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Title: Valerius. A Roman Story
Author: Lockhart, J. G. (John Gibson), 1794-1854
Language: English
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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.

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                               BLACKWOOD’S

                             STANDARD NOVELS

                          ‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐

                                 VALERIUS



                                VALERIUS

                             A ROMAN STORY


                              NEW EDITION


                       WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS
                           EDINBURGH AND LONDON



                                VALERIUS.



                           _BOOK I. CHAPTER I._


Since you are desirous, my friends, that I should relate to you, at length
and in order, the things which happened to me during my journey to Rome,
notwithstanding the pain which it must cost me to throw myself back into
some of the feelings of that time, I cannot refuse to comply with your
request. After threescore years spent in this remote province of an
empire, happy, for the most part, in the protection of enlightened, just,
and benevolent princes, I remember, far more accurately than things which
occurred only a few months ago, the minutest particulars of what I saw and
heard while I sojourned, young and a stranger, among the luxuries and
cruelties of the capital of the world, as yet imperfectly recovered from
the effects of the flagitious tyranny of the last of the Flavii.

My father, as you have heard, came with his legion into this island, and
married a lady of native blood, some years before the first arrival of
Agricola. In the wars of that illustrious commander, during the reigns of
Vespasian and Titus, he had the fortune to find opportunities of
distinguishing himself; but when his general was recalled, by the jealousy
of Domitian, he retired from public life, and determined to spend the
remainder of his days in peace, on the lands which belonged to him in
right of his wife here in Britain. He laid the foundations of the house in
which I have now the pleasure of receiving you; and here, in the
cultivation of his fields, and in the superintendence of my education, he
found sufficient employment for an active, though no longer an ambitious
mind. Early in the reign of Trajan he died. Never did either Roman or
British dwelling lament a more generous master.

I cannot pretend to regret the accident which immediately afterwards
separated me from a gentle mother—never to see her more upon the earth.
Yet deeply was the happiness of my returning hour stained by that
privation. It is the common rule of nature, that our parents should
precede us to the grave; and it is also her rule, that our grief for them
should not be of such power as to prevent us from entering, after they are
gone, into a zealous participation both of the business and the pleasures
of life. Yet, in after years, the memory of that buried tenderness rises
up ever and anon, and wins rather than warns us to a deliberate
contemplation of our own dissolution.

Towards the end of the winter following the death of my father, there
arrived letters which engaged anxious consideration. They were from
members of his family, none of whom either my mother or myself had seen.
It was explained, especially by Caius Licinius, the lawyer, (who was near
of kin to our house,) that by the death of a certain Patrician, Cneius
Valerius by name, I had become legally entitled to a very considerable
fortune, to claim and take possession of which, demanded my immediate
presence in the metropolis. My rights, said this jurist, were indeed
called in question by another branch of the family, but were I on the
spot, his professional exertions, with whatever interest he or any of his
friends could command, should be at my service, for the sake of my father
and of my name.

The love of travel had never before been excited in my bosom; but now that
I knew I was so soon to embark for Italy, the delights which I might there
hope to experience came crowding upon my imagination. The dark and
pine-clad banks of my native Anton, said I, shall now be exchanged for
that golden-waved Tiber, of which so many illustrious poets have sung.
Instead of moving here among the ill-cemented and motley fabric of an
insulated colony, and seeing only the sullen submission of barbarians on
the one hand, or the paltry vanity of provincial deputies on the other, I
shall tread the same ground with the rulers of the earth, and wear, among
native Romans, the gown of my ancestors. I shall behold the Forum, which
has heard the eloquence of Cicero and Hortensius; I shall ascend to the
Capitol, where Cæsar triumphed; I shall wander in the luxurious gardens of
Sallust, or breathe the fresh air in the fields of Cato: I shall gaze upon
the antique majesty of temples and palaces, and open my eyes on all that
art and nature have been able to heap together through eight centuries,
for the ornament of the chosen seat of wisdom and valour.

A single trusty slave was selected to accompany me. It was not certainly
on account of his accomplishments that Boto had been chosen for this duty;
for although he had lived all his days in the vicinity of the colonists at
Venta, there was scarcely a person within the bounds of the British Belgæ
that spoke worse Latin. He was, however, a man of natural sagacity,
possessing shrewd discernment concerning whatever things had fallen under
his customary observation; and he shewed no symptom either of diffidence
respecting his qualifications for this new office, or of regret at being
separated from those in whose company many years of gentle servitude had
glided over his sun-burnt countenance. It was reported to me, that he
invited several of our rustics to drink with him in one of the out-houses,
where his exultation knew no limits. He was going to Rome, for his young
master very well knew he could never get on in such a journey without the
helping eye and hand of Boto; and he had a brother in Italy already, (he
had gone over with a distinguished legionary some ten years before,) and
from him (for he would of course meet with him as soon as our arrival
should be known) he would receive all requisite information concerning the
doings of the great city. The usefulness which, he doubted not, I should
be constrained to acknowledge in his manifold qualifications, would,
without all question, entitle him to some signal reward—perhaps nothing
less than manumission on his return.

Two days passed more quickly than any I ever remember to have spent amidst
a strange mixture of mirth, and sorrow, and noisy preparation.

Where that single tall naked pine now stands buffeted by the wind, then
grew a thick grove, of which that relic alone survives. It was there that
I turned round to gaze once more on the quiet verdure of these paternal
fields, and our small pastoral stream glistening here and there beneath
the shady covert of its margin.

I had at first intended to cross over to Gaul, and traversing that
province, enter Italy, either by the route of the Alps, in case we could
procure convenient guides and companions, or by some vessel sailing from
Marseilles or Forum Julii to Ostium. But the advice of one of my
neighbours, who had himself been a great traveller, made me alter this
plan, and resolve to commit myself to the care of an experienced mariner
who was just about to sail for Italy, by the way of the pillars of
Hercules, in a vessel laden chiefly with tin; and on reaching the
Clausentum, I found this man, with several passengers, ready for the
voyage.

For the first three or four days, I was so afflicted by the motion of the
vessel, that I could bestow little attention on any external object; my
eyes were so confused and dazzled, that I saw nothing beyond the corner of
the deck on which I had caused my carpets to be laid; and a few
ejaculations to Castor and Pollux were all the articulate sounds that I
uttered. By degrees, however, the weight of my depression began to be
alleviated; and at intervals, more particularly during the night watches,
if I was not altogether in possession of myself, I was at least well
enough to enjoy a sort of giddy delight in watching the billows as they
rose and retreated from the prow. There were moments, also, in which the
behaviour of Boto, under this new species of calamity, could furnish me,
as it had already done the more hardy of my fellow-voyagers, with store of
mirth. Near us frequently, upon the deck, sat a Captain of the Prætorian
Bands, who, more than any other of these, displayed a florid complexion
and cheerful eye, unalterable by the fluctuation of the waters. This
Sabinus had served in all the wars of Agricola, and accompanied him even
in his perilous circumnavigation of the islands which lie scattered to the
north of Britain. He had also gone back to Rome with his commander, not,
like him, to extenuate imperial jealousy by the affectation of indolence,
but to seek for new occupation on some other disturbed frontier of the
Empire. In Syria and Cappadocia he had spent some years; after which, he
had attended the Emperor himself through Mæsia and Illyricum, and all
those countries he traversed and retraversed, during that shameful contest
in which so many Roman eagles were made the prey of barbarous enemies, and
which terminated at last in that cowardly treaty, by which Domitian
granted a diadem to Decebalus, and condescended to place the Roman Senate
among the tributaries of a Dacian. Our friend had also strutted his part
in that gorgeous triumph, or rather succession of triumphs, by which the
defeated and disgraced Prince, on his return from the Ister, mocked the
eyes and ears of the incredulous and indignant Romans. In a word, he had
partaken in all kinds of fortune, good and evil, and preserved his
rubicundity and equanimity unaltered in them all. Having attained to a
situation of some dignity, he had now been visiting Britain on a special
message from the new Emperor, and was returning in the hope that no future
accident of fortune, or princely caprice, would ever again make it
necessary for him to quit the shows and festivities of the capital.

This good-natured man sat down beside my suffering peasant, endeavouring
to withdraw his attention from the pangs of his sickness, by pointing out
the different boats which came in view as we held on from the Gobæan
rocks, keeping close to the shore as we went, in order to shun, as well as
we could, the customary fury of the Aquitanic Ocean. “Behold these
fishing-vessels,” he would cry, “which have undoubtedly been upon the
coast of Rutupia for oysters, or it may be about the mouth of yonder
Ligoris for turbot, and are now stretching all their canvass to get home
with their booty to Italy. Smooth be your winds and fair your passage, oh
rare fish!” To which the downcast Boto would reply, “Lavish not, oh
master, your good wishes upon the mute fish, which have been tossed about
all their lives, but reserve them rather for me (unhappy) who am thus
tormented in an unnatural and intolerable manner;” or perhaps, “Speak not,
I beseech you, of oysters, or of turbot, or of any other eatable, for I
believe I shall never again feel hungry, so grievously are all my internal
parts discomposed. Oh, that I had never left my native fields, and
bartered the repose of my whole body for the vain hope of gratification to
my eyes!”

By degrees, however, custom reconciled all of us to the motion of the
bark, and the weather being calm during the greater part of the voyage, I
enjoyed, at my leisure, the beauties, both of the sea, and of the shores
alongst which we glided. From time to time, we put in for water and other
necessaries, to various sea-ports of the Spanish Peninsula; but our stay
was never so long at any place as to admit of us losing sight of our
vessel. Our chief delight, indeed, consisted in the softness and amenity
of the moonlight nights we spent in sailing along the coasts of
Mauritania,—now the dark mountains of the family of Atlas throwing their
shadows far into the sea—and anon, its margin glittering with the white
towers of Siga, or Gilba, or Cartenna, or some other of the rich cities of
that old Carthaginian region. On such nights it was the custom of all the
passengers to be congregated together upon the deck, where the silent
pleasures of contemplation were, from time to time, interrupted by some
merry song chanted in chorus by the mariners, or perhaps some wild
barbarian ditty, consecrated by the zeal of Boto to the honour of some
ancient indigenous hero of the North. Nor did our jovial Prætorian disdain
to contribute now and then to the amusement of the assembly, by some
boisterous war-song, composed, perhaps, by some light-hearted young
spearman, which our centurion might have learned by heart, without any
regular exertion, from hearing it sung around many a British and Dacian
watch-fire.

Thus we contrived to pass the time in a cheerful manner, till we reached
the Lilybæan promontory. We tarried there two days to refit some part of
our rigging, and then stretched boldly across the lower sea, towards the
mouth of the Tiber. We were becalmed, however, for a whole day and night,
after we had come within sight of the Pharos of Ostium, where, but for the
small boats that came out to us with fresh fish and fruit, we should have
had some difficulty in preserving our patience; for, by this time, our
stock of wine was run to the last cup, and nothing remained to be eat but
some mouldy biscuit which had survived two voyages between Italy and
Britain. During this unwelcome delay, the Prætorian endeavoured to give me
as much information as he could about the steps necessary to be pursued on
my arrival in the city. But, to say truth, his experience had lain chiefly
among martial expeditions and jovial recreations, so that I could easily
perceive he was no great master of the rules of civil life. From him,
however, I was glad to find, that the reputation of Licinius was really as
great at Rome as it had been represented in our province; and, indeed, he
treated me with a yet greater measure of attention after he was informed
of my relationship to that celebrated jurist.

Early in the morning, a light breeze sprung up from the west, and with
joyful acclamations the sails were once again uplifted. The number of
mariners on board was insufficient for impelling the heavily laden vessel
altogether by the force of oars, but now they did not refuse to assist the
favouring breeze with strenuous and lively exertion. The Prætorian cheered
and incited them by his merry voice, and even the passengers were not
loath to assist them in this labour. My slave, among the rest, joined in
the toil; but his awkwardness soon relieved him from his seat on the
bench; a disgrace which he would have shared with his master, had I been
equally officious.

Ere long, we could trace with exactness those enormous structures by which
the munificence of Augustus had guarded and adorned that great avenue of
nations to the imperial city. Those mountains of marble, projected on
either side into the deep, surpassed every notion I had formed of the
extent to which art may carry its rivalry of nature. Their immovable
masses were garnished here and there with towers and battlements, on which
the Prætorian pointed out to me the frame-work of those terrible
catapults, and other engines of warfare, of which no specimens have ever
been seen in Britain.

No sooner had we stept upon the shore, than we were surrounded by a great
throng of hard-favoured persons, who pulled us by the cloak, with
innumerable interrogations and offers of service. Among these, the
varieties of form, complexion, and accent, were such, that we could not
regard them without especial wonder; for it appeared as if every tribe and
language under heaven had sent some representative to this great seaport
of Rome. The fair hair and blue eye of the Gaul or German, might here be
seen close by the tawny skin of the Numidian or Getulian slave, or the
shining blackness of the Ethiopian visage. The Greek merchant was ready,
with his Thracian bondsman carrying his glittering wares upon his back;
the usurer was there, with his arms folded closely in his mantle; nor was
the Chaldean or Assyrian soothsayer awanting, with his air of abstraction
and his flowing beard.

Boto, as if alarmed with the prevailing bustle, and fearful lest some
untoward accident should separate us, kept close behind me, grasping my
gown. But our good friend Sabinus did not long leave us in this
perplexity; for, having hastily engaged the master of a small barge to
carry him to Rome, he insisted that I should partake of this easy method
of conveyance. We found the vessel small but convenient, furnished with a
red awning, under which cushions and carpets were already stretched out
for our repose. The oars were soon in motion, and we began to emerge from
among the forest of masts with a rapidity which astonished me; for the
multitude of vessels of all sizes, continually crossing and re-crossing,
was so great, that at first I expected every moment some dangerous
accident might occur.

By degrees, however, such objects failed to keep alive my attention; the
sleeplessness of the preceding night, and the abundance of an Ostian
repast, conspiring to lull me into a gentle doze, which continued for I
know not what space. I awoke, greatly refreshed, and found we had made
considerable progress; for the continual succession of stately edifices
already indicated the vicinity of the metropolis. The dark green of the
venerable groves, amidst which the buildings were, for the most part,
embosomed, and the livelier beauties of the parterres which here and there
intervened between these and the river, afforded a soft delight to my
eyes, which had so long been fatigued with the uniform flash and dazzle of
the Mediterranean waves, and the roughness of the sea-beaten precipices.
The minute and elaborate cultivation every where visible, the smoothness
of the shorn turf on the margin, the graceful foliage of the ancient
planes and sycamores,—but, above all, the sublimity of the porticos and
arcades, and the air of established and inviolable elegance which pervaded
the whole region, kept my mind in pleasurable wonder. Here and there, a
gentle winding conducted us through some deep and massy shade of oaks and
elms; whose branches, stretching far out from either side, diffused a
sombre and melancholy blackness almost entirely over the face of Tiber.
Loitering carelessly, or couched supinely, beneath some of these hoary
branches, we could see, from time to time, the figure of some stately
Roman, or white-robed lady, with her favourite scroll of parchment in her
hand. The cool and glassy rippling of the water produced a humming music
of stillness in the air, which nothing disturbed, save only the regular
dash of the oars, and, now and then, the deep and strenuous voice of our
cautious helmsman. Anon would ensue some glimpse of the open champaign,
descending with all its wealth of golden sheaves to the very brink of the
river—or, perhaps, the lively courts of a farmyard stretching along the
margin of some tributary streamlet—or some long expanse of level meadow,
with herds of snow-white heifers. I could not gaze upon the rich and
splendid scene without reverting, with a strange mixture of emotions, to
the image of this my native land; its wild forests, shaggy with brushwood
and unprofitable coppice, through which of old the enormous wild deer
stalked undisturbed, except by the adder of the grass, or the obscene fly
of the thicket; its little patches of corn and meadow, laboriously rescued
from the domain of the wild beast, and rudely fortified against his
continual incursions;—the scattered hamlets of this Brigian valley, and my
own humble villa—then humbler than it is now. Trees, and temples, and
gardens, and meadows, and towns, and villages, were, ere long, lost in one
uniform sobriety of twilight; and it was already quite dark, when the
centurion, pointing to the left bank, said, “Behold the Gardens of Cæsar:
beyond, is the Portian Gate, and the street of the Rural Lares. In a few
moments we shall see the lights of the Sublician Bridge, and be in the
city.” At these words I started up, and gazing forward, could penetrate
through the mists of evening into the busy glare of a thousand streets and
lanes, opening upon the river. The old wall was already visible; where,
after having swept round the region towards the Vatican and Janicular
Hills, it brings the last of its turrets close down to the Tiber, over
against the great dock-yards by the Field of Brutus.

Through a forest of triremes, galleys, and all sorts of craft, we then
shot on to the bridge—beneath the centre arch of which our steersman
conducted us. Beyond, such was the hum of people on the quays, and such
the star-like profusion of lights reflected in the water, that we doubted
not we had already reached the chief seat of the bustle of Rome. On,
however, we still held our course, till the theatre of Marcellus rose like
a mountain on our right. It was there that we ran our bark into the shore,
not far from the little bridge—the third as you ascend the river—which
conducts to the Island and the Temple of Æsculapius. While our friend was
settling matters with the master, and the attendants were bringing out our
baggage, I stood by myself on the elevated quay. Here a long tier of
reflected radiance bespoke, it may be, the vicinity of some splendid
portico—of palace, or temple, or bath, or theatre; there a broad and
steady blaze of burning red, indicated the abode of artizans, resolved, as
it seemed, on carrying their toil into the bosom of the night.
Between—some speck of lustre betrayed, perhaps, the lamp of the solitary
student, or the sober social hour of some peaceful family, assembled
around the hearth of their modest lares. Behold me then, said I, in the
capital of the globe; but were I to be swallowed up this moment in the
waves of Tiber, not one of all these lights would be dimmed.



                              _CHAPTER II._


Being told that my relation had his residence at no great distance, the
friendly Sabinus insisted upon escorting me thither in safety. We walked,
therefore, along two or three proud streets, which brought us near to the
Pantheon of Agrippa, and there the house was easily pointed out to us; its
porch decorated with recent palm-branches, which the Centurion said must
have been placed there by the joyful hands of some fortunate client. Here
having thanked this kind person, and left honest Boto among the crowd of
slaves in the vestibule, I was speedily conducted into the presence of the
Patrician.

I found him in a small upper chamber, lighted by a single silver lamp
suspended from the roof, enjoying, as it appeared, repose and relaxation
after the exertions of the day. He was reclining when I entered; and
although supper was long over, some fruits and other trifling things still
remained on the board. At table with him there was no one present,
excepting a Greek of solemn aspect, whom he introduced to me as the
superintendent of his son’s education, and Sextus himself, a modest and
ingenuous youth, who sat at the lower extremity of his father’s couch. He
was indeed a very mild and amiable young man, and I had more pleasure,
after a space, in surveying his features, than the more marked lineaments
of the other two. At first, however, nothing riveted my attention so much
as the energetic physiognomy of the Senator. The forepart of his head was
already quite bald, although the darkness of the short curls behind
testified that age was not the cause of this deformity. His eyes were
black and rapid, and his eyebrows vibrated in a remarkable manner, not
only when he spoke, but even when he was silent; indicating, as it
appeared, by their transitions, every new train of thought and imagination
within his mind. His style of conversation was quick and fervid, and his
gestures vehement as he spake; it being apparent, that, from restlessness
and vanity of disposition, he was continually exercising a needless
measure of mental activity and anxiety. Not satisfied with his own
sufficient richness of ideas, no thought could be expressed which he did
not immediately seize upon, and explain, even to him by whom it had been
first suggested, with much fluency and earnestness of illustration. On the
other hand, the guest, who wore a long beard reaching to his girdle,
preserved in all things an uncommon demureness of manner, restraining
every salient movement of his mind, and watching, with the gravity of a
Numa, the glancing eyes and sharp features of his patron. A roll of yellow
parchment graced his left hand, but the other was employed in selecting
from the table such articles as were most agreeable to his palate.
Licinius, although meagre in person, and at that time parched with
declamation, seemed to live in such a state of intellectual excitement,
that he thought little either of eating or drinking; therefore, the
Athenian, resigning, for the most part, his share of the conversation,
amused himself, in exchange, with the more trivial gratifications
abandoned to him by his host. Nor, if one might draw any conclusion from
his complexion and figure, was this the first occasion on which
Xerophrastes had exercised that species of humility.

When Licinius had inquired of me concerning my native place, and also
given a few words to the affairs which had brought me to the city, his
conversation was naturally directed to subjects more new to me, if not
more interesting to him. “You would observe,” said he, “the palm branches
at my door. They were won to-day by a five hours’ harangue before the
Centumviri. It is only in contests such as these that men of my order have
now any opportunity to exercise themselves, and preserve some remembrance
of those ancient worthies and great public characters that once adorned
the state. To these things, therefore, young kinsman, I entirely devote
myself; nor aim, like other citizens of rank, at passing the day in
diversion, and ending it with luxuries. At supper my table is furnished
with moderate fare, while in other houses I know not how many roasted
boars and pompous sturgeons have been regaling with the rich perfume of
their sauces and stuffing, guests who love the meat more than the man who
gives it. This learned person knows how laborious is my course of life,
and what an impatient crowd awaits my appearance every morning. His pupil
will, I hope, tread in the same steps, and afford to a future generation
the image of the former Licinius.” With these, and the like discourses, he
occupied our ears till it was time to retire; and then intimated that he
had allotted to me an apartment which he expected I would continually
occupy during my residence in the city. But being informed that I had a
British slave with me, he insisted on having this man sent for, that he
might see him, as he expressed it, before the genuine unsophisticated
barbarian had been corrupted by keeping company with the cunning menials
of the metropolis. Whereupon, it was commanded that Boto should come up,
and he was forthwith ushered in by a certain leering varlet, with rings in
his ears, whose face resembled some comic mask in the habitual archness of
its malicious and inquisitive look.

Not few were the bows and scrapes with which my Briton entered these
penetralia; nor was the astonishment inconsiderable with which the orator
regarded Boto. “So, friend,” said Licinius,—“and you have ventured to come
to Rome, without so much as shaving your beard?” But the merry and
good-natured tone in which these words were uttered, having somewhat
reassured the bashful rustic, he gave a sly side-look towards the
philosopher, (who, I think, had never once glanced at him,) and replied to
Licinius, “Pardon me, O master, for coming thus into your presence; but I
knew not, till Dromo told me, that beards were worn in Rome only by goats
and the wisest of mankind.” The words of the barbarian amused the
orator—but, turning round to his own slave, “Ah! Dromo,” said he, “do I
already recognize the effects of your teaching?—beware the whip, corrupt
not this good Briton, at your peril.” He then asked of Boto various
questions concerning his recent voyage; to all of which he made answers
after his own fashion, sufficiently sagacious. Great contempt, however,
was depicted on the face of the silent stoic during this conversation;
which he, no doubt, looked upon as a very unworthy condescension on the
part of Licinius; till at last, having, in a leisurely manner, poured out
the last of the flagon, Xerophrastes arose from his couch and departed. As
he withdrew, he unfortunately struck his knee on the corner of the table,
which elicited from his stubborn features a sudden contortion. This,
however, he immediately smoothed of, twisting his involuntary stoop into
an obeisance to the Senator.

Young Sextus conducted me to my chamber; and we conversed together with
easy juvenile confidence for some time before he left me.



                              _CHAPTER III._


My sleep was sound and sweet; nevertheless, when the morning began to
dawn, I was awakened by its first glimmerings, and found that my thoughts
became at once too busy to admit of a return to slumber. I therefore
arose, and went to walk in an open gallery, with which my chamber was
connected. This gallery commanded a prospect of a great part of the city,
which at that hour appeared no less tranquil than stately, nothing being
in motion except a few small boats gliding here and there upon the river.
Neither as yet had any smoke begun to darken the atmosphere; so that all
things were seen in a serene and steady light, the shadows falling broadly
westward over streets and squares—but pillars, and obelisks, and arches,
rising up every where with unsullied magnificence into the bright air of
the morning. The numerous poplars and other lofty trees of the gardens,
also, seemed to be rejoicing in the hour of dew and silence; so fresh and
cheerful was the intermixture of their branches among the piles of white
and yellow marble. Near at hand, over the groves of the Philoclean
Mansion, I could see the dome of the Pantheon, all burnished with living
gold, and the proud colonnades of the Flaminian Circus, loaded with armies
of brazen statues. Between these and the river, the theatres of Pompey and
Marcellus, and I know not how many temples, were visible. Across a more
crowded region, to the westward, my eye ascended to the cliffs and towers
of the Capitol; while, still farther removed from me, (although less
elevated in natural situation,) the gorgeous mansion of the Emperor was
seen, lifted up, like some new and separate city, upon its enormous fabric
of arcades. Behind me, the Flavian Amphitheatre, the newest and the most
majestic of all Roman edifices, detained the eye for a space from all that
lay beyond it—the splendid mass of the Esquiline—and those innumerable
aqueducts which lie stretched out, arch after arch, and pillar after
pillar, across the surrounding plain.

