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´╗┐Title: Virgilia; or, Out of the Lion's Mouth
Author: Clark, Felicia Buttz, 1862-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Virgilia; or, Out of the Lion's Mouth" ***

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VIRGILIA

_or_

OUT OF THE LION'S MOUTH

_By_

FELICIA BUTTZ CLARK


1917



CONTENTS


CHAPTER   I. A confession of faith

CHAPTER  II. The "Little Fish"

CHAPTER III. The hymn of the water-carrier

CHAPTER  IV. The inner shrine of Jupiter

CHAPTER   V. The Old One speaks

CHAPTER   VI. The Feast of Grapes

CHAPTER  VII. Enter, Lycias, the gladiator

CHAPTER VIII. The symbol of the lizard



I.

A CONFESSION OF FAITH.


The Circus in Rome was thronged with an enormous crowd of persons on a
day in June, about two thousand years ago. One hundred thousand men
and women sat on its tiers of white marble seats, under the open sky
and witnessed a gladiatorial contest in the arena, beneath.

At the western end of the oval amphitheatre was the Emperor's box,
flanked with tall Corinthian pillars, on which were hung the
coat-of-arms of the Roman people. Here sat one of the most cruel
emperors Rome has ever suffered under. His cloak was royal purple,
and was thrown carelessly back, on this warm June afternoon, to
disclose a white tunic, embroidered in scarlet.

Beside him were several ladies, elaborately gowned in the manner of
the day, with hair dressed high, studded with jewels brought from
Oriental lands, while their necks and arms were loaded with strings of
pearls and emeralds, armlets of tawny gold in Etruscan designs, in
which were set cameos of extraordinary delicacy and diamonds, only
partially polished, as large as the half of a hen's egg.

To every class of Romans, the gladiatorial show was open. Senators and
Patricians, artists and mechanics, poets and artisans, women of every
rank, from the highest lady of the land to the humblest washerwoman
who beat her clothes on the rounded stones of the River Tiber, were
here to gloat over the hideous contest in the arena.

In the third row, about half way in the long side of the oval
amphitheatre sat two women and a man. The women were unusually
beautiful. They were mother and daughter. The man was plainly the
father, a stalwart Roman, a lawyer, who had his office in the courts
of the Forum, where business houses flanked the splendid temples of
white marble, where the people worshipped their gods, Jupiter and
Saturn, Diana and Cybele.

"See," said Claudia, pointing a finger on which blazed on enormous
emerald, "the Vestals are giving the signal. Their thumbs are
reversed. The Emperor, also, is signalling for a cessation of the
fight. How proud Lycias, the gladiator, is to-day, for he won the
victory. Well, we must go. Come, Virgilia."

The young girl arose, obediently, but her father noticed that her eyes
were full of tears and that she shivered slightly in spite of the
warm, scented June air.

As the three mingled with the thousands who were in a very leisurely
manner wending their way down the steps to the ground, Aurelius
Lucanus drew her frail hand through his arm and said, gently: "What
hast thou, dearest? Art thou not well?"

"I am quite well, father dear," and as she spoke, she drew over her
face a light, filmy veil, effectually shielding her from the too
curious gaze of the laughing throng of merry-makers.

"Why, then, dost thou cry, my daughter?"

Virgilia glanced at her mother and noticing that she was out of
hearing, whispered in his ear: "I hate it, father. Do not bring me
again."

He looked at her with surprise, then, remembering that girls have
strange fancies, he was silent, and guided her safely out into the
blazing sunshine. The sun was still an hour above the horizon; the
pine-trees on the Palatine Hills, where Caesar's palaces were, stood
up like giant sentinels against a sky of limpid blue.

Aurelius Lucanus led the way through the Forum, where his wife, an
ardent worshipper of the gods, stopped to lay a bunch of roses on the
base of a large statue of Ceres, standing near the Temple and a
building dedicated to the use of the Vestal Virgins.

The Chief Virgin was being carried to the entrance in her chair, borne
by four bearers, while in front of her walked the two men who held
high the symbols of her priestly office. Claudia fell upon her knees
as the holy vestal went by, until her chair had been carried through
the iron gates.

Virgilia watched her mother, with an anxious look on her young face.

"Why didst thou not also kneel before the holy one?" her mother said,
in a stern tone. "Dost not know that in her hands she holds such power
that even the emperor himself trembles before her and does her
bidding, lest the gods send upon him disaster and ruin?"

Virgilia made no reply, but walked quietly by her mother's side
through the Forum, beneath the great arches, up over the Capitoline
Hill where Jupiter's Temple arose in grandeur, its ivory-tinted
marbles beginning to turn a dull rose in the rays of the fast-lowering
sun.

They descended on the other side and entered a labyrinth of narrow
streets, winding in and out between rows of houses, most of them
showing a plain, windowless front, the only decoration being over and
around the door.

With a quick double-knock at one of these doors, the lawyer summoned a
servant, who bowed deeply as the two ladies and his master entered.

Aurelius Lucanus lingered a moment, while his wife passed on into the
atrium, but here, it was hot, so she went further, into a court,
transformed into a beautiful garden. Around the fountain, which cooled
the air, bloomed literally hundreds of calla lilies, masses of stately
blossoms with snowy chalices and hearts of gold. Around the pillars
twined the June roses, pink and yellow, and mixed with them were
vines, of starry jessamine, shedding forth a faint, delicious odor,
akin to that of orange-blossoms.

Here were chairs of rare woods inlaid with ivory, and couches,
gracefully formed, covered with soft silks and cushions embroidered in
gold.

Claudia sank down, as if she were weary, and a slave sprang forward to
remove the white outer garment, worn upon the street to cover the
costly silk one, and the jewels which she had worn in the
amphitheatre.

Aurelius was conversing with the dark-skinned porter.

"Has Martius returned?" he asked.

"Yes, master. He came in about two hours after noon, but went out
again almost immediately."

"Leaving no word?"

"No, master."

The porter stood watching his master as he walked away. There was a
strange expression on his strongly marked face. He was pitted with
small-pox, and over one eye was a deep scar. He had never forgotten
how he got that scar, how he had fallen beneath a blow struck by that
man's hand, the man who owned his body, but not his soul. In falling,
he had struck his head against the corner of the marble pedestal
supporting the statue of the god who ruled in this household, and had
been carried away unconscious.

Ah, no, he had not forgotten!

Aurelius entered the court just in time to hear his wife saying
To Virgilia in her severest tone: "Thou art exactly like thy
step-brother, Martius, self-willed and foolish. Why else has he
been exiled from Rome by thy father? He has worshipped strange gods,
has followed after a man named Christus, a malefactor, a thief,
crucified with thieves--"

"Mother!" exclaimed Virgilia, and there was that in her voice which
stopped the stream of language, and made Claudia sit up straight and
grasp the griffin-heads on the arms of her chair.

"Wilt tell me that thou, too, art mad over the dead Christus?" she
shrieked. "Then art thou no daughter of mine! Thou shall go forth from
here, homeless, an outcast. Join thyself with the beggarly band of men
and women who hide in the dark places of the earth that they may work
their spells--"

"Claudia, cease thy talking," exclaimed Aurelius, taking his daughter
in his arms. "Canst thou not see that the child is fainting? She is
ill. I saw it but now in the Circus. Hast thou no heart?"

"What, thou, too, Aurelius! Thou art but half a man, and worshipeth
the gods only in form. Long have I suspected that Virgilia had been
infected by this poisonous virus, this doctrine of a malefactor. Thy
son taught it to her, thy son, Martius, who is, thanks to Jupiter, far
away from here."

"Not so, dear mother," said a cheerful voice, "Martius has returned to
his father's house, and to thee and Virgilia."

A tall youth, about nineteen years of age, full of manly vigor
speaking in a rich voice, vibrant with feeling, sprang forward, knelt
at Claudia's feet and kissed her hand, then he embraced his father and
sister.

Claudia's expression relaxed. Had it not been for his absurd belief in
the Jew, who seemed to have set the world mad, she could have loved
this fine-looking young man, whose auburn curls fell over a white
forehead, whose brown eyes gleamed with a mixture of earnestness and
merriment. He was, indeed, a lovable youth.

"Hast thou come back cured, Martius? Then art thou indeed welcome."

"Cured of what, mother?"

"Of thy mistaken worship of Christus."

"No, mother," came the firm reply. Aurelius saw his son's face pale,
saw him straighten up as though he expected a blow on those broad
shoulders, saw his hand clench as if he were in pain. And Aurelius was
sorrowful. He loved Martius for himself and for his mother, whom he
resembled. The lawyer was also, only too well aware of the danger run
by all those who called themselves followers of Christus. The worst
had not yet come. There were only threats now against the members of
this sect who were growing daily more numerous, and more menacing to
the priests and the pagan religion. No one could tell what might
happen by to-morrow, the storm would break suddenly.

He knew Claudia and her blind bigotry. She would not hesitate to
sacrifice Martius if she thought that her soul's salvation depended on
it; Claudia's soul was her chief thought. But would she sacrifice her
own daughter, if her religion should prove to be the same as that of
her brother?

The sister had slipped her hand into that of Martius. She stood beside
him shoulder to shoulder. Virgilia was unusually tall. She had
inherited the fine, cameo-like profile of her mother, but her hair was
fair and very abundant. It was bound around her head in heavy braids
and was not decorated by any jewel. Her white draperies had fallen
from her arm, disclosing its pure whiteness and delicate outline.

Virgilia looked straight at her mother and spoke, breaking sharply the
silence following the two words of Martius. The sun had now set. It
was almost dark in the garden. The lilies gleamed ghostly white among
their long green leaves. The odor of the jessamine was heavy on the
evening air, overpowering in its sweetness. A servant entered and
lighted torches in iron rings fastened on the fluted pillows. He lit,
also, the wicks in huge bronze lamps placed here and there, and in a
three-tapered silver lamp on a table by Claudia's side.

The soft radiance lit up the strange scene, the Roman matron, seated
in her chair, jewels gleaming in her dark hair and on her bosom, her
face set and stern. It shone upon the young Virgilia and Martius,
standing before her, and upon the heavier figure of the lawyer,
Aurelius Lucanus, just behind them.

Then Virgilia spoke, and her voice was as clear as the sun-down bell
which had just rung out its warning from Caesar's Hill.

"I, too, am a Christian."

With a sharp outcry, Claudia, dragging her white draperies on the
ground, disappeared in her small room, opening by a long window from
the gallery bordering on the garden. She was seen no more that night.
Silently, the lawyer and his son and daughter ate their evening meal,
reclining on the triclinium in the long room tinted in Pompeian red, a
frieze three feet in width ran around the walls. Small, chubby
cherubs, or cupids doing the work of men, weaving draperies, preparing
food, chopping meat, plucking grapes and carrying them away in
miniature wheelbarrows, were faithfully portrayed in rich colors. Some
of these frescoes, tints as vivid as when they were laid on by the
artists of twenty centuries ago, remain to this day on the walls of
ancient Roman dwellings, and enable us to know how people lived in
those far-off times.

A servant, assisted by the porter, Alyrus, brought the food in on huge
trays, roast kid and vegetables, green salad fresh from the market in
the Forum Boarium, dressed with oil from the groves of Lucca and
vinegar made of sour red wine. Then came a delicious pudding, made
from honey brought from Hymetus in Greece to add luxury to the food of
the already too luxurious Romans, and fruit strawberries, dipped in
fine sugar and sprinkled with lemon.

Virgilia ate little; the main portions of the food she sent away
untouched. The salad and fruit were more to her liking. She was very
pale. The scene in the Circus, followed by the sudden confession of
her faith, had taxed her strength. This, her anxiety for her mother
and the unusual heat of the evening caused her to feel faint, so that
she excused herself and went away, climbing a narrow staircase to the
flat, tiled roof. Here were many plants, blossoming vines and the
gurgling of cool water, as it passed through the mouth of a hideous
gorgan mask and fell into a basin where soft green mosses clung and
ferns waved their feathery fronds.

Seating herself on a granite bench, supported by two carved lions,
Virgilia fell into deep thought. It was the everlasting problem, old
as human life. Ought she to obey her mother, or God? To do the former,
meant to stifle her conscience and destroy her inner life. Worship the
gods she could not since this new, this pure love for the meek and
lovely Jesus had entered into her very being.

She clasped and unclasped her slender white hands in her agitation.
What should she do? If God would only show her where duty lay.

Glorified in the silvery whiteness of the moonlight, arose the
splendid palaces of the Caesars. Virgilia could see them plainly if
she lifted her eyes, for they stood high, on the Palatine Hill. There
was revelry yonder. The notes of flutes and harps came faintly to her
ears. Below, wound the Tiber, back and forth, like the coils of a
huge, glistening serpent. Many boating parties were enjoying the river
and its coolness, while the moon rode high in the heavens and shone
upon the sheeny garments and fair faces of the women.

Up the river, from the port of Ostia, came a big merchant vessel
bringing from Constantinople and Egypt, carpets and costly stuffs,
richly wrought in gold, filmy tissue and rare embroideries for Roman
ladies and papyrus volumes for the learned Senators.

Far out on the Campagna, Virgilia knew that the Christians were
gathering to-night, coming from all parts of the city. Some were
freedmen and others were slaves; among the figures gliding out on the
cobble-stoned Appian Way were members of Caesar's household, and one
or two tall Praetorian guards. The religion of Christ had found
converts among all classes. Rome was full of Christians, many of whom
feared to openly confess their faith, though later, they dared to do
so, even in the face of a cruel death.

Virgilia was so intent on her thoughts that she did not observe the
cat-like approach of her mother's personal slave, the daughter of
Alyrus, the porter. She and her father had been brought to Rome as
prisoners of war after a victorious conquest by the Romans in North
Africa. They were by descent, Moors, having dark skins but very
regular, even classical features. Sahira, the slave, walked like a
queen and was so proud that she would not mingle with the other
servants. Her father, Alyrus, chief of hundreds in the desert-land of
his own country, was but a door-keeper in the house of Aurelius
Lucanus, and he was, very bitter in spirit.

