Cities of the Plain by fire. Only those who have visited the secret
museum of Naples, or that house which no woman may enter at Pompeii, and
whose paintings no pen may describe; or, who are familiar with the
scathing denunciations of popular vices by the Roman satirists and
moralists and by the Christian Fathers, can conceive the appalling
depravity of the age and nation. St. Paul, in his epistle to the Church
among this very people, hints at some features of their exceeding
wickedness. It was to shame even to speak of the things which were done
by them, but which gifted poets employed their wit to celebrate. A
brutalized monster was deified as God, received divine homage,[61] and
beheld all the world at his feet, and the nations trembled at his nod,
while the multitude wallowed in a sty of sensuality.

Christianity was to be the new Hercules to cleanse this worse than
Augean pollution. The pure morals and holy lives of the believers were a
perpetual testimony against abounding iniquity, and a living proof of
the regenerating power and transforming grace of God. For they
themselves, as one of their apologists asserts, "had been reclaimed
from ten thousand vices;" and the Apostle, describing some of the vilest
characters, exclaims, "such were some of you, but ye are washed, ye are
sanctified." They recoiled with the utmost abhorrence from the
pollutions of the age, and became indeed "the salt of the earth," the
sole moral antiseptic to prevent the total disintegration of society.

Thus amid idolatrous usages and unspeakable moral degradation the
Christians lived, a holy nation, a peculiar people. "We alone are
without crime," says Tertullian; "no Christian suffers but for his
religion." "Your prisons are full," says Minutius Felix, "but they
contain not one Christian." And these holy lives were an argument which
even the heathen could not gainsay. The ethics of paganism were the
speculations of the cultivated few who aspired to the character of
philosophers. The ethics of Christianity were a system of practical duty
affecting the daily life of the most lowly and unlettered. "Philosophy,"
says Lecky, "may dignify, but is impotent to regenerate man; it may
cultivate virtue, but cannot restrain vice." But Christianity introduced
a new sense of sin and of holiness, of everlasting reward and of endless
condemnation. It planted a sublime, impassioned love of Christ in the
heart, inflaming all its affections. It transformed the character from
icy stoicism or epicurean selfishness to a boundless and uncalculating
self-abnegation and devotion.

This divine principle developed a new instinct of philanthropy in the
soul. A feeling of common brotherhood knit the hearts of the believers
together. To love a slave! to love an enemy! was accounted the
impossible among the heathen; yet this incredible virtue they beheld
every day among the Christians. "This surprised them beyond measure,"
says Tertullian, "that one man should die for another." Hence, in the
Christian inscriptions no word of bitterness, even toward their
persecutors, is to be found. Sweet peace, the peace of God that passeth
all understanding, breathes on every side.

One of the most striking results of the new spirit of philanthropy which
Christianity introduced is seen in the copious charity of the primitive
Church. Amid the ruins of ancient palaces and temples, theatres and
baths, there are none of any house of mercy. Charity among the pagans,
was at best, a fitful and capricious fancy. Among the Christians it was
a vast and vigorous organization and was cultivated with noble
enthusiasm. And the great and wicked city of Rome, with its fierce
oppressions and inhuman wrongs, afforded amplest opportunity for the
Christ-like ministrations of love and pity. There were Christian slaves
to succour, exposed to unutterable indignities and cruel punishment,
even unto crucifixion for conscience' sake. There were often martyrs'
pangs to assuage, the aching wounds inflicted by the rack or by the
nameless tortures of the heathen to bind up, and their bruised and
broken hearts to cheer with heavenly consolation. There were outcast
babes to pluck from death. There were a thousand forms of suffering and
sorrow to relieve; and the ever-present thought of Him who came, not to
be ministered unto, but to minister and to give His life a ransom for
many, was an inspiration to heroic sacrifice and self-denial. And
doubtless the religion of mercy won its way to many a stony pagan heart
by the winsome spell of the saintly charities and heavenly benedictions
of the persecuted Christians. This sublime principle has since covered
the earth with its institutions of mercy, and with a passionate zeal has
sought out the woes of raan in every land, in order to their relief.

In the primitive Church voluntary collections[62] were regularly made
for the poor, the aged, the sick, the brethren in bonds, and for the
burial of the dead. All fraud and deceit was abhorred, and all usury
forbidden. Many gave all their goods to feed the poor. "Our charity
dispenses more in the streets," says Tertullian to the heathen, "than
your religion in your temples." He upbraids them for offering to the
gods only the worn-out and useless, such as is given to dogs. "How
monstrous is it," exclaims the Alexandrian Clement, "to live in luxury
while so many are in want." "As you would receive, show mercy," says
Chrysostom; "make God your debtor that you may receive again with
usury." The Church at Antioch, he tells us, maintained three thousand
widows and virgins, besides the sick and the poor. Under the persecuting
Decius the widows and the infirm under the care of the Church at Rome
were fifteen hundred. "Behold the treasures of the Church," said St.
Lawrence pointing to the aged and poor, when the heathen prefect came to
confiscate its wealth. The Church in Carthage sent a sum equal to four
thousand dollars to ransom Christian captives in Numidia. St. Ambrose
sold the sacred vessels of the Church of Milan to rescue prisoners from
the Goths, esteeming it their truest consecration to the service of
God. "Better clothe the Christ," says living temples of Jerome, "than
adorn the temples of stone." "God has no need of plates and dishes,"
said Acacius, Bishop of Amida, and he ransomed therewith a number of
poor captives. For a similar purpose Paulinus of Nola sold the treasures
of his beautiful church, and, it is said, even sold himself into African
slavery. The Christian traveller was hospitably entertained by the
faithful; and before the close of the fourth century asylums were
provided for the sick, aged, and infirm. During the Decian persecution,
when the streets of Carthage were strewn with the dying and the dead,
the Christians, with the scars of recent torture and imprisonment upon
them, exhibited the nobility of a gospel revenge in their care for their
fever-smitten persecutors, and seemed to seek the martyrdom of Christian
charity, even more glorious than that they had escaped. In the plague of
Alexandria, six hundred _parabolani_ periled their lives to succour the
dying and bury the dead. Julian urged the pagan priests to imitate the
virtues of the lowly Christians.