As I stood upon a projecting balcony, I heard some person stepping softly
along the floor, and, being screened by some pillars, looked back into the
gallery without subjecting myself to observation in return. The noise, I
found, was occasioned by one of the slaves of Licinius, (the same I had
remarked over night,) who had an air of anxious vigilance on this
occasion, looking about from side to side as if afraid of being detected
in some impropriety. I heard him tap at one of the apartments adjoining my
own, and young Sextus, opening the door, eagerly asked, “Well, Dromo, good
Dromo, what news?—Have you seen or heard any thing of her?—Speak low, I
beseech you, and remember that my preceptor is near.” “Which preceptor?”
replied Dromo; “count me your best, and I will teach you how to manage all
besides.”—“Hush!” whispered the young man; “he may be astir with these
eternal parchments.”—“Be easy,” returned the slave; “I have found out
facts which will serve to bridle that tongue at any time.”—“Dromo,” said
Sextus, “have a care; remember the thong of sleek leather which hangs at
the foot of the stair-case; and many is the time I have saved you from it;
for which you may, perhaps, have to thank the beauty of her who has
rendered you necessary to me, as much as my own good nature. But no more
idle words at present—what have you to tell me?”

“I have just been down,” answered he, “to the herb-market. I had made my
bargain, and was coming away, when I met one of old Capito’s men, driving
an ass laden with articles from the country. So I asked if he was carrying
a present to his master’s brother. He said he had brought nothing for
Lucius but a letter; and that he believed its purport was to invite the
two young ladies, to come out to-day and enjoy the beauty of the season. I
no sooner got this information, than I ran hither as swiftly as my legs
would carry me. You can easily go out, as if by chance, to pay your
respects to the Patrician.”

“Ah, Sempronia!” sighed Sextus, “shall I approach you at last?—What will
she think when she sees me there?—Oh, how will she speak to me?”

While he was uttering these words, Dromo suddenly started, and came
peeping on tiptoe towards the place where I stood. I stepped from behind
my pillar, and said to the astonished youth, “Fear not, Sextus, that I
shall intermeddle with your secrets, or make any use of what I have
accidentally overheard. But I wish you would satisfy my curiosity, and
inform me who is this lady, and what may be the meaning of all this
concealment?”

Here Dromo, perceiving that his young master was a good deal confused,
came forward and said, “From observing your looks last night, when I was
making a handle of yon barbarian to torture our friend of the porch, I
think you are a good-natured person, who would not willingly bring any of
us into trouble. The truth is, that Licinius wishes my young master here
to marry a certain lady, who has already had wet eyes over the ashes of a
first husband; but who is of noble birth, and very rich. Now Sextus, being
only eighteen, does not like this great lady so well as she likes him; and
has, in fact, lost his heart elsewhere.”—“Dromo,” answered I, taking young
Sextus by the hand as I spoke, “this is a pretty common sort of story; but
I shall take no side till I have seen both of the ladies; and the sooner
your ingenuity can bring that about, the more shall I be beholden to
you.”—“We shall try,” replied the slave, observing that I had overcome the
reluctance of the lover; “but in the meantime I observe that the clients
are beginning to assemble in the porch, to await the forthcoming of
Licinius. Go, therefore, and get some breakfast, for, by and by, you will
both be expected to accompany the Senator to the Forum, to hear him plead;
which, between ourselves, will be a six hours’ job for you, unless you
manage matters dexterously.”

This hint produced a visible effect on Sextus; but we went down together
immediately to an apartment, where some bread and grapes were prepared for
us; and there, with much ingenuousness, he opened his heart to me. But
what surprised me most of all, was to hear, that although he had been
enamoured of Sempronia for several months, and was well acquainted with
several of her relations, he had never yet seen her, except at certain
places of public resort, nor enjoyed any opportunity of making known his
passion.

While I was expressing my astonishment at this circumstance, we were
interrupted by Xerophrastes, who came to inform us that Licinius, having
already descended into the hall, was about to issue forth, and desirous of
my company, if no other occupation detained me. We accordingly followed
the philosopher, and found his patron where he had indicated, pacing to
and fro, in the highest state of excitation, like a generous steed about
to scour the field of battle. The waxen effigies of his ancestors stood at
one end of the hall, some of them defaced with age; and upon these he
frequently fixed his ardent eyes. Seeing me enter, he immediately cried
out, “Come hither, young friend, and I shall presently conduct you to a
scene worthy, above all others, of the curiosity of a stranger.”

With this, arranging his gown, and putting himself into a dignified
attitude, he ordered the porter, who stood chained by the door, to throw
wide its massy valves; which being done, the litigants and consulters, who
were without, received the orator with acclamations, and surrounded him on
all sides. Some of the poorer ones, I observed kissing the hem of his
garment, and dodging wistfully at his elbows, without ever attracting a
word or look from him; while those of a higher class came forward more
familiarly, seeking to impress particular circumstances upon his memory,
and paying him compliments on the appearance he had made the day before in
the Centumviral Court. Encircled by this motley group, he walked towards
the great Forum, followed at a little distance by Sextus, the preceptor,
myself, and some freedmen of his household. In moving on, we passed, by
accident, the door of another great pleader, by name Bruttianus, who stood
there attended in a similar manner. When he perceived Licinius, this man
took from his door-post a green palm-branch, and waved it towards us in a
vaunting manner; but our friend, saluting him courteously, cried out, with
his sharp and cutting voice, “We shall try it again.” Whereon
Xerophrastes, immediately stepping up to his patron, began thus, “How this
vain-glorious person exposes himself!—he is certainly a weak man; and his
tones, by Hermes, are more detestable than those of an African fowl.”—At
which words, Sextus tipped me the wink; but I did not observe that
Licinius was at all displeased with them. Yet, soon after, Bruttianus
having overtaken us, the processions were joined, and the two pleaders
walked the rest of the way together in a loving manner, exchanging
complimentary speeches; to which Xerophrastes listened with edifying
gravity of visage.

At length we entered that venerable space, every yard of whose surface is
consecrated to the peculiar memory of some great incident in the history
of Rome. Young Sextus allowed me to contemplate for some time, with silent
wonder, the memorable objects which conspired to the decoration of this
remarkable place; but after the first gaze of astonishment was satisfied,
proceeded to point out, in order, the names and uses of the principal
structures which rose on every side over its porticos—above all, of its
sublime temples—into whose cool and shady recesses the eye could here and
there penetrate through the open valves. Nor did the ancient rostrum from
which Tully had declaimed, escape our observation—nor within its guarding
rail of silver, the rising shoots of the old mysterious fig-tree of
Romulus—nor the rich tesselated pavement which covered the spot that had
once yawned an abyss before the steady eye of Curtius—nor the resplendent
Milliary pillar which marked the centre of the place. In a word, had the
gathering crowds permitted, I could have willingly spent many hours in
listening to the explanation of such magnificent objects; but these, and
the elevated voice of Licinius, who was just beginning his harangue, soon
compelled me to attend to things of another description.

Within one of the proud ranges of arcade, on the side nearest to the
Capitoline stairs, a majestic Patrician had already taken his seat on an
elevated tribunal—his assessors being arranged on a lower bench by his
side, and the orators and clients congregated beneath. When I heard the
clear and harmonious periods of my kinsman; when I observed with what
apparent simplicity he laid his foundations in a few plain facts and
propositions; with what admirable art he upreared from these a
superstructure of conclusions, equally easy as unexpected; when he had
conducted us to the end of his argument, and closed with a burst of
passionate eloquence, in which he seemed to leave even himself behind him,
I could not but feel as if I had now for the first time contemplated the
practised strength of intellect. Yet I have lived to discover that the
talent which so greatly excited my wonder is often possessed from nature,
or acquired through practice, in a measure which at that time would have
afforded me scarcely inferior delight, by men of no extraordinary rank.

The keen and lively gestures of the fervid Licinius, whose soul seemed to
speak out of every finger he moved, and who appeared to be altogether
immersed in the cause he pleaded, were succeeded by the solemn and
somewhat pompous stateliness of Bruttianus, who made a brief pause between
every two sentences, as if he were apprehensive that the mind of the judge
could not keep pace with the stream of his illustrations, and looked round
ever and anon upon the spectators with a placid and assured smile, rather,
as it seemed to me, to signify his approbation of their taste in
applauding him, than his own pleasure in their applauses. Nevertheless, he
also was a splendid speaker, and his affectation displeased the more,
because it was evidently unworthy of his understanding. While he was
speaking, I observed that the Stoic preceptor was frequently shifting his
place among the crowd, and muttering every where expressions of high
contempt. But this did not disgust me so much as the fixed attitude of
ecstasy in which he listened to the discourse of his own patron, and the
pretended involuntary exclamations of his delight. “Oh, admirable
cadence!” he would say, “I feel as if I were draining a honey-comb. Oh,
harmonious man, where have I, or any other person here, sucked in such
sweetness!” These absurd phrases, however, were caught up forthwith, and
repeated by the numerous young men who hung upon the skirts of the orator,
and seemed, indeed, to be drinking in nectar from the speech, if one might
judge from their countenances. From their taking notes in their tablets
from time to time, and from the knowing looks they assumed at the
commencement of every new chain of argument, I guessed that these might be
embryo jurisconsults, preparing themselves by their attendance for future
exertions of the same species; and, indeed, when I listened to their
conversation at the close of every speech, I thought I could perceive in
their tones and accents, studied mimicry of the natural peculiarities of
Licinius, Bruttianus, and the other orators. Altogether, the scene was as
full of amusement as of novelty, and I could willingly have remained to
the end of the discussion. But my eyes chanced to fall upon young Sextus,
and I could not but see that his mind was occupied in matters remote from
the business of the Forum. He stood with his arms folded in his gown, and
his eyes fixed upon the ground, only lifting them up from time to time
with an impatient air towards a side entrance, or to observe by the
shadows on the porticos what progress the sun was making.

Perceiving, at length, that Xerophrastes had his back turned to us, and
that his father was engaged with his tablets, he plucked me by the sleeve.
I understood his meaning, and followed him quickly through the crowd; nor
did we look back till we had left the noise of the Forensic assembly
entirely behind us. “I am depriving you,” he said, “of no great
gratification, for that old creature is, indeed, possessed of much natural
shrewdness, but he is bitter from observing that his reputation is rather
eclipsed by younger people, and looks like some worn-out and discarded
cat, grinning from the top of the wall at the dalliance of some sleeker
rival. You could find no delight in the angry sneerings of such an envious
person; and his age would prevent you, at the same time, from willingly
giving way to contemptuous emotions. I will be your guide to the villa.
But if any questions be asked on our return, you can say I was anxious to
shew you something of the other regions of the city.”

He hurried me through noble streets, and past innumerable edifices, before
each of which I would gladly have paused. Nevertheless, seeing him wrapped
up in anxious thoughts, I did not oppose myself to his inclinations; and
ere long, having passed the Hill of Gardens, I found that we had gained
the eastern limit of the city.



                              _CHAPTER IV._


A sharp walk of about an hour and a half on the Salarean Way, brought us
within sight of the Suburban of Capito.

A lofty wall protected the fields of this retirement from the intrusive
eyes of passengers. We entered by a small side-door, and found ourselves,
as if by some magical delusion, transported from the glare of a Roman
highway, into the depth and silence of some primeval forest. No nicely
trimmed path conducted our feet. Every thing had at least the appearance
of being left as nature had formed it. The fern rustled beneath us as we
moved; the ivy was seen spreading its careless tresses from tree to tree;
the fawn bounded from the thicket. By degrees, however, the gloom
lessened, till at length, over an open space of lawn, we perceived the
porch of entrance, and a long line of colonnade. We passed under the
porch, and across a paved court where a fountain was playing, into the
great hall, which commanded all the other side of the place—a noble
prospect of elaborate gardens gradually rising into shady hills, and lost
in a distance of impenetrable wood.

Here a freedman attended us, who informed us that Capito had retired into
a sequestered part of the grounds with some friends from the city; but
that if we chose we could easily join him there. We assented, and,
following his guidance, ere long traversed no narrow space of luxuriant
cultivation. From one perfumed terrace we descended to another; till,
having reached a certain green and mossy walk, darkened by a natural
arching of vines and mulberries, the freedman pointed to a statue at the
farther end, and told us it stood over against the entrance of his
master’s summer-house. When we reached the statue, however, we could
perceive no building. The shaded avenue terminated in face of a
precipitous rock, from which there fell a small stream that was received
in a massive basin, where the waters foamed into spray without
transgressing the margin. A thousand delicious plants and far-sought
flowers clustered around the base of the rock and the brink of the
fountain, and the humming of innumerable bees mingled with the whispers of
the stream. We stood for a moment uncertain whether we should move on or
retire, when we heard one calling to us from beyond; and passing to the
other side of the basin, descried, between the rock and the falling water,
a low entrance into what seemed to be a natural cave or grotto. We
stooped, and found ourselves within one of the most luxurious retirements
ever haunted by the foot of Dryad. A sparry roof hung like a canopy of
gems and crystals over a group of sculptured Nymphs and Fawns, which were
placed on a rustic pedestal within a circular bath shaped out of the
living stone. Around the edge of the waveless waters that slumbered in
this green recess, were spread carpets rich with the dyes of Tyrian art,
whereon Capito was reposing with his friends. He received Sextus with
kindness, and me with politeness, introducing us both to his companions,
who were three in number—all of them, like himself, advanced in years, and
two of them wearing long beards, though their demeanour was destitute of
any thing like the affected stateliness of our friend Xerophrastes. These
two, as our host informed us, were Greeks and Rhetoricians—the third, a
Patrician of the house of the Pontii, devoted, like himself, to the
pursuits of philosophy and the pleasures of a literary retirement.

They were engaged, when we joined them, in a conversation which had sprung
from the perusal of some new metaphysical treatise. One of the Greeks, the
more serene-looking of the pair, was defending its doctrines with
earnestness of manner, although in a low and measured cadence of voice;
the other espoused the opposite side, with quickness of utterance and
severe animation of look; while the two lordly Romans seemed to be
contenting themselves, for the most part, with listening, although it was
not difficult to perceive from their countenances, that the one sided in
opinion with the Stoic, and Capito himself with the Epicurean.

They all arose presently, and proceeded to walk together, without
interrupting the conversation, along the same shaded avenue which Sextus
and myself had already traversed. He and I moved along with them, but a
little in their rear—my companion being still too much abstracted to
bestow his attention on what they were saying; while I myself, being but
little an adept in such mysteries, amused myself rather with the exterior
and manners of the men, than with the merits of the opinions they were
severally defending. The Greeks were attired in the graceful costume of
their country, which was worn, however, far more gracefully by the
Epicurean than his brother,—the materials of his robe being delicate, and
its folds arranged with studied elegance, whereas the coarse garment of
the Stoic had apparently engaged less attention. Nevertheless, there was a
more marked difference between the attire of Capito and that of Pontius
Mamurra; for the former was arrayed in a tunic of the whitest cloth,
beneath which appeared fine linen rollers, swathing his thighs and legs,
to protect them, as I supposed, from the heat and the insects, and a pair
of slippers, of dark violet-coloured cloth, embroidered with silver
flowers; while the other held his arms folded in the drapery of an old but
genuine toga, which left his yet strong and sinewy nether limbs exposed to
the weather, all except what was covered by his tall black sandals and
their senatorian crescents.

As we passed on, our host from time to time directed the attention of his
visiters, more particularly of the two Greeks, to the statues of bronze
and marble, which were placed at convenient intervals along the terraces
of his garden. The symmetry of these figures, and the graceful simplicity
of their attitudes, inspired me with I know not what of calm and soothing
pleasure such as I had never before tasted, so that I thought I could have
lingered for ever amidst these haunts of philosophic luxury. The images
were, for the most part, portraits of illustrious men—Greeks, Romans—sages
and heroes; but beautiful female forms were not wanting, nor majestic
representations of gods and demi-gods, and all the ethereal imaginations
of the Grecian poets. Seeing the name of Jupiter inscribed upon one of the
pedestals, I paused for a moment to contemplate the glorious
personification of might and wisdom, depositing, at the same time, a
handful of roses at the feet of the statue—upon which I could observe that
my behaviour furnished some mirth to the Epicurean Demochares; while, on
the contrary, Euphranor, the disciple of the Porch, approved of what I
did, and rebuked his companion for saying any thing that might even by
possibility disturb the natural piety of an innocent youth. But the Roman
Stoic stood by with a smile of stately scorn; and utter indifference was
painted on the countenance of Capito. At another time, Sextus having staid
behind to examine the beauties of a certain statue of Diana, which
represented the goddess stretched out in careless slumber on the turf,
with a slender grayhound at her feet, the Epicurean began to rally me on
having a taste inferior to that of my friend, whose devotion, he said,
could not be blamed, being paid to an exquisite imitation of what the
great Nature of things had decreed should ever be the most agreeable of
all objects in the eyes of a person of his age.—“Whereas you,” continued
he, “appear to be more occupied with deep-hung eye-brows, ambrosial
beards, and fantastic thunderbolts, and the other exuberances of Homeric
imagination.”

To this reproach I made no reply, but Capito immediately began to recite
some verses of a Hymn of Calimachus, in which both the Greeks joined him;
nor could any thing be more delightful than the harmonious numbers. A
sudden exclamation of my friend, however, interrupted them, and Capito,
looking up a long straight pathway, said, “Come, Valerius, we shall see
whether you or Sextus is the more gallant to living beauties, for here
come my nieces. I assure you, I know not of which of them I am the more
proud; but Sempronia has more of the Diana about her, so it is probable
she may find a ready slave in our Sextus.”

We advanced, and the uncle, having tenderly saluted them, soon presented
us to their notice. Sextus blushed deeply when he found himself introduced
to Sempronia, while in her smile, although she looked at him as if to say
she had never seen him before, I thought I could detect a certain
half-suppressed something of half-disdainful archness—the colour in her
cheeks, at the same time, being not entirely unmoved. She was, indeed, a
very lovely girl, and in looking on her light dancing play of features, I
could easily sympathize with the young raptures of my friend. Her dress
was such as to set off her charms to the utmost advantage, for the bright
green of her Byssine robe, although it would have been a severe trial to
any ordinary complexion, served only to heighten the delicious brilliancy
of hers. A veil, of the same substance and colour, richly embroidered with
flowers of silver tissue, fell in flowing drapery well-nigh to her knees.
Her hair was almost entirely concealed by this part of her dress, but a
single braid of the brightest nut-brown was visible low down on her
polished forehead. Her eyes were black as jet, and full of a nymph-like
vivacity.

The other, Athanasia, was not a dazzling beauty. Taller than her cousin,
and darker-haired, but with eyes rather light than otherwise, of a clear,
somewhat melancholy gray—with a complexion paler than is usual in Italy, a
demeanour hovering between cheerfulness and innocent gravity, and attired
with a vestal simplicity in the old Roman tunic, and cloak of white
cloth—it is possible that most men might have regarded her less than the
other. A single star of diamonds, planted high up among her black hair,
was the only ornament she wore.

At the request of the younger lady, we all returned to the grotto, in the
neighbourhood of which, as I have already mentioned, our tasteful host had
placed the rarest of his exotic plants, some of which Sempronia was now
desirous of inspecting. As we paced again slowly over those smooth-shaven
alleys of turf, and between those rows of yews and box, clipped into
regular shapes, which abounded in this more artificial region, the
conversation, which the appearance of the cousins had disturbed, was
resumed; although, as out of regard to their presence, the voices of the
disputants preserved a lower and milder tone than before. I must confess,
however, that mild as was the manner of the discourse, I could not help
being somewhat astonished, that a polite Roman could permit such topics to
be discussed in the hearing of females; above all, that he did not
interpose to prevent Demochares from throwing out so many sarcastic
reflections concerning the deities whose statues decorated the garden. A
beautiful Mercury, in particular, which we all paused to admire, elicited
many observations, that I could easily see were far from being agreeable
to the fair cousins. But greatest of all was my wonder at the behaviour of
Capito himself, who, after we had again entered that delightful grotto,
turned himself to me as if peculiarly, and began a deliberate and
ingenious piece of declamation concerning the tenets of his favourite
philosophy;—such as the fortuitous concourse of atoms, the transitory and
fluctuating nature of all things, and the necessity of snatching present
enjoyments, as nothing permanent can be discovered whereon to repose the
mind. With great elegance, indeed, did he enlarge on these golden
theories, nor did he fail to intersperse his discourse with many exquisite
verses from Lucretius and other poetical followers of his sect. Such,
however, was the earnestness of his declamation, that I could not help
believing him to be quite sincere to what he said, and asked him, not
without anxiety, whether he had all his life been an Epicurean, or whether
it was only of late that he had espoused that discipline.

“Valerius,” said he, “the question is not discreditable to your tender age
and provincial education. To be born wise, Fate or Heaven has denied to
the human race. It is their privilege to win wisdom for themselves; the
fault is their own, if they do not die wise. When the stripling enters
upon the theatre of the world, bright hopes are around him, and he moves
onward in the buoyancy of conscious power. The pride of young existence is
the essence and extract of all his innumerable sensations. Rejoicing in
the feeling of the real might that is, it is his delight to think—to
dream—of might existing and exerted as for ever. New to the material, but
still more to the moral world, he believes in the stability of all things
whose transitory nature has not been exhibited before him. New to the
tricks of mankind, he believes that to be said truly, which, why it should
be said falsely, he is unable to conjecture. For him, superstition has
equal potency to darken the past, and illuminate the future. At that early
period, when ignorance is of itself sufficient to produce a certain
happiness, the ambition is too high to admit such doctrines as I have no
shame in avowing. But time moves on, and every hour some tender plant is
crushed beneath his tread. The spirit clings long to its delusions. The
promise that is destroyed to-day springs into life to-morrow in some new
shape; and Hope, like some warring deity of your poets, bleeds and sickens
only to revive again. But disappointment at length gathers to itself the
vigour of an enduring form. The horizon becomes colder around us—the soul
waxes faint and more faint within. It is then that man begins to recognize
the true state, not of his own nature alone, but of all things that
surround him—that having tasted much of evil, he is taught to feel the
value of good—and weaning himself from vain-glorious dreams, learns the
great lesson of wisdom, to enjoy the moments as they pass—to snatch some
solid pleasure, at least, amidst a world of vision and imagination; so, in
a word, as the poet has expressed it, he may not have reason to complain
in the hour of death that he has never lived.

“In me,” he continued, “you behold one that has gone through the
experience necessary to produce an entire acquiescence in these doctrines.
I am one of those, Valerius, who have resolved to concentrate, after this
fashion, the whole of my dreams upon the hour that is. There are not
wanting, indeed, here and elsewhere, persons who profess the same
theories, only in the view of finding excuse and shelter for the practice
of vice. But till it be proved that the practice of vice is the best means
of enjoyment, in vain shall it be asserted that our doctrine is
essentially adverse to virtue. The mistakes or the misdeeds of individuals
must be estimated for nothing; for where is the doctrine that may not be
shewn to have been defended by impure livers? The founder of our sect is
acknowledged, by its most virulent enemies, to have been the most
blameless of men, and they, I must take leave to believe, can never be
sincere friends of virtue, who doubt, that he who is a true worshipper of
pleasure, may also be the worshipper of virtue.”

There was a certain something, as I thought, more like suppressed
melancholy than genuine hilarity, in the expression of the old man’s face,
as well as in the tone of his voice, while he gave utterance to these
sentiments; nor did any of those present appear desirous of protracting
the argument; although I did not imagine from their looks that any of them
had altered their opinion. What, however, I could not help remarking in a
particular manner, was the gentle regret painted in the countenance of the
elder niece, while Capito was speaking. The maiden sate over against him
all the while, her cheek supported on her left hand, with an expression of
tender affection. From time to time, indeed, she cast her eye upward with
a calm smile, but immediately resumed her attitude of pensive abstraction.
Her uncle took her hand in his when he had done speaking, and kissed it
gently, as if to apologize for having said any thing disagreeable to her.
She smiled again upon the sceptic, and walked by herself, (for I could not
help following her with my eye,) down into a dark walk of pines that
branched off at the right hand from the entrance into the grotto. There I
saw her stoop and pluck a pale flower. This she placed in her bosom, and
then rejoined us with a more cheerful aspect; after which, we all walked
towards the villa. Nor did it escape my notice, that, although Sempronia
appeared willing to avoid Sextus as we went, it always happened, by some
accident or other, that he was nearer to her than any other person of the
company.