"Your mother has need of you," said Sahira, in her velvet voice. "I
think that the Lady Claudia is very ill."

"I will come at once."

The Lady Claudia was indeed very ill and continued so for several
weeks. The summer waxed and waned. The cool winds of September blew
strongly from the West and the calla lilies and jessamine had long
since withered in the garden before Claudia was able once again to sit
in the chair under the late tea-rose vines and listen to the rippling
water of the fountain.

The old, proud Claudia seemed to have disappeared and in her place was
a feeble woman, with trembling hands, whose glance followed every move
her daughter made, who seemed to be happy only when Virgilia was near.
She ignored the ministrations of the slave Sahira, whose heart warmed
to only one person except her father, and that was her beautiful
mistress. Sahira cast angry looks at Virgilia's fair head, bending
over her embroidery while she talked cheerfully to her mother. The
slave went away and cried, for she was of a deep, passionate nature,
loving few and ready to lay down her life for those whom she adored.

Alyrus, her father, found her crying one night in her tiny room in the
section of the house assigned to the servants. He succeeded in finding
out the thing that caused her sorrow. When he went away there was a
resolution formed in his soul which boded ill to Virgilia. He would
bide his time--and then--

The young Christian wondered often whether her mother had forgotten
that scene on the day she was taken so ill, had forgotten that she, as
well as Martius, was one of the despised sect. Up to the present,
Virgilia had never refused to twine the garlands to be laid on the
altars of the household gods or at the feet of the special god which
Claudia worshipped in her own room. She had not refused because she
felt that it would agitate her mother too much, and the man who came
from the School of Esculapsius on the Island in the Tiber where the
Temple was, had warned them against exciting the invalid. It might
cause her death, he said.

Virgilia knew, however, that the time must come soon when, if she was
loyal to her faith, she must refuse to offer outward homage to the
pagan gods.

In spite of her belief in Christ and her desire to serve him, her
heart grew cold within her and her limbs trembled at the thought of
that dread time, for she was very delicate and her mother's will was
strong. How could she defy her mother? It was an awful crime in pagan
Rome to refuse to offer libations and flowers before the shrines of
the family gods, a crime punishable by death.

Had she strength to stand firm?



II.

THE "LITTLE FISH."


In the meantime, Martius was still under the roof of his father's
house. It looked now as if he would be allowed to stay there, for his
step-mother's illness and the quiet condition of her mind during her
convalescence, gave rise to the hope that when completely recovered,
she would be no longer so intolerant and would permit the religious
differences to be forgotten.

Aurelius Lucanus was a broad-minded man. In his business as a lawyer
and pleader of cases in the Law Courts of the Forum, he had come into
personal contact with several of the Christians, finding them to be
men and women of the strictest rectitude and following stern moral
codes, such as were notably unobserved by the Roman of that day.

One of his clients was a widow, Octavia, wife of Aureus Cantus, the
Senator, a woman of rare mental gifts and a personality which was at
once gracious and commanding. She had two children, a boy and girl, a
little older than Martius and Virgilia, and the lawyer, while saying
nothing, had noticed that his son was not averse to lingering in the
office when the sweet Hermione came with her mother to consult him on
some subjects dealing with her husband's will and the large property
interests now coming under the widow's control.

Octavia did not live in the handsome house formerly occupied when her
husband was living on the same street where Aurelius Lucanus dwelt,
preferring to leave it in charge of her freedman and his wife, who had
served her family for many years. She occupied a villa about two miles
from the city gates, where there were immense vineyards, festooned
between mulberry trees. The vines were now hung with great purple
clusters of grapes, promises of luscious fruits a little later, when
the time of the Vendemmia should come in October. Then, there would be
feasting and merriment among the servants, but no dancing or drinking,
as was the custom on other grape plantations, so numerous on the broad
Campagna around Rome.

Before Martius had been sent away from home, by his step-mother's
orders, in the main hope that the poison of Christian belief would be
drawn from his mind, he had been a student in his father's office,
going with him daily at nine o'clock and returning at two for the
family dinner. Now, he resumed his studies for the legal profession,
and once more walked proudly by his father's side through the crowded
passageways of the city and the broad, handsome streets of the Forum.
Martius was a little taller than his father.

Aurelius Lucanus was, like many another pagan, no great believer in
the gods, although, partly from regard to prevailing sentiment, partly
because of his business relations, he outwardly gave attention to the
formal customs of the day.

This morning, as father and son entered the Forum, passing by the
great statue of Jupiter standing in front of the temple dedicated to
his worship, Aurelius bowed profoundly, and muttered a prayer, but
Martius, his proud young head held high, passed by, without making his
obeisance.

The two were followed, as usual, by a servant, who happened this
morning to be Alyrus, the Moor. He closely observed Martius and a
faint smile or sneer added to the ugliness of his disfigured face.
Alyrus had a fine face, so far as form and feature went, but his
expression was full of cunning and revenge. In his ears he wore two
huge gold rings, chased in cabalistic characters of strange design.
They were the emblem of his chieftain power in that land bordering on
the desert, from which he had been so rudely carried away. It was not
strange that Alyrus, a barbarian, should bear in his heart a bitter
hatred for the Romans and all that belonged to them. A slave, he was,
and Sahira, too, but they loathed their bonds. It did not occur to
Alyrus to be grateful that when they were placed on a platform down
yonder at the lower end of the Forum, to be sold to the highest
bidder, Aurelius Lucanus, who had bought him first, being moved by
pity, had also purchased Sahira, his daughter, paying for her many
sesterces of gold, because she was very beautiful and could bring a
high price. Thus, father, and daughter, (who was somewhat superfluous
in a house already well-supplied with women-slaves) were able to dwell
together, and Sahira was spared many humiliations and dangers to which
a beautiful young slave was inevitably subjected in these degenerate
days of ancient Rome.

Alyrus was not the only person who observed the "irreverence" of
Martius. A priest of Jupiter, coming out of the Temple, saw the whole
thing and made his own comments. He knew Aurelius Lucanus, the
Advocate, slightly, but not the young man with him.

He stepped quickly to the side of Alyrus, who had been very profound
in his reverence to the god, although he hated Rome's gods as he hated
her people.

"Who is that young man?" inquired the priest.

"The son of my master, Aurelius Lucanus."

"And thou?"

"I am a humble porter," responded Alyrus, with such bitterness that it
attracted the priest's attention. Being a man who understood character
at a glance, he seized the opportunity. Anything which could in any
way enable the pagans to hunt down the hated, despised followers of
that Christus who had made them so much trouble, was worth following
up. The priests knew that there were thousands of men in Rome who had
no faith at all in the gods, but there were few who would dare neglect
an outward observance. When a man did that, in the public Forum, he
was certainly possessed of that strange courage typical of the
Christians.

"Thou art a slave."

Alyrus bowed, keeping his eyes on his master and son, now approaching
the splendid white marble law-courts.

"What is thy country?"

"Beyond the seas, your reverence."

Alyrus turned a pair of black eyes on the questioner. In them
smouldered hidden passions.

"Your young master does not bow before Jupiter."

"No."

"And why, may I ask? His father is, I know, a faithful follower of our
gods. Why not his son, also?"

The portico, surmounted by a marvelous relief in marble, a copy of an
allegorical representation of jurisprudence, brought from Greece, was
in front of the slave and the priest. The lawyer and Martius had
already vanished in the cool shadows of the interior.

For one moment, Alyrus hesitated. It was an awful thing for a slave to
betray his master's son. He gave one backward thought to those days
when hundreds of horsemen acknowledged him chief, and date-palms waved
their feathery arms over his tent; he remembered that he was a slave,
bought with a price, and his master had struck him. And he remembered
Sahira and her tears.

"Because Martius, son of Aurelius, is a Christian," he replied, and in
his heart was a fearsome glee.

He was walking up the broad steps, now, while the priest, laying a
detaining hand on his arm, said: "I see that thou art a man to be
trusted. I am interested in these Christians. I would hear more. Come
to me tomorrow, at the Temple, after sundown. There is a little back
entrance in the alleyway. Ask for Lycidon, the priest of Jupiter, and
show the porter this symbol. It will admit thee."

The priest was gone, and Alyrus, half-dazed, stood under the arch
between two tall columns and gazed down at the bronze lizard he held
in his hand. The lizard leered at him, he thought.

Just at that moment a cry was heard, which drove the crowds of people
aside.

"Way! Way for the noble Lady, Octavia, widow of Aureus Cantus, Senator
of the Roman Empire. Way! I say."

Through the ranks of people was borne a large chair, gilded and
wrought in graceful form, adapted to such a woman as Octavia, reported
to be possessed of enormous wealth. The embroidered curtains were
tightly drawn, so that the passerby could not look in, but so curious
were they to see the lady whose name was familiar to all, owing to the
valuable services rendered by her illustrious husband to the State,
that the people crowded the steps of the Law Courts to watch Octavia
and her daughter Hermione descend.

They drew their veils closely, but a murmur of admiration arose as
Hermione's veil slipped aside and revealed cheeks of cream and rose,
eyes inherited from some northern hero, of deep violet blue, and hair,
arranged in ringlets, in the style of the age, of a red-brown tint.

Hastily, the two ladies passed into the dark corridors of the court,
and were soon admitted to the private office of Aurelius Lucanus. Two
attendants, who had walked behind the chair all the way from the Villa
to guard their mistress and her daughter, waited in the ante-chamber
with Alyrus, whose duty it was to remain here until the lawyer's day
of work was over.

The Roman welcomed Octavia with much ceremony. He bowed to Hermione,
who threw back her veil and greeted Martius as an old friend.

While her mother explained the matter of business to her trusted
lawyer, Hermione and Martius withdrew to the other side of the room
and sat down side by side on an ivory and ebony bench in the window.
High above them was Caesar's Palace, white and glistening in the
September sunshine. Sweet scents from the imperial gardens came to
them, but sweeter yet, in its innocence and freshness was the face of
the young girl.

"Thou hast been long absent, Martius?" she said, while she twirled in
her fingers a tea-rose, large and fragrant.

"Half a year, Hermione."

"And hast never wanted to see Rome? Was it so lovely in those far-off
Eastern lands that thou couldst forget thy home and thy friends?"

"Not so. But it was not possible for me to return. My heart yearned
for Rome. There is no place like her in all the world, in the whole
Roman Empire," he said, proudly.

"Was it thy business kept thee?" Then fearing lest she might be asking
too much, Hermione blushed. Martius thought that the rich color
flooding her cheek was in tint like that of a wondrous rose he had
seen on the Isle of Cyprus, where his ship had touched in the journey
toward Asia Minor. "Do not answer if it is not my right to know," she
added, hastily. "I thought,--we are old friends--"

Martius was silent. He had heard that Octavia was a Christian, while
her husband was not. He did not know whether Hermione followed the
religion of her father or her mother. They had never talked on these
matters. Christians, while exceedingly courageous where their
principles were involved, did not run useless risks. There was always
danger.

He drew from his tunic a small wax-tablet, and with the ivory stylus,
began, carelessly, to scribble on it, as if he had not noticed her
question, or as she might readily infer, did not wish to reply.

Hermione, slightly embarrassed and annoyed, watched him idly drawing.
Then her breath came quickly and her face glowed. He was drawing, in
the midst of other designs, a fish; little by little, it became plain.

Under her breath, she said: "I, too, am a Little Fish."

There was a sudden clasping of hands, as Martius looked frankly into
her eyes.

"I was sent away," he explained, after assuring himself that his
father and Octavia were still busy discussing the case. "Sent away
because I learned to believe in Christ. My step-mother would not have
me at home. She hates the Christians, and my father yielded to her,
though, personally, he is indifferent and says that everyone has a
right to believe what he pleases."

"Why didst thou return? Is thy step-mother satisfied?" Hermione asked
eagerly.

"Only a few weeks ago. My father's wife has been very ill. She is only
now convalescing. All depends on the attitude she takes. I must wait.
And in the meantime, I am preparing to be a lawyer, like my father. If
I can stay in Rome, I shall be very happy. If not, I shall go to one
of the distant provinces."

"O, I hope not!" she exclaimed.

Martius smiled at her.

"I hope not, too," he replied.

"There is another complication," Martius continued, after a pause.
"The real cause of my stepmother's illness was Virgilia's declaration
that she, too, has adopted the Christian faith. Where she heard about
it, further than the things I taught her, I do not know. Thou seest,
that the matter is very complicated."

 "And dangerous. Dost thou not know that there has been talk in the
Senate about the constantly increasing number of Christians in Rome
and in the Empire? It is growing, this religion of Jesus Christ."

"Thanks be to His name," said Martius.

"Amen. But with the growth comes peril and perhaps death. We may have
to bear witness for our faith before very long. My mother has been
warned but feels no fear. She says that where other martyrs have gone,
we can go. She is very brave."

"He giveth strength in time of need. We must wait and trust."

Hermione stretched out her hand to him and he grasped it warmly in his
strong one. They were destined to be firm, true friends, these two
young Christians who faced an unknown and dangerous future.

Octavia arose.

"Come, Hermione," she said, "we must be going."

The lawyer rang a small silver bell on his desk, and Alyrus appeared
at the door.

"See that the Lady Octavia's chair is ready."

The Moor vanished.

"And now, my lady, I trust that you will not be at all anxious about
this matter. I will attend to it."

"I thank you. Greetings to your wife, and we hope to see you both soon
at our Villa. The grapes are almost ready for the gathering. My
children are counting much on the festivities for the Vendemmia. Can
you not come at that time, you and Claudia, with your son and
daughter. It will delight Hermione and Marcus. I will send a messenger
to remind you again before the Feast of the Grapes."

"Claudia has been very ill, my lady. I fear that she could not bear
the motion of the chair so soon. But I will tell her of your gentle
bidding to the feast, when the God Bacchus is adored with so much
mirth."

A cloud crossed Octavia's face.

"The God Bacchus--" she began, but stopped. The warning she had
received but a few days before from a Christian high in the service of
the Emperor, rang in her ears. "We must be courageous, Octavia," he
had said, "but we must not be foolish."