Christianity also gave a new sanctity to human life. The exposure of
infants was a fearfully prevalent pagan practice, which even Plato and
Aristotle permitted. We have had evidences of the tender charity of the
Christians in rescuing these foundlings from death, or from a fate more
dreadful still--a life of infamy. Christianity also emphatically
affirmed the Almighty's "canon 'gainst self-slaughter," which crime the
pagans had even exalted into a virtue. It taught that a patient
endurance of suffering, like Job's, exhibited a loftier courage than
Cato's renunciation of life.

We have thus seen from the testimony of the Catacombs, the immense
superiority, in all the elements of true dignity and excellence, of
primitive Christianity to the corrupt civilization by which it was
surrounded. It ennobled the character and purified the morals of
mankind. It raised society from the ineffable slough into which it had
fallen, imparted tenderness and fidelity to the domestic relations of
life, and enshrined marriage in a sanctity before unknown.
Notwithstanding the corruptions by which it became infected in the days
of its power and pride, even the worst form of Christianity was
infinitely preferable to the abominations of paganism. It gave a
sacredness before unconceived to human life. It averted the sword from
the throat of the gladiator, and, plucking helpless infancy from
exposure to untimely death, nourished it in Christian homes. It threw
the ægis of its protection over the slave and the oppressed, raising
them from the condition of beasts to the dignity of men and the
fellowship of saints. With an unwearied and passionate charity it
yearned over the suffering and the sorrowing everywhere, and created a
vast and comprehensive organization for their relief, of which the world
had before no example and had formed no conception. It was a holy
Vestal, ministering at the altar of humanity, witnessing ever of the
Divine, and keeping the sacred fire burning, not for Rome, but for the
world. Its winsome gladness and purity, in an era of unspeakable
pollution and sadness, revived the sinking heart of mankind, and made
possible a Golden Age in the future transcending far that which poets
pictured in the past. It blotted out cruel laws, like those of Draco,
written in blood, and led back Justice, long banished, to the judgment
seat. It ameliorated the rigours of the penal code, and, as experience
has shown, lessened the amount of crime. It created an art purer and
loftier than that of paganism; and a literature rivaling in elegance of
form, and surpassing in nobleness of spirit, the sublimest productions
of the classic muse. Instead of the sensual conceptions of heathenism,
polluting the soul, it supplied images of purity, tenderness, and
pathos, which fascinated the imagination and hallowed the heart. It
taught the sanctity of suffering and of weakness, and the supreme
majesty of gentleness and truth.

    NOTE.--The entire subject of Christian evidences from the
    Catacombs, which has been so cursorily glanced at in the
    foregoing pages, is treated with great fullness of detail and
    copious pictorial illustration in a work by the writer, "The
    Catacombs of Rome, and their Testimony Relative to Primitive
    Christianity." Cr. 8vo, 560 pp., 136 engravings. New York:
    Phillips & Hunt. Price $2.50. It discusses at length the
    structure, origin, and history of the Catacombs; their art and
    symbolism; their epigraphy as illustrative of the theology,
    ministry, rites, and institutions of the primitive Church, and
    Christian Life and Character in the early ages. The gradual
    corruption of doctrine and practice and introduction of Romanist
    errors, as the _cultus_ of Mary, the primacy of Peter, prayers
    of the dead, the invocation of saints, the notion of purgatory,
    the celibacy of the clergy rite of monastic orders, and other
    allied subjects are fully treated.

FOOTNOTES:

[57] See Lactantius, _De Mortibus Persecutorum, Passim_; Eusebius _Hist.
Ecclec._ viii, 17; ix. 9, 10; Tertullian _ad Scap._, c. 3.

[58] Valeria quoque per varias provincias quindecim mensibus plebeio
cultu pervagata.... Ita illis pudicitia et conditio exitio fuit.
Lactantius _De Mart. Persec._ Cap. 51.

[59] Even the sanguine imagination of Tertullian cannot conceive the
possibility of this event "Sed et Cæsares credidissent super Christo,"
he exclaims, "si aut Cæsares non essent seculo necessario, aut si et
Christiani potuissent esse Cæsares." _Apol._, c. 21.

[60] Literally, "They are no more because they never were." Eusebius
applies, the promises of Scripture concerning the restoration of the
exiled Jews from Babylon (Psa. lxxx; xcviii;) to the condition of
Christianity in his day. The above citations are given in his very
words.

[61] While yet alive, Domitian was called, "our Lord and God"--_Dominus
et Deus noster._

[62] Nemo compellitur, sed sponte confert _Tertul Apol._ c. 39.



THE END.





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