They were both at a little distance behind the rest of the party, when
Euphranor addressed himself to me, saying, “Is not this youth, your
companion, the same that is under the guidance of a certain
Xerophrastes?”—“The same,” said I, “and a wary, sage-looking Athenian is
his tutor. I believe he also is of the Porch.”—“No doubt,” interrupted
Demochares; “he has a beard that Zeno might have been proud of, and walks
as if he conceived himself to be the chief pillar of the Porch, if not the
Porch itself.”—“Who shall prevent Demochares from having his jest?”
replied Euphranor. “The man is by birth a Thessalian, and his gutturals
still remind one strongly of his native hills.”—I would gladly have heard
more of it, but he was interrupted by the nearer approach of the rest.



                               _CHAPTER V._


Before the hour of taking the bath, we exercised ourselves for some time
in the tennis-court, where I could not but admire, especially after having
heard Capito philosophise, the vigour and agility displayed by him as well
as his companions. I was then conducted into the baths, where, after being
washed and perfumed in the most luxurious manner, I was arrayed in an
elegant supper-garment by one of the slaves of our host. At table we were
joined again by the ladies, who both reclined on the same couch with their
uncle. Three comely youths attended us, in short tunics, and girt with
napkins of fine linen; but, during the repast, an ancient female slave
stood in silence behind the couch of the young ladies. A small fountain of
alabaster played between two tall candelabra of the same material, at the
farther end of the apartment; and a young damsel stood beside them,
swinging slowly from time to time a silver censer, from which clouds of
delicate odour rolled up to the mirrored roof.

In all things the feast was splendid; but there was no appearance of
useless or vain ostentation. Every thing was conducted in a style of great
calmness and order, without the least formality. The repast interrupted
not the conversation, which went on in a manner to me equally instructive
as entertaining; although I must confess the presence of Athanasia
sometimes rendered me inattentive to what was spoken. I could not divest
myself of the idea, that some unknown circumstance was pressing on the
mind of the fair creature, and that when she smiled upon those who
addressed her, it was sometimes to conceal her ignorance of that which had
been said.

Being asked by Capito, I endeavoured, among other things, to inform him
and his friends, as far as I could, concerning the then condition of this
island, which, more particularly after the exploits of Agricola, had come
to be a subject of some interest. In return, the chief topics which then
occupied the capital were discussed by them, as I perceived, in a great
measure on my account; and I listened with delight to the praises, which
they all agreed on bestowing on the new Emperor. Many anecdotes were
narrated, which tended to strengthen the feelings of admiration, with
which I had already been accustomed to contemplate his character. But
others were told, as the conversation went on, which I could not so easily
reconcile with the idea I had formed of him.

For example, I was somewhat disturbed with what they told me concerning
his treatment of the Christians, who, as we understood in Britain, had
been suffered to live in tranquillity ever since Nerva acceded to the
empire. But now, from the circumstances related, it appeared that the mild
and humane Trajan had taken up, in regard to this sect, the whole aversion
of Domitian; every day some cruel catastrophe was made known of some
person who had adopted their tenets. Being ignorant of the nature of those
tenets, and having heard only in general terms that they were of Jewish
origin, dark, and mystical, I was at a loss to account for the extreme
hatred of the Prince, or rather for his condescending to give himself so
much trouble concerning a matter so obscure and seemingly trifling.

Capito, however, assured me, that although I might have good occasion to
wonder at the steps taken by the Emperor, it would no longer be said by
any one, that the progress of the Christian sect deserved to be considered
as a matter either of obscurity, or of no consequence. “On the contrary,”
said he, “from what you have just heard of the numbers and quality of
those that have lately suffered various punishments, you cannot hesitate
to admit that the head of the empire has been justified in considering it
as a subject worthy his attention.”

“We have adopted the gods of many nations,” said Pontius Mamurra, “nor do
I see why, because the Jews have been unfortunate in a contest with Rome,
we should take it for granted that theirs are unworthy of respect. If,
however, as we have heard asserted, he who embraces this creed becomes an
infidel in regard to the deities of Rome, I say Cæsar does well in
refusing toleration to the intolerant superstition. Domitian was a tyrant,
and a monster of humanity; the late prince was wise and good; and yet it
may be, that, in regard to these Christians, the principle of Domitian’s
conduct was right in the main, and that of Nerva’s wrong. But you, Capito,
regard both sides of the question, I have no doubt, with the same
indifference.”

“I hope,” replied Capito, “I shall never regard with indifference any
question, in which the interest of the empire and the honour of Trajan are
concerned. But if you mean only that I am indifferent about the nature of
this Syrian superstition, you are in the right. I have no knowledge of its
dogmas, nor desire to have. I presume they have their share of that old
eastern barbarity, in the shady places of which the elder Greeks used to
think they could discover the outlines of something really grand and
majestic.”

“It may be so,” said Mamurra; “but if the superstition be found dangerous
to the state, the Prince does well in repressing its progress. That is the
only question of which I spake.”—“There is, indeed, no other,” said
Capito; “I thought of none.”—“And how do you answer it, dear uncle?” said
Athanasia, (lifting herself up, for the first time, to take part in the
conversation.)—“Nay, my love,” said the old man, “to answer that is the
business of Cæsar, and of the Senate. I only regret, that blood should be
shed, and citizens exiled; above all, in the reign of a just and merciful
Prince.—Sempronia,” continued he, “what is that strange story your father
was telling about one of the daughters of Serennius?”

“They only allege,” replied Sempronia, with a smile, “that Tertulla had a
flirtation with a handsome young Greek, and the Greek happened to be a
Christian,—and she was converted by the Greek,—and she was found out in
going with him to some secret assembly of these people, in a vault by the
Vatican Hill,—and her father has been glad to send her to Corsica, partly
to escape the lawyers, and partly, I suppose, in hopes that the quietness
of the island, and the absence of handsome young Christians, may perhaps,
in time, restore poor Tertulla to her right mind—This is all. Do you think
that a strange story, uncle?” “Not, if it be exactly as you have told it,
Sempronia. What says Athanasia?” Athanasia answered gravely, that she was
sorry for Tertulla, and had never heard any thing of the young Greek
before.

By this time, the increasing darkness of the chamber had warned me that we
ought to be thinking of our return. I had more than once looked towards
Sextus, but he refused to meet my eye. When I was on the point of
speaking, Sempronia, starting from her couch, exclaimed, that she was sure
there was thunder in the skies; and presently flash after flash gleamed
along the horizon. All sat silent, as if awe-struck; but Sempronia was the
only one that seemed to be in terror from the tempest. Nevertheless, my
eyes rested more on Athanasia, who looked paler than she had done,
although her countenance preserved its serenity. “How awful,” said I, “is
the voice of Jupiter!” Athanasia folded her arms upon her bosom, and
lifting her eyes to heaven, said in a whisper,—“How awful is the voice of
God!” She then dropt her hand on the end of her couch, and half
unconsciously taking hold of it in mine, I asked her if she was afraid.
“No,” said she, “I am not afraid, but the heaviness of the air makes me
faint, and I never can listen to thunder without feeling something
extraordinary within me.”

Capito said, he could not think of our going into the city that evening,
and that we must all make up our minds to remain in the villa. The
countenance of Sextus brightened up, and he looked to me as if to ask my
assent. I was easily persuaded, and our host despatched a messenger to
inform Licinius of the cause of our absence. The old man then led us into
another apartment, which was richly furnished with books and paintings.
Here he read for some time out of one of the poets, to a party, none of
whom, I am afraid, were very attentive in listening to him, till, the hour
of rest being come, we were conducted to our several apartments, Sextus
and myself, indeed, being lodged in the same chamber.

We were no sooner left alone than I began to rally my friend on the beauty
of his mistress, and the earnest court he had been paying her. The youth
listened with blushes of delight to her praises, but seemed not to have
the least idea that he had been so fortunate as to make any impression on
her mind. On the contrary, he scarcely appeared to be aware of having done
any thing to attract attention from her, and expressed astonishment when I
assured him, that his behaviour had been such as could not possibly admit
of more than one explanation in the eyes of a person so quick and
vivacious as the lovely Sempronia.

After we had both retired to our beds, and the lights were extinguished,
we still continued for some time to talk over the incidents of our visit,
and the future prospects of Sextus and his love; until at length sleep
overpowered us in easy bonds, and agreeable dreams followed, I doubt not,
in the hearts of us both, the thoughts and sights of a delightful day.
Mine surely were delightful, for they were all of Athanasia. Yet, even in
the visions of the night, I could never gaze on her face without some
strange impression of mystery. I saw her placid smile—I heard the sweet
low cadence of her voice—but I felt, and I could not feel it without a
certain indescribable anxiety, that her deep thoughts were far away.



                              _CHAPTER VI._


I awoke early, and drew near to the bed of Sextus; but seeing that he was
fast asleep, and that a quiet smile was on his lips, I could not think of
awakening him. The sun shone bright into the apartment, and I resolved to
walk forth and breathe the balmy air of the garden.

The moisture was still heavy on the green paths, and the birds were
singing among glittering leaves; the god-like statues stood unscathed in
their silent beauty. I walked to and fro, enjoying the enchantment of the
scene;—a new feeling of the beauty of all things seemed to have been
breathed into my soul; and the pensive grace of Athanasia hovered over my
imagination, like some presiding genius of the groves.

I found myself near the favourite grotto, and had stood over against its
entrance for some space, contemplating the augmented stream as it fell
from the superincumbent rock, and regretting the ravage which the nightly
tempest had made among the delicate flowers round its basin. Twice I
thought I heard the murmurs of a voice, and twice I persuaded myself that
it was only the rippling of the waters; but the third time I was satisfied
that some person must be near. I passed between the water and the rock,
and beheld the fair creature that had been occupying so many of my
thoughts, kneeling far within the grotto, as it seemed, in supplication.
To disturb her by advancing farther, would have been impious; to retire,
without the risk of disturbing her, almost impossible; but I remained
there fixed to the spot, without perhaps considering all these things as I
should have done. The virgin modesty of her attitude was holy in my eyes,
and the thought never occurred to me, that I might be doing wrong in
permitting myself to witness the simple devotions of Athanasia. “Great
God, listen to my prayers,” was all I understood of what she said; but she
whispered for some moments in a lowly and fervent tone, and I saw that she
kissed something with her lips ere she arose from her knees. She then
plunged her hands into the well, by whose brink she had knelt, and turned
round to the light. “Athanasia, forgive me,” was already on my lips; but
on seeing me, she uttered a faint cry and fell prostrate upon the marble.
I rushed forward, lifted up her head, and laved water from the fountain,
till I saw her lips tremble. At last she opened her eyes, and after gazing
on me wildly for a moment, she gathered her strength, and stood quite
upright, supporting herself against the wall of the grotto. “Great
heavens!” cried I, “in what have I offended, that I should be rendered the
cause of affliction to Athanasia? Speak, lady, and say that you forgive
me.”

“I thought,” said she, with a proud calmness, “that Valerius was of
Roman—of Patrician blood. What brings him to be a spy upon the secret
moments of a Patrician maiden?”—Then bursting into a tone of unutterable
fervour, “Speak,” said she, “young man, what have you heard? How long have
you stood here? Am I betrayed?”

“Witness, heaven and earth!” cried I, kneeling, “and witness every god,
that I have heard nothing, except to know that you were praying. I have
only seen you kneeling, and been guilty of gazing on your beauty.” “You
heard not the words of my prayer?” said she. “No, not its words,
Athanasia, nor any thing of its purpose.” “Do you swear this to me, young
man?” “Yes, I swear by Jupiter and by Rome—as I am a man and a Roman, I
know not, neither do I desire to know, any thing of what you said. Forgive
me for the fault of my indiscretion—you have no other to forgive.”

Athanasia paused for a moment, and then resuming more of her usual tone of
voice, (although its accents were still somewhat disturbed and faltering,)
said to me, “Valerius, since the thing is so, I have nothing to forgive.
It is you that must pardon me for my suspicion.” “Distress me not,
Athanasia,” said I, “by speaking such words.” “From this hour, then,” said
she, “what has passed here is forgotten. We blot it from our
memories;”—and with that, as if in token of the paction, she extended to
me her hand. I kissed it as I knelt, and swore that all things were safe
with me; but added, as I arose, “that I was afraid I should be promising
more than I should be able to perform,—did I say I should be able to
forget any hour, or any place, where I had seen Athanasia.” “Nay,” said
she, “no compliment, or I shall begin to suspect you of insincerity.” I
was then about to withdraw from the grotto; but seeing a scroll of
parchment lying at the feet of Athanasia, I stooped, and presented it to
her, saying, “I was afraid she might forget it.” She took it eagerly, and
saying, “Of that there was no danger,” placed it in her bosom, within the
folds of her tunic. She was then gathering up her black tresses, and
fastening them hastily on the back part of her head, when we heard the
sound of footsteps not far off, and beckoning to me to remain where I was,
she darted from me, and in a moment vanished among the trees. I waited for
a few minutes, and then stepping forth, beheld her walking at a distance,
beside her sister, in the direction of the villa. They were soon lost
among the paths, and I returned alone into the grotto.

I sat down beside the dark well, wherein she had dipt her hands, and mused
in a most disturbed mood on all the particulars of this strange and
unexpected interview. Every motion of her features—every modulation of her
voice, was present with me; I had gathered them all into my heart, and I
felt that I must cherish them there for ever. From the first moment I saw
her, my eyes had been constrained to gaze upon her with an interest quite
novel to me; but now I knew that she could not smile, without making my
heart faint within me, and that the least whisper of her voice was able to
bring tears into mine eyes. Now I thought of my own unworthiness, and
could not help saying to myself, “Why should a poor ignorant provincial,
such as I am, be torturing myself with the thoughts of such a creature as
this?” Then, again, some benign glance of hers would return before me, and
I could not help having some faint hopes, that her innocent heart might be
won to me by faithful unwearied love. But what always threw me back into
despair, was the recollection of the mystery that I knew hung over her
mind, although what it was I could not know. That she had been saying
something in her prayers which could not be overheard without betraying
her, she had herself confessed. What could be this secret, so cherished in
dread, and in darkness?—A crime?—No crime could sully the clear bosom of
her innocence. No consciousness of guilt could be concealed beneath that
heavenly visage. But perhaps she had been made the confidante of some
erring,—some unhappy friend. Perhaps, in her prayer, she had made mention
of another’s name, and implored the pardon of another’s guilt. Last of
all, why might it not be so, that the maiden loved, and was beloved again;
that she might have some reason to regard any casual betrayal of her
affection as a calamity; and that, having uttered the name of her lover in
her secret supplications, her terrors might all have been occasioned by
her apprehensions of my having overheard it? And yet there was something
in the demeanour of Athanasia, that I could not bring myself to reconcile
entirely with any one of these suppositions. Had she feared that I had
overheard any confession of guilt,—even of the guilt of another,—surely
some semblance of shame would have been mingled with her looks of terror.
Had she apprehended only the discovery of an innocent love, surely her
blushes would have been deeper, and her boldness less. Yet the last
solution of the difficulty was that which haunted me the most powerfully.

When I came forth into the open air, I perceived that the sun was already
high in heaven, and proceeded in haste towards the villa, not doubting
that Sextus and Capito would be astonished by the length of my absence. I
found them and the ladies walking under the northern colonnade, having
returned, as they told me, from a fruitless search after me through almost
the whole of the garden. I looked to Athanasia, as if to signify that she
well knew where I might have been found; but, although I saw that she
understood my meaning, she said nothing in explanation. Sextus drew me
aside shortly after, and told me, that his father had sent to inform him,
that our presence was necessary in the city before supper-time, to attend
a great entertainment which was to be given that evening by the lady whose
cause he had successfully pleaded in the Forum on the preceding day; which
lady, I now for the first time learned, was no other than the same Marcia
Rubellia, to whom his father was very anxious the youth should be married.
The success of this pleading had increased very much the wealth of the
lady, and, of course, as Sextus well knew, the anxiety of Licinius for the
proposed union; and to remain at the villa any longer, was, he said,
entirely impossible, since he already suspected his father had not been
quite pleased with him for leaving the Forum the day before, without
staying to hear out a cause in which his duty, if not his inclination,
ought to have made him feel so greatly interested.

We bade adieu, therefore, to our kind host and the young ladies, not
without more reluctance than either of us durst express, and ready
promises to return soon again to the villa. We found Dromo and Boto
waiting for us at the gate, the former of whom looked unutterable things,
while the latter appeared to be as joyful in seeing me again, as if we had
been parted for a twelvemonth. The two slaves were mounted on asses, but
they led horses for our conveyance; so we mounted with all speed, and were
soon beyond the beautiful enclosures of Capito. As soon as we were fairly
out of sight of the house, Dromo began to ply Sextus with innumerable
questions about the result of the visit, all of them in bad Greek; that,
as he said, there might be no chance of what passed being understood by
the Druid; for by that venerable designation, he informed us, the
primitive Boto had already come to be best known in the vestibule of
Licinius. “Ah!” quoth he, “there is no need for many words; I am sure my
young master has not been behindhand with himself. If he has, it is no
fault of mine, however. I put Opportunity into his hands, and she, you
know, as the poets say, has only one lock of hair, and that is in front.”

Sextus being very shy of entering into particulars, I found myself obliged
to take upon me the satisfying of the curiosity of this inquisitive
varlet, which I did in a manner that much astonished Sextus, who by no
means suspected, that in the midst of my own attention to the other
cousin, I had been able to take so much notice of what passed between him
and Sempronia. However, the gentle youth took a little raillery all in
good part, and we laughed loudly in unison at the triumphant capers which
the whip of Dromo made his poor ass exhibit, in testimony of his
satisfaction with the progress which all things appeared to be making. We
reached the city about three hours after noon, and were told by the slaves
in attendance, that Xerophrastes had gone out some time before, and that
Licinius was already busy in arraying himself for the feast of Rubellia.



                              _CHAPTER VII._


Her mansion was situated about the middle of the Suburra, in a
neighbourhood nowise splendid, and itself distinguished, on the side
fronting to the street, by no uncommon marks of elegance or opulence. A
plain brick wall covered almost the whole of the building from the eye of
the passenger; and what was seen deserved the praise of neatness, rather
than of magnificence. Nevertheless, the moment one had passed the gate,
and entered the court, one could not help perceiving, that taste and
wealth had been alike expended abundantly on the residence; for the broad
terrace and gallery behind were lavishly adorned, the one with sculpture
and the other with paintings; and the gardens, which these overlooked,
appeared to be both extensive and elaborate.

We were conducted through several pillared halls, and then up a wide
staircase, of somewhat sombre magnificence, into the chamber where the
company were already in part assembled, and busy in offering their
congratulations to the mistress of the feast. She was so much engaged with
their flatteries that she did not at first perceive our entrance; but as
soon as she knew who had come, the chief part of her attention was divided
between her victorious advocate and his blushing son.

Rapidly as we have been advancing in our imitation of the manners of the
capital, our island, most unquestionably, has never yet displayed any
thing that could sustain the smallest comparison with what then met my
eyes in the stately saloon of this widow. The group around her was gay and
various, and she was worthy of forming its centre; young and handsome,
dressed in a style of the utmost splendour, her deportment equally elegant
and vivacious. Her complexion was of that clear rich brown which lends to
the eye a greater brilliancy than the most exquisite contrast of red and
white; and over which the blood, when it does come into the face, diffuses
at once the warmest and the deepest of blushes. Her hair appeared to be
perfectly black, unless where the light, streaming from behind, gave an
edging of glossy brown to the thick masses of her curls. Her robe of
crimson silk was fastened by a girdle, which seemed to consist of nothing
but rubies and emeralds, strung upon threads of gold. She wore a tiara
that rose high above her tresses, and was all over resplendent with
flowers woven in jewellery; and around her delicate wrists and ankles were
twined broad chains of virgin gold, interspersed with alternate wreaths of
sapphire. Her form was the perfection of luxury; and although I have said
that her deportment was in general lively and brilliant, yet there was a
soft seriousness that every now and then settled in her eyes, which gave
her, for a moment, a look of melancholy that seemed to me more likely to
be in harmony with the secret nature of her disposition. I watched her in
particular when she spoke to Sextus; her full rich-toned voice was then
merry, and her large eyes sparkled; but when she was engaged with any
other person, she could not help gazing on the beautiful youth in silence;
and then it was that her countenance wore its deepest expression of
calmness—I had almost said, of sadness.

I had been gazing on her, I know not how long, from another part of the
room, when I heard a hearty chuckle from behind me, and thought I could
not be unacquainted with the voice. Looking round, I saw, not without
delight, the stately figure of my Prætorian Captain, Sabinus, whose
cheerful eye soon distinguished me, and who forthwith came up to salute me
in the most friendly manner. I introduced him to Licinius and Sextus, the
former of whom expressed himself as being much gratified with the
attention the centurion had shewn to me during our voyage; so that I felt
myself, as it were, no longer a stranger in the place; and the lutes and
trumpets at that moment announcing that supper was ready to be served up,
I took care to keep close to Sabinus, and to place myself near him on the
couch.

The room in which the feast was prepared, communicated by a pair of brazen
folding doors, richly sculptured, with that in which the company had
assembled; but from it, although the sun had not yet gone down, all light
was excluded, excepting what streamed from golden candelabra, and broad
lamps of bronze suspended overhead from the high and painted ceiling. The
party might consist of about twenty, who reclined along one demi-circular
couch, the covers of which were of the softest down, and the frame-work
inlaid with ivory;—the part of the room enclosed by its outline being
occupied with the table, and an open space to which the attendants had
free access. We had no sooner taken our seats than a crowd of slaves
entered, carrying large boards upon their heads, which being forthwith
arranged on the table, were seen to be loaded with dishes of gold and
silver, and all manner of drinking vessels, also with vases of rare
flowers, and urns of perfume. But how did the countenance of Sabinus
brighten, when the trumpet sounded a second time as if from below, and the
floor of the chamber was suddenly, as it were, pierced in twain, and the
pealing music ushered up a huge roasted boar, all wreathed with stately
garnishings, and standing erect on his golden platform as on a chariot of
triumph! “Ah! my dear boy,” cries he, “here comes the true king of beasts,
and only legitimate monarch of the woods. What should we not have given
for a slice of him when we were pent up, half-starved and fainting, in
that abominable ship of ours?—All hail, most potent conqueror! but whether
Germanic or Asiatic be thy proper title, I shall soon know, when that
expert Ionian has daintily carved and divided thee.” But why should I
attempt to describe to you the particulars of the feast? Let it suffice,
that whatever idea I had formed of Roman profusion was surpassed, and that
the splendour of the entertainment engaged the attention of all except
Rubellia herself, who, reclining immediately above Sextus, kept her eyes
fixed almost all the time it lasted, upon his luxuriant curls of dark
hair, unless when she caused the young damsel, her cup-bearer, to pour out
to her wine in a goblet of onyx, which she touched with her lips, and then
handed to the indifferent boy. When the supper was half over, the
folding-doors were again thrown open, and there entered a group of maidens
and beautiful youths, who danced before us to the music of the lute, and
scattered crowns of roses at the feet of Rubellia and her guests. She
herself placed one of them on the head of Sextus, and another on that of
his father, who lay on the other side of her, and then caused a large cup
of wine to be carried all around, whereof each of us tasted, and drank to
the health of the orator, in whose honour the entertainment was made. The
ladies that were present imitated the example of the hostess, and crowned
such as were by them; but Sabinus and I, not being near enough to any of
them, received that courtesy from some of the dancing maidens. Libations
were poured out abundantly on the marble floor, and all the gods were
invoked to shower down their blessings on Rubellia, and those that had
been so fortunate as to serve her. Sweet strains of music resounded
through the tall pillars of the banqueting-room, and the lamps burned
heavily in an atmosphere overloaded with perfumes.