"If you permit, we will send Martius and Virgilia to represent us at
the feast," added Aurelius.

"With pleasure. I will send a messenger before the day."

The lawyer and Martius bowed low, and the two ladies, who were
carefully veiled went out on the portico. Aurelius Lucanus assisted
them into the luxurious chair and he and Martius stood watching them
as the four tall bearers carried them away, followed by two stalwart
men. It had been a marvel to certain circles of Roman society that
Octavia had freed all her slaves, men and women, after the death of
Aureus. It was some business connected with this unusual matter that
had brought her to the lawyer's office today.

Some had said that she was crazy to free hundreds of slaves. Others
had whispered behind their hands that there were other reasons,
Octavia followed Christus, and the Christians did not own slaves. But
they dared not say this aloud, for Octavia was very rich and had
powerful friends, even in Caesar's Palace.



III.

THE HYMN OF THE WATER-CARRIER.


As the lawyer and his children reclined at the triclinium in the cool
arcade opening on the garden, Martius narrated to Virgilia his
conversation with Hermione that morning in his father's office.

It was the custom, in the summer months, for the family to take their
meals out of doors, in the shadowed corridor, where there was almost
always a pleasant breeze, even when the sun scorched the bricks and
square stones of the street in front of their house. Occasionally, a
man would pass through the streets, carrying a sheepskin filled with
water. He sang a strange, low song as he sprinkled the red bricks from
which a thick steam arose at once, so scorching hot were they.

He was singing now; the weird melody penetrated even to the corridor.

"What a strange song!" said Aurelius Lucanus, cutting a piece of
tender chicken, roasted on a spit before an open fire in the kitchen
so tiny that there was scarcely room for the cook and his attendants
to move about. Yet here, they prepared the elaborate dinners, served
with the utmost nicety, in which Romans delighted. "It is different
from anything I ever heard."

Two men were carrying around the table huge platters of food. One was
Alyrus, the Moor, who was not only a porter, but a general factotum.
His duties were many and various, from sweeping the floors and keeping
their highly-colored mosaics clear and shining, to accompanying his
master to business, as he had done this morning, and assisting the man
who served at table. He was sent, also, with Virgilia when she went to
pay a visit to some of her friends, or when, in former times, she went
to see one of the Vestal Virgins, and worshipped at the shrine. There
had been some talk of her taking the vows of the Vestals, who held a
very high position in Rome, but both her father and mother felt that,
as an only daughter, she could not be spared from home, Marcella, one
of her companions, had always entered as a novice. In all her
seventeen years of life, Virgilia had never been alone outside of her
father's house. It was not the custom for young girls to go upon the
streets unaccompanied. Even when she paid a visit, Alyrus or one of
the other slaves was waiting in the ante-chamber, to obey her lightest
call.

The other slave, who followed Alyrus with a glass carafe of iced
water, was named Alexis. He was a Greek, from near Ephesus, seized as
prisoner by one of the victorious generals, sold to Aurelius as Alyrus
and Sahira had been. He was unusually handsome, very tall, with broad,
well-formed shoulders and a face and head like one of the ancient
pagan gods, whose statues have come down to us from the chisel of
Phidias, the Greek sculptor. His skin was fair and his hair yellow as
gold. Between him and the dark Moor who walked near him, there was the
difference between light and darkness. It was not a difference in
physical beauty, altogether, although Alyrus bore not only the
disfiguring scar on his face, but smallpox scars, he was not
altogether unpleasing in appearance. The difference lay chiefly in the
expression of eyes and mouth. Alyrus was satirical, sneering,
critical; Alexis was gentle, yet commanding; benign, yet firm.

Both slaves became alert, as the Master had been, listening to the
song of the water-carrier, now becoming less and less distinct.

Alexis's eyes shown, but Alyrus cast a malignant glance at Martius,
whose face was flushed.

"What a strange song!" repeated the lawyer. "It seems to be religious
in its type, yet I never heard it at our functions or in the temples.
Who was that man, Alyrus? Thou, who sittest ever at the doorway and
hast an insatiable curiosity about our neighbors, wilt surely know."

Alyrus frowned at the implied reproof which was, after all, for the
Moor kept closely to himself, except when information could serve some
end.

"It is Lucius, the water-carrier," he said, as shortly as he dared
speak to his master. "It is a Christian song that he is singing."

"Ah!"

Aurelius selected a large, rosy peach, covered with burnished down and
deliciously cold, from the dish presented to him by Alexis. The figs,
grapes and peaches were laid in snow and cracked ice, brought from
distant lands and preserved in this tropical clime by some process
known to the Romans. If Aurelius Lucanus had not been one of the most
prominent advocates in the city, receiving a large pension from the
Emperor himself, he could not have afforded these luxuries.

There was a scowl on his forehead as he pared the peach daintily with
a sharp silver knife. These Christians were beginning to make him
nervous.

There was the Lady Octavia, for instance, who must needs be so foolish
as to release all her slaves just because of a silly fancy that
Christians should not possess human beings as property. She would lose
half her income by this freak, and a good share of her principal
invested in these slaves. What would Aureus Cantus have said to such a
wild thing as this? He should have tied up his affairs in a way which
would have prevented the widow from having the rights to do it. She
was now in for trouble and he did not know how to get her out of it.
His own reputation would suffer if he lost her case.

And then, he had to deal with Martius and Virgilia. That was even more
difficult, for he loved them both very dearly, and hated to be severe
with them. The illness of Claudia could be traced to the same cause,
the singular fanaticism of the members of this new sect.

"The Lady Octavia has invited us to come to enjoy the festivities of
the grape-gathering," Martius was saying.

"It was very good of her and we shall have a splendid time. Everything
at the villa is so beautiful. I wish that father would buy a home out
on the Campagna. But he says that he cannot afford to keep up two
establishments and he must remain in Rome on account of the Emperor
and the Law Courts."

"Father says, though, that when the Emperor goes to his villa at
Antium, we shall all go, too. The Emperor wants father near at hand.
Thou knowest that his magnificent villa is finished now. The house is
enormous, and there is room for us and many others."

"Hast thou seen Octavia's place?"

"Very often. During thy absence, I have been carried frequently out of
the gates and along the Ostian Way. Mother never wished to go. She
dislikes the Lady Octavia. Alyrus, and sometimes Alexis, was with me."

The lawyer had now left the table, retiring to his wife's room.
Martius cast a cautious look around and, seeing no one, said, under
his breath: "I do not wonder that mother does not desire to go there.
Thou knowest, that they, too, are of the faith? Today, Hermione told
me: 'I too, am a little Fish.'"

A smile lit up Virgilia's sweet face.

"Who should know it better than I? For from Hermione I have heard much
of Christ. With her, I went to the meetings of the Christians, of our
brothers and sisters, and heard the Truth."

"What will be the outcome of it all, Virgilia?" Martius spoke
earnestly in her ear. "When mother is well, what will happen? Thou
dost remember what she said, that we must both leave this roof? I try
to forget those cruel words, I try to believe that I shall stay here,
to work in my father's office, to take up his profession, to be in
that dearest place of all--home. It is hard to be exiled, Virgilia,
hard never to see Rome again, Rome, the centre of the world. But if it
should be hard for me, what will it be for thee, so tenderly matured,
so lovingly cared for? It cannot be possible that Claudia will thrust
thee, her own daughter, forth from her door, simply because thou hast
become a follower of Christus. No. It is only a bad dream."

That Martius was deeply in earnest could be seen from his clenched
hands, where the nails sank into the flesh, from the pallor of his
cheeks and the sorrow in his eyes.

"Neither can I believe it. Martius, by nature, mother is not cruel. It
is only our religion that she hates, not us. But when the moment comes
that she asks me to give up Christ, I will face hunger and privation,
even death, itself, for His sweet sake."

The light of that exaltation which filled the martyrs of ancient days
with strength to face a shameful and awful death was on Virgilia's
face, it was the look of a saint.

Martius was thrilled by her enthusiasm.

"And I, too, dear sister, will never deny my Saviour. We will go forth
together, if need be. Let us hope for better things, however. God can
do all things.

"Amen," responded Virgilia. "But, Martius, things cannot continue as
they are now. Each morning, to please my mother, I weave the garlands
for the statues of the gods, I offer sweet oils and spices and
libations at the altar. I could not do otherwise while she was so ill.
Now, she is getting better. Tomorrow, or the next day, I must refuse
to do this. What will happen then?"

They had left the triclinium, and were walking slowly in the garden.
So tall was she that Virgilia's head was almost on a level with that
of her stalwart brother. Alyrus and Alexis had cleared the table,
watching with keen gaze the young people walking in the Pergola,
beneath the heavy grape vine, whose leaves, pierced by the sun, cast
queer shadows over Virgilia's white draperies and on her abundant
hair, which threw back glints of copper tints to mock the shifting
lights. Alyrus watched them because he hated them and longed for the
moment when he could wreak his revenge. Alexis looked at them in love,
for he, too, was a Christian, and the reason for the scene which
Claudia had made in the garden on the day when Martius returned from
exile, was well known to all the servants. In the dark corners of
their miserable quarters, they discussed the situation, wondering what
would happen. In these early days of Christianity, men and women often
worked side by side, never daring to make known that they were
Christians, for fear that the other might prove traitor. In this
household of Aurelius Lucanus and Claudia, there were three slaves who
were Christians, and one was Alexis, the Greek, but the others were
unaware of it. He waited now in silence, hoping to be able to help the
young son and daughter of his master. He, too, saw the shadow of
suspicion creeping nearer, growing larger. Some day the Christians of
Rome would be enveloped in the darkness and then would come death, as
it had come in other times to other martyrs of the Cross.

Martius had only time to seize his sister's had and press it warmly,
when his father's voice was heard behind them.

"Virgilia, thy mother needs thee. Go to her. She seems to be very
weak. Do nothing to agitate or excite her. Sacrifice thine own wishes
to hers."

He was gone, and the girl looked in bewilderment at Martius.

"Dost think that he heard what I said?" She whispered.

Martius shrugged his shoulders.

"I know not. But he is right, Virgilia. Thou must wait. For a time, we
must worship in secret. Some day, all will be open to the light and we
must suffer what comes. Christ will help us."

"Yes, Christ will give us strength."

All that afternoon, Virgilia sat patiently by her mother's couch. The
change in the proud woman during these weeks of illness was only too
apparent. It seemed as if the ardor of her hatred had burned out her
strength. Her lovely eyes were lustreless. The neck on which Sahira
had hung a splendid cord of sapphires from Persia, linked together
with milky pearls from India, was thin and haggard. Her skin, fair and
beautiful on that day when she sat so proudly by her husband and
daughter in the Circus, watching the gladiatorial contest, was yellow
and drawn. The jewels were a mockery in the shadow of threatened
death.

It was nearing sundown when Virgilia, very tired from the hours passed
in gently soothing her mother's querulous complaints, giving her
cooling drinks and telling her old Grecian legends to amuse her,
entered her own little cubicleum, her sleeping-chamber.

In Roman houses, the sleeping quarters were the smallest, the worst
ventilated of all. It is a superstition, come down to modern times,
that night air is injurious. Many ancient Roman dwellings show that
rooms used for sleeping sometimes had no windows at all, the sole
means of ventilation being provided by the doorway, which was
curtained, opening into a larger room, or by a small trap door in the
ceiling.

The furniture in Virgilia's room was very simple. The bed was a couch,
covered with white, with head and foot-board of ebony, curved in form
and inlaid with quaint flower designs in mother-of-pearl. There was
one chair, with slender arms, also in ebony and mother-of-pearl, and a
stand, with ewer and basin of beaten brass. The floor was laid in red
brick, and on it, at the bedside, lay a tiger-skin, brought from the
East. Its tawny tints, varied by bright yellow, were the only colors
in the room.

Virgilia was fond of fresh air. She pushed up the trap door in the
roof, reaching it easily, as the ceiling was so low, and let in a
flood of glorious evening light. Through the aperture she could see a
patch of brilliant blue sky. The swallows, dipping and circling, were
swirling about in the heavens, black specks against the golden light
of the departing sun.

Virgilia drew a long breath and then another. It had been very hot and
very fatiguing in her mother's room. She had refused to have any sun
or light except that coming out of the large living-room, from which
four sleeping chambers opened.

The girl stretched out her arms, in graceful languor, then, throwing
herself on the couch, she closed her eyes, but she was not sleeping. A
panorama of thoughts and visions passed rapidly through her mind. She
saw herself as she had been, a pagan, a worshipper of the gods, with
no thought above the arranging of her hair or the flowers she would
wear at the banquets. She recalled the visits to Hermione and the
quiet meetings of the Christians in their hiding-places in the
catacombs, surrounded by the graves of many martyrs to the Christian
faith.

One scene she would never forget. It was one afternoon when she and
Hermione accompanied by Marcus leaving Alyrus sleeping in the
antechamber, had slipped out by a side entrance, joining the other
Christians in the shadowy passageways of the underground cemeteries.

An old man, with snowy beard and piercing eyes was reading aloud a
letter, a letter from the Apostle Paul to those who were at Rome. The
light from torches stuck into the rough walls of the cubiculum shone
on an hundred upturned faces of brave followers of Christ who knew not
on what day, or in what hour they would be arrested and thrown into
prison.

They listened to the words of their fellow Christian, Paul, who had
seen the Lord on the way to Damascus.

"To all that be in Rome," he wrote, "beloved of God, called to be
saints: Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord
Jesus Christ * * * Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world
* * * I long to see you * * * I am debtor both to the Greeks and to
the Barbarians * * * So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the
Gospel to you that are at Rome also."

Then the elder told them that a report had been brought by brethren
arrived from Antioch, that the Apostle, who had for some time been
confined at Caesarea, had finally appealed to Caesar, and would be
brought to Rome to be tried. He might come at any time, and perhaps
they would be privileged to see him face to face.

Marcus and Hermione had said also on the way back to the villa, that
their mother thought that some day the Apostle would come to Rome, it
might be soon, and would bring them news of the Lord Christ, for he
had seen him with his own eyes.

The darkness settled down over Rome and still Virgilia dreamed on, but
the dreams were not prophetic; in the visions which she had there were
no forebodings of that which was to come.



IV.

THE INNER SHRINE OF JUPITER.


Alyrus crept out of the rear door of the house about sundown, while
Virgilia, her head pillowed on a cushion of soft down, was dreaming of
things past. He told Alexis to guard the entrance and if the master
inquired for him to tell him that a pair of sandals needed repairing
and he was carrying them to the shoemaker. In fact, he had the
sandals, of yellow Persian leather, wrapped up in an old handkerchief,
and showed them to the Greek.

While Alexis seated himself on the porter's marble bench just inside
the front door, left open that the evening breeze blowing fresh and
cool from the sea might pass through the heated rooms, Alyrus went
into the narrow alley at the rear. Just outside, a man crouched
against the brick wall. It was Lucius, the water-carrier, who had sung
the Christian hymn so boldly on the streets where pagan gods were
worshipped. His goat-skin water-bag was empty and lay, wrinkled and
collapsed, beside him.

Lucius, himself, was a strange sight in the midst of the luxurious
people of Rome. A peasant he was, dwelling in a cave far out on the
Roman Campagna, remote from the splendid villas and gardens lining the
wide ways leading out of the city to North and South and West. This
cave was in a mass of tufa rock rising abruptly from the flat, green
fields, and not far from the aqueduct, three tiers of brick arches,
one above the other, joined by massive masonry, through which fresh
water was brought in big leaden pipes to the city.

Hundreds of long-horned cattle, white and clean and strong, were
grazing in the fields. It was such as these that Cincinnatus guided,
ploughing the fields, when the messenger rode swiftly from Rome to
call him to come and save her by becoming Dictator.

Lucius was a tiller of the fields, but, also, a water-carrier. He was
resting now, after his labors in the scorching sunshine, half-asleep.

The Moor roused him into wide wakefulness, by giving him a sturdy
kick.

"What art thou doing here, lazybones? Get thou to thy kennel, wherever
it may be, dog of a Christian, and do not dare to show thy face here
again."

"Dog of a Christian!" murmured Lucius, scrambling to his feet. "How
did you know?"

Alyrus caught the words.

"How did I know? When a creature such as thou singest thy wicked songs
in broad daylight, he must expect to be heard. A little more and thou,
too, wilt go to feed the lions and offer entertainment to the
thousands who are weary of other amusements and seek something new.
Turn pale, scarecrow, and tremble. Thy day will come, the day when
those and others--shall suffer. Ha! ha! it strikes home, doesn't it?
Thou fearest, eh? So much the better."

Lucius stood before him, a pitiable figure. His body, brown as an
Indian's, was bare almost to the waist. He wore only one garment, a
sort of a shirt, made from the skin of one of his own sheep. His legs
and feet were as brown as the rest of his body, and as tough as those
of an animal.

His hair was black and long, a lock hung over his forehead and hid his
black eyes. A long beard fell from cheeks and chin on to his hairy
breast. There was nothing attractive about his appearance, it was
thoroughly animal.

"I am not afraid," he replied, with such dignity that Alyrus stared at
him. "When my time comes, I can die, trusting to a God whom thou
knowest not, Alyrus, the Moor, doorkeeper in the house of Aurelius
Lucanus."

"Thou knowest me, then?"

"I know thee well." His manner became cringing and servile. "I did but
wait here a moment to rest, and fell asleep. I will go on my way."

Alyrus nodded and walked on, going first to the shoemaker's, a tiny
shop where a man worked all day and slept at night. Having
accomplished this business, and saved himself from having left a lying
message for the lawyer, the porter went on his way to the Forum, where
all was still now, for the business of the day was over. A few men
were passing, but they paid no attention to the Moor.

It was quite dark, heavy clouds from the west were encircling rapidly
toward Rome and the wind had increased to a gale. There were sharp
flashes of copper-blue lightning and a roar of thunder like booming
cannon, echoing against the Alban and Salbine Hills encircling the
city.

So dark was it that Alyrus did not observe that he was followed; did
not see a strange figure with a sheep-skin flung over his back not far
behind him, slipping from one doorway to another, hiding behind
pillars, keeping the Moor ever in view.

Lucius the shepherd knew only one thing, intelligently, and that was
the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even the most ignorant can
learn this. The knowledge had been obtained one day, when, seeing a
company of men and women crossing the Campagna, he had, out of
curiosity, followed them to their gathering-place, where he had
learned the truth about Jesus. Outside of this Lucius was absolutely
unlearned, and almost as stupid as his own sheep. He had not wit
enough to know that when he sang a Christian hymn where any and all
could hear it his life was in the greatest danger. He was stupid,
downright stupid, but he had a keen eye, knew whom to trust and was
possessed of an insatiable curiosity.

Because, by instinct, he knew that Alyrus was up to some mischief, he
followed him to see where he went. There was another reason. In the
house of Aurelius Lucanus dwelt a small scullery maid, who assisted
the slaves in the kitchen, doing all the dirty work and being struck
and sworn at for any mistake. She earned a few cents a day. Lucius was
waiting outside in the alley-way, as was his daily custom after
finishing his work, to exchange a word with his daughter, whom he
dearly loved.

I have said that in the lawyer's household were three Christians, one
was Alexis, the Greek, and another was Lidia, the scullery-maid, who
had been baptized by the white-haired elder in the Catacomb, beside
her father.

Through her Lucius had learned that Martius and Virgilia were, also,
Christians and, with his usual genius for following people, he had
gone behind them to the Christian meeting place. He knew how wicked
Alyrus was, how ill the Lady Claudia had been and for what reason.
Lidia had poured out the whole story to him.

Lucius crouched down near the temple door at the side of the huge
white building with its many columns, after he had heard the knock
Alyrus gave at the small portal, and had heard the door clang behind
the porter. No good could come from that temple and its priests. Even
though they bowed before the statue of the god and burned incense, the
Romans did not trust the priests. They regarded them as intriguers,
trying to get their hands on everything, ready to worm out secrets for
their own profit and obtain private and political power whenever
possible.

The great black cloud enveloped Rome. It belched out lightning and
thunder, the flashes revealing the groups of stately buildings in the
Forum and Caesar's palace on the Palatine Hill. The rain poured in
torrents and it hailed, the ground was white with stones, some as
large as pigeon eggs.

Still, Lucius waited, calmly. He was accustomed to all sorts of
weather and his finery could not be spoiled. He drew his bare legs up
under him, threw the skin water bag over his head and shoulders and
waited.

Neither did Alyrus trust the priests. After all, these were not his
gods, nor his priests. He worshipped Baal, a greater god than Jupiter.
As a matter of personal safety, however, he bowed the knee to those
strange and worthless gods of Rome.

He kept his eyes well open, having been admitted to the temple by a
young priest, who, carrying a taper, led him through several winding
passages. A man could get into this gruesome building and never find
his way out, thought Alyrus, and though a brave chieftain in his own
country, he shivered here in the black corridors, echoing with every
footfall.

The priest conducted him to a large square room, with very high
ceiling, lighted only by a single silver lamp having five branches,
each of which contained a taper. Evidently this was an internal room,
having no windows. Alyrus judged that it was lighted by day from an
opening in the roof, covered with transparent material which withstood
water. The rain began to beat upon it, and later, hailstones clattered
by the thousands.

Around the table sat six priests, ghostly in their white robes. Their
faces were stern and gloomy. The Moor began to feel a misgiving about
his errand here. Perhaps after all, it would have been wiser to stay
at home.

"Hast thou the token I gave thee?" asked Lycidon, the priest, who sat
at the head of the table.

Alyrus saw that he was higher in position than the others. Around his
forehead was bound a golden circlet, bearing a lizard covered with
jewels. Its eyes were two emeralds and its body blazed with diamonds
and rubies.

"I have."

The porter held up the bronze lizard, similar in form to that on the
priest's forehead.

"It is well. Come forward to the light, and relate to me and these my
brethren, all that thou knowest of thy master."

The spirit of recklessness which makes men daring possessed Alyrus at
this moment. He felt approaching the glad hour of his revenge on those
whom he despised. But he had not lost all caution.

"What do I get as a reward for this knowledge which you so much
desire?"

The priest rose to his full height. His eyes blazed with anger and he
raised his arm to strike Alyrus, who did not cringe but faced him
boldly, though his dark cheeks grew livid.

An aged priest on the superior's right, laid a trembling hand on his
arm.

"Is it wise?" he asked, gently. "If thou frightenest the slave, he
will not give thee correct information."

"Thou art late to-night, father," said Lidia, reaching up her hardened
little hands to caress affectionately his weatherworn cheek. "I was
just going to bed."

"I was late because I was watching _him_," Lucius nodded his head
toward the door.

"Who? the master? Surely thou wouldst not."

"Be not so hasty, Lidia. It was not the master, but Alyrus."

"Oh! he is worth watching," responded wise and observant Lidia.

She was little thing, in spite of her twenty years, with a small face,
old in anxiety, but sparkling with vivacity. Lucius had said sometimes
that her eyes talked, they varied so with her different moods. She
petted and humored her father in an amusingly maternal way, and
carried the cares of his poor home in her heart.

"I believe it. To-night, he has been for an hour at the temple in the
Forum, and it bodes little good. What has he to do with the priests of
Jupiter? I trust not one of them, not one. It means some evil to this
dwelling."

Lidia's eyes grew anxious.

"I fear," she began then paused. She had learned that while her father
was apt in tracing information, he was not to be relied on in moments
when delicate problems were to be solved. Her own brain was much more
clear. "I will watch," she added. "Go home now, dear father and get
thy rest, for our God is ever near us. No harm can really destroy us.
It can only touch our bodies, not our souls, as the Great Teacher
saith."

"And thou, Lidia," the shepherd drew her close to him and turned the
determined little face so that he could see her. "Art thou happy here?
Remember thou art no slave, though thou hast chosen to be a menial.
Thy father wears no iron ring of bondage around his neck. He is a free
man."

"I wash the kettles clean," replied Lidia, laughing, while her
expressive eyes danced, "and that is something. What said our Teacher?
He who does the meanest work faithfully and well, has the Lord Christ
by his side. I am happy. And though I am only a kitchen maid, I can
see sometimes sweet Lady Virgilia whom I love. She is in danger,
father. Perhaps--perhaps, the little unknown maid in the kitchen may
save her. Who knows?"

"As thou wilt, child, as thou wilt. But it is lonely without thee in
the cave on the Campagna."

He started on his long walk homeward and Lidia watched his strange,
wild-looking figure until it was out of sight.

"Our God protect thee," she said in her heart and going inside, closed
and barred the door.

Before she went to bed she sought out a woman called _The Old One_.
What her real name was, or whence she had come, even Aurelius
himself did not know. She had come into his possession as a legacy
from his father, who had said: "Guard and care for her well, for she
has view of the future beyond that of human kind." Now, she was very
aged, her form was bowed and her face covered with tiny wrinkles. Some
said that she had passed the century limits; but no one knew, and her
secrets were buried in her own heart.

The Old One was reputed to be very wise. Her expression was almost
queenly in its dignity, and placid and kindly.

To her, Lidia poured out the news brought her by Lucius, adding to
these some things that her father did not know, which bore light upon
the designs of Alyrus and his daughter, Sahira.

The Old One listened, quietly. Then she laid her withered hand on
Lidia's head, very gently.

"Lie down and sleep, my child, and be at peace. The Lord is with thee.
What the future holds we fear not."

There were three Christians in the servants' quarters of the lawyer's
home, one was Alexis, the Greek, one was Lidia, the scullery-maid. And
the third was the Old One, whose age no man knew, or whence she came.



V.

THE OLD ONE SPEAKS.


Aurelius, the lawyer, found his wife crying when he returned from
business a fortnight later. It was one of those rainy days, coming
early in October, when it seems as though the skies opened to let down
streams of water, washing trees and bushes, drenching the heavy dust,
which, during a long summer drouth had accumulated so much in the
cracks of the stones on the streets, on the roofs and ledges of the
houses and on the leaves of vines and flowers that even the
thunder-storm on that night when Alyrus made his visit to the temple
had not had force enough to remove it.

It was a desolate day. In Rome when it rains the whole aspect changes,
it becomes dreary and depressing. Even people are affected by the
gloom, nerves are set on edge, and Aurelius, having had a trying
morning, was a little irritated to find his wife in this condition.

Remembering her weakness, he sat down beside her, took her cold hand
in his and said, gently: "What is the matter, dear one? What has
happened to annoy thee?"

"It is that miserable sect of Christians. I cannot bear them. Here is
thy son, Martius, acting the fool, stubborn, wilful, and now Virgilia
must show the same traits. It is past endurance. Something must be
done to break this charm whatever it is, that controls them so. I wish
that every Christian in the land would be destroyed by Jupiter. He can
do it if he wishes."

The lawyer's face grew stern. One of his troubles that morning had
been that everlasting affair of the Lady Octavia, who insisted on
freeing her slaves, and by this had succeeded in involving herself in
a law-suit which threatened disaster, because of a prior claim to a
certain slave who was very valuable.

"What has Virgilia done?" he asked, and his tone boded no good to his
daughter.

"She has refused," sobbed his wife, "refused to make the garlands for
the gods or offer them the customary libations. Says that she cannot;
it is contrary to the law of Christ--as if that mattered! Her
disobedience is bad enough in itself, but the worst for us are the
punishment and misfortunes which are certain to come upon us if the
gods are not placated."

Aurelius grew pale. This was to him, in spite of his general unbelief,
a real difficulty. Who knew what might happen?

"Dost thou mean that the gods have been neglected all the day? It must
be attended to at once!"

He sprang up, but Claudia held his hand tight in hers.

"It has been attended to. Sahira wove the garlands, a slave, not my
own daughter. The gods will be wrathful, of course, but perhaps we can
placate them by costly offerings of gold and spices at the temple. It
is of Virgilia that I would speak. What is to be done with such an
undutiful child? She must be married, or sent away to some lonely
place. Perhaps marriage would be better. Then her husband would
control her. The Senator Adrian Soderus has asked for her hand, but
thou didst send him away. Recall him."