It appeared to me, from the beginning, that my friend Sabinus witnessed,
not without some feelings of displeasure, the excessive attentions which
Rubellia lavished on young Sextus; and I gathered, from the way in which
he every now and then looked towards them during the supper, that, had the
place permitted, he would not have allowed such things to go on without
some comment. But when we had left the banqueting-room, and removed to
another apartment, where, amidst various entertainments of dancing, music,
and recitation, Rubellia still retained close to herself the heir of
Licinius, the centurion made to himself abundant amends for the previous
restraint to which his temper had been subjected. “Confess now,” said he,
“that she is a lovely creature, and that your British beauties are tame
and insipid, when compared with such a specimen of Roman fascination; and
confess, withal, that this curled boy is either the most ignorant, or the
most insusceptible of his sex. Good heavens! in what a different style was
she treated by the old magistrate, whose very bust there, in the corner,
looks quite blank and disconsolate with its great white eyes, while she,
that sate for so many months pale and weeping by his bed-side, is thinking
of nothing but to bestow all the wealth he left her on a beardless
stripling, who appears to regard the bust and the beauty with almost equal
indifference.—Alas! poor old withered Leberinus, little did you imagine
that so small a phial would suffice to hold all her tears. My only wonder
is, that she still permits your marble image to occupy even a corner of
her mansion; but, no doubt, you will soon be sent on your travels. I dare
say, some cold pedestal in the garden will, ere long, be the best birth
you need look for.—Well, well, you see what fools we may be made by the
cunning of these pretty crocodiles. I trust my dotage, when it does come,
will not shew itself in the same shape with that of my good old friend. I
hope the ghost of the worthy Prætor will not frown unseen the night she
takes this Adonis to her arms. If I were in his place, I should give her
curtains a pretty shake. By Hermes! it would not be a pretty monument and
a flowery epitaph that would make me lie still.”

“How long is it,” said I, “since this venerable magistrate died? Surely
she has allowed him the decency of a tenmonth’s grief, before she began to
give suppers, and perceive the beauty of Sextus?” “Whether it be a
tenmonth ago or not,” replied the Centurion, “is more than I can take upon
me to decide; all I know is, that it appears to me as if it were but
yesterday that I supped here, (it was just before I set off for Britain,)
and saw the young lady reclining, even at table, with those long black
curls of her’s, in the bosom of the emaciated Leberinus. By Jupiter! the
old man would not taste a drop of wine unless she kissed the cup—she
coaxed every morsel he swallowed down his throat, and clasped the garland
round his bald pate with her own fingers; ay, twice before that sleek
physician—that solemn-faced Greek, whom you see at this moment talking
with your kinsman, advised her to have him carried to his bed. For all the
gravity of his looks, I would lay a trifle, that worthy Bœotian has his
own thoughts about what is passing, as well as I. But the worst-pleased
face in the whole room is, I think, that of old Rubellius himself yonder,
who has just come in, without, it is evident, being aware that any feast
was going forward. Without question, the crafty usurer is of opinion he
might have been invited. I promise you, I can interpret the glances of
that gray-headed extortioner; and well I may, for it is not the first time
I have had an opportunity of studying them. Ay, ay, quoth he to himself,
she may do as she will with the bonds of Leberinus; but she might have
remembered, that a codicil can be easily tacked to the end of a living
man’s testament.”

“But, after all,” said I, “one must admit, that if she married old
Leberinus to please her father, the widow has some right to choose her
second husband according to the pattern of her own fancy.” “Oh! by all
means,” answered he; “let her please herself; let her make a fool of
herself now, if she will. She may perhaps learn, some time or other, that
it is as possible to have too young a husband, as to have too old a one.”
“Come now,” said I, “Sabinus, confess that if she had selected some
well-made, middle-aged man—some respectable man—some man of note and
distinction, you would have judged less harshly of poor Rubellia.” “Ah!
you cunning dog,” said he; “who would have thought that you had brought so
much wickedness from that new world of yours? But do you really think she
will wed Sextus? The boy appears strangely cold. I should not wonder, when
all is done, if the match were more of the orator’s seeking than his own.”
“I can only tell you,” said I, “that I have never heard Licinius mention
any thing about it; and, I dare say, Sextus would be very sorry to think
of losing his liberty for the sake of the wealth of Leberinus—ay, or for
that of old Rubellius to boot.” “Young friend,” quoth he, “you are not
quite acquainted with the way in which these matters are managed at Rome.
If we had you six weeks at the other side of the Viminal, we should teach
you better.”

I know not how long this sort of talk might have lasted; but Licinius put
an end to it by joining us, and soon engaged the worthy Centurion, and
several more of us, with some lively, but unintelligible discussion on the
merits of some new edict, of which none of us had ever heard, or were
likely ever to hear any thing again. We were glad to escape from the
lawyer into another room, where some Greek slaves were performing a sort
of comic pantomime, that appeared to give more delight to old Rubellius
than any other of the spectators. As for Sextus, I saw plainly that he was
quite weary of the entertainment, and anxious to get away; but we were
obliged to remain till after Licinius was gone, for it was evident that he
wished his son to see out the last. But no sooner had we heard his chariot
drive off, than the young man and I took leave of the lady, and withdrew.
Sabinus lingered a moment behind us, and then joined us in the vestibule,
from which, his course lying so far in the same direction as ours, we all
proceeded homewards on foot.

We had proceeded along the street of the Suburra for a considerable space,
and were already beneath the shade of the great Temple of Isis and
Serapis, (which stands on the northern side of the Esquiline Hill, nigh
over against the Amphitheatre of Vespasian,) when, from the opposite side
of the way, we were hailed by a small party of soldiers, who, as it turned
out, had been sent from the Prætorian camp in search of Sabinus, and one
of whom had now recognized his gait and stature, notwithstanding the
obscurity of the hour. The Centurion went aside with the leader of these
men for some moments, and then informed us that it was very fortunate they
had so easily recognized him, as the business on which they had been sent
was such as did not admit of being negligently dealt with. “To-morrow,”
said he, pointing to the Amphitheatre before us, “that glorious edifice is
to be the scene of one of the grandest shows exhibited by Trajan since his
accession to the empire. It is the anniversary of the day on which he was
adopted by Nerva, and the splendour of the spectacle will be in proportion
to the gratitude and veneration with which he at all times regards the
memory of that excellent benefactor. But there are some parts of the
exhibition that I am afraid old Nerva, could he be present to behold them,
would not regard with the same feelings as his successor.” “Surely,” said
I, “the beneficent Trajan will not stain the expression of his gratitude
by any thing unworthy of himself, or that could give displeasure to
Nerva?” “Nay,” replied the Centurion, “it is not for me to talk about any
thing that Trajan chooses to do being unworthy of Trajan; but you well
know that Nerva would never suffer any of the Christians to be molested
during his reign, and now here are some of these unhappy fanatics, that
are to be compelled either to renounce their faith in the face of the
assembly to-morrow, or to die in the arena. It is to inspect the condition
of these unfortunates, who, I know not for what reason, are confined in a
dungeon below the ramparts in the vicinity of our camp, and to announce to
them the final determination of their fate, that I, as Centurion of the
night, have now been summoned. If you are curious to see the men, you are
at liberty to go with me, and I shall be obliged to you for your company.”

My curiosity having been excited in regard to the new faith and its
adherents, I was very desirous to accept of this offer. Nor did Sextus any
sooner perceive that such was my inclination, than he advised me to
gratify it, undertaking, at the same time, to satisfy his father, in case
of any inquiry, that I was in a place of safety, and under the protection
of Sabinus. With him, therefore, and with his Prætorians, I proceeded
along various streets which led us by the skirts of the Esquiline and
Viminal Hills, on to the region of the Mounds of Tarquin, over against
which, as you have heard, the great camp of those bands is situated;—if
indeed that ought of right to be called by the name of a camp, which is
itself a city of no slender dimensions, and built with great splendour of
architecture, spread out beyond the limits of Rome, for the accommodation
of that proud soldiery. There my friend took me into his chamber, and
furnished me with a cloak and helmet, that I might excite no suspicion by
accompanying him on his errand. The watch-word of the night also was given
me, _Silent faith_; and proceeding again, we shortly reached the place
where the Christians were lying.



                             _CHAPTER VIII._


Entering the guard-room, we found it crowded with spearmen of Sabinus’s
band, some playing at dice, others carousing jovially, many wrapt up in
their mantles, and asleep upon the floor; while a few only were sitting
beneath the porch, with their spears in their hands, and leaning upon
their bucklers. From one of these, the Centurion, having drawn him aside,
made inquiry concerning the names and condition of the prisoners, and
whether as yet they had received any intelligence as to the morrow. The
soldier, who was a grave man, well stricken in years, made answer, “that
the men were free-born and of decent estate, and that he had not heard of
any thing else being laid to their charge, excepting that which concerned
their religion. Since they have been here,” he continued, “I have been
several times set on watch over them, and twice have I lain with one of
them in his dungeon; yet have I heard no complaints from any of them, for
in all things they are patient. One of them only is to suffer
to-morrow—but for him I am especially concerned, for he was known to me of
old, having served often with me when I was a horseman in the army of
Titus, all through the war of Palestine, and at the siege of Jerusalem.”

“And of what country is he?” said Sabinus. “Is he also a Roman?” “No,
sir,” answered the spearman, “he is no Roman; but he was of a troop of the
allies that was joined often to our legion, and I have seen him bear
himself on the day of battle as well as any Roman. He is by birth a Greek
of the Syrian coast; but his mother was of the nation of the Jews.” “And
yet, although the son of a Jewess, he was with us, say you, at the siege
of Jerusalem?” “Even so,” replied the man; “and not he only, but many
others; for the Jews were divided against themselves; and of all them that
were Christians, not one abode in the city, or gave help to defend it. As
this man himself said, the oracles of the Christians, and their prophets,
had of old given warning that the city must fall into the hands of Cæsar,
by reason of the wickedness of that people; therefore, when we set our
camp against Jerusalem, these all passed out from the city, with their
wives and children, and dwelt safely in the mountainous country until the
fate was fulfilled. But some of their young men fought in our camp, and
did good service, because the place was known to them, and they had
acquaintance with all the secrets of the Rock. Of these, this man was one.
He and all his household had departed from the ancient religion of the
Jews, and were believers in the doctrines of the Christians, for which
cause he is now to suffer; and of that, although I have not spoken to him
this evening, I think he has already received some intelligence, for
certain of his friends passed in to him, and they covered their faces as
they went in, as if weeping.” “Are these friends still with him?” said
Sabinus. “Yes,” answered he, “for I must have seen them had they come
forth again. Without doubt, the two women are still with him in his
dungeon.” “Women?” quoth Sabinus; “and of what condition think you they
may be?” “That I know not,” replied the soldier; “for, as I have said,
they were muffled in their mantles. But one of them, at least, is a Roman,
for I heard her speak to him that is by the door of the dungeon.” “How
long is it,” said the Centurion, “since they went in to the prisoner?”
“More than an hour,” replied the soldier, looking at the water-clock that
stood beneath the porch; “and if they be Christians, they are not yet
about to depart, for they never separate without singing together, which
is said to be their favourite manner of worship.”

He had scarcely uttered these words, when the soldiers that were carousing
within the guard-room became silent, and we heard the voices of those that
were in the dungeon singing together in a sweet and lowly manner. “Ah,
sir!” said the old soldier, “I thought it would be even so—there is not a
spearman in the band that would not willingly watch here a whole night,
could he be sure of hearing that melody. Well do I know that soft
voice—Hear now, how she sings by herself—and there again, that deep strong
note—that is the voice of the prisoner.”

“Hush!” quoth the Centurion, “heard you ever any thing half so divine? Are
these words Greek or Syrian?” “What the words are I know not,” said the
soldier; “but I know the tune well.—I have heard it played many a night
with hautboy, clarion, and dulcimer, on the high walls of Jerusalem, while
the city was beleaguered.” “It is some old Jewish tune then,” said
Sabinus; “I knew not those barbarians had had half so much art.”

“Why, as for that, sir,” replied the man, “I have been all over Greece and
Egypt—to say nothing of Italy—and I never heard any music like that music
of the Jews. When they came down to join the battle, their trumpets
sounded so gloriously, that we wondered how it was possible for them ever
to be driven back; and then, when their gates were closed, and they sent
out to beg their dead, they would play such solemn awful notes of
lamentation, that the plunderers stood still to listen, and their warriors
were delivered to them with all their mail as they had fallen.” “And the
Christians also,” said Sabinus, “had the same tunes?” “Oh yes, sir—why,
for that matter, these very tunes may have been among them, for aught we
know, since the beginning of their nation. I have stood sentinel with this
very man, and seen the tears run down his cheeks by the star-light, when
he heard the music from the city, as the Jewish captains were going their
rounds upon the battlements.” “But this, surely,” said the Centurion, “is
no warlike melody.” “I know not,” quoth the old soldier, “whether it be or
not—but I am sure it sounds not like any music of sorrow,—and yet what
plaintive tones are in the part of that female voice!” “The bass sounds
triumphantly, in good sooth.” “Ay, sir, but that is the old man’s own
voice—I am sure he will keep a good heart to the end, even though they
should be singing their farewell to him. Well, the Emperor loses a good
soldier, the hour Tisias dies. I wish to Jupiter he had not been a
Christian, or had kept his religion to himself. But as for changing
now—you might as well think of persuading the Prince himself to be a Jew.”

“That last high strain, however,” quoth Sabinus, “has ended their singing.
Let us speak to the women as they come out; and if it be so that the man
is already aware of what is to be done to-morrow, I see not why we should
trouble him with entering his cell. He has but a few hours to live, and I
would not willingly disturb him.” “I hear them coming,” said the soldier.
“Then do you meet them,” said Sabinus, “and tell them that the Centurion
wishes to speak to them ere they go away—we will retire out of hearing of
the guard.”

With that he and I withdrew to the other side of the way, over against the
door of the prison; and we stood there waiting for the women under a
fig-tree, close by the city wall. In a few minutes two persons, arrayed as
the soldier had described, drew near to us; and one of them, without
uncovering her countenance, said,—“Master, we trust we have done no evil
in visiting the prisoners; had it been so, surely we should not have been
permitted to enter without question.”

These words were spoken in a voice tremulous, as if with grief rather than
with terror; but I could not help starting when I heard them. However, I
commanded myself, and heard in silence what Sabinus replied.—“Be not
alarmed,” said he; “there is no offence committed, for no orders have been
issued to prevent these men from seeing their friends. I sent for you, not
to find fault with what you have done, but only to ask whether this
prisoner has already been told that the Emperor has announced his
resolution concerning him, and that he must die to-morrow, in the
Amphitheatre of Vespasian, unless he renounce his superstition.”—“He knows
all,” answered the same voice; “and is prepared for all.”

“By heavens! Valerius,” whispered Sabinus; “it is no mean person that
speaks so—this is the accent and the gesture of a Roman lady.” Then
raising his voice, “In that case there is no need for my going into the
dungeon; and yet, could I hope to say any thing that might tend to make
him change his purpose, I would most gladly do so. The Emperor is as
humane as he is just, and unless when rebellious obstinacy shuts the gates
of mercy, he is the last that would consent to the shedding of any
blood.—For this Tisias, of whose history I have just been hearing
something, I am in a particular manner interested, and to save him, I wish
only I had power equal to my inclination. Is there no chance of convincing
him?”—“He is already convinced.”—“Could his friends do nothing?”—“His
friends have been with him,” said the voice.—This last sentence was spoken
so distinctly, that I knew I could no longer be mistaken; and I was on the
brink of speaking out, without thinking of the consequences that might
occur, when she that had spoken, uttered a faint cry, and dropping on her
knees before Sabinus, said,—“Oh, sir! to us also be merciful, and let us
go hence ere any one behold us!”—“Go in peace, lady,” answered the
Centurion, “and henceforth be prudent as well as kind;” and they went away
from us, and were soon lost to our sight in the windings of the street.

We stood there for some moments in silence, looking towards the place
where they disappeared. “Strange superstition,” said Sabinus; “what
heroism dwells with this madness!—you see how little these men regard
their lives;—nay, even women, and Roman women too—you see how their nature
is changed by it.”—“It is, indeed, a most strange spectacle,” said I; “but
what is to be the end of it, if this spirit become diffused widely among
the people?”—“In truth I know not,” answered the Centurion; “as yet we
have heard of few who had once embraced this faith, renouncing it out of
fear for their lives.”—“And in the days of Nero and Domitian,” said I,
“were not many hundreds of them punished even here in the capital?”—“You
are within the mark,” said he; “and not a few of those who were sent into
exile, because of their Christianity, were, as you may have heard, of no
ordinary condition. Among these there were Flavius Clemens, the Consular,
and his wife, Domitilla; both of whom I have often seen in my youth—both
relations to the family of Vespasian—whom, notwithstanding, all the
splendour of the imperial blood could not save from the common fate of
their sect. But Nerva suffered all of them to live in peace, and recalled
such as were in exile, excepting only Domitilla, whose fate has been
regretted by all men; but I suppose it was not at first judged safe to
recal her, lest any tumult should have been excited in her name, by those
that regretted (and I am sorry to say these were not a few) the wicked
license of which they had been deprived by the death of her tyrannical
kinsman, and the transition of the imperial dignity into another line. She
also with whom we have been speaking, is, I am sure, a Roman lady of
condition; and you may judge of her zeal, when you see it brings her
hither at midnight, to mingle tears and prayers with those of an obscure
Asiatic. Did you observe, that the other female both walked and stood
behind her.”

“I observed all this,” answered I. But little did Sabinus suspect that I
had observed so much more than himself had done. Before parting from him,
I said I should still be gratified with being permitted to see the
prisoner; and although he declined entering himself, he accordingly gave
command that the door of his dungeon should be opened for me, requesting
me, at the same time, to refrain from saying any thing more than was
necessary for the explaining the apparent purpose of my visit,—the
communication, namely, of Trajan’s decree.

The Centurion withdrew to his camp; and the same old spearman with whom we
had conversed at the Porch, carried a torch in his hand, and shewed me the
way into the dungeon.

Between the first door and the second, which appeared to be almost
entirely formed of iron, there intervened a few broad steps of mason-work;
and upon the lowest of these, I stood waiting till he should open the
inner door. Several keys were applied before he discovered the right one;
but at last the heavy door swung away from before him so speedily, that
the air, rushing out of the vault, extinguished the torch; insomuch, that
we had no light excepting that which streamed from an aperture high up in
the wall of the dungeon itself; a feeble ray of star-light alone—for the
moon had, long ere this time, been gone down—which, nevertheless, sufficed
to shew us to the prisoner, although we at first could see nothing of him.

“Soldiers,” said the old man, in a voice of perfect calmness, “for what
reason are you come?”—“We come,” said my companion, “by command of the
Centurion, to inform you of things which we would willingly not have to
tell—To-morrow Trajan opens the Amphitheatre of Vespasian.”—“My comrade,”
said the prisoner, “is it your voice I hear? I knew all this already; and
you know of old that I fear not the face of death.”—“I know well, Tisias,
you fear not death; yet why, when there is no need, should you cast away
life? Think well, I beseech you, and reserve yourself for a better
day.”—“The dawn of that better day, Romans, already begins to open upon my
eyes. I see the east red with the promise of its brightness. Would you
have me tarry in darkness, when I am invited to walk forth into the
light?”—“Your words rejoice me,” answered the spearman; “and I am sure all
will rejoice in hearing that you have at length come to think thus—Trajan
himself will rejoice. You have but to say the word, and you are
free,”—“You mean kindly,” said the old man, rising from his pallet, and
walking towards us as far as his fetters permitted; “but you are much
mistaken—I have but to keep silence, and I am free.”—“Alas! what mean you?
Do you know what you say? You must worship the gods in the morning, else
you die.”—“Evening, and morning, and for ever, I must worship the God that
made heaven and earth. If I bow down to the idols of Trajan, I buy the
life of a day at the price of death everlasting. Tempt me not in your
kindness: I fell once. Great God, preserve me from falling! I have bade
farewell to my friends already. Leave me to spend these few hours by
myself.—Leave me to prepare the flesh for that from which the spirit
shrinks not.” So saying, he extended his hand to the spearman, and the two
old men embraced each other before me.

“Prisoner,” said I, “if there be any thing in which we can serve you,
command our aid. We have already done our duty; if we can also do any
thing that may give ease to your mind now, or comfort to your kindred, you
have but to speak.”—“Sir,” replied he, “I see by the eagle wings on your
helmet, that you are one in authority, and I hear by your voice that you
are young. There is a certain thing, concerning which I had some purpose
to speak to this old brother.”—“Speak with confidence,” said I; “although
I am a Roman, and bear all loyalty to Cæsar, yet this Prætorian helmet is
not mine, and I have but assumed it for the sake of having access to your
prison. I am no soldier of Trajan: Whatever I can do for you without harm
to others, speak, and I will do it. I will swear to you——” “Nay, sir,”
said he, “swear not—mock not the God of heaven, by invoking idol or
demon—I believe your word—but, since you will hear, there is no need why
any other should be witness to my request.”—“I will retire,” said the
other, “and keep watch at the door. I am but a poor spearman, and this
young patrician can do more than I.”—“Be it so,” said the prisoner, a
second time embracing him; “I would not willingly expose you to any
needless danger; and yet I see not what danger there is in all that I have
to ask.”

With this the spearman withdrew; and being left alone with Tisias, I took
his hand, and sitting down beside him on his pallet, shortly explained to
him the circumstances under which I had come thither.

“Young sir,” said he, “I know not what is about the sound of your voice,
and the frankness of your demeanour, that makes me feel confidence enough
to intrust you with a certain thing, which concerns not myself, nor any
hope of mine, for that were little—but the interests of one that is far
dearer to me than I can express, and who, I hope, will live many happy
days upon earth, after I shall have sealed my belief in the message of
God, by blood that has of old been exposed a thousand times to all mortal
perils, for the sake of worthless things. But a very short while ago, and
I might have executed this thing for myself; but weakness overcame me at
the moment of parting.”

“If it be any thing which you would have me convey to any one, say where I
may find the person,” said I, “and be assured I shall deliver it in
safety.”

“Sir,” he proceeded, “I have here with me certain writings, which I have
carried for these twenty years continually in my bosom. Among these, is
one of the sacred books of the faith for which I am to die, and I would
fain have it placed in the hands of one to whom I know it will be dearest
of all for the sake of that which it contains; but, I hope, dear also for
the sake of him that bequeaths it. Will you seek out a certain Roman lady,
and undertake to give into her own hands, in secret, the scroll which I
shall give you?”—“I will do my endeavour,” said I; “and if I cannot find
means to execute your command, I shall destroy the book with my own hands
before I quit Rome—for my stay here is uncertain.”—“If you cannot find
means to do what I ask safely,” he replied, “I do not bid you destroy the
book—_that_ is yours to do with as it shall seem good to you—but I conjure
you to read it before you throw it away. Nay, even as it is, I conjure you
to read it before you seek to give it to her whose name I shall
mention.”—“Old man,” said I, “almost I believe that I already know her
name, and more besides. If it be so that I have conjectured aright, be
assured that all you ask shall be fulfilled to the letter; be assured
also, that I would die with you to-morrow, rather than live to be the
cause or instrument of any evil thing to her that but now visited you in
your dungeon.”—“Alas!” cried the old man, starting up, “lay not this also,
O Lord! upon my head. Let the old bear witness—but let the young be
spared, to serve thee in happier years upon the earth!”—“Be not afraid,”
said I, “if it was Athanasia, no one suspected it but myself; and I have
already told you that I would die rather than bring evil upon her head.”

“Yes,” he answered, after a pause—“it was, indeed, Athanasia. Who is it
but she that would have left the halls of nobles, and the couches of
peace, to breathe at midnight the air of a dungeon, that she might solace
the last moments of a poor man, and, save the bond of Christ, a stranger!
But if you have known her before, and spoken with her before, then surely
she must indeed be safe in your hands. You know where she dwells—that I
myself know not. Here is the scroll, from which that noble maiden has
heard my humble voice essay to expound the words of eternal life. I charge
you to approach her with reverence, and give into her own hands my dying
bequest; yet, as I have said, deliver it not to her till you have yourself
read what it contains.”—“Christian,” said I, placing the writing in my
bosom, “have no fear—I will read your book, and ere two nights have gone
over my head, I shall find means to place it in the hands of Athanasia;
and now, farewell.”—“Nay, not yet for the last time. Will you not come in
the morning, and behold the death of a Christian?”—“Alas!” said I, “what
will it avail that I should witness the shedding of your blood? The Prince
may have reason to regard you as an offender against the state; but I have
spoken with you in your solitude, and know that your heart is noble. Would
to Heaven, that by going thither I could avert your fate!”—“Methinks,
sir,” he replied, “it may be weakness—but yet methinks it would give me
some farther comfort in my death, to know that there was at least one
Roman there, who would not see me die without pity; and besides I must
have you constrain yourself, that you may be able to carry the tidings of
my departure. Her prayers will be with me, but not her eyes. You must tell
Athanasia the manner of my death.”—“For that cause,” said I, “I will
constrain myself, and be present in the Amphitheatre.”—“Then, farewell,”
said he; “——and yet go not. In whatsoever faith you live,—in whatsoever
faith you die, the blessing of an old man and a Christian can do you no
harm.” So saying, the old man stood up, and leaning his hand on my head as
I sat, pronounced over me a blessing which I never shall forget. “The Lord
bless thee—the Lord enlighten thy darkness—the Lord plant his seed in thy
kind heart—the Lord give thee also to die the death of a Christian!”