"He is seventy years old and as ugly as night. While Virgilia is so
young and sweet."

"So stubborn and rebellious. He is old, but very rich. She will forget
this foolishness when she is surrounded by such luxury as he can give
her. Send for him."

"Where is Virgilia now?"

"In her room, where I sent her to think over her sins and repent."

Aurelius thought of the small, dark cubiculum where his daughter sat
alone on this day when the floods descended, and his heart warmed to
the culprit.

"I will talk with Virgilia," he said, rising.

"And thou wilt send for the Senator?"

"We shall see."

During the silent meal, eaten by the father and son under the
torch-light, so dark was the room, Aurelius did think seriously.

Of the two evils, marriage for Virgilia was, probably the one which
would cause her the least suffering. To send her away to a lonely
mountain place, to the holy women who dwelt apart, might break her
will, but it would ruin her health. Yes, marriage would open out a new
life and in the splendid home to which the Senator would be only too
happy to welcome her, she would forget this new and detestable
religion.

He summoned Virgilia to him in his own private room, the most
comfortable in the house, because it opened upon the street, had light
and air, was hung with rich silks in green and white and provided with
chairs and couches, having soft cushions. On the floor were rugs, the
work of the Old One's hands, during these long years. Day by day, hour
by hour, the woman had drawn the threads through the warp, inventing
the designs, forming beautiful figures with tints that harmonized.
Here were the faints-colors of the ever-varying opal; the bright blue
of the turquoise, the rose hues of the blossoms on the tea-rose, the
aqua-marine tints of the Mediterranean Sea. Truly oriental they were,
giving a hint of the Eastern origin of the Old One. Like some
godmother in the fairy tale, like some ancient wife of mythological
times, the Old One had wrought into these designs her own life. And
what had been her thoughts during those long hours and days and years?

Virgilia's face was not streaming with tears, as her father had
expected to see her. In fact, her eyes glowed with softness and
beauty. Yet there was a set look about her mouth which the lawyer knew
by past experience meant wilfulness.

The sympathy which had caused his heart to grow tender, vanished at
sight of this radiant young being as beautiful as a goddess who bathes
her face in the early morning dew, with the stubborn mouth.

Claudia was right. Something effectual must be done to bring this
lovely culprit to her senses.

"Thou hast grieved thy mother very much by thy disobedience and
irreverence," he said, coldly.

"I am truly sorry, dear father. For that I am truly sorry. But, thou
seest, I could not help it. It is wrong to offer flowers and prayers
to the gods."

"To whom then wouldst thou offer them?"

"We should bow only to the true God."

"And he? Who is he? Where is he?"

"He is the one invisible and mighty, the God of Heaven and of all
men."

"That is Jupiter, the all-powerful."

"It is not Jupiter, it is our God, as revealed in the Lord Jesus
Christ."

"A malefactor."

Virgilia smiled.

"Crucified for us," she murmured, "that we might have eternal life. He
sitteth now on the right hand of God.".

Her father gazed at her in astonishment. The girl was certainly out of
her mind? But, if she were then so was the Lady Octavia and her son
and daughter, and Martius, and hundreds, perhaps even thousands of
others, if rumor spoke truly. It was a dangerous heresy, and must be
destroyed.

It was no use to argue with a person who was really scarcely
responsible, as Virgilia now appeared to him to be. He must deal very
gently with her.

"Sit down here by me, dearest, I want to talk with thee a little."

So Virgilia sat down on a little stool at her father's feet and leaned
her arm on his knee, and while he stroked her soft hair, bound with
fillets of chased gold, set with large turquoises, he strove to calm
her and distract her mind from its vagaries.

When he sent her away, he was fully determined on a line of action.

He drew the tablets to him, and wrote a note to the most honorable
Senator Adrian Soderus, asking him to make an appointment.

Calling Alexis, he ordered him to carry the message to the house of
the Senator and bring him the answer.

The Greek returned, promptly. If it stopped raining, the Senator would
come to the house of the lawyer Aurelius Lucanus that evening, after
sundown, accompanied by the notary.

Then he summoned Sahira.

"Thou wilt clothe the Lady Virgilia in her most costly garments. Thou
wilt bind jewels in her hair and hang strings of pearls about her
neck. Her fingers, too, shall be laden with rings. Tell Alexis to
decorate the whole house with flowers and make it beautiful for a
feast."

Sahira went away, wondering what new turn affairs were taking, but she
did as she was bid, and at sundown in all Rome no more lovely maiden
could have been found than Virgilia, in her costly robes and flashing
jewels. But more beautiful than all, was the white, pure soul which no
man could see.

"Is it for a feast, Sahira?" asked Virgilia, looking at herself in the
long metal mirror, and smiling at the reflection. Virgilia was human.

"For a feast, your father said," replied the slave, leaving Virgilia
in her splendor, sitting in the fast-darkening room, alone.

The Senator Adrian Soderus, indeed, lost no time. He arrived at the
lawyer's house just at the hour of sundown, when the heavy clouds were
scattering and the sun sent shafts of golden light to turn the mists
overhanging the towers and pinnacles of Rome's palaces and temples
into filmy veils. It looked like a wraith-city, hung with yellow
gauze.

The chair stopped at the door and the noted man alighted with much
difficulty, for he was very stout from too much indulgence in the good
things of the world, and half-crippled with rheumatism, besides. It
took two strong slaves to lift him out and support him until he sank,
with a groan, on the largest and strongest seat possessed by Aurelius
Lucanus.

Claudia was given new life by the prospect of her daughter's marriage
to one of the wealthiest men in Rome, a thing which she had tried to
bring to pass some months before, but failed because of her husband's
opposition. He had said that it was wicked to give so fair a maiden as
Virgilia to this old and feeble man. Now, Claudia thanked the gods,
the objection had been removed by Virgilia's own fault.

She arrayed herself to receive the Senator with as much care as if she
were going to be a guest at Caesar's table. This marriage of
Virgilia's would bring her and her husband into the first rank of
society, a thing for which her soul had longed for many a year. A
lawyer, though a man highly honored and received at the palace, was
nevertheless, considered of medium rank. The mother of a Senator took
a different position. And all this had been caused merely by a chance
meeting with Adrian Soderus, when he had been charmed by Virgilia's
lovely face. Well, she was lovely, Claudia acknowledged, in the
intervals of scolding her waiting-woman because she did not arrange
the curls on her forehead to her satisfaction; no lovelier could be
found in the whole province, even the emperor himself had smiled upon
her one day, when she had gone with her father and mother to the
palace. Emperor's smiles, however, had little value, whereas the
Senator's riches were practical.

Claudia greeted the ponderous guest with deepest courtesies, and soon
she and the lawyer, with the notary, a little dried-up man who took
snuff freely from a golden, bejeweled box, and sneezed so violently
thereafter that Virgilia, sitting alone in her room, heard him and
laughed outright, had arranged the whole affair. Virgilia was only a
child and did not dream that in another part of the house, she was
being discussed as if she were a package of merchandise, bargained
over as coolly as though the affair concerned the sale of a slave.

This was no unusual thing in ancient Rome. A girl was her father's
property, to be disposed of as he saw fit and to his advantage.
Neither Aurelius nor Claudia intended to be cruel to Virgilia. It was
the custom of the times and her mother, at least, was thoroughly
frightened over the fact that Virgilia had been led away by strange
doctrines, taught by what she considered a very low class of persons.
She actually believed that this disposal of the daughter whom she
truly loved, would be in the end for her happiness. The Senator had a
kind face. He would be good to Virgilia.

Her father was not, however, so convinced of the right, moral right,
of what they were doing. He knew that he was fully within the civil
right. He felt very uncomfortable and inclined to throw the whole
thing up, if it were possible.

It was too late now, he feared. Claudia had set her heart on this--had
been urging it for a long time. She looked brighter this evening, more
like herself. Perhaps on the whole, Virgilia would not be any more
unhappy in the home which this old man could give her, than she would
be married to some young man whom they would choose.

The Senator provided very handsomely for Virgilia, according to the
legal document already drawn up by the notary, and this was finally
signed by all three contracting parties and by two freedmen brought by
the notary to be witnesses.

Then, the little man, after many profound bows and a parting series of
sneezes just outside the curtained door, went away. Martius was called
and told to bring Virgilia.

A feast was not unusual in the house of Aurelius, and Virgilia
anticipated it with pleasure. The memory of her disobedience and
daring in the morning had faded from her mind for the moment. Very
gaily she took Martius' hand and walked by his side.

"Thou art very beautiful to-night, sister mine," he said, with a boy's
admiration for her finery. Virgilia's laugh rang out and the group
waiting silently for her arrival, heard it. The Senator smiled,
Claudia drew her draperies around her with a hand that trembled a
little. Aurelius frowned. He wished with all his heart that he had
never signed that document which bound her to this man.

"It is my fine clothes," replied Virgilia. "A peacock would be nothing
without his gay feathers. What is the feast to-night, Martius?"

"I know not. Perhaps some friends of father's have come to eat and
drink with us."

The Senator rose with difficulty as the radiant girl entered, led by
Martius.

Amazed, Virgilia looked at her mother.

"I was called," she said, and she grew very pale.

Some time before, her mother had informed her that the great Senator
had asked her hand, but, after a conversation with her father she had
been assured that negotiations would be dropped. This man, the meaning
of the decoration of the rooms with gay Autumn blossoms of yellow and
purple; this was to be her betrothal and she had not been told. In a
flash, it was revealed to her that it was a result of her refusal to
do homage to the gods that morning. Very well, she would suffer the
consequences bravely. But, in the house to which she was to go, she
would never bow down to the idols, no matter what the result might be.
She signed the contract, submitted to the Senator her hand, and sat by
his side at the table, decorated his head with the marriage garland
and received from him another wreath of fine white orange-blooms.

Her father saw, with sorrow, that her face was deathly white.

There was eating and drinking and merriment, in which Virgilia, in
spite of her sadness, tried to join. It did not occur to her to
protest or question her father's judgment. A daughter must accept the
husband chosen for her; but she wished with all her heart that it
might have been Marcus, the son of Octavia, who was sitting by her
side, wearing the bridal garland, rather than this feeble old man.
Yet, even the thought was disloyal and unmaidenly. She dismissed it.

The merriment was at its height, and Aurelius began to feel that
Virgilia would not suffer much from this necessary solution of a
difficult problem, when the curtain of Persian silk at the door was
suddenly torn aside and the Old One entered.

Very slowly, leaning on her staff, bowed half over, and with white
hair streaming down to her shoulders, she approached the table.
Claudia screamed when she saw her and the Senator trembled. People
were very superstitious in those days, and the Old One was known to be
a prophetess.

Aurelius left his place.

"What dost thou desire, Mother?" he asked.

She lifted to him eyes filled with a strange light. The gray mantle
she wore fell away from her skinny arm as she raised it high.

"Woe! woe to the house of Lucanus!" she cried shrilly. "Your feasting
shall be turned into sorrow, your rejoicing shall be changed into
mourning and the voice of weeping shall be heard, a mother weeping for
her daughter, a father bemoaning the loss of his children, a
bridegroom grieving over a lost bride. Woe! Woe!"

Virgilia and her mother were clinging to each other. The Senator was
pallid and shaking with fear.

"Woe! woe to the house of Lucanus!" wailed the aged woman, and would
have fallen if Martius had not caught her in his strong arms.

The slaves, frightened, had gathered in the doorway. At a sign from
Aurelius, they carried her away, while Sahira tried to assist Virgilia
to calm her mother.

"She is very aged," explained the lawyer.

"She must be crazy," energetically remarked the Senator, demanding his
chair.

When he had gone away, and Claudia was in bed, with Virgilia, by her
side, the lawyer sat a long time in his little room and thought.

What was this woe that the Old One had prophesied for him and his
household?

As the light of a rosy dawn bathed the world in the beauty of a
promised day, he arose.

"She must be crazy," he said, repeating the Senator's words.

But he did not forget.



VI.

THE FEAST OF THE GRAPES.


Sunshine and laughter came after clouds and sadness. It was natural
that the effects of the Old One's strange words should pass away and
be almost forgotten, except by the lawyer, who feared disaster. He did
what for him was a novel thing. He made an offering to Jupiter. After
all, there might be something in this worship of the gods; it was
safer to be on the right side.

It was a gift of money that he made, a large gift, for Lucanus was
prosperous and received many sesterces of gold from the imperial
treasury, besides having a lucrative practice. Being so large a gift,
he decided to present it in person and get full credit for his piety
and devotion to the gods.

So, on a morning, a week later, accompanied by Alexis, the Greek
slave, who followed Christus--though this was not known--he went to
the main door of the temple in the Forum and boldly asked for the
Lycidon, chief priest of Jupiter.

"Wait thou here," he commanded, and Alexis seated himself on the
steps, watching the busy crowds passing by.

It was a feast-day, and a white bull, hung with flowers was being led
through the Sacred Way to a shrine where the people would worship him
as possessing the spirit of a great god. Everything was a god to the
Romans, even trees and animals were possessed of spirit.

Alexis looked at the bull and the procession of priests following it;
at the dancing girls and the motley crowd of men and women. He prayed
to Almighty God that he might show these poor deluded beings the
better way to Eternal Life.

The tall superior was more gracious to the lawyer who brought rich
gifts than he had been to the slave Alyrus. When he learned the name
of the donor, he was still more suave and his eyes were very keen.

"Thy name shall go down to all generations as a faithful follower of
the gods," he said, laying aside the golden chalice and purse of gold
pieces. "In these days when Rome is filled with new doctrines and
heretics are found on every side, it is cheering to know that the
learned lawyer Aurelius Lucanus gives richly to the gods."

But when Lucanus had gone away, flattered, yet relieved to get out of
those dismal corridors into the brilliant October sunshine, the priest
smiled, a cruel smile of one who meditates evil. Alexis rose from his
seat on the steps and followed his master to his office.