When he had said so, he sat down again; and I departed greatly oppressed
in spirit, yet feeling, I know not how or why, as I would rather have lost
many merry days, than that dark and sorrowful hour. The soldiers in the
guard-room were so much engaged in their different occupations, that they
heeded me not as, dropping my borrowed habiliments, I stept silently to
the gate; and I was soon out of sight of their flaming watch-fires, and
far from the sounds of their noisy mirth.



                              _CHAPTER IX._


The Roman streets were totally silent and deserted. It was the first time
that I had been in the presence of a human being, foreseeing distinctly,
and quietly waiting, the termination of his mortal existence, and I could
not help asking of myself, how, under similar circumstances of terror, I
should have been able to sustain my spirits?—to what resources I should,
in such a moment, look for the support which seemed to have been
vouchsafed so abundantly to this old man; by what charm, in fine,—by what
tenet of philosophy, or by what hope of religion,—I should, in the midst
of life, be able to reconcile myself to a voluntary embrace of death! To
avoid disgrace, indeed, and dishonour, said I, I think I could be Roman
enough to dare the worst; but this poor man is willing to die, rather than
acknowledge, by one offering on the altar, the deities in whose worship
all his Greek ancestors have been trained; yet who, except perhaps a few
obscure individuals that have adopted the same new superstition, would
think this man dishonoured by returning to the religion of his fathers?
Deep, indeed, must be his conviction of the truth of that which he
professes to believe—serious indeed must be his faith, and high his trust.
What if, after all, his faith should be true, and his trust wise? And the
gentle Athanasia!—She too a Christian! Might not this mystery be hereafter
explained to me by her lips?

Musing and meditating thus, it was no wonder that I, who knew so little of
Rome, should have soon wandered from the straight way to the home of my
kinsman. But that I at last caught, at the turning of a street, a glimpse
of the Flavian Amphitheatre, which I had before passed on my way from the
feast of Rubellia, I might, perhaps, have wandered long. I had some notion
how that grand edifice was situated with respect to the house of Licinius,
and therefore moved towards it immediately, intending to pass straight
down from thence into the Sacred Way. But when I came close to the
Amphitheatre, I found that, surrounded on all sides by a city of sleep and
silence, that region was already filled with all manner of noise and
tumult, in consequence of the preparations which had begun to be made for
the spectacles. The east hardly yet indicated dawn; but the torches and
lanterns of workmen and artificers were in motion every where. On one
side, the whole way was blocked up with a throng of waggons; the
conductors, almost all Ethiopians and Numidians, lashing each other’s
horses, and exchanging, in their barbarous tongues, outcries of wrath and
execration. The bellowings that resounded from any of the waggons, which
happened to be set in motion amidst the throng, intimated that savage
beasts were confined within them; and when I had discovered this, and then
regarded the prodigious multitude of the vehicles, I cannot say what
horror came over me at thinking what cruel sights, and how lavish in
cruelty, were become the favourite pastimes of the most refined of
nations. I recognized the well-known short deep snort of the wild boar,
and the long hollow bark of the wolf; but a thousand fierce sounds,
mingled with these, were new to my ears. One voice, however, was so grand
in its notes of sullen rage, that I could not help asking a soldier, who
sate on horseback near me, from what monster it proceeded. The man
answered, that it was a lion; but then what laughter arose among some of
the rabble, that had overheard my interrogation; and what contemptuous
looks were thrown upon me by the naked negroes, who sate grinning in the
torch-light, on the tops of their carriages! Then one or two of the
soldiers would be compelled to ride into the midst of the confusion, to
separate some of these wretches, fighting with their whips about
precedence in the approach; and it seemed to me that the horses could not
away with the strong sickly smell of the wild beasts; for they would
prance, and caper, and rear on end, and snort as if panic-struck, and dart
themselves towards the other side; while some of the riders were thrown
off in the midst of the tumult, and others, with fierce and strong bits,
compelled the frightened or infuriated animals to endure the thing they
abhorred—in their wrath and pride forcing them even nearer than was
necessary. In another quarter, this close-mingled pile of carts and horses
was surmounted by the enormous heads of elephants, thrust up into the air,
some of them with their huge lithe trunks lashing and beating (for they,
too, as you have heard, would rather die than snuff in the breath of these
monsters of the woods,) while the tiara’d heads of their riders would be
seen tossed to and fro by their contortions. What a cry of cursing, what
cracking of whips and cords, what blowing of horns, and whistling and
screaming; and all this mixed with what roaring and howling from the
savage creatures caged in darkness!

I went, however, for a moment, into the Amphitheatre, by a little
side-way, where admission was cheaply obtained. Here, as yet, all things
were in order, for the hour had not yet come for giving the wild beasts
entrance to the huge dens prepared for them. A few carpenters only were
seen in one corner, erecting a sort of low stage, and singing merrily, of
whom, when I made inquiry concerning the purpose of that erection, one of
these fellows also began to jeer; “Whence come you, good sir, that you do
not know a common scaffold when you see it? It is surely not the first
time that a Christian has had his head chopped off in the Flavian?”—“By
Pluto, I am not so sure about that matter,” quoth another. “I don’t know
whether any of the dogs were ever beheaded here or not; if they have been,
I can only say it was better than they deserved.”—“There spoke a true
man,” cries a third. “No, no; keep beheading for Romans—let citizens have
their own. Things are come to a pretty pass, when they shew us nothing but
tigers against tigers. By Jove, I would rather see one of those
misbelieving Atheists set right before the mouth of a true Getulian lion’s
cage, and hear his bones cracked ere all be over,—I say, I would rather
see that, than fifty of your mere beast fights.”—“After all,” rejoined the
first, “it must be allowed that our Cæsar had a fine eye for the
Amphitheatre.”—“Who doubts it?” says the other. “Rome has never seen any
thing that deserved to be called a show, since he was killed by sneaking
traitors. They say, Nero was still better at that sort of work; but ‘let
the skinless Jew believe,’ as the saying is. I desire to see no better
sport than Domitian gave us the very week before his death. We shall never
live to see his like again!”—“Come, boys,” rejoins one of the rest; “no
despairing! I had begun to think that these good princes, as they call
them, would never shew us a bit of real sport again. Here, now, is at
least something. Who can tell what may follow? and, besides, if the worst
come to the worst, we shall still have lions against lions, tigers against
tigers, Dacians against Dacians, and now and then a Jew or a Christian, or
whatever you please to call him, exhibited _solus_ on such a stage as
this. Come, come, don’t make matters worse than they are.”

The ruffians shewed that they knew well enough I was displeased, and I
half regretted, as I strode away from them, the want of that Prætorian
helmet, which would have preserved me from the insolence of their mirth.
However, I was well pleased to gain a distance at which I could no longer
be troubled with them, and walked with rapid steps along the wide streets,
over which morning was now beginning to shine; while the air, agitated
with a quick breeze, refreshed my cheeks and temples—of which I had need,
being heated with the glare and noise, and, perhaps, faint, too, after the
manner of the young, from want of sleep.

I was admitted into the house by Dromo, who seemed to have been looking
out for me; for he opened the door almost before I had time to knock at
it. He regarded me as I entered with a very cunning face; insomuch, that I
comprehended without difficulty, he believed me to have spent the night in
some scene of debauch; but he, nevertheless, attended me, without saying a
word, into my chamber. He then assumed a countenance of great reflection,
and advised me, with much appearance of friendly concern, to go to bed,
even although I could not stay long there; “because,” said he, “you will
feel much fresher when you get up; and let me tell you, you must be up
early, for I have already been with Licinius, who intends to send Sextus
with a present to Rubellia immediately after breakfast; and you may be
sure he will insist on your company, for he can do nothing without you.
Ah! had it not been for a certain pretty creature, the young gentleman
would not, I am confident, have permitted you to be going the rounds in
this way by yourself. But I take it something amiss, and shall tell him
so, that he did not depute me (who am not particularly enamoured just at
present) to go with you, and take care of your safety. I only wonder how
you have got home so well as it is.”—“Indeed,” said I, “good Dromo, I
cannot help wondering a little at that myself—for I have been all through
the city, and lost my way half-a-dozen times over, and yet here you see I
am.”—“The more reason,” quoth the slave, “that you should send some little
offering to Mercury’s Temple over the way, in the morning—a few sesterces
will be sufficient—and if you have no objections, I shall willingly take
care of them for you. Mercury is the guardian of all that travel about in
the dark; and besides, he is the special patron of love expeditions. But
to say the truth, you are not the only person that owes a gift to that
shrine; for the worthy sage—Xerophrastes—he, too, has been a
night-wanderer—and he has not yet come in. I have my doubts whether, when
he does so, he will be as sober as you are; but I must take care to be at
my post, and admit him in silence, for the time is not yet come to uncloak
his doings. Trust me, this is not the only vagary I have set down to his
account—all in good time. But what says my master Valerius, touching the
offering to the great God Hermes?”

I saw, by the knave’s face, that it was necessary the sesterces should be
forthcoming. “Here they are,” said I, “good Dromo; and remember, that
although Mercury, among other things, is the god of thieves also, he will
not be well pleased if you curtail his offering.” “Never mind,” answered
the varlet, as he was shuffling out of the room, “Mercury and I understand
each other of old. Go to bed, and try to get a little of your own old
British red into your cheeks again; for Licinius has a hawk’s eye, and
will be sure to have his suspicions, if he sees you come down with such a
haggard look. Remember you have not a beard to cover half your face, and
all your iniquities.”

So saying, he left me to my couch, indeed, but not to slumber; for busy
thoughts kept me broad awake, till, after the lapse of perhaps an hour,
young Sextus entered my apartment, already arrayed with more than usual
elegance, to execute, however unwillingly, the message of his father. He
had in his hand a small casket of open ivory-work, which he flung down on
my bed, saying, “Get up, dear Valerius, and save me at least from the pain
of going alone with these gewgaws. Would to Heaven my father would marry
her himself, and then I should have no objection to carry as many caskets
as he pleases. But do you get up and assist me; and as we go along, you
shall tell me what you have seen and heard in company with your jovial
Prætorian.”

I was soon ready, and ascended, along with my young friend, the chariot
which Licinius had commanded to be ready. I told him, as we glided through
the streets, as much as I judged expedient; and, in particular, when I
perceived that our charioteer was making a circuit, in order to avoid the
neighbourhood of the Amphitheatre, I could not help expressing to him the
effect which had been produced in my mind, by my casual inspection of the
preparations. “I am afraid, then,” said he, “that you will scarcely be
willing to witness the exhibition itself; and yet I would fain have you to
overcome your aversion, both because, whatever you may think of such
things, it is not fitting that you should go from Rome without once, at
least, seeing how they are conducted; and more particularly, because I
much suspect Rubellia intends to be present at the festival—in which case
I should be sorry to be compelled to attend upon her without you; and as
to leaving her at the gate of the Amphitheatre, that, you know, would be
quite impossible, unless I wished openly to contradict the wishes of my
father.”

I assured him he should not want any comfort my presence could afford him;
although not without, at the same time, expressing my astonishment that he
should consider it at all probable that his dainty Rubellia would choose
to sit among the spectators of an exhibition so abounding in circumstances
of cruelty, and, as I had understood, forbidden to her sex. “Nay,”
answered he, “laws and edicts are made to be broken in such cases; and as
for the cruelty of the scene, there is scarcely a lady in Rome that would
be more scrupulous on that head than my widow. To tell you the truth, one
of the things that makes me most unwilling to go, is the fear that
Sempronia also may be there; and, perhaps, when she sees me with Rubellia,
give credence to some of the reports which have been circulated (not
without my father’s assent, I think, if all were known,) about this odious
marriage, which I swear to you shall never take place, although Licinius
were to drive me from his door, and adopt a stranger.”—“Sextus,” I made
answer, “if Sempronia thinks there is any thing serious between the widow
and you, she must think you a pretty rascal, for the violent love you made
to herself at the Villa. But I am sure she will easily perceive, by your
countenance, that you do not regard Rubellia, handsome as she is, with any
extraordinary admiration; whereas—if you were not conscious of it, I am
sure she must have been so—there was never a face of more passionate love
than yours, all the time you were in _her_ company. And, even now, the
very mention of her name calls a glow into your cheeks,—yes, and even into
your eyes,—that I think would flatter Rubellia, could she excite such
another, more than all the jewels of all the caskets your father will ever
send.”—“Distract me not, O Valerius!” said the youth,—“distract me not
with speaking of that too lovely, and, I fear, too scornful girl. Do you
not perceive that we have at last struck into the Suburra, and are quite
near to Rubellia’s house?”—“It is so,” said I, looking out of the
carriage, “and I suspect you are right in thinking she means to be present
at the Amphitheatre, for there is a crowd of urchins about her gate, and I
perceive a brilliant group of equipages has attracted them. She purposes
to go in all her splendour.”—“Good Heavens!” replied he, “I believe all
the world is to be there. I never passed so many chariots; and as for the
rabble, see what a stream of heads continues pouring down out of every
alley. My only hope is, that Rubellia may arrive too late for the best
situations, and perhaps disdain to witness the spectacle from any inferior
part of the Amphitheatre; and yet she must have interest, no doubt, to
have secured good accommodation beforehand.”

We were just in time to meet Rubellia stepping from her portico with a gay
cluster of attendants. On seeing us, however, she beckoned with her
finger, and said, “Oh, are you come at last? Well, I must take Valerius
with myself, for I insist upon it that I shall be best able to point out
what is worthy of his notice; and you, Sextus Licinius, come you also into
my chariot; we will not separate you from your Orestes.” She said so with
an air of sprightly ease and indifference, and sprung into the carriage.
An elderly lady, with a broad merry face, went into it also, but there was
still room for Sextus and myself; and the rest of the party followed in
other vehicles that were waiting.

The crowd by this time had so accumulated, that our horses could not
advance but at leisurely pace; but the noise of the multitude as they
rushed along, and the tumult of expectation visible on every countenance,
prevented us from thinking of any thing but the festival. The variety,
however, and great splendour of the equipages, could not but attract my
attention. Now it was an open chariot, drawn by milk-white Thessalian
horses, in which reclined some gorgeous female, blazing with jewellery,
with a cluster of beautiful boys or girls administering odours to her
nostril; and perhaps some haughty Knight or Senator now and then offering
the refreshment of his flattery. Then, perhaps, would come rumbling along,
a close clumsy waggon, of the old-fashioned matronly sort, stuck full with
some substantial plebeian family—the fat, comfortable-looking citizen, and
his demure spouse, sitting well back on their cushions, and having their
knees loaded with an exulting progeny of lads and lasses, whose faces
would, every now and then, be thrust half out of the window, in spite of
the mother’s tugging at their skirts. And then, again, a cry of “Place,
place,” and a group of lictors, shoving every body aside with their rods,
before the litter of some dignified magistrate, who, from pride or gout,
preferred that species of motion to the jolting of a chariot. Such a
portly person as this would soon be hurried past us, but not before we had
time to observe the richness of the silken cushions on which he lay
extended, or the air of majesty with which he submitted himself to the fan
of the favoured freedman, whose business it was to keep those
authoritative cheeks free from the contamination of common dust and flies.
Anon, a jolly band of young gallants, pushing their steeds along, to not a
few of whom the fair Rubellia would vouchsafe her salutation. But wherever
the carriage was stopped for an instant, it was wonderful to see the
number of old emaciated men, and withered hags, that would make their way
close up to the windows, imploring wherewithal to obtain a morsel. The
widow herself leaned back on these occasions, as if to avoid the sight;
but she pointed to a bag of small coin that hung in a corner of the
chariot, and from it Sextus distributed to the one side, and I to the
other; and yet it was impossible to give to every one; we were surrounded
all the way with a mingled clamour of benedictions from those that had
received, and execrations from those that had got nothing, and noisy
ever-renewed solicitations from that ever-swelling army of mendicants. At
last, however, we arrived in safety at the western gate—the same around
which I had, the night before, witnessed such tumultuous preparation. One
of the officers in waiting there, no sooner descried the equipage, than he
caused a space to be laid open for its approach, and himself advanced to
hand Rubellia into the interior, but she whispered to Sextus and me, by no
means to separate from her in the crowd.



                               _CHAPTER X._


Behold me, therefore, in the midst of the Flavian Amphitheatre, and
seated, under the wing of the luxurious Rubellia, in a very convenient
situation. There was a general silence in the place, because proclamation
had just been made that the gladiators, with whose combats the exhibition
was to commence, were about to enter upon the arena, and shew themselves
in order to the people. As yet, however, they had not come forth from that
place of concealment to which so many of their number would never return;
so that I had leisure to collect my thoughts, and survey for a moment,
without disturbance, the mighty and most motley multitude, piled above,
below, and on every side around me, from the lordly senators, on their
silken couches, along the parapet of the arena, up to the impenetrable
mass of plebeian heads which skirted the horizon, above the topmost wall
of the Amphitheatre itself. Such was the enormous crowd of human beings,
high and low, that when any motion went through their assembly, the noise
of their rising up or sitting down might be likened to the sullen roaring
of the sea, or the rushing of a great night-wind in a forest. Not less
than eighty thousand human beings, they told me, were here met together.
Such a multitude could no where be regarded, without inspiring a certain
indefinable sense of majesty; least of all, when congregated within the
wide sweep of such a glorious edifice, and surrounded on all sides with
every circumstance of ornament and splendour, befitting an everlasting
monument of Roman victory and imperial munificence. Judge, then, with what
eyes all this was surveyed by me, who had but of yesterday emerged from a
British valley—who had been accustomed all my life to consider as among
the most impressive of spectacles, the casual passage of a few scores of
legionaries through some dark alley of a wood, or awe-struck village of
barbarians.

Trajan himself was already present—his ivory chair distinguished only by
its canopy from that of the other Consul who sate over against him; tall
and majestic in his demeanour; grave, sedate, and benign in countenance,
as you have seen in his medals and statues. He was arrayed in a plain
gown, and appeared to converse quite familiarly, without affectation of
condescension, with such Patricians as had their places near him; among
whom Sextus and Rubellia pointed out many remarkable personages to my
notice; as Adrian, afterwards emperor; Pliny, the orator, a man of courtly
presence, and lively, agreeable aspect; and, above all, the historian
Tacitus, the worthy son-in-law of our Agricola, in whose pallid
countenance I could easily recognize the depth, but sought in vain to
discover any traces of the sternness of his genius. Of all the then proud
names that were whispered into my ear, could I recollect or repeat them
now, how few would awaken any interest in your minds! Those, indeed, which
I have mentioned, have an interest that will never die. Would that the
greatest and the best of them all were to be remembered only for deeds of
greatness and goodness!

The proclamation being repeated a second time, a door on the right hand of
the arena was laid open, and a single trumpet sounded, as it seemed to me,
mournfully, while the gladiators marched in with slow steps, each
man—naked, except being girt with a cloth about his loins—bearing on his
left arm a small buckler, and having a short straight sword suspended by a
cord around his neck. They marched, as I have said, slowly and steadily;
so that the whole assembly had full leisure to contemplate the forms of
the men; while those skilled in such business were fixing, in their own
minds, on such as they thought most likely to be victorious, and laying
wagers concerning their chances of success, with as much unconcern as if
they had been contemplating irrational animals, or rather, indeed, I
should say, so many pieces of ingenious mechanism. The diversity of
complexion and feature exhibited among these devoted athletes, afforded at
once a majestic idea of the extent of the empire, and a terrible one of
the purposes to which that wide sway had often been made subservient. The
beautiful Greek, with a countenance of noble serenity, and limbs after
which the sculptors of his country might have modelled their symbols of
graceful power, walked side by side with the yellow-bearded savage, whose
gigantic muscles had been nerved in the freezing waves of the Elbe or
Ister, or whose thick strong hair was congealed and shagged on his brow
with the breath of Scythian or Scandinavian winters. Many fierce Moors and
Arabs, and curled Ethiopians, were there, with the beams of the southern
sun burnt in every various shade of swarthiness upon their skins. Nor did
our own remote island want her representatives in the deadly procession,
for I saw among the armed multitude—not surely without some feelings of
more peculiar interest—two or three gaunt barbarians, whose breasts and
shoulders bore uncouth marks of blue and purple, so vivid in the tints,
that I thought many months could not have elapsed since they must have
been wandering in wild freedom along the native ridges of some Silurian or
Caledonian forest. As they moved around the arena, some of these men were
saluted by the whole multitude with noisy acclamations, in token, I
suppose, of the approbation wherewith the feats of some former festival
had deserved to be remembered. On the appearance of others, groans and
hisses were heard from some parts of the Amphitheatre, mixed with
contending cheers and huzzas from others of the spectators. But by far the
greater part were suffered to pass on in silence;—this being in all
likelihood the first—who could tell whether it might not also be the last
day of their sharing in that fearful exhibition!

Their masters paired them shortly, and in succession they began to make
proof of their fatal skill. At first, Scythian was matched against
Scythian—Greek against Greek—Ethiopian against Ethiopian—Spaniard against
Spaniard; and I saw the sand dyed beneath their feet with blood streaming
from the wounds of kindred hands. But these combats, although abundantly
bloody and terrible, were regarded only as preludes to the serious
business of the day, which consisted of duels between Europeans on the one
side, and Africans on the other; wherein it was the well-nigh
intransgressible law of the Amphitheatre, that at least one out of every
pair of combatants should die. Instead of shrinking from these more
desperate brutalities, the almost certainty of their termination seemed
only to make the assembly gaze on them with a more intense curiosity and
delight. Methinks I feel as if it were but of yesterday, when,—sickened
with the protracted terrors of a conflict, that seemed as if it were never
to have an end, although both the combatants were already covered all over
with hideous gashes,—I at last bowed down my head, and clasped my hands
upon my eyes. I had scarcely done so, when Rubellia laid her hand upon my
elbow, whispering, “Look, look, now look,” in a voice of low, steady
impatience. I did look, but not to the arena: No; it was upon the
beautiful features of that woman’s face that I looked, and truly it seemed
to me as if they presented a spectacle almost as fearful. I saw those rich
lips parted, those dark eyes extended, those smooth cheeks suffused with a
steadfast blush, that lovely bosom swelled and glowing; and I hated
Rubellia, for I knew not before how utterly beauty can be brutalized by
the throbbings of a cruel heart. But I looked round to escape from the
sight of her;—and the hundreds of females that I saw fixed with equal
earnestness on the same horrors, taught me, even at the moment, to think
with more charity of that pitiless gaze of one.

At that instant all were silent in contemplation of the breathless strife;
insomuch, that a groan, the first that had escaped from either of the
combatants, although low and suppressed, sounded distinctly amidst the
deep hush, and being constrained to turn once more downwards, I beheld
that, at length, one of the two had received the sword of his adversary
quite through his body, and had sunk upon the sand. A beautiful young man
was he that had received this harm, with fair hair, clustered in glossy
ringlets upon his neck and brows; but the sickness of his wound was
already visible on his drooping eye-lids, and his lips were pale, as if
the blood had rushed from them to the untimely outlet. Nevertheless, the
Moorish gladiator who had fought with him had drawn forth again his
weapon, and stood there awaiting in silence the decision, whether at once
to slay the defenceless youth, or to assist in removing him from the
arena, if perchance the blood might be stopped from flowing, and some hope
of recovery even yet extended. There arose, on the instant, a loud voice
of contention; and it seemed to me as if the wounded man regarded the
multitude with a proud, contemptuous glance, being aware, without
question, that he had executed all things so as to deserve their
compassion, but aware, moreover, that even had that been freely vouchsafed
to him, it was too late. But the cruelty of their faces, it may be, and
the loudness of their cries, were a sorrow to him, and filled his dying
breast with loathing. Whether or not the haughtiness of his countenance
had been observed by them with displeasure, I cannot say; but those who
had cried out to give him a chance of recovery, were speedily silent, and
Cæsar looking round, and seeing all the thumbs turned downwards, was
constrained to give the sign, and forthwith the young man, receiving again
without a struggle the sword of the Moor into his gashed bosom, breathed
forth his life, and lay stretched out in his blood upon the place of
guilt. With that a joyous clamour was uplifted by many of those that
looked upon it, and the victorious Moor, being crowned with an ivy
garland, was carried in procession around the arena by certain young men,
who leaped down for that purpose from the midst of the assembly. In the
meantime, those that had the care of such things, dragged away, with a
filthy hook, the corpse of him that had been slain; and then, raking up
the sand over the blood that had fallen from him, prepared the place, with
indifferent countenances, for some other tragedy,—while all around me, the
spectators were seen rising from their places, and saluting each other;
and there was a buzz of talking as universal as the silence had been
during the combat; some speaking of this thrust and that ward, and paying
and receiving money lost and won; some already discoursing of other
matters, as if nothing uncommon had been witnessed; while others, again,
appeared to be entirely occupied with the martial music which ever struck
up majestically at such pauses, beating time upon the benches before them,
or joining their voices with the proud notes of the trumpets and clarions.
Rubellia talked gaily with Sextus, inviting him to ridicule me with her,
for the strangeness of behaviour I had displayed.