Claudia, in the excitement of preparing a handsome outfit for
Virgilia, forgot the Old One's words entirely and recovered her health
marvellously. She was very affectionate to Virgilia and her offense
was no more mentioned, nor was she required to worship the gods. Her
mother left this fever to run its course and be healed by new scenes
and costly jewels.

Even Virgilia, herself, grew interested in the preparations for her
departure to her husband's house, which had been fixed for a day in
November, when the religious ceremony should take place. There were
cedar chests to be filled with piles of linen, woven by the slaves.
One very handsome oak marriage chest was full of silks and gauzes of
much price, brought on the ships which sailed up the Tiber from the
port of Ostia, on their return from Egypt.

A copper box held jewels, set in Etruscan gold, exquisitely chased by
the cunning hands of workers in the Way of the Goldsmiths. There were
opals, shimmering in the sunrays, alive with inner fires of flame-color.
There were diamonds, half-cut, and pearls found in the Ganges,
with emeralds and sapphires, rubies and garnets, many of them gifts
from friends to whom announcements of the betrothal had been sent on
ivory tablets engraved in blue.

Claudia lifted out the diadem which the emperor, himself, had caused
to be brought to their door by a train of slaves, thus calling
attention to their high social standing in the eyes of all the
neighbors.

When the Senator gave Virgilia a necklace of diamonds to match those
in the diadem sent by Caesar, Claudia felt that her cup was full of
happiness. Even Virgilia was pleased and for the moment, being young
and fond of pretty things, forgot that the Christian maiden should be
unadorned save by her own modesty.

Martius was the gravest of the family. Now that Virgilia was so
occupied that she could not go to the meetings of the Christians,
although this had always been difficult for her, he went alone, or
joined Hermione and Marcus. From them and other Christians he heard
news which greatly alarmed him. There were rumors of an uprising
against the followers of Christ. It was said that the priests of
Jupiter were arousing the senators and even the emperor to a sense of
the danger in which the government would find itself if these heretics
were allowed to increase as they were doing at the present time.

The Senator Adrian Soderus, who visited the lawyer and his wife
frequently and in view of the coming marriage was permitted to see
Virgilia, confirmed the news, entirely unaware of the fact that both
his betrothed and her brother Martius belonged to the despised people.

"They multiply like rats," he said, sipping from a silver goblet the
sweet orange juice Sahira prepared. "And like rats they live in holes
in the ground. There they hold their wicked meetings and form their
impious designs. They are a menace to Rome and must be destroyed."

"Ought I to tell him?" Virgilia asked her brother after one of these
conversations.

"How do I know, dearest? It is for father to speak, and he does not. I
fear--I fear. Yet, if thou art once married to him, he is bound to
protect thee. Thou wilt surely be safe."

"But thou--and Hermione--and--Marcus?"

"God is all-powerful. We are in his hands."

There came the messenger from the Lady Octavia bearing a pearl anklet
as a wedding gift to Virgilia with many greetings and good wishes. And
if it were possible, would they all come "to celebrate the Feast of
the Grapes, in five days?"

"I will not go," said Claudia. "The Lady Octavia is not to my liking."

"Nor I," added Aurelius, "but we must not be discourteous, she is a
good client. It will be an enjoyable feast in this fine weather.
Virgilia's cheeks are too pale. She and Martius shall go."

On the day of the Feast, Virgilia was glad to go out into the fresh
air, to leave the seamstresses busy sewing in the inner courtyard.
They were embroidering fine garments of silk so soft that it could be
drawn through a ring. They were hemming and drawing threads, draping
and cutting the rich material from Tyre which was to form part of
Virgilia's wedding outfit.

The young girl was sad on this beautiful October day when the air was
spicy with the whiffs of ripe grapes and pomegranates in the gardens
and vineyards. She was thinking of what it would mean to go away from
her home, to leave her parents and Martius, to take up another life,
and be obedient to the old Senator, who, kind and indulgent as he
might be, was, nevertheless, little more than her master, or she,
little better than one of her own slaves. Not once, however, did the
thought enter her mind that she was a free being, at liberty to rebel
and decline this marriage so suddenly arranged for her. It was for her
parents to decide what her future should be, and for her to obey.

Early in the morning of the day which they were to pass in the lovely
gardens of Octavia, Virgilia ascended a narrow steep staircase and
went out upon the flat roof. It was like a garden up here, with
trellises and vines. Some late tea-roses were in bloom. The girl broke
off one and placed it in the folds of her gown. She could breathe in
its sweetness.

Over at one end of the roof--or terrace, as it is called--sat the Old
One, making a carpet. Above her head was a gay scarlet and blue
awning, to protect her from the sun, still hot, even in cool October.

The slave looked up and smiled when Virgilia came near, motioning to a
pile of cushions.

"Ever busy, Mother?" said the young girl, examining the work.

The rug was very handsome. It had five borders wrought in dull blues,
white and yellow, covered with conventional designs, and the centre
was exquisite, a white ground on which loose flowers were thrown
negligently, carelessly, without regular form, yet the whole was
perfect.

"It is almost finished, my child, and when it is done, it shall be for
thee, to adorn thy home."

"For me?"

"My wedding gift to thee. On the day that thou wast born, I began it,
and all through these seventeen years I have worked at it, thinking
that on the day when thou shouldst go away to thy husband, the rug
would go with thy household goods to remind thee of the aged woman
whose gnarled and withered hands wrought it for thee."

"I shall ever hold it precious."

Virgilia sank down on the cushions, listlessly. Far away she could see
the blue lines of mountains, bordering the fields where Lucius the
Water-Carrier lived, where were the marvellous tombs of the great on
the Appian Way; where stately homes bordered the fashionable Ostian
Way, and where were the Catacombs where the Christians buried their
dead and gathered for worship.

She looked with some curiosity at the placid, gentle face of the old
woman. That night, when she had burst in upon the betrothal feast with
her dire prophecies, she had been transformed, a creature of whom they
were afraid. Had she been conscious of what she said then? Virgilia
thought not.

"Mother," she said, "thy many years of life have brought to thee
wisdom. Should one tell everything to one's husband? Even when it may
be dangerous?"

The Old One held a yellow thread suspended from her ivory hook and
looked keenly at Virgilia.

"Thou hast a secret, my child?"

"Yes, mother."

"One of which thou art ashamed?"

"No, no. But it involves others."

The bricks were sprinkled with sand. Virgilia stopped and drew a fish
in the sand. She had for some time suspected that the Old One was a
Christian. If she were, she would recognize the symbol of Christ, the
"Icthus." If she were not, it would do no harm.

"And thou, too, art a little fish," murmured the Old One. "Thanks be
to His holy name, when the Lord Christ was born, I was a Princess in
the court of Herod, the King, who was sore afraid, because it was told
him that a new King had come to reign over Israel. The angels sang at
His birth and the kings from the East brought presents of frankincense
and myrrh. I fell into the hands of the Romans, and here I am, a
slave. But it was a plan of God. In Rome, I learned to know Christ."

"Virgilia! Virgilia!" Martius called. "It is time to go. Hurry! The
chair is at the door."

"If the time comes when for conscience' sake thou must disclose that
thou art a follower of Christ, do so. If not, keep silence and worship
Him in thine heart lest evil come upon the thousands who love Him,"
said the Old One. Her eyes grew filmy and she stretched out her hands,
tremblingly. "I see--I see--a shadow of death--approaching. But in the
shadow--shines the face--of our--Risen Lord."

"Mother, Mother!" said Virgilia, alarmed.

"Was I speaking? What did I say? This work must be finished soon, for
the marriage."

"Virgilia!" came Martius' peremptory summons.

"Yes, I am coming."

Stopping only to call Sahira to bring the Old One a refreshing drink,
Virgilia veiled herself, entered her chair, and with Martius walking
by her side, was borne out of the city gate guarded by men in full
uniform, armed with staves and knives, and through the road leading to
the Lady Octavia's house.

What a day that was! The vines, festooned gracefully between dwarf
mulberry trees, were loaded with huge bunches of purple and white
grapes. The men and women slaves were gathering them and heaping them
up in baskets. The red juice escaped and ran in streams over the
yellow earth.

Laughing and merry the four young people passed among the servants
eating grapes to their heart's content, telling stories of other days,
leaving the future to unfold for itself. They did not try to foresee
it.

At noon, they went to the cool, shady room overlooking the garden and
ate the cold meats and fresh green salad, luscious fruit and white
goat's cheese, finishing the meal with sweet cakes and a delicious
drink made from the fresh juice of the grapes just gathered.

Before they ate, the freedmen stood, respectfully waiting, while
Octavia, in a low voice, offered a prayer of thanksgiving for the food
so bountifully provided. Only a small part of the servants, formerly
slaves, were Christians, and Octavia had often been warned that her
life and that of her children was in danger through her open defiance
of the priests and declaration of her own Christian faith.

"I trust in God," was all that she would say.

In her house were no gods, no images. Flowers there were, in
abundance, the rooms were bowers of beauty, the table, with its
spotless cloth of fine white linen, bore silver vases filled with
roses and autumn blossoms, but there were no shrines and no statutes.

On this Feast of the Grapes around Rome Bacchus was worshipped and
much wine was drunk, until the people lost their senses and became
brutes. In Octavia's home, the feast was observed with games and songs
and merriment, but all was done decently and in order. It was because
her views were not theirs that many of the friends who had visited
them when the Senator was alive--now refused to associate with the
Lady Octavia, although they could not openly ignore her on account of
her great wealth.

It drew toward evening. The days were still long, and Martius planned
to return home by moonlight. At seven o'clock, they were eating supper
in an arbor at the side of the Villa. The big, round moon was rising
over the Alban Hills, soon it would be a great lamp in the sky.

All over the Campagna the Feast of the Grapes had been celebrated that
day. The sounds of boisterous laughter, of loud singing, came to their
ears from the crowds who were passing outside the high walls
surrounding the entire estate.

"There is more noise than usual," remarked Octavia.

The sounds had changed. They grew menacing. People were quarreling
with each other. "It is nothing," replied Marcus. "Always on this
Feast, there is much drunkenness and revelry."

But his mother was uneasy.

"It is wiser for thee to return home at once, Martius," she said. "I
will carry thy chair, Virgilia. The bearers have been resting long."

"I have a strong stick," Martius said, laughing, "and Alexis is armed.
We can easily protect Virgilia."

"Is it not better for you to remain here," suggested Marcus. "We will
send a messenger to thy father."

"Nonsense. There is no danger. But it is wiser that we should start at
once. Later, there will be thousands returning home."

At that moment, the porter from the gate came running toward the
arbor. He was, plainly, very much excited. With him was a man of dark
swarthy skin, and a scar across his forehead.

"Thou, Alyrus?" exclaimed Martius, surprised to see the Moor here.

"I have a message for you, my young master." Martius failed to observe
the bitterness in which he spoke the last words, or the glow of his
dark eyes, resting by turns on each member of the group. "You and the
Lady Virgilia are to return home at once. Your father desired me to
tell you that the people are enraged at an insult offered by some
Christians to one of the holy gods."

"Go, go!" said Octavia.

Martius stopped a moment to speak to Hermione, while Marcus assisted
Virgilia into her chair.

"Is it safe for thee?" he asked. "We cannot tell what may happen."

She smiled at him.

"God is with us, Martius, my friend."

"I would that I had thy great faith, Hermione. We part but to meet
again."

"If God will?"

The chair, carried by four men, passed out of the iron gate, which
swung shut behind them. The heavy bolts were shot quickly into place
by the frightened porter. Riots were not unknown in Rome, but riots
which were against Christians were very serious matters.

If glances full of meaning were exchanged between Alyrus and the
bearers, neither Martius nor Alexis noticed them.

The crowd in front of Octavia's gate was now very menacing. The men
were throwing stones over the wall and crying: "Down with the
Christians!"

"Way! Way for the daughter of Aurelius Lucanus, worshipper of the
gods," cried Alyrus, and the crowd parted to let them through.



VII.

ENTER, LYCIAS, THE GLADIATOR.


Lidia, the scullery maid, stole out of the back door of her master's
house. Bare-foot she was and her black hair streamed out behind her as
she ran swiftly through the streets of Rome. Few noticed her, for the
people were still excited from the doings of the night before. Groups
stood at the places where roads crossed, or in the shadows of the
columns and discussed what had occurred. When such important matters
as the arrest of a few hundreds of Christians were concerned, the
little maid with frightened eyes and ragged clothes was not of any
moment.

"It is the priests who stirred up this trouble," said one man looking
up at the grim grayish-white walls of Jupiter's temple. "I am no
follower of Christus, but I employed a man who was, and he was ever
industrious and sober. They are not such a bad lot. It is a pity--"

"Whist!" exclaimed another man. "Speak not so loud. Even the walls of
yonder temple have ears. They say that there are speaking tubes hidden
in every room so that the Superior may know just what goes on. I'll
tell you the one thing, my friend, if the priests are in it there's
gold somewhere. They don't do things for nothing."

"That they do not. Didst hear that the splendid villa of Octavia,
widow of Aureus Cantus, the Senator, was raided by a mob last night?
The freedmen are scattered or seized again as slaves and the family,
the lady and two children have entirely disappeared. Her home and all
its treasures have already been confiscated, as belonging to a traitor
and I'll venture that the priests in yonder get a good share of the
wealth."

"She was an honorable woman. It is a shame."

"Shame, yes, but it pleases the people and gratifies the priests, two
things very essential to him who sits upon the throne."

"Dost think--"

"Aye, I think much that I do not say. Hundreds of Christians have been
herded into the prisons, the uprising of the multitude yesterday was
but part of the game. It was all planned. They say, too, that a dark
man, with great gold rings in his ears and a scar on his face, has
been tracking these Christians for weeks. No doubt he was an emissary
of the priests."

"I have seen him myself. There he goes, now."

Alyrus walked through the crowd like a king, as if he expected them to
bow before him.

"I've seen him before," said the first man. "Where was it? I remember
now. It was he who sat in the ante-chamber of Aurelius Lucanus'
office. He is his slave."

"And is the honorable lawyer mixed up in this business?"