The sun, by this, had already mounted high in the heavens, and the glare
became so intolerable, that men could no longer fight on equal terms;
which being perceived, Cæsar gave command to look after the wild beasts,
and, in the meantime, (for I heard his voice distinctly,) to give warning
to the Flamens that they should have their altar set forth.



                              _CHAPTER XI._


Upon this, Trajan, with those immediately about his person, withdrew; but
Rubellia told me he had only gone to the Palatine by the subterraneous
path, for the purpose of taking some refreshment, and that there was no
doubt he would return in time to witness the rest of the spectacle. This
example, however, was followed in some sort by a great part of the
spectators, for some departed altogether from the Amphitheatre, while many
more were seen moving from place to place, crossing from one vomitory to
another, and paying their respects to different parties of friends, who
had occupied places at a distance from them during the combats. In the
meantime, servants of Trajan’s household were observed giving directions
in the arena to a great number of persons, who afterwards began to
distribute baskets of dried fish, bread, and other eatables, among such as
chose to accept of them; while viands of a more costly description were
introduced among the wealthy, by slaves and freedmen of their own. Neither
were the bearers of water-jars idle, nor the street hawkers of fruit;
least of all, those whose traffic is in snow,—of whom, I believe, hundreds
were scrambling in all quarters over the benches, whistling shrilly, as is
their method, to announce the article in which they dealt.

The Lady Rubellia was not one of those who would ever leave her friends
destitute of the means of refreshment on such an occasion as this; and
accordingly two or three of her household were soon with us, bearing jars
of sweet-meats, baskets of fruit, flasks of wine, with other appurtenances
of a luxurious collation. We had scarcely begun to taste of these things,
when our attention was attracted by some one striding, with great
activity, from one row of benches to another behind us, and looking round,
I discovered the rosy countenance of Sabinus, whose anxiety to join us
was, as I immediately suspected, the cause of this exertion. An ordinary
person would have sought some circuitous method of approach, rather than
attempt the sheer descent from one of the stone parapets which rose
immediately in our rear; but the brawny limbs of the Centurion shrunk not
from that adventurous leap, and, in a word, I soon found him seated beside
us, bowing and smiling to Rubellia with his usual mixture of boldness and
suavity. He delayed not from participation in her delicacies; but lifting
a goblet of Falernian, drank down, without stopping, till he could see the
foundation of its interior gold. His fingers also soon became acquainted
with the receptacles of fruit and confectionary; and I was half-inclined
to some suspicion, that he might perhaps have remained in his original
situation, had he not chanced to observe the slaves of Rubellia, as they
came up the vomitory, with their comely-looking, napkin-covered baskets
upon their heads. As it was, his arrival was acceptable, except perhaps to
Rubellia, who I thought looked as if she were not overmuch pleased with
the interruption his mirthful talk occasioned to the conversation on which
she had been endeavouring to fix the attention of young Licinius.

For that, however, another interruption had been already prepared in
another part of the assembly, from which our Xerophrastes also had taken
cognizance of our position. There was such a crowd, however, immediately
below us, that I know not whether the philosopher would ever have been
able to make his way to the region where we sat, had it not been that we
heard his voice in disputation, and entreated those that opposed his
passage, if possible, to make room for him. The first glimpse we had of
his countenance, shewed us that the squeeze had been giving him serious
inconvenience, for the drops of perspiration stood visible on his bald
front. The persons whom he was addressing, however, seemed to listen with
such unconcern, that it was impossible not to feel somewhat displeased
with them, for treating so disrespectfully one whom his venerable aspect
might have entitled to more courtesy. In vain did he represent to them,
(for we heard his strong voice distinctly every now and then,) that it was
not for the sake of any personal ease or convenience he was desirous of
penetrating into an upper part. In vain did he reiterate “My pupil”—“my
disciple”—“my young scholar, Sextus Licinius”—“the son of Caius
Licinius”—“the son of the great orator Caius Licinius is there.” In vain
did he enlarge upon the constancy of attention which philosophers owe to
those who are placed by the hands of parents under their superintendence.
No sooner, however, did Sextus and I begin to shew the interest we took in
his situation, than Sabinus raised himself up on the bench, and called
aloud on those that surrounded the Stoic, with a voice of much sternness
and authority, to let him pass immediately at their peril.

Many eyes were forthwith turned towards us; and whether it were the
dignity and haughtiness of the Centurion’s voice and attitude, or that his
garb alone gave him much weight in the assembly, the resistance was
relaxed, and Xerophrastes enjoyed an opportunity of almost entirely
recovering his usual serenity of aspect before he reached us. The first
thing he did was to accept of a cup which I held out to him, and then with
much courtesy did he thank us all, but most the Centurion, for the part he
had taken in working out his deliverance from the hands, as he expressed
it, of those inhuman and illiterate persons; “while you,” he continued,
“brave warrior, have shewn that in your breast, as in that of
Epaminondas—of Alexander—and of your own Julius—the reverence of the
muses, and of divine philosophy, does not disdain to inhabit with the
ardour of active patriotism, and the spirit-stirring delights of Mars.”

“As for that,” said Rubellia, with a smile, “all the world knows that
Sabinus is quite a philosopher—he was just beginning a very learned
harangue when we were attracted by your voice in the crowd; and you have
the more reason to thank him, because he was cut very unseasonably short,
in consequence of the distress in which we perceived you.”

“Most noble lady!” replied the Stoic, “you know not how much you have
delighted me; from the first moment, indeed, that my eyes rested upon the
countenance of your heroic friend, I suspected that he had subjected
himself to some other discipline besides that of camps. I saw the traces
of thought, lady—and serious contemplation. The mind can never exercise
its faculties, without conveying some symptoms of those internal
operations to the external surface of the visage. The soul can never
energize habitually, without betraying its activity in the delicacy and
acumen, which the more elegant and susceptible parts of the corporeal
frame acquire during those elaborate and mysterious processes of thought.
I saw, therefore, and suspected. But what thanks are not due to you, for
having so agreeably confirmed me in this happy suspicion! Of a surety, the
noise and tumult of the camp is not so well adapted for the theoretic or
contemplative life, as perfect leisure and retirement; yet, who shall
doubt that the soul of great energy can overcome all such disadvantages?
Who shall think that the spirit of Socrates did not eagerly philosophize
during the campaign he served?—Who shall say that the Stagyrite must have
suspended his acute, although imperfect investigations, even although he
had accompanied his royal pupil across the Hellespont, and attended all
the motions of his victorious army, instead of staying at home to teach
the youth of Greece?—Who, finally,” said he, casting his courteous eyes
full on the Prætorian, “shall suspect but that this generous warrior has
been effectually advancing the growth of philosophic science, within his
own mind at least,—if not composing works, in his intervals of leisure,
destined hereafter to benefit and instruct the world, even although he may
have been attending the flight of the Eagle from utmost Britain to the
desert frontiers of the Parthian?”—“Nobody, indeed,” replied the sportive
lady—“nobody, indeed, who has enjoyed any opportunity of being acquainted
with the Centurion, can have any doubt on that head.—Sabinus,” she
continued, turning towards him, “what treatise are you at present engaged
with? Come, now, speak out, and truly;—are you still busy with your peri
tês Phuseôs tou oistrou bakchikou,(1) that you were quoting from the other
night?—or are you deep in ‘_the delight of contemplation_?’—or——”—“Not at
all,” quoth the Centurion, interrupting her; “I am only deep in _love_——”
Saying so, he laid his hand in a very tender fashion upon his breast, and
even, as I thought, began to throw a little sentiment into his eyes; but
he had no opportunity of going on with his speech, for Xerophrastes had no
sooner heard him utter the word _love_, than he immediately began to pour
out a new rhapsody.

“Love!” quoth he; “Ha! love:—in good sooth, a noble subject, and one
concerning which not a few laudable treatises have been composed. Yet,
without question, much remains to be done in this matter; and I should be
most proud if the illustrious Sabinus would vouchsafe to me a perusal of
his speculations. Without question,” he continued, “you have commenced
with a proper definition and division of the subject. You have
distinguished betwixt what is properly called _love_, and the other more
or less kindred affections, with which hallucinating writers have too
often committed the error of confounding it. You have described, in the
first place, the difference between it and the _Storgé_ or natural
affection which parents have for their offspring—an affection in which not
a few of the irrational tribes appear (if physiologists may be trusted) to
be even superior to the human race.”—“Hens, for example,” quoth the
Centurion, with a face of infinite gravity.—“Even so—_hens_,” continued
the sage; “an apt illustration.—I perceive, indeed, lady,” whispered he to
Rubellia, “that you have not deceived me concerning the attainments of
this your noble friend.—Hens—a most acute illustration!—See you now, O
Sextus!” he went on, “it is not the characteristic of true philosophy to
despise those illustrations which are drawn from the affairs of ordinary
life, and the common surfaces of things. No: it is rather her part to shew
forth her own intrinsic excellence and splendour, by raising that which is
in itself low and customary, to unexpected dignity, by her methods of
felicitous application. See you, now, with what unexampled skill this
hero—this philosopher, I should rather say—may I presume to add, this
brother philosopher?—has illustrated the nature of love in this treatise
of his, by introducing the domestic habits of your common household fowl.
Such things should not pass unheeded by the young aspirants to learning,
because these, more than any other circumstances, may furnish them with
encouragement to proceed in their course, by shewing how many of the
materials of philosophy lie every where under the eyes of the most common
traveller of the path of life; and how assuredly it is the fault of the
individual himself, if he neglect the means of spiritual advancement,
which are sure to be afforded in whatever situation may chance to have
been assigned to him.”

“I beg your pardon for interrupting you,” said Rubellia; “but Sabinus has
almost finished the grapes while you have been speaking; and I would only
just beg to suggest, that it is the fault of the individual, Xerophrastes,
if he neglects the means of corporeal refreshment, which may yet be
afforded to him by what remains in the basket.”

“Most kind lady,” resumed he, “your benevolence is worthy of your
nobility.—But you know not how much the philosophy I have embraced, tends
to lessen the natural desire of man for such things as you allude
to—nevertheless,” he continued, “I will not refuse to partake yet farther
of your bounty; for I have been sorely dealt with in the multitude, as
yourselves witnessed.”

So saying, he took hold of the basket, and began to feel in the bottom of
it, but found very little to his purpose; for, to say the truth, the rest
of the party had been almost as eager in their attentions to it as the
Centurion. A few slender bunches, notwithstanding, were still there, one
of which the philosopher thrust into his mouth, and the rest he concealed
beneath one of the folds of his huge mantle, until he should have made an
end of his criticism. Meantime, the natural language of the broad, jovial,
unreflective countenance of our worthy Centurion, seemed considerably at
variance from the notion of his attainments and pursuits, which this merry
lady had been instilling into the pedagogue. Rubellia herself, however,
appeared to enjoy the thing far more keenly than either Sextus or I;
insomuch, that I was afraid Xerophrastes would penetrate through the joke
she was playing off upon him, before he had given himself his full swing
in commendation of the Prætorian. But Sabinus, on his side, was, as it
seemed, of opinion, that he had already heard enough of such
disquisitions; for he had scarcely seen out the last cup of Falernian, ere
he began to give hints that he wished very much to descend into the arena,
for the purpose of observing the animals about to be exhibited, while they
were yet in their cages. Xerophrastes, however, even when he had heard him
signify this desire, appeared still to be resolved on considering him as
one of the philosophic order of mankind; for he at once offered to
accompany him, saying, that the visit was of course intended for the
gratification of some scientific curiosity, and that therefore he should
think himself culpable did he neglect the opportunity.

“Come, then,” quoth the good-natured Sabinus, “by all means prepare
yourself for the descent; but at least allow me to precede you, that there
may be no risk of untimely obstructions.”—“Most assuredly, noble
Centurion,” replied Xerophrastes, “in this, as in all things, I shall be
proud to be enumerated among your followers. My pupil, also,” he added,
“and his friend, will no doubt accompany us, that they may benefit by our
discourse on whatever may be subjected to observation.”—“Venerated
friend,” said Rubellia, “would you leave the ladies by themselves in the
midst of the Amphitheatre? I hope Sextus Licinius, at least, will consider
our weakness, and remain for our protection.”

She laid her hand on my companion’s arm, with a look which was decisive.
Her ancient crony whispered something about the impropriety of leaving
only one of the party to attend upon two females; but I took advantage of
her low tone to pretend ignorance of that hint, and rose with the
Centurion.

“Go quickly,” said Sextus, “for the interval must be well-nigh at an end;
and if those that have gone out begin to rush in again, you may have
difficulty in regaining your places.”—“Give fear to the winds,” quoth
Sabinus; “am not I with them, that know every lion-feeder in Rome? No
chance of the exhibition recommencing without my having sufficient
warning. It is not for nothing that I have lost and won so many thousand
sesterces in the Amphitheatre. Would to Hercules as much respect were paid
to experience every where else, as in the Arena to your true old Better.
Already, I perceive that half a dozen of those knowing characters down
below, about the entrances to the dens, have detected me. They must fancy
my purse is in a poor state indeed, when I don’t seem to think it worth
while to take even a single peep at the cages. Come, worthy brother in
philosophy, and you, my fellow-voyager, let us be alert, lest we arrive
after Platæa.”

We obeyed with due alacrity, and, leaving the reluctant Sextus to his
fate, touched presently the margin of the arena. We had no sooner arrived
there, than an old skin-dried limping Numidian, with a bit of lion’s hide
fastened round his loins—one who, from his leanness and blackness, had
very much the appearance of having been baked to a cinder, drew to the
Centurion, with many nods and significant grins of recognition. Sabinus,
on his part, seemed noways backward to acknowledge this acquaintance; but,
on the contrary, began to talk volubly with him in a strange sort of
broken dialect, chiefly composed, as I afterwards learned, of Punic
vocables. After this had lasted some minutes, he took Xerophrastes and me
by the hand, and seemed to introduce us to the Numidian, who then desired
us all to come down, and he would conduct us to a place where we should
see something not unworthy of being seen. About to follow these
directions, I felt my gown seized from behind, and looking round, observed
that it was my faithful Briton, who, from the heat and confusion of his
aspect, appeared not to have come thither without a considerable struggle.
Sabinus seeing him, said, “Ah! my old friend Boto, how have you come to
this part of the Amphitheatre? We must not leave you behind us, however:
Of a surety, you have never seen a lion—you shall descend along with your
master; and who knows but we may persuade Xerophrastes that you also are a
brother philosopher?”—“Most noble Centurion,” replied the grateful slave,
“I saw you and my master from the very topmost bench, where I have been
sitting for these three hours with Dromo, and I was determined to draw
near to you, if it were possible. To go from this place up to yonder
quarter would perhaps be impossible; but it is never a very difficult
matter to go down in this world; so, saving your reverence, I trundled
myself over the benches, and when heads were in my way, I trundled myself
over them too.”—“It is well, good Briton,” quoth the Centurion—by this
time we had crossed the arena—“and now prepare to exercise your eyes as
well as you already have exercised your limbs; for know, that very near to
you is the abode of nobler animals than even your lord hath ever
observed.”

With this the African opened one of the iron doors edging the arena, and
having received some money, admitted us to the sight of a long flight of
marble steps, which appeared to descend into the bowels of the earth, far
below the foundation of the Amphitheatre. “Come along, masters,” quoth he;
“we had better go down this way, for we shall have a better view of the
animals so, than on the other side. My master, Sabinus, will tell you all,
that old Aspar knows as much about these things as any Numidian in the
place.”—“Indeed, since friend Bisbal is gone,” quoth the Centurion, “there
is not another of these that is to be compared to you.”—“Ah!” replied
Aspar, “Bisbal was a great man; there is not a feeder in Rome that is
worthy to tie the latchet of his sandals, if he were alive.”—“Why, as to
that,” said the other, “old Bisbal was very seldom worth a pair of sandals
worth the tying, when he was alive; but, come on, we have no great leisure
for talking now, and Aspar shall shew a lion with any Bisbal that ever
wielded whip.—Come on.”

We soon reached a large vaulted place, apparently below the Amphitheatre,
the sides of which were almost entirely covered with iron-gratings,—while
up and down the open space were strolling many strange groupes of men,
connected in different capacities with the bloody spectacles of the arena.
On one hand, we saw some of the gladiators, who had already been
combating, walking to and fro with restless and agitated steps, as if they
had not yet been able to recover themselves from the excitement into which
their combats had thrown them. Even of such as had been victorious, I
observed that not a few partook in all these symptoms of uneasiness; and
the contrast thus exhibited to the haughty mien of calmness they had so
lately been displaying, affected me with a strange sense of the irrational
and inhuman life these unhappy persons were condemned by folly or
necessity to lead. The blood had forsaken the lips and cheeks of others,
and from the fixed stare of their eyes, it appeared that their minds were
entirely withdrawn from every thing passing around them. Their limbs, so
recently nerved to the utmost show of vigour, were now relaxed and
unstrung, and they trod the marble floor with heavy and straggling feet.
But they that appeared to me to be in the most wretched state, were such
as, they told us, expected to be led forth shortly to contend with the
wild beasts, in whose immediate vicinity they were now walking. The
summons to battle with a human opponent calls into action the fierceness
and the pride of man; but he that has to fight with a beast, how should he
not be weighed down with the sense of mortal degradation; how should the
Reason that is in him not fill him, in such a prospect, with dispiriting
and humbling, rather than with strengthening and stimulating thoughts?
Howbeit, the Centurion, although the most good-natured of mankind, being
rendered from custom quite callous to these things, immediately entered
into conversation with some of those unfortunates, in a tone of coolness
and unconcern that shocked me the more, because it did not seem in the
smallest degree to shock them. Among other topics, he enlarged at much
length to one of them upon the best method of evading the attack of a
tiger.

“Look ye now,” said he, “there are some that are always for taking things,
as they call it, in good time,—these will be pointing their swords before
the creature makes his spring; but I have seen what comes of that, and so
has old Aspar here, if he would be honest enough to confess it. The true
way is to watch his eye when he is setting; let him fairly fix upon his
mark, and spring; but at the moment when he is taking his leap, then is
the time for the gladiator to start aside, and have at him with a
side-thrust. Your side-thrust is the only one I would lay an _as_
upon.”—“Yea,” quoth the grinning Aspar,—“it was always on your cool steady
side-thrust, the moment he had sprung, that the great Bisbal used to stake
himself. Ha! ha! I was fond of the side-thrust in my day myself; but I got
a scratch once—witness my poor leg, masters,—and since then I am a poor
feeder.”—“I was always clear for the side-thrust,” quoth Sabinus. “I never
saw it fail but twice, and then, to be sure, the men died; but they could
have had no chance at all with the frontguard; and it is always
something,” continued he, clapping one of the poor expecting gladiators on
the back,—“it is always something to have a chance. Be sure you try him
with the side-thrust, if it come to your turn to-day.”

The poor creature—he also was an African—lifted up his head on being so
addressed, and shewed all his white teeth in a melancholy attempt at a
smile; but said not a word in reply, and forthwith became as downcast as
before. But the Centurion took little or no heed of the manner in which
his advice had been received. He contemplated the man’s figure for a
moment, as if to form some judgment concerning the measure of his
strength; and after doing the like in regard to some of his companions,
commanded Aspar to shew us where the prime lions of the day were reposing.

The Numidian seized a long pole that was leaning against one of the
pillars of the vault, and led us to a certain part of the grated wall,
behind which was the den, wherein six monstrous Atlantic lions were kept.
I looked in upon them with wonder, and not without dread, through the iron
net-work of the doors. An imperfect gleam of light descended from above
upon their tawny hides and glaring eyes. They, like the gladiators, seemed
also to be preparing for the combat; but not like them in fear, nor in
cold dewy tremors; for the deprivation of food, which they had been made
to suffer in prospect of the exhibition, had roused all the energies of
their savage natures; insomuch, that a sulky and yearning rage seemed to
spread through every nerve and sinew of their gigantic frames, and to make
them paw their quadrangular prison with long and pliant strides. They
moved, however, as yet in total silence; so that Boto having fixed his
eyes upon them, took courage to approach the grate,—slowly, nevertheless,
and with a face that appeared to lengthen an inch for every inch he
advanced. But when he had almost touched the bars, one of the huge lions
came forward towards him, with something between a growl and a sigh, which
made Boto spring backward with great and surprising agility, and with such
force, that both he and Xerophrastes, who happened unfortunately to have
been standing a little way behind him, were overthrown at all their length
upon the floor.

The Centurion, and the limping old keeper, burst into laughter; but
Xerophrastes rising, and shaking his garment, said, with some warmth,
“Think not, O Sabinus, that any sudden start of fear has thus ridiculously
stretched me upon the floor; but attribute the mischance only to this rude
offspring of British earth, whose unreclaimed natural feelings are still
shamefully affected by natural causes.”—“Castor and Pollux,” quoth the
Centurion,—“you take every thing too seriously, my friend.”—“I take it not
seriously,” replied he, with admirable gravity. “My philosophy forbids me
to do so; it has steeled me against externals.”—“Has it so, in faith!”
rejoined the Centurion. “I think some of your equanimity is, in fact,
owing to the trifling circumstance, that you have in reality received no
injury whatever from your tumble. And as to steeling, let me tell you, I
think the iron in the grated door there is much better placed, than in the
bosom of a philosopher; for, in the door, it serves the purpose of
preventing all harm; but if these animals were once out, all the mental
steel of which you boast would not save every bone in your body from being
cracked in the twanging of a bow-string.”—“You speak,” replied
Xerophrastes, “as if you had embraced the tenets of a sect not worthy of
the lovers of wisdom—You speak as if the artificial contrivances of human
workmen were all in all. An iron cage may confine wild beasts; but can
cages be made for all those misfortunes to which mankind are liable, and
against which the force of the mind is their only means of defence? Can
you cage the Eumenides, when they come to avenge a life spent in ignoble
indolence and degrading luxury?”—“In truth,” replied the Centurion with a
smile, “I have never seen the Eumenides except once, and that was in the
theatre of Athens. But Boto, perhaps, has been more fortunate. Did you
ever see the Eumenides, good Boto?” “No, master,” replied, stupidly, the
perplexed Boto, “I never was at the theatre.”

“Ye gods!” exclaimed the Stoic, “of a surety this Britain must have been
the last spot rescued from the dominion of Chaos!”

But while we were yet contemplating those enormous animals, and amused
with the awkward gestures of Boto, the trumpets were blown in the
Amphitheatre, and no sooner did the sound of them penetrate into the
vaults, than it was evident, from the bustle which ensued, that the
Emperor had returned to his place. With all speed, therefore, did we
reascend to the upper air, leaving the gladiators in the act of mustering
in their respective quarters of the gloomy vault; and the feeders not less
busied in preparing their beasts for the expected combat. Had we not been
under the protection of Sabinus, we should have attempted in vain to
regain our places; but he being an acknowledged and current authority,
known in every department of the Amphitheatre, the door-keepers, and other
functionaries, durst refuse him nothing; room was made for us where no
room appeared; and, in a word, we shortly found ourselves once more seated
by the side of Rubellia and Sextus.



                              _CHAPTER XII._


The day was by this time considerably advanced; and, in spite of the
awnings spread all over head, the rays of the sun were so powerful, that
the marble benches felt hot to the touch, wherever they were exposed to
them; and altogether there was such a glare and fervour throughout the
place, that my eyes began to be weary of gazing; and very gladly would I
have retired, rather than remain to see out the rest of the exhibition.
Nevertheless, there was no appearance of any one having gone away in
weariness; but, on the contrary, the seats, and even the passages, seemed
to be more crowded than they had been in the anterior part of the morning.

The arena was vacant, when I looked down upon it; but in a short time, a
single old man, who, as Rubellia told me, had, without doubt, been found
guilty of some atrocious wickedness, was led forth from a small wicket on
the one side, and presently his fetters being struck off, those that
conducted him retired, leaving him alone upon the sand. The eyes of this
malefactor refused at first to look steadfastly on the objects around him,
and it seemed to me that he had probably been long confined in some dark
place, so grievously did the dazzling splendour, reflected from the floor
and walls, appear to bewilder and confound him. Nevertheless, after a
brief space, he seemed in some measure to recover himself, and assumed a
posture of resignation, leaning with one hand against the parapet, as if
he needed support to uphold himself. Pallid and extenuated were the
outlines of the old man’s visage, and his hair and beard exhibited not a
little of the squalidness attendant on long confinement; yet there was
something in the attitude, and even in the countenance, which made me
harbour the suspicion that he had not, at some former period, been
altogether unacquainted with the luxuries and refinements of social life.
The beauty, indeed, of the mould in which his form had originally been
cast, might, perhaps, have been the sole cause of these casual
demonstrations of elegance; yet it was impossible not to regard the man
with greater interest, by reason of the contrast suggested between what he
once perhaps had been, and what he now was.

A feeling of the same sort seemed to pervade many more in the assembly;
and I heard a continual whispering among those around me, as if there was
a general anxiety to learn something of the history of the man. No one,
however, appearing to be able to say any thing concerning this, I kept my
eyes fixed upon himself, awaiting the issue in silence. Judge then, what
was my surprise, when one of the heralds of Trajan, having commanded that
there should be silence in the amphitheatre, said, “Let Tisias of Antioch
come forth, and answer to the things that shall be alleged against him.”
To which the old man, that was alone in the arena, immediately made
reply,—“Here am I—my name is Tisias of Antioch.”—In vain, however, even
after hearing the well-remembered voice, did I attempt to persuade myself
that the face was such as I had pictured within myself; for, as to seeing
it, I have already told you that utter darkness prevailed in the dungeon
all the time I was there with him.

Then arose the Prefect of the city, who had his place immediately under
the chair of Cæsar, and said in a voice, which, although not loud, was
heard distinctly all through the Amphitheatre,—“Tisias of Antioch, being
accused of blasphemy and contempt for the Gods, has been brought hither,
either to refute this charge, by doing homage at the altar of Jupiter Best
and Greatest; or, persisting in his rebellion, to suffer openly the
punishment which the laws have affixed to such perversity. Let him remain
where he is until the Flamens invite all to join in the sacrifice.”

Tisias, hearing these words, stept forth into the middle of the arena, and
folding his arms upon his breast, stood there composedly, without once
lifting up his eyes, either to the place from which the Prefect had
spoken, or to any other region of the Amphitheatre. The situation in which
he stood was such, that I commanded, where I sate, a full and distinct
view of every movement of the old man’s countenance, and assuredly my eyes
were in no danger of being directed away from him. For a few moments there
was perfect silence throughout the assembly, until at length the same
herald made proclamation for the doors to be thrown open, that the priests
of Jupiter might have access. There was heard forthwith a noise, as of the
turning of some heavy machinery, and a part of the ground-work of the
arena itself appeared to be giving way, right over against that quarter in
which Tisias had his station. But of this the purpose was soon manifested,
when there arose from underneath into the space thus vacated, a wooden
stage, or platform, covered all over with rich carpetings, whereof the
centre was occupied by a marble altar, set forth already with all the
usual appurtenances of sacrifice, and surmounted on one side by a gigantic
statue of bronze, in which it was easy to recognize the features of the
great Phidian Jupiter. Neither had the altar any sooner made its
appearance there, and the sound of the machinery, by which its great
weight had been lifted, ceased to be heard, than even as the herald had
given command, the main gates of the Amphitheatre were expanded, and
thereby a free passage prepared for the procession of the Flamens. With
that, all those that were present in the Amphitheatre, arose from their
seats and stood up, and a sweet symphony of lutes and clarions ushered in
the sacred band to the place appointed for them. And, first of all, there
marched a train of fifty beautiful boys, and then an equal number of very
young maidens, all, both boys and maidens, arrayed in white tunics, and
having their heads crowned with oaken garlands, and bearing in their hands
fresh branches of the oak tree, which, above all the other trees of the
forest, is, as you have heard and well know, held dear and sacred to
Jupiter. Then these youthful bands were separated, and they arranged
themselves, the boys on the right, and the girls on the left hand of the
altar, some of them standing on the arena itself, and others on either
side, upon the steps of the platform whereon the altar was fixed; and
beautiful, indeed, was their array, and comely and guiltless were their
looks; and much modesty was apparent, both in the downcast eyes and closed
lips, with which some of them stood there to await the issue of their
coming, and in the juvenile admiration wherewith others of them were
regarding the wide and splendid assemblage around them; insomuch, that I
could not but feel within myself a certain dread and fearfulness, when I
saw the feet of so many tender and innocent ones placed there upon the
same hot and guilty sand, which had so often drunk the blood of fierce
beasts and cruel malefactors—alas!—which had drunk the blood of the
innocent also—and which was yet to drink thereof abundantly.

And after them there came in the priests themselves of Jupiter, arrayed in
the white garments of sacrifice, walking two by two, the oldest and
principal of them coming last. And behind them again, were certain younger
assistants, clothed also in white, who led by a cord of silk inwrought
with threads of silver, a milk-white steer, without spot or blemish, whose
horns were already gilt, and his broad brows crowned with oak leaves and
roses. And last of all entered the Vestal Virgins, none of whom had ever
before been seen by me, and they also walked two by two; and no one could
contemplate without veneration the majesty of their demeanour. With broad
fillets were they bound around the forehead, and deep flowing veils hung
down to their feet, entirely covering their faces and their hands;
nevertheless, their dignity was apparent; and it was not the less
impressive, by reason of the great mystery in which all things about them
appeared to be enveloped.

Imagine, therefore, to yourselves, how magnificent was the appearance of
all things, when youths and damsels, and priests and vestals, had taken
their places, according to the custom of their sacred observances; and all
that innumerable company of spectators yet standing up in the
amphitheatre, the choral-hymn was begun, in which every voice there was
united, except only that of Tisias the Christian. Now, it was the soft low
voices of the young maidens that sounded, and then these would pause, and
give place to the clearer and more piercing notes of the boys that stood
on the other side of the altar; then again the priestesses of Vesta would
break in from afar with their equable harmony; and anon these in their
turn ceasing, the Flamens of Jupiter would lift up their strong deep
chanting, until, at the appointed signal from him that stood on the
highest step of the altar, with the cup of libation in his hand, the whole
people that were present burst in and joined in the rushing stream of the
burden, “Jupiter,—Jupiter, hear us!—hear us, Father of Gods and men!”
while the wine was poured out, gushing red upon the marble, and the
incense flung on high from fifty censers, rolled its waves of smoke all
over the surface of the arena, and quite up to the gorgeous canopy of that
resounding Amphitheatre. Magnificent, indeed, was the spectacle, and
majestic the music; yet in the midst of it, how could I take away my eyes
from the pale and solitary old man, by reason of whose presence alone all
these things were so? With calm eyes did he regard all the pageantry of
those imperial rites,—with closed lips did he stand amidst all the
shouting multitudes. He bowed not his head; he lifted not up his hand;
neither would he bend his knee, when the victim was slain before the horns
of the altar; neither would he in any thing give semblance of being a
partaker in the worship.

At length the song ceased, and there was a proclamation again for deep
silence; and the Prefect of the city, addressing himself once more to
Tisias, spoke thus:—“Impious and unhappy man, with great clemency have all
things been conducted as concerning thee. When, after long imprisonment,
and innumerable exhortations in private and in public, thou hadst always
rejected every means of safety, and spurned from thee the pardon of those
in whose hands thy being is placed, yet, notwithstanding of all thine
obstinacy and continual rebellion, was it determined, that, in the face of
all the people, thou shouldst once more have free grace offered to thee,
provided only thou shouldst, when all the assembly worshipped, join thy
voice with them, and bow thy head also toward the altar of Jupiter.
Nevertheless all that now hear me shall bear witness, that, with open and
visible contumacy, thou hast rejected this opportunity also of being
reconciled unto the prince and the empire,—that, when every knee bent, and
every voice was lifted up, thou alone hast stood upright, and thy lips
alone have been closed. If it be so, that, from some inflicted, rather
than voluntary perversion of mind, thou hast never yet been able to
understand the danger in which thou art placed, know now, that there
remains no hope at all for thee, except for a moment; and let the strong
fear of death open thine eyes, that thou mayst see where thou art, and for
what purpose thou hast been brought hither. Thou art a born subject of
Rome, and thy life can only be held by thee, in virtue of obedience to the
laws. These are clearer upon nothing, than the necessity that all men
should acknowledge the deities of Rome; and of good reason, since, if they
be despised, and their authority set at nought, by what means shall an
oath be ratified, or a pledge given; or how may the head, which counsels
and protects, be assured that the members shall not be lifted up against
it? Let silence remain in the assembly, and let Tisias of Antioch make his
election, whether he will give obedience, or suffer the penalty of
transgression.”

Then the Prefect, and all those round about Trajan, sat down, and there
was a deep silence throughout the lower region, where, for the most part,
they of condition were placed; but when the rabble, that sat above, beheld
the stern and resolute countenance with which the old man stood there upon
the arena, it seemed as if they were enraged beyond measure, and there
arose among them a fierce uproar, and a shouting of hatred; and, amidst
groans and hisses, there was a cry from innumerable voices of—“Christian!
Christian!—Blasphemer! Blasphemer!—Atheist! Atheist!—A tiger! A tiger!—Let
loose a tiger upon the Christian!”

Nevertheless, the old man preserved unmoved the steadfastness of his
demeanour, and lifting up his eyes to the place from whence the tumult
proceeded, regarded the ferocious multitude with a visage, not of anger or
of scornfulness, but rather of pity and calmness; insomuch, that I
perceived the nobles and senators were somewhat ashamed of the outcry, and
the Prefect of the city arose from his place, and beckoned with his hand,
until the people were weary of shouting, and order was, in some measure,
re-established in the Amphitheatre.

Then Tisias, perceiving that silence once more prevailed, lifted up his
hand, and bowed himself before Trajan, and the great men of authority that
were near to his chair, and said, with a firm clear voice, in the Roman
tongue, “My name, O Trajan, is Tisias—the son of Androboulos. I am a
native of Antioch, in Syria, and have in all things, except only in what
pertains to this cause, observed throughout all the years of my life the
statutes of the empire, as they, by whose accusation I have been led
hither, shall themselves be constrained to bear witness for me this day.
My father was a Greek of Macedonian extraction, being descended from one
of those that came into Syria beneath the banners of the great King
Seleucus; but he took to wife a maiden of the Hebrew nation, and in
process of time became a proselyte to the faith of her fathers.
Nevertheless, he lived in trust and honour beneath the governors appointed
by those that were before you in the empire, and brought up me and all his
children to reverence, in all things that are lawful, the authority of
Cæsar. But as to the faith of the true God, whose worshippers ye blindly
and foolishly call atheists and blasphemers, from that he neither swerved
himself, nor would permit any of those that were in his household to
depart. Now, when he had been a dweller for some time in Jerusalem, the
great city of the Jews, he began to examine into those things which were
reported publicly concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who is also called the
Christ, of which things not a few that had been eye-witnesses were then
living in that city. And when he had been satisfied from their testimony,
that those miracles, of which you have all heard, were in truth performed
in the sight of the people by Jesus, and had listened unto the words of
their teachers, and saw how they proved that the old prophets of the
Hebrews had foretold those wonderful works, he perceived that Jesus of
Nazareth was indeed the Christ of God, and the great Deliverer that had
been promised to that people, even from the beginning of their nation. And
he believed on him with all his household; and I also, from a stripling,
have, although unworthy, been a Christian; for by that name were they
first called in Antioch, the city of my birth.

“But being brought into trouble by reason of his religion, which the
rulers of the Jews abhorred, my father departed, after a time, from
Jerusalem, and dwelt with my mother in one of the villages of Palestine,
until his death. Not long after which time, the Jews rebelled against
Cæsar, and the great war began, which terminated in the overthrow of
Jerusalem, and the utter ruin of their nation. Now, when Vespasian first
came with his army into those regions, I, being without employment in the
place where we had our habitation, and having, moreover, taken up a great,
and perhaps a sinful, wrath against the Jews, on account of the sufferings
which my father had undergone among them, and of the evils which, at their
hands, our whole household had sustained, joined myself to one of the
bands of Syrian auxiliaries; and although my mother entreated me, could
not be persuaded to refrain from following the camp of Cæsar with them. Of
which thing it has often since then repented me, and in which, it may be,
I still hold myself not to have done altogether as was right; for if the
Jews had offended Cæsar, it was, indeed, a reasonable thing that Cæsar
should visit them with his vengeance; but, peradventure, it behoved not
any of them that were descended from the fathers of that people, to take
part in the warfare. Nevertheless, being then young, and, as I have said,
irritated by the sense of domestic injuries, I scrupled not to fulfil in
all things the duty of a soldier, and followed the eagles of Vespasian and
his son, even to the day when the lines were drawn around the Holy City;
and it was manifest, that the war could have no end, but in the eternal
overthrow of the power of the Jews. Neither did the length of the siege
weary me, or produce within me any sort of unwillingness; but, on the
contrary, so long as the city was beleaguered, I remained with the band in
which I had numbered myself, and did in all labours such service as my
strength would permit. Even among the soldiers that have guarded my
prison, since I was led into Rome for the sake of that accusation which
has been brought against me in the matter of my belief,—even among them, I
have seen the faces of some that were my comrades in that fierce war, and
that long beleaguerment, who also, if they be commanded, will not refuse
to bear testimony before you, that all these things are true, even as I
have said, and that I was a faithful soldier, both of Vespasian and of
Titus, unto the last. Neither, indeed, did I lay down arms immediately
when Jerusalem had been sacked, and the Temple burnt, according to the
prediction of Christ, but went with Cæsar along the sea-coast, and was
present with him all through the journeyings he made in Egypt, even to the
day when he made his great festival at Alexandria, and crowned the Ox Apis
with his own hands, in the presence of all that people. On which day it
was, that, for the first time, I also was accused of being a Christian,
and at the command of Titus himself, was interrogated by one of the rulers
of the army.

“Now with shame and confusion of face must I acknowledge, that on that day
I, from desire of life, forgot myself utterly, and being deserted of all
steadfastness, went up to the altar in presence of my judge, and offered
gifts there, whereon I was declared free of all blame; and even received
honour and commendation thereafter from them, on account of my services in
the war. But, from that day, my spirit sunk within me, and I knew not what
to do; I grew weary of all things, and determined to leave the band in
which I was serving, that I might seek out, if it were possible, the
habitation of my mother, and make atonement in secret for the wickedness
of which I, unhappy and fearful man, had been guilty at Alexandria. Being
absolved, therefore, from my oath of service, on account of the length of
time I had remained with the army, I departed from Egypt, and, after a
time, found out my mother where she was dwelling in the mountainous
country of Palestine, to the north of Jerusalem. In going thither,
however, I was constrained to pass by the place where I had so long lain
in your camp, O Romans! and to look with my own eyes on the sorrowful
desolation of that ancient city, where so many holy prophets of the
Hebrews had ministered, and so many great kings reigned in the days of the
old time, when their nation flourished, and was chosen and favoured of the
Almighty. And it was then, indeed, that I first began to repent me of
having been present in the host of Titus, and of having had a part in that
terrible destruction; to which, when I added the recollection of my own
miserable timorousness at Alexandria, great was my perplexity, and I fled
across the mountains with much speed, seeking in vain to fly from the
stings and unceasing torment of my own meditations, which nevertheless
continued ever more and more to sink into my spirit; insomuch, that when I
came into the place where my mother was dwelling, scarcely could she
recognize me, wasted and worn as I was with that perpetual misery of shame
and repentance. Without reproaches, however, and indeed with great
kindness, did she receive me into her habitation, even although, as I have
said, she had been much offended with me because of my going up to the
beleaguerment of the city of her fathers. But when I, being humbled, made
confession to her and her household, and to all the faithful that were in
that place, of the grievous sin whereof I had been guilty in Egypt, both
she and all the rest of them busied themselves continually to comfort me,
and to assure me that there was yet hope, if my repentance were sincere,
and my resolution immovable never again to yield myself to any similar
temptation. One of them also, that had been set apart to minister in holy
things among the scattered believers that dwelt up and down in that
region, came not many days after to the same place, and having publicly
heard my confession, admitted me once more to be a partaker with them in
the mysteries of the sanctuary. From which day, O Trajan! I have never
again been so far deserted of myself, as to fall back into that miserable
error, or by any cowardly word of mine, to deny the faith that is in me,
which is the faith of the True God that made heaven and earth, and of his
Son Jesus Christ, whom he sent into the world to teach loving-kindness,
and long-suffering, and patience, among all kindreds, and tongues, and
nations of mankind; and to make expiation, by the accursed death of the
cross, for the evil and the wickedness that is in the world. From which
faith, should I now depart, out of terror for that which, by your command,
may befal me in this place, of a surety no comfort could ever again come
to me in my mind, for I should be bowed down, and utterly miserable, out
of grief and shame; which as you yourself, O Cæsar, will admit and
acknowledge, is far worse than death itself, or any evil which the body of
man can sustain. Neither could I have any hope of being reconciled unto
the True God, whom I should have so, once and again, denied; insomuch,
that neither in life nor in death should I be able to have any
happiness;—for in life, what happiness is there to him that is ashamed of
himself?—and, in departing from life, what comfort can be given to him,
that, knowing the truth, hath openly abjured the truth for the sake of a
few, at the utmost, and these most miserable and unhappy years? I am an
old man, and my near kindred and my friends are already dead, so that poor
after all, and not worthy to be mentioned, is the sacrifice on which I
have this day resolved. And as for you, O Romans, should I now make
shipwreck of my faith, and tell a lie to save my life before you, with
what contempt would yourselves be constrained forthwith to look upon me?
Whosoever is wise among you, according to the philosophy of the earth,
would utterly despise me; and whosoever is brave and steadfast of spirit,
would think foul scorn that a soldier of Titus should be so much afraid to
die. Therefore, O Trajan, am I resolved to endure all things rather than
sacrifice to your gods; and if such be your will, I will not refuse to die
for this cause, to which witness has already been borne in Rome by the
blood of holy Apostles, and other noble martyrs of Christ.”

The old man, having said these words, bowed himself once more reverently
before Trajan, and then folding his arms in his cloak, appeared to await
whatever might be appointed. Steadfastly did I look upon his face at that
moment, to see whether it might exhibit no trace of wavering, or at least,
if pride barred irresolution, whether, nevertheless, there might not
appear some token of natural sorrow, and human unwillingness to die; yet
in vain did I scrutinize and seek for any such symptoms of spiritual
weakness; for although it was visible that, with the exertion of so long
standing and speaking, to say nothing of thought and anxiety, his bodily
strength was much spent, still his eye preserved firmness, and his brow
remained serene; and the parched lips of the old man did not once betray
the least shadow of trembling. Methinks I see him even now, as he then
stood—his deep calm eyes sometimes turned upwards to Trajan, but for the
most part bent to the ground, beneath those gray brows of his, whose dark
shade rested upon his large solemn eyelids. Upon his broad front, as he
stooped, no hair appeared, but long hoary ringlets, clustered down on
either side, mingling with the venerable, although dishevelled beard, that
lay upon his bosom. Heroic meekness was enthroned visibly upon all his
lineaments, and a murmur began to run through the assembly, as if—even in
a Christian—it were not possible to contemplate such things without
admiration.

But as they afterwards related to me—for I myself was not indeed
sufficiently attentive to it—Trajan, who had as yet, during all the
occurrences of the day, preserved unmoved the majestic serenity of his
countenance, when he observed this last movement in the spirit of the
assembly, began all at once to be very indignant, that such things should
occur in such a place, in consequence of the appearance merely, and the
language, of a culprit and a Christian. I confess it, that I was too much
occupied with gazing on Tisias, to have any leisure for remarking the
particulars of the deportment of any other person present—no, not even of
Cæsar; yet such had been the effect produced on me by the history which
the old man delivered of himself, that I indeed was not prepared at the
moment to find the strong arm of power directed ruthlessly, and
immediately against him. At least, said I to myself, the Prince will
institute an inquiry among all those now present in the capital, who are
likely to be able either to contradict essentially, or to confirm, the
narrative in which this man has thought fit to embody his only defence.
Many years indeed have elapsed since the walls of Jerusalem were shattered
by the engines of Rome, and the golden gate of its antique temple refused
to be any protection against the furious soldiery of Titus. Yet surely not
a few of such as were present in that proud host, must be still in life;
yea, not a few of them must be now present in the capital of the world.
The old spearman, with whom I talked in the guard-room, and beside the
ramparts underneath which this Christian was imprisoned, he surely cannot
be the only witness that remains to give testimony. He at least there is,
and we shall forthwith have him at least confronted with Tisias.

Such were my thoughts within me; judge, therefore, what was my
astonishment when I heard the trumpet sound, and perceived that its note,
without any word being spoken, was at once received as a sufficient
warning by the priests and the vestals, and the youths and the damsels,
and all those that had in any way been connected with the service of the
altar, to retire from the place whereon they stood, and leave the old man
there alone, to await the issue of his destiny. Immediately on the signal
being given by the trumpet, did all these begin to move away; but although
in silence they had at first marched into the Amphitheatre, they did not
retire from it in silence. Another hymn, on the contrary, in which also,
as it seemed, different parts were allotted for each different order of
singers, was begun to be sung by them even before they had moved from the
arena; and after the last of their procession had disappeared behind the
wide folding-doors of the Amphitheatre, we still heard their voices
chanting solemnly until they had entered the great Temple of Isis and
Serapis, which, as I have already said, stands over against it, on the
brink of the Esquiline. And while all were yet listening to their singing,
and to the harmony of lutes and other sweet-sounding instruments that
accompanied their voices, the slaves and other attendants removed every
thing from the arena, except only the altar and statue of Jupiter, which
were still left where they had been placed; insomuch, that ere they had
made an end of singing, and we of listening, the old man was left alone
there as at the beginning, when he first came forth.

But just when deep silence once more prevailed, and expectation was most
intense concerning what should be at length commanded by Trajan, it fell
out so, that a little bald ape escaped through the bars of one of the
grated doors, which were along the boundary-wall of the arena, and leaping
forth upon the sand, began to skip up and down, challenging, by all manner
of foolish gestures, the attention of those that sate over against it,
leaning down from the parapet. And immediately certain painted courtezans,
that were sitting not far from thence, with gilded breasts and
bright-coloured garlands, and all other gorgeous trappings of the
degradation of harlotry, began to throw down apples and nuts to the
obscene creature, and to testify much delight in the grimaces with which
it received them, hopping to and fro, and casting them away, and then
catching them up again, with continual gibbering and prating; and no
sooner did the rabble that were above perceive these things, than they
all, as with one consent, began to applaud; so that the vaulted vomitories
and wide arches of entrance, and all the marble walls, re-echoed with
every wild sound of carelessness and merriment. While, in the meantime,
the African feeders and naked gladiators, and all those hangers-on of the
Amphitheatre, whom we had seen in the dark places below, hearing now the
sounds that had arisen among the assembly, began to shew themselves in
crowds from behind the same grated doors through one of which the monkey
had escaped, and to partake in the mirth of the spectators, and to whistle
upon the creature, and to excite it to new caperings, by their outcries
and jeerings. It seemed as if the minds of all present were entirely
occupied with the pranks of this brute; and that almost it was forgotten
amidst the tumult, not only for what purpose all that solemn and stately
pageantry had just been exhibited before them; but even that Tisias was
still standing there upon the same arena.

For myself, who had never before looked upon any creature of this
disgusting tribe, and had gathered only some general notion of its
appearance from the treatises of the physiologists and the narratives of
travellers,—I could not, indeed, refuse to contemplate at first its
motions with some curiosity; but I knew not, after the scene had lasted
for a little space, whether to be more humbled within myself by the
monkey’s filthy mimickings of the form and attitudes of mankind, or by the
display of brutish heartlessness, which burst forth from all that
countless multitude, while gazing on that spectacle of humiliation.

But it was not until my eye fell again on Tisias, who stood all this time
solitary and silent amidst the hub-bub, that my sorrow and indignation
were the greatest. There stood the old man even as before, with his arms
folded in his gown, and his eyes resting on the sand before him, pale,
calm, and unmoved in his meekness, even as if his ears had not once
received any sound of all the shoutings and the joyous laughters of that
unpitying rabble, that had come there to behold him die. Once, indeed—it
was but once—I thought I could perceive that a slight emotion of contempt
wreathed for an instant his thin and bloodless lips; but it seemed as if
that were but the involuntary and momentary passing over him of one proud
thought, which he cast from him immediately, as a thing unworthy of the
resolute mind of his integrity, choosing rather to array himself in the
divine armour of patience, than to oppose, with any weapon of human
passion, the insults heaped upon his head by the cruel callousness of that
degenerate congregation of men. And, whether it were that the sight of all
this did not affect me alone with such reflections, or only that they in
authority were afraid too much of the day might be occupied with what
formed so unseemly an addition to the ordained business of the assembly,
while the uproar of mirth was yet at its height, certain of the lictors
that were about the consular chairs leapt down into the arena, and beat
the monkey back again among the feeders, and other base hirelings, that
stood behind the grated doors of which I have spoken. Whereupon there was
at once an end of the tumult, and the lictors having reascended to their
places, the eyes of all began once more to fix themselves upon the
Christian.

And he also, when he perceived that it was so, and was sensible of the
silence that once more prevailed, it seemed as if he, too, were aware that
at last his appointed hour had come, and that he must needs prepare
himself in good earnest for the abiding of the issue. For, instead of
continuing steadfast in his place, as he had done during all the time he
had as yet been exposed there, it appeared as if now at length, being
swallowed up in the contemplation of the approaching fate, he had quite
forgotten all the rules he had laid down to himself concerning his
behaviour. Not that he now lost remembrance of the courage which hitherto
he had manifested, or even, that any the least symptom of changeableness
was made visible upon his countenance. But it seemed to me, of a truth,
that of such things as he had determined upon within himself before he
came thither, touching the mere external demeanour of his bodily frame,
the memory now, in this final moment of expectation, had somewhat passed
away; for Tisias stood still no longer on the centre of the arena; but
retaining his arms folded as they had been, and his eyes fixed upon the
sand, he began to pace rapidly to and fro, traversing the open space
whereon he alone now was, from side to side, without once looking up, or
exhibiting any token that he was conscious of the presence of any man. By
and by, nevertheless, in the deeper knittings of his brows, and in the
closer pressure of his extenuated lips, and then again in the quivering of
the nerves and muscles upon the arms and legs of the old man, as he moved
before us, it was testified how keenly the spirit was at work within; the
strong soul wrestling, it may be, with some last stirring temptations of
the flesh, and the mind itself not altogether refusing to betray its
sympathy with the natural shudderings of the body. But the moment that the
herald of Trajan commanded attention in the assembly, and that the Prefect
of the city began again to prepare himself for speaking, that moment did
the old man appear to return at once again entirely to himself; and he
fixed his eyes upon the Prefect with even the same steadfastness as when
he made his oration to Cæsar.

“By all the gods,” whispered Sabinus at that moment, “this is a true
soldier of Vespasian and Titus. He will die for this superstition with the
constancy of a Roman.”—“With all the constancy of a philosopher, say
rather,” quoth Xerophrastes, who had overheard his whisper—“yea, with all
the constancy of a philosopher. Of a surety, there must be some lessons of
nobility in this faith of the Jews.”—“Now, speak not, but look at the old
man,” interrupted Rubellia; “the signal is given for the executioner.”

And I looked, and saw that the Prefect was standing up in his place,
immediately below the chair of Trajan, and immediately he began to speak;
and he said, first looking towards the people,—“Let there be silence, and
let no man stir in this place until this matter be ended.” And then
addressing himself, as it seemed, to Tisias,—“With all patience,”
proceeded he, “have the words which this man chose to utter in his
defence, been listened to; but it must be manifest to all men, that they
contain no shadow of apology, but rather afford the strongest confirmation
of all that had before been alleged. Instead of departing from his error,
or offering any extenuation of its magnitude, his words have tended only
to shew what was already well known to all that have had any dealings with
the adherents of this blasphemous sect; that their obstinacy is as great
as their atheism is perverse; and that no clemency can, without blame, be
extended to their wilfulness, and to the scorn wherewith they are resolved
to regard all things sacred. Nevertheless, inquiry has been made, and
confirmation has been given, by those who were present in the wars of the
Divine Titus, as to that which this man hath said concerning his own
service throughout the glorious campaign of Palestine, and the siege of
the city of the Jews. For which service, it hath seemed right unto Cæsar,
Ever-Merciful, that no circumstance of needless shame be added to the
death by which this Christian must now expiate before all them who have
seen his contempt of the sacrifice of Jupiter, and heard his words of
blasphemy against all the gods, the guilt of which, it is manifest to all,
he hath been justly and necessarily accused. Let those, therefore, who had
been commanded to bring forth a tiger, depart now with their beast, and
let this man be beheaded before the Altar of Jupiter; after which, for
this day, the assembly will disperse; for, until the morrow, the spectacle
of the wild animals, which the Prince hath prepared, must be deferred.”

The Prefect made his obeisance again to Cæsar, and sate down in his place,
and immediately one of the doors of the arena was flung open, and there
entered some slaves, bearing a wooden block upon their shoulders, behind
whom followed also certain ill-favoured blacks, out of the company of
African gladiators, one of whom carried bare in his hand a long and heavy
sword, the surface of which glittered brightly as he moved, as if newly
sharpened and burnished for the occasion. Seeing all which fatal
preparations, Tisias immediately flung aside the long cloak in which
hitherto his arms and all his body had been wrapped; and after regarding
those that had come in for a moment with a steadfast eye, he turned
himself to the place where the Prefect was sitting, as if he had yet one
word to say before he should submit himself to the sword; whereupon the
Prefect said,—“If the prisoner has yet any thing to offer, it is not too
late for mercy—Let him speak.”

“I have nothing more to offer, O Romans!” answered the old man, “as
concerning that of which I have spoken. But since already some favour has
been extended to me by reason of my services in the army of Cæsar, perhaps
so neither will this be refused, that my body may be given to such as
shall ask for it, that it may be treated without indignity after my soul
is released.”

“It is granted,” replied the Prefect.—“Is there any thing more?”

The old man was silent.

With that, the block being already fixed upon the sand immediately in
front of the Altar of Jupiter, one of the Africans moved towards Tisias,
as if to conduct him to the place where it behoved him to kneel; but he,
observing what was his intention, forthwith prevented him, and walked of
himself steadily close up to him in whose hand the sword was unsheathed.
Being come thither, he immediately took his station over against the
block, and having for a moment placed his hand upon his eyes, and moved
his lips, as it seemed, in fervent supplication, dropped his one knee on
the ground, and stretched forth his neck towards the block; but suddenly,
after he had done so, he sprung again upon his feet, and began to gaze
with a keen eye all around the assembly, as if he were in search of some
one to whom he had something yet to say. In vain, however, as it appeared,
did he make this endeavour; for after a little space, he shook his head
despairingly, and gave over the steadfastness of his look. Nevertheless,
he lifted up his voice, and, surveying once more the whole face of the
Amphitheatre round about, from side to side, said audibly,—“There is one
here who made last night a promise to me in my dungeon. I cannot see him
where he is; but I conjure him to take good heed, and execute, as he is a
man and a Roman, all those things which he said to me he would do.” Now,
when I heard him say so, I well knew within myself that it was for me only
his eye had been searching, and half did I arise from my seat, that he
might see I was there, and observe my resolution to keep the faith I had
plighted voluntarily to him in his prison. But Sabinus, having watched my
earnestness in contemplating Tisias, and comprehending something of that
which was meant, held me firm upon the bench, whispering, “As you regard
me, Valerius, and as you regard your own safety, be still.”

Being thus constrained, I neither rose up, nor made any attempt to attract
the attention of Tisias—for which forbearance, I confess to you, I have
since that day undergone the visitation of not a few bitter thoughts—but
remained steadily in my place, while the old man once more addressed
himself to kneel down upon the block that was before him. Calmly now at
length did he kneel, and with much composure did he place himself. Yet,
before the gladiator was ready to strike, he lifted his head once again,
and gazed upwards for a moment towards heaven, with such a countenance of
faith and hope, that there went through all the assembly a murmur, as it
were, and a stirring breath of admiration. Then bowed he for the last time
his gray hairs, and almost before he had rested his neck upon the tree,
the strong sword of the African smote with merciful fierceness, and the
headless trunk falling backwards upon the sand, the blood spouted forth in
a gushing stream, and sprinkled all over with red drops the base of the
statue of Jupiter Capitolinus, and the surface of the marble altar,
whereupon the sacrifice of the Flamens had been offered.

The executioner having made an end of his duty, wiped his sword from the
blood of the Christian, and advancing towards the seats of the
magistrates, claimed the largess that was due to him,—which when he had
received, as is the custom, he and all his attendants withdrew immediately
from the arena; the Emperor, at the same moment, and the Consulars, and
all they that were about him, departing also from the assembly; and the
whole Amphitheatre speedily being filled with the clamours of an universal
upbreaking and dispersion.



                          _BOOK II. CHAPTER I._


I saw, my friends, that you listened with not less of indignation, than of
astonishment, to the account which I yesterday gave you of a day spent in
the Amphitheatre of Vespasian. Neither did I expect that it should be
otherwise with young persons of ingenuous minds, whose feelings have never
been hardened by any experience of the life of Rome.

And yet, when you reflect a little more upon the matter, I think you will
abate something of the wonder you manifested on hearing of the fondness of
the Roman people for some of those cruel, ruthful spectacles. You will
admit, at least, that there is a certain natural principle, on an
exaggerated and morbid obedience to which, rather than on any total and
absolute departure from the laws of our mind, much of that which excited
so much of your astonishment and indignation also may be supposed to
depend. In and by myself, I maintain it must always be a most interesting
thing for a man to witness, in whatever shape, the last moments of any
human creature. I mean not those merely corporeal struggles, in which
there must always be every thing to revolt, and nothing to interest,
because in them, it is evident, the nobler part of our nature can have no
share—the soul being already swallowed up, and its divinity absorbed in
the intense convulsions of animal suffering. These are things on which no
eyes can gaze willingly, without indicating degradation of spirit. But
before that curtain falls, beyond which every one must shudder to
penetrate, there is a last terrible act of the real tragedy, which must
ever have power to fix the eyes with an earnestness not the less deep,
because of its being preceded by some struggles of reluctance. We live in
a state in which, however we may clothe ourselves in the armour of levity,
or with the more effectual armour of occupation, it is impossible that the
one fearful idea of dissolution should not ever and anon come to scare us
with its terrors. We feel that we are walking over a soil, on the most
level and the most rugged parts of which it is equally possible we may
meet with the dark pit wherein it is our destiny to stumble. How sudden,
or how gradual soever the inevitable fall may be, we well know we shall
have little enough space to prepare ourselves for the last leap, when we
shall be fairly on the declivity; and I maintain, once more, that it is a
rational, no less than a natural, curiosity, which leads us to seek to
supply, in some measure, this necessary defect, and to gather, if
possible, from witnessing the last moments of others, some hints which may
be of use to us when our own dark hour shall come. We see a being standing
on the edge of a precipice, to which the only thing we know certainly, is,
that we ourselves shall one day be brought; and shall it be possible to
feel no curiosity concerning the manner in which he conducts himself on
that giddy brink? That which is denied to us in our own person, may, in
part, be supplied in his; and the eyes which dwell upon his features,
while they are filled with the overwhelming expectation of near
approaching death, make the closest approximation of which our nature
admits to penetrating the actual mysteries of the unseen region. For
myself, both wiser and better did I come away from all that mournful
spectacle. But perhaps I am joining together things which, after all, had
no necessary connection, when I ascribe to my contemplation of the death
of Tisias, and the other cruel sights which, as it seemed, were regarded
with indifference by the great multitudes around me, so much of the change
which, about this period, my own spirit underwent.

The slumbers which followed that busy day of novelties and terrors, were
long and heavy; for utterly worn out were both mind and body, and youth
hastened to repair the waste of its energies, by drinking deeply at the
great fountain of natural refreshment. Nevertheless, although the hand of
sleep had lain steadily upon me, when I awoke in the already-confirmed
light of morning, I found myself yet filled with a confused and tremulous
sense of excitation, as if the spirit had disdained to be idle after
having received so much food for activity, and Fancy had still been
garnishing the passive sphere of the night with aerial representations of
all the gorgeous and solemn realities of the by-past day. I lay there
ruminating amidst the dispersing shadows of the mysterious world of
dreams, and scarcely as yet aware that a whole night had passed since I
had returned from the Amphitheatre, when I was at length roused to a
sudden and complete recollection of all things by the entrance of Boto.

“My dear master,” said he, making a sort of start after he had come in, “I
was afraid you would be angry with me for not coming to you sooner, but
now I perceive you have been as lazy as the rest of us. Why, surely, you
are not aware what time of day it is! What would my dear old lady over the
water say, if she heard of my young master lying in bed till within three
hours of noon? Oh, what a place is this you have brought me to! Why, when
I awake in the morning, the first thought that comes into my head always
is, What, Boto, and is it really possible that all that wide roaring sea
lies between you and the green banks of quiet Anton? Is it truth, good
truth, and neither dream nor witching, that you, _Boto_, are in _Rome_?
But I sometimes have to jump up, and take a look out of the window before
I am quite convinced; and then, to be sure, I know well enough that I, who
used always to dream about driving cattle to Venta, and perhaps kissing a
Brigian lass by the way, could never dream of so many fine things unless I
were really among them. Good heavens! what a heap of stories I shall have
to tell, when we get safe back to Old Britain!”—“Indeed, Boto,” said I,
“you will be quite a travelled man. Be sure you do not give yourself too
many airs on the occasion.”—“Travelled man, in faith,” replied the clown.
“I should like to know, who it is that will be able to hold up his head
with me, when I am once fairly back again? Oh, how the old smith will be
humbled! He thought himself such a mighty person, because my old master,
your father, had taken him with him as far as Camolodunum, and how he used
to brag of what he had seen there; but now, I trow, Master Pernorix will
be fain to talk quietly about his journeys.—O Rome, Rome! what fine things
shall I have to tell them all about Rome,—and the lions, and the monkeys,
and Cæsar, and the elephants, and the fighting men, and the Christian, and
all the wonderful sights we saw yesterday. But the worst of it is, that
nobody will ever be able to believe one half of what I shall tell
them.—And when does my dear Master Valerius think we shall be returning to
my old lady, and all the rest of them in Britain?”

“Of a truth, good Boto,” said I, “that is more than I can pretend to give
you any notion of; but I dare say, you shall have both time and
opportunity to pick up a few more marvels still before we go. In the
meantime, you are comfortable, I hope, in your quarters, and Dromo takes
good heed of you.”—“Dromo,” quoth he, looking as arch as his massive
features would admit of,—“Dromo, indeed!—If I had nobody to trust to but
him, I should be very ill off. Dromo is a great man; the young lord of the
house has him up in his chamber every day to talk with him by himself; and
when he comes down again, or returns from any of the errands he is sent
out upon, there is no bearing with him in the court-yard, where we are all
huddled together. As for the overseer, old Sarcalus, the freed-man, he has
quite given him up. Nobody dare speak about whipping him; he looks upon
himself as almost as important a person as his master, I believe, if the
truth were known; and yet I should not complain, for, after all, it was
Dromo that carried me yesterday to the Amphitheatre.”—“Ay, that was very
kind of Dromo—I should have thought of it myself. And did he not see that
you got your supper snugly, when you came back?”—“Ah! now, master, don’t
make them whip me—I see they have told you all.”—“All!” said I—“I do
assure you they have told me nothing about you; but come, speak out. It
must be something very bad that would make me think of having you whipt.
You have only been three days in Rome—I shall make allowance for a few
vagaries, provided they be not very extravagant.”—“Well, then, Master
Caius,” quoth he, “since they have told you nothing beforehand, and you
seem inclined to be so good-natured with me, I shall e’en tell you all
myself, and I hope you won’t think me, after all, very much to
blame.”—“Speak out, my honest Boto, and remember there is Dromo also to be
examined, in case you keep any thing back from me.”—“Ah! master, but Dromo
would not be so easily caught as poor Boto. Dromo is a cunning man, and a
close; and besides, they say he was born in a city they call Crete, and
the people of that place can’t speak a word of truth, even although they
were willing. Do not think any thing at all about Dromo; but trust
entirely to your own poor Boto, and he will tell you every thing. Dromo is
a sad dog.”

I know not what more he might have proceeded to say concerning Dromo, had
not that crafty Cretan, who, without question, had been listening all the
while behind the door, just at that moment glided in on very delicate
tiptoe, and coming close up behind the British slave, as he stood in the
act of haranguing me, smote him a smart fillip upon the cheek with the
back of his fingers, mimicking, at the same time, the outlandish accent of
the man, and repeating after him into his tinkling ears, the words, _Dromo
is a sad dog—Dromo is a cunning man, and a close—Dromo would not be so
easily caught as poor Boto_.—“Ha, ha! Master Valerius,” then said he to
me, “and so you would really take the trouble to ask questions of this
worthy man, when you had it in your power to send for me? I thought it had
not been for nothing that three persons I could name entered upon a
certain alliance—but ’tis all one to the Cretan.—Both Sextus, and you, may
manage your own affairs for yourselves, if such be your pleasure.”

I knew not on this whether to be more amazed with the impudence of the
Cretan, or the confusion of poor Boto, who stood rubbing his cheek with a
strangely mingled aspect of sheepishness and sulkiness; but Dromo soon put
an end to the affair, by turning round with a face of admirably feigned
astonishment to my Briton, and saying, “Good heavens! Boto, are you still
there? Do you not perceive that your master and I have something to say to
each other in private? Begone, my good man—shall I never be able to render
you susceptible of the smallest polish?”

These last words being accompanied with a gentle push on the back, soon
expelled poor Boto, who, nevertheless, did not depart without casting
towards me a look of woful appeal over his shoulder. But I perceiving
plainly, in the midst of all his frolicsome behaviour, that Dromo had
really something to say to me; and suspecting, of course, that the
interest of Sextus might be concerned in what he had to say, suffered my
slave to withdraw in good earnest. Dromo, after the door was shut, laid
his finger upon his lip, and stood still for a moment in an attitude of
close attention; but the heavy heels of the reluctant Briton were heard
with great distinctness, lumbering along the marble floor of the gallery;
so, being satisfied that there was no eavesdropping in the case, the
varlet seated himself forthwith in a posture of great familiarity on the
nether end of my couch, and, to judge from the expression of his
countenance, seemed evidently to be preparing himself for a disclosure of
some importance. At length, after not a few winks of much intelligence, it
was thus he began:—“You may hear Boto’s story, sir, at any time you
please, and I dare say it will amuse you; but, in the meantime, I must
really have you attend to me, for, without jesting, things are by no means
in so fair a train as I had thought for my young master; and if something
effectual be not speedily discovered, I am really at a loss to think how
we shall be able to get out of our difficulties, in such a manner as may
be either satisfactory to him, or creditable to my management. But you had
better get up and dress yourself, and while you are doing so, I will tell
you every thing.”

I did as he bade me, and then the Cretan proceeded:—“As I was coming out
of the Amphitheatre yesterday, I happened to find myself rubbing shoulders
with a certain old fat Calabrian, whom I had seen before about Rubellia’s
house in the Suburra, and thinking that no harm could possibly come of
being civil to him, I began immediately to ask his opinion of the
spectacles. I wish you had been there to see how much he was delighted
with the attention I paid him, and how he plumed himself on being admitted
to talk on such subjects with such a person as me; for the man himself is
but an ignorant fellow, and seems never to have kept company but with the
grooms and hinds. From less to more, we began to be the greatest friends
in the world; and by the time we got to the Arch, it was evident that we
could not possibly part, without having a cup together to cement the
acquaintance. Well, we were just about to dive into one of the
wine-cellars there, below the gate-way, when I saw your friend Boto
standing by himself in the middle of the street, apparently quite a-gaze
and bewildered, and not able to form the smallest guess which way he ought
to take in order to reach home; and being a good-natured fellow, in spite
of all that has been said, I immediately shouted out his name till he was
compelled to hear me, and then beckoned to him to come along with us,
which indeed he did without much coaxing.”

“Well, Dromo,” said I, “and so all your great news is, that you have been
leading my Briton into one of your debauches? In truth, I think you need
not have made such an affectation of mystery withal.”—“Stop now,” quoth
he, cutting me short; “if the slave be too slow, I am sure the master’s
quickness will make up for it.—Hear me out before you begin commenting;
such interruptions would bring the Stagyrite himself to a stand. We were
soon, all three of us, seated in one of those snug little places, which if
you have not yet seen, you are ignorant of the most comfortable sight
within all the four walls of Rome,—a quiet cleanly little place,—three
good hassocks upon the floor, a handful of sausages, a plate of dried fish
as broad as the shield of Ajax, and a good old fashioned round-bellied
jolly jug of Surrentine in the midst of us. I dare say, there were a
hundred besides employed in the same way in the house; but we shut the
door, and were as private as behind the altar of Vesta.”—“A tempting
scene, Dromo; and what use did you make of your privacy?”—“All in good
time, Master Valerius; you would have the apple before the egg. We had
scarcely emptied our first jug, ere the conversation between the Calabrian
and me took a turn that was not quite unnatural; for slaves, however
little you may trust them, will always be smelling out something of the
truth; and you may be sure, all this visiting, and feasting, and riding
about in chariots, and sitting together at the Amphitheatre, has not been
going on, without causing a good deal of talk both in this house and the
rich widow’s. The courtship was of course the subject of our conversation,
and I, pretending to know nothing of it myself, except from the common
report of the slaves about our house, affected to consider it as highly
probable, that the fat Calabrian might have had much better opportunities
than mine of being informed how the affair really stood.”

“And did he really seem to have any knowledge about it?” said I.—“Not
much—not much; but still the man did tell me something that I think may
turn out to be well worth the knowing. ‘I am sure,’ said I, (by this time
Boto was fast asleep,)—‘I am sure, if Rubellia won’t have my young master,
it won’t be for want of presents; for we all know he has already given her
a whole casket of rings and bracelets that belonged to his mother, and he
is sitting for his picture, which, they say, he is to give her
besides.’—‘And _I_ am sure,’ quoth the Calabrian in return, ‘that if your
young master don’t have my lady, it won’t be for want of presents neither;
for she is the most generous open-handed lady in the world, and that her
worst enemies will allow, although her father be an old rogue, and an
usurer, as all the town says he is. No, Dromo,’ continued he, ‘nor will it
be for want of philtres, nor of charms, nor of any thing that soothsaying
can procure; for, between ourselves, my lady keeps up a constant traffic
of late with all that sort of gentry; and what the issue of it all may be,
Hecate only knows.’ Now, Master Valerius, when I heard him speak of
philtres and charms, you may be sure I began to quicken up my ears more
keenly than ever.”

“Dromo!” said I; “you are not serious. You do not mean surely to make me
think that you believe in the efficacy of love-potions, or any such
quackeries?” “Quackeries! do you call philtres quackeries? Why, there was
a girl once gave myself a philtre that kept me raving for six
months.”—“What sort of a looking girl was she, good Dromo?”—“Bah!” quoth
he; “don’t expect to jeer me out of memory as well as judgment. Heavens
and earth! when did any body ever hear of any body denying the efficacy of
philtres? What an atheistical sort of barbarians those Britons must be. I
wonder you are not afraid of some evil coming upon you. Remember Dian’s
handful; remember the fate of Actæon!”—“Good Dromo,” said I, “I suppose
you also suffered from peeping. But talk seriously; are you yourself a
dealer in philtres, that you are so anxious I should believe in their
power? Or what is your meaning?”

“My meaning is this,” quoth he, with great vehemence,—“it is, that if
Rubellia gives Sextus such another philtre as a certain cunning damsel
gave me, before I left pleasant Crete, to be a drudge and a packhorse here
in Rome, where a man may sweat all his life in another’s service without
being once thanked for his pains, and perhaps be laid out, look ye, for a
supper to the vultures at last, because no body will treat his carcase to
a blaze of old sticks,—I say, that if the Lady Rubellia contrives to give
Sextus such another philtre as that, the game’s up, Master Valerius; and
we may as well set about painting the dead, as try to save him from her
clutches. The man’s gone—he’s as lost as Troy.”—“Well, Dromo,” said I, for
I perceived there was no use in fighting it with him, “and have you not
been able to hit upon any feasible scheme?”—“Ay, have you come to that at
last? that is just what I have been cudgelling my brains about for the
last twelve hours. But if I do hit upon any thing, I shall need
assistance. In such cases, the best judgment can do nothing by
itself.”—“Fear not, Dromo,” quoth I; “if my assistance can do you any
good, you well know you can command it to the utmost.”—“Then prepare,”
replied the Cretan, rising up with an air of much solemnity—“then prepare
in good earnest; for, may Cerberus growl upon me, if I don’t find out some
scheme before another day goes over, and shew you all what stuff I am made
of. To think of entrapping Sextus without consulting Dromo!—No, by Cretan
Jove, she shall not accomplish it—no, not even with a sea of philtres.”

“And, in the meantime,” said I, “what must Sextus do with himself?”—“He
must not go near the Suburra; he must remain closely at home; and as for
tasting any thing at her house, or any thing that comes from her—by
heavens, if he does not take his oath against that—we may as well leave
him to his destiny. If he will but take good care for this one day, I
think there is every chance something may be hit upon ere the morning. I
have got my cue, and shall not be idle, I promise you