"Who knows? One thing is certain. The people will be amused and forget
the cruelties of the Emperor, for there will be a grand show in the
amphitheatre, far grander than any gladiatorial show."

"Thou meanest--"

"That these Christians must be disposed of, or they will rebel. The
lions are even now growling in the underground cages."

Lidia sped on, though her feet grew very weary before she reached the
cave where Lucius dwelt. He was standing in front of it, blowing into
a flame some charcoal in a small iron brazier. She approached him
unseen. He looked up, startled when he heard her calling him.

"Ah, Lidia, is it thou? Hast come to have supper with thy father? Thou
art welcome. There is a tender kid roasted and I have gathered some
fresh greens in the field. I will make thee a salad."

"Please do, dear father. I am very weary and have tasted no food since
morning."

Sitting down on the grass, they gave thanks and ate. The shepherd gave
her a large plantain leaf for a plate. Their food was such as Jacob
ate in days of old, long before Rome was built.

"Thou art very weary, my child."

"And heart-sick. Thou hast not been in the city for two days."

"No. The rains have been so heavy that the sprinkling from my
sheepskin bag was not needed. So I stayed here to care for the herds."

"Then thou dost not know what has happened. Father, my master and the
Lady Claudia are in deep distress. Martius and the Lady Virgilia went
to visit the widow of Cantus outside the gate, on the day when the
Feast of the Grapes was celebrated. They have never returned. Nor has
Alyrus, who was sent on an errand by Aurelius that afternoon, nor
Alexis, the Greek. Not one has come back to tell of their fate. This
morning, Sahira, my Lady Claudia's waiting-maid disappeared and the
mistress lies there moaning and crying. It is pitiful. Everyone is in
disorder of spirit. I, even though I am but a scullery-maid, did creep
into my Lady's room and put cold cloths on her head and fanned her
face. No one else thought of her. The servants go here and there,
without a head; the whole house is in confusion. Some of the slaves
have already run away. It is rumored, father, that many Christians
have been arrested. No doubt Martius and Virgilia are among them."

"But thou?"

"I am safe. Who cares for so humble a person as I? The Old One is very
ill. I think she is going to die. No one cares for her but me. But I
am safe. No one notices me, for I am little and ugly, thank God. I
soothe the Old One, who moans and cries: 'Woe. Woe! to this
household,' I must go back now. It is but four and twenty hours,
father, since the home of Aurelius was full of joy and gladness. Now
it is desolate."

The shepherd rose and picked up his staff.

"Lidia, it is Alyrus who has wrought all this. He and the priests of
Jupiter. I will seek out Lycias, the gladiator. He will know what to
do."

A warm red shone in Lidia's thin, sallow cheeks.

"Thou wilt greet him from me, father?"

He nodded, and walked rapidly away, while Lidia, taking another path,
ran toward the gates of Rome. Inside the walls, she almost collided
with Alyrus, the Moor, who strode by not recognizing her. Slipping
along in the shadows, she followed him eagerly, as intently as her
father would have done, through the streets, into the Forum to the
Temple of Jupiter, and saw him enter the side door.

Then she hastened back to her duties, going into the house which was
very still and deserted. Only a few of the many slaves owned by
Aurelius the lawyer, remained to guard his interests. When the
displeasure of an emperor falls on a man, it means disaster.

She looked in at her mistress' door and found her sleeping, moaning as
she slept. She went to the servant's quarters. On her humble couch lay
the Old One, who had been a Princess in the court of Herod sixty years
before, beautiful, admired. Her face was very quiet and the expression
was sweet. Death had touched her lightly when he bore her into the
presence of the Lord whom she had loved. The finished rug which she
had made for Virgilia's wedding present lay under the scarlet and
white awning on the Terrace.

Alyrus had come into his reward. He was free, and Sahira his daughter
was free, a purse of gold was in his hand and a ship lay waiting in
the harbor, to carry them away to their home by the desert.

Alyrus was not ready to go, yet. He wanted first to see all the
amusement which there would be in Rome. He could not miss the climax
of what he had intrigued for. He knew nothing of that Judas who had
sold his Lord for thirty pieces of silver, or he might have likened
himself to this traitor.

No, he would not leave until the games were over. The scheme had
worked well. There had not been the slightest hitch from the moment
that they left the gate of Octavia's villa, until the bearers, who
were in the plot, carried Virgilia into the Temple of Jupiter, and
Martius and Alexis, little noticed in the unusual excitement stirred
up by the priests, were easily overpowered and cast into one of the
lowest dungeons.

Yes, it had been most successful. Alyrus returned to the temple now to
see Sahira who was in charge of the holy women and sallied forth again
to sit in one of the shops and drink a glass of grape juice. He was a
thoroughly temperate man, knowing that wine muddles the brain and
perverts the judgment.

It was now late in the evening. Proclamations were already on the
walls announcing that on the fourth day, there would be grand games in
the Circus. Gladiatorial contests would be the first thing on the
program, followed by the lions and Christians. The learned ones were
reading this notice aloud to the ignorant and the women, and all
seemed to be much pleased.

Alyrus sat down and ordered his cup of fresh grape juice, with snow
from Mt. Hermon to cool it in. As he sipped it, he saw the great
gladiator, Lycias, come into the circle of light from the flaring
torches, but he did not perceive the shepherd, who remained outside,
in the shadow.

Now, Lycias was a great man in the eyes of the Romans. He had been a
poor boy, but by reason of his strength had risen to be the first
gladiator. He and Lidia the kitchen-maid, had grown up together in the
cave of Lucius, for Lycias had been found, a tiny baby, lying at the
door of the sheepfold. For the love and care bestowed upon him, Lycias
had always been grateful.

Therefore, at the request of Lucius, was he here.

At the entrance of the famous gladiator, a shout arose from the men
seated at the small tables.

"Hail, Lycias! Hail, Lycias!" came from every side.

The tall man bowed to one friend and then another, smiled and walked
through the room, seeking a place to sit. With a smile, he declined
proffered seats with groups of men, and finally took a place near
Alyrus, the Moor.

"If it does not inconvenience you," he said.

"Not in the least," replied Alyrus, flattered at the attention thus
drawn to him.

The gladiator laid aside his silver helmet, unloosed his short sword
and ordered light refreshment from the proprietor who came himself to
serve so noted a guest.

Had some great philosopher entered, he would have been greeted with
respect but would not have aroused anything like so much interest or
enthusiasm as did the victorious gladiator. Even the boys in the
streets knew his name and tried to imitate him.

For some time, while he had satisfied a very hearty appetite, Lycias
did not open a conversation, and Alyrus, a little awed, had hesitated
to speak.

Apparently for the first time, the gladiator examined the Moor's face.

Springing to his feet, he saluted in a military fashion.

"Your pardon, my lord, I knew not that I had ventured to presume upon
the kindness of Claudius Auranus, governor of Carthage."

Alyrus stammered.

"Be seated, sir, I--I am not his excellency the governor of Carthage.
I am a much humbler man, a chieftain of Tripoli."

"Ah! I knew that you were some distinguished person, from your bearing
and dress."

When Alyrus smiled, he was uglier than ever.

"A brute!" muttered Lycias, under his breath. Then aloud: "Are you on
some mission to the Emperor?"

"Ahem. Not so. But very high in the secrets of the chief priest of
Jupiter."

"One might call him the power behind the throne."

"Thou hast said truly."

"And it is really true that thou art admitted to those holy
precincts?"

"Behold!" Alyrus drew from the folds of his garment the bronze lizard.
"Not only does this admit me to the temple itself but to any place in
the city of Rome. Thou seest. It is the symbol of the priests of
Jupiter."

"I see," Lycias' eyes gleamed, as he watched Alyrus placing the
precious symbol in a safe place.

Then, Alyrus, intoxicated by the events of the past few moments, by
his sudden transition from slavery to freedom, at the prospect opening
before him of a speedy return to the home he loved, flattered at the
homage shown him by the gladiator, poured out the whole story into
ears only too willing to hear. He narrated everything except that he
had been a slave, representing himself as a client of Aurelius
Lucanus, who had been grievously wronged by him. He told how he had
discovered, one day in the public Forum, that the son and daughter of
the lawyer were Christians, and Aurelius sympathized with them; how,
by the chief priest's desire, he had assisted in tracking many more of
the despised sect, of whom several hundred were now languishing in
prison, among them, Octavia the widow of the proud Senator Aureus
Cantus, and her son and daughter.

Lycias passed his big hand over his smoothly shaven face to hide his
expression of disgust. He rose.

"If you permit, honored sir, I will now retire, with the hope that we
shall meet again."

"Willingly will I continue the conversation. Perhaps--" Alyrus was
swelling with importance, "it would interest you to visit the prisons
and see these Christians before they are thrown into the arena. I
understand that you are first on the program."

"Yes. I had thought of asking such a privilege as a visit to these
prisoners. By the way, where is the daughter of Aurelius?"

Alyrus shot a keen glance at him, but the face of Lycias was guileless
as that of a child.

"She is well guarded. I can tell you that, and her brother Martius,
with Alexis the Greek slave--who ever looked down upon me," he added,
unguardedly, continuing in haste, as he perceived his mistake, "I
should have said, who was impertinent to me one day, lie in a dungeon
far in the earth below the temple. From there, is a private
underground passageway to the Circus. They will never see the light of
day again."

"A faithless friend, a bitter enemy," was Lycias' thought as striding
forth from the room, he joined Lucius.

"It is worse than I feared," Lucius said. "There is little hope."

"We shall see," responded the gladiator, thoughtfully. "Art thou
willing to take great risks to save the son and daughter of Aurelius?"

"For the sake of Lidia, who loves them, I am."

"Await my instructions, then," and they parted.

The next afternoon, Alyrus let Lycias through the dark prisons in
which the Christians were herded like beasts. The guards opened every
door at the sight of the symbol of priestly authority, the bronze
lizard.

Lycias, brave and strong man, grew sick at the dreadful suffering of
delicate women, frail young girls accustomed to luxury, who were so
suddenly thrown into surroundings and as they had never dreamed of.

All because of their faith? Lycias began to wonder what the power was
which enabled these feeble creatures to face death with calmness and
courage.

"There must be something in this religion of Jesus Christ which makes
them forget themselves," he thought. "I will ask Lidia to tell me the
secret."

In one corner of a dark, damp cell, several persons were kneeling in
prayer. The voice of an old man could be heard, petitioning God, for
Christ's sake, to lead them through this valley of the shadow of death
and bring them to the holy city in its beauty and into the presence of
their Lord and Master.

"There, that is Virgilia, the fair one, yonder, with face upraised,"
said Alyrus.

Lycias took a long look at the young girl, so that he would know her
again.

"Next to her is Hermione, and Octavia, widow of Aureus Cantus and her
son. All three are there!"

The laugh of the Moor was hideous in its coarseness. The young girls
shivered and drew closer to Octavia.

"Fear not," Octavia whispered, smiling at them. God had given her
great courage.

It was on this day that Alyrus, growing more confidential, told Lycias
of the vessel lying in the River Tiber, ready to set sail as soon as
he and Sahira went on board.

"I have only to show them the symbol," he quoted, "and the sailors and
officers are subject to my orders."

That evening, the gladiator went to the cave, and finding Lidia with
her father, ate the supper of coarse bread and goat's cheese with
them.

"Thou art accounted of much wisdom," he said to Lidia, "thy little
head hath been ever steady on thy shoulders. Tell us what to do."

"I am only a kitchen-maid," Lidia replied, blushing at the compliment,
"but I should think that we might do thus."

And a plan was made to their satisfaction, a very difficult plan
involving great danger for all of them, perhaps death to Lycias and
Lucius. It hung to a large degree on one thing which seemed to be
unattainable.

"With God, all things are possible," said wise little Lidia.

"Let us pray," said the shepherd, and he and Lidia fell upon their
knees on the grass in front of the cave, where even now in late
Autumn, some tiny pink-tipped daisies were blooming.

After a moment's hesitation, Lycias, who had never knelt to any but
heathen gods, bent his knee also and uncovered his head in the
presence of the unseen but powerful Ruler of the Universe.

He and Lidia walked back to Rome together.

As they parted, the big gladiator looked down into her earnest little
face, with the clear, honest eyes.

"I should like to learn about Christ," he said.

"I will teach thee, Lycias, though I am but a weak follower of my
Master."

The next day, the one before the games were to take place in the
Circus, two things happened.

Alyrus, met again by Lycias, took him to the marble quarry by the
Tiber, where, on the slowly flowing river, were moored great ships.
There was a veritable forest of masts, cut from the strong cedars of
Lebanon, and the groves of Mt. Hermon.

"That is my ship, yonder," he said. As they emerged from the wharf,
Alyrus was suddenly jostled by a rough-looking shepherd. Lycias caught
the Moor in his arms to prevent his falling. The draperies Alyrus wore
were disarranged and a small object fell, unnoticed by him, to the
ground. Lycias placed his big, sandaled foot over this object.

"Dog of a shepherd!" raved Alyrus, running after the man.

Lycias stooped, picked up the small object and thrust it into his gown
and soon reached the Moor by a few long strides.

"Let him go!" he advised. "See, he is already almost out of sight."



VIII.

THE SYMBOL OF THE LIZARD.


The games in the amphitheatre on this, the first day of November
attracted an unusual number of persons.

The emperor was there, with all his court, and the Vestals honored the
games with their presence. Alyrus sat in a prominent place, with
Sahira, former slave of Aurelius Lucanus and maid to Claudia, beside
him. The dark-faced girl attracted much attention, so great was her
beauty. Freed by special decree of Caesar, at the request of Lycidon,
the priest, she had, by her father's desire been dressed like a
fashionable girl of the period.

"Dost see them coming?" asked Alyrus, eagerly. "Thine eyes are younger
than mine. Dost see them yet?"

"No, father. It is only the gladiators. Ah! that Lycias is a king
among men! how strong! how noble!"

A shade passed over the face of Alyrus the Moor.

"Yes. A fine youth, yet--I wish that I had not lost that bronze
lizard, Sahira. It bodes misfortune. Rome is not a safe place for us,
in spite of the favor of Lycidon. We must go as soon as the games are
over. Could it be possible that Lycias--"

"Look, father, see Lycias, the conqueror. The emperor smiles upon him;
a lady has thrown him a jewel. He bows. He is gone. How proud he must
be!"

"And now, they will come! See, yonder, Sahira, that group of white-robed
men and women. Ha! hear the wild beasts, how they growl in their
cages, pawing the bars, pleading to be let loose."

Alyrus, wild with gratified hatred, his face as evil as that of a
demon, leaned far over that he might lose nothing of the pitiful drama
about to be enacted in the arena.

The Christians came forward slowly, the women clinging together in
their physical weakness, though their souls were strong in the
strength of their faith.

There was Octavia, leading Hermione and Virgilia. The widow's face was
bright with a great light. There was Martius almost blinded by the
contrast between the terrible darkness of the dungeon beneath
Jupiter's temple, where he had spent four days and nights of misery,
frantic when he thought of Virgilia and what her fate might be. He and
Alexis had only a half hour before been brought through the
underground passage-way to the cells where the Christians were
waiting. He and Virgilia met here, on the sanded arena, where
thousands of persons were gazing at them. Martius stepped to his
sister's side, and put his arm around her. He stretched out his hand
to clasp that of Hermione.

"We shall meet again, yonder," he whispered, glancing upward.

Now, just as they were being pushed into the arena, a strange thing
had happened. A tall man, whom Martius had not recognized as Lycias,
the gladiator, approached him and said: "In the arena, I will be near
you, standing by one of the gates. If you can be calm enough in the
moment of excitement, note where I am. When I give the signal, take
your sister in your arms and follow me."

He had said the same to Marcus, telling him to assist Octavia and
Hermione and bear them forth.

"Fear not," the stranger had said. "If your God has power, he will
save you all out of the lion's mouth."

Opening from the arena were several iron gates. Some of these served
as entrances to the prisons or cells, where the Christians had been
kept until the moment when they were commanded to come forth and
perform their part in amusing the wicked emperor and his impious
people. Others, four in number, were the entrances to passageways
leading to the open air. There were used by the gladiators and by the
employees whose duty it was to arrange the "scenery."

Each gate was guarded, in the arena and at the outer exit, by a
soldier, well armed.

It was by one of these open gates that Martius and Marcus obeying the
words of the gladiator, eager to seize any chance of escape, kept the
women.

The shouts of the multitude arose. "The Christians! The Christians! To
the lions!"

It was then that Alyrus shrank back and a deadly fear seized him. What
had he done? What had he done? He remembered past kindnesses. He
remembered how Sahira had been saved from a life of sorrow and shame
by Aurelius Lucanus. How had he repaid him? By treachery and evil. For
the first time in his life, Alyrus was conscious of sin. The
Christian's God! Who was He? Could he avenge? A horrible coldness
enveloped him. He could not move. Then he knew nothing more.

But Sahira, not noticing that her father was ill, was looking down at
the white group, now kneeling on the ground, while the white-haired
elder prayed, with arms up-raised.

There was another shout.

Martius who had never felt cooler in his life, saw Lycias and touched
Marcus on the arm.

"Come," he said. "We are not far from the entrance. Quick!"

Martius seized Virgilia in his arms; Marcus led his mother and
Hermione.

It was but a step, a moment and they were by the side of Lycias.
Hermione was fainting. The gladiator lifted her as easily as if she
were a child.

"Follow me," said Lycias, striding before them.

Dazed, scarcely knowing where they were or what they were doing, the
women, clinging to the men; walked along the narrow way. In the
circus, there were more shouts and cries. Hermione trembled in the
strong arms of Lycias. He soothed her gently.

"Pray to your God," he said, "that He may bring us safely through."

"Who are you?"

"I am Lycias, a friend of Christians, and I, too would learn of the
faith."

One great danger lay before them. It was the guard at the outer
doorway, which opened on the street. He opposed their exit.

"No one passes here," he said.

"No one except me and my friends," responded the gladiator, boldly.
"Dare you say to Lycias that he may not pass?"

The soldier's face relaxed, but still he stood in the path.

"To-day, I have specially strict orders lest some of the Christians
escape. For my part, I would willingly let some of those poor
creatures flee, but I value my head."

"Perhaps thou wilt not gainsay me when thou seest my pass."

Lycias held up the bronze lizard. Really, the big gladiator himself
doubted the power of this symbol. He began to fear that they would all
be forced back into the arena, which was sure death, not only for
those whom he wished to save, but for himself, also. He would receive
no mercy, even though he had been the idol of the people but an hour
before and the air had rung with his praises. It would count him
little, if he were caught helping the victims to escape.

The soldier looked at him with staring eyes.

"The symbol of the chief-priest," he whispered. "In the name of
Jupiter, go by in peace, and may his wrath not fall upon me and mine."

A few paces more, and the light of air of the blessed day bathed them
in warmth and gave them courage.

The gladiator set Hermione on her feet and wiped his dripping
forehead.

"Barely escaped," he muttered.

No one was in this part of the street by the amphitheatre. All the
interest was in the interior. So great had been the number of
Christians that Octavia and the others in this little group had not
been missed.

Where they were going, they knew not; but that, for the moment, they
were safe, they all thankfully realized and that they owed it to this
big stranger with the honest face.

"Let us, for one moment, thank God for our deliverance," said Octavia.

Not daring to kneel, they turned their faces toward Heaven while
Octavia breathed forth a fervent prayer.

"We must hurry," said Lycias, leading the way to the Forum, to-day
deserted for the greater amusements of the games, in which the
Christians were the chief attraction.

It was a long, hard walk to the marble wharf where the ship lay on
which Alyrus and his daughter were soon to set sail, as Lycias well
knew. His great fear was lest the Moor might have decided to go
earlier and not wait for the conclusion of the games. Suppose they
arrived at the wharf and found the ship gone? What should they do?

Lycias' brain studied this problem. All these people were homeless,
except the shepherd. Ah! that was it! If the ship had sailed, he would
take these delicately nurtured women to the cave on the Campagna.

It grew necessary for the men to help the women, who were very weary
and weak from excitement; although Lycias did not wish to call any
more attention to them than was necessary, for fear that the ladies,
especially Octavia, who was well known, might be recognized. All the
Romans had not gone to the Circus, some were sitting in the eating-places,
and women were knitting in the doorways. Fortunately, it was
getting toward evening, but that would be a signal for the thousands
to leave the amphitheatre and scatter to their homes.

There was need for haste.

They approached the shores of the Tiber, turned into gold by the
sunlight from the setting sun. The masts were visible now.

Lycias gave a sigh of satisfaction as he saw, sitting on a grassy bank
a man and a woman, who was heavily veiled. Standing beside them was a
slender girl. It was Lidia, the daughter of the shepherd, who sprang
forward and put her arms around her father's neck, while great tears
of happiness rolled down her cheeks.

"At last! at last! thou art come. Thanks be to our God."

It had not been a difficult matter for the little scullery-maid to
persuade the lawyer to venture upon a scheme as bold as it was
doubtful in its outcome. Aurelius Lucanus was a broken man. He had
lost his children. He had not known how dear they were to him until
they disappeared. What mattered it if they were followers of
Christians, members of a despised sect? They were his own, and he
loved them. His business was ruined, his home deserted, the emperor no
longer looked on him with favor. All was gone.

In the room near by, Claudia lay weeping. She, too, was broken-hearted.
Her daughter, her ambitions, all those things which formed
her life had vanished as suddenly as the dew dries upon the green
grass in midsummer.

The lawyer was sitting in the garden. Bright yellow and scarlet
dahlias bloomed around him; plumy lavender and rose colored asters
nodded cheerfully in the chill breeze of this first of November. The
water in the fountain rippled as musically as in those happy days, now
gone.

That morning early, Aurelius had gone again to the Senator Adrian
Soderus, to whom Virgilia had so cruelly been betrothed. It was a sign
that no longer was the lawyer held in high esteem, when he was kept
waiting in the outer chamber, and a message was brought him by a young
slave that the Senator could no longer receive him. He would have no
dealings with the parents of Christians.

Then he, too, knew their disgrace. It must have been noised--abroad in
the city. Aurelius hurried home and sitting down where Claudia had
rested, looking so beautiful, on her return from the amphitheatre on
the Spring day which seemed so long ago, he buried his face in his
hands.

An awful fear haunted him. To-day had been fixed for the games. Could
it be possible that Virgilia, so fair, so delicate, shielded all her
life from the rough and hard things, protected and loved, was among
those Christians whom Caesar had, in his cruelty, doomed to death?

And Martius, where was he?

He felt a light touch on his shoulder and looked up with dull eyes,
clouded with misery and loneliness, into the dark, sallow face of the
kitchen-maid, whom he had never noticed before until he saw her
tenderly ministering to his wife.

In a few concise sentences, she told him all.

Virgilia and Martius were to be sacrificed, with hundreds of other
Christians that afternoon. It was known that Octavia, and her children
were also condemned. Lycias, the gladiator, would try to save them.
Perhaps he could succeed; there was a little hope. In any case, he
would try. Aurelius and Claudia, with herself, would go to a quiet
place near the marble quarry, and wait for them. If they did not come,
all was lost, and there remained nothing but to return to this house.
If they came, there was a chance of escape for them all. She told him
of the ship belonging to Alyrus, his porter, now a freedman. It was he
who had wrought the mischief. If possible--God only knew!--they would
all sail away together. Whither, who could tell? Away from Rome, away
from all this trouble and sorrow.

Lidia possessed a lovely voice, thrilling sweet. As she talked, the
lawyer's brain cleared. He was more himself than he had been since the
children had disappeared. Now, he knew the worst. Sometimes certainty,
even though bad, is better than the agony of suspense. There was a
chance, and if they escaped--a thought came to him.

"Thou wilt dress thy Lady."

Lidia nodded.

"And gather together the jewels. Bring the diadem sent by the emperor
to Virgilia and the necklace, the gift of Adrian."

Even in his anguish of soul, the lawyer smiled, grimly. When the
Senator sent to reclaim his valuable gift, he would not find it. At
least, he would have contributed that much to Virgilia's future
happiness. His wealth was so great that he would not miss the game.

"I will gather together all the jewels, my master, also those of the
Lady Claudia, and will hide them in my bosom. No one will imagine that
the kitchen-maid carries such treasures."

"A quick-witted girl," muttered Aurelius, "and now for my part. If the
gods please, they will escape, and we shall be happy again. If
not--then we will never return to this house."

It took him until noon to examine the papers in his strong-box. Three
of the documents he placed in his toga. The others, he burned.

It was a long and difficult matter to bring the Lady Claudia, in her
weakness, to the place agreed upon. Here, they waited, while the sun,
burning hot in Rome even in October, beat upon them pitilessly, for
there was no shade here.

The whole story had not been told Claudia, who was saved that
suffering. She knew, only, that they were to set sail in a ship and
leave this city where she had been so happy. She was utterly
apathetic, caring nothing where they went.

Losing hope, as time passed, Aurelius grew more and more silent. Even
Lidia began to fear that the worst had happened. The sun sank and the
vessels were shrouded in shadow. No sound was heard save the
monotonous singing of a sailor, or the creaking of a sail.

Then around the corner came the forlorn little group, and Lidia threw
herself in her father's arms, while her eyes sought Lycias, who smiled
at her.

The rest was easy. The bronze lizard worked like magic. No one
inquired where was the dark man with the gold rings in his ears. The
vessel had been chartered and paid for by the priest of Jupiter. The
orders were to sail, when the symbol was shown them. As the tide was
high and the wind fresh, the sails were raised and just as the people
were swarming out of the Circus, just when the Emperor in his golden
chair, was being carried to his marble palace, the fugitives, scarcely
knowing where they were and not caring whither they should go, sat on
the deck, breathed in the cool air of life, watched the stars come
out, one by one, and thanked God for delivering them out of the mouth
of the lion.

Day after day they sailed over a blue sea, where the waves danced and
broke into froth, which in its turn, dissolved into a million
jewel-points of colors as brilliant as those flashed by the diamonds
in Virgilia's diadem, the gift of the emperor.

Among the papers brought away by the lawyer was the deed of a small
villa on the Island of Cyprus. It had belonged to his father and a
revenue was received each year from the steward who cultivated the
vineyard.

To Cyprus, the vessel went, landing there a fortnight later, for the
winds had been favorable, and they had made a quick voyage.

On the broad terraces, commanding a view of the sea, with passing
vessels, Claudia lay on a couch, daily gaining strength. She held
Virgilia's hand as if she could never let it go, while the young girl
told her of Jesus and His love, and read to her the precious letter of
Paul, the Apostle, a copy of which Martius had made in the days of his
exile.

Here, they heard of the martyrdom of the Apostle, and his burial in
the vineyard of Lucia, the Roman matron. He had "finished his course"
and "kept the faith," and had gone to receive his "crown of
righteousness."

As the days passed, peace and happiness came to them all. The
gladiator, forgetting his prowess in the arena, worked diligently in
the vineyard, while Lucius guarded the flocks of sheep, grazing
beneath the light-green olive-trees. And Lidia cooked for them in a
small stone cottage, singing as she worked.

Martius and Marcus, grown to be men, worked also, and when the labors
of the day were over, sat on the terrace in the moonlight, while
Hermione and Virgilia talked with them, and Claudia and Octavia smiled
at their happiness.

One thing, they did not know; that Alyrus, the Moor, justly punished
for his misdeeds, never spoke again after the games in the Circus. He
died soon afterward. Sahira, robbed of her freedom by the jealousy of
a woman high in favor in the imperial court, who envied her beauty and
the favor of the emperor, sank again into slavery, and as the years
passed, became a drudge in the palace.

When the sun crept lower to the waves of the sea, and as the darkness
shrouded all nature, young and old knelt on the terrace and prayed
that God would keep them safe.

And Aurelius, the lawyer, with Claudia, his wife, knelt also, for
there were no statues of the gods in this home set among the trailing
festoons of the vineyard on the Island of Cyprus.

[FINIS.]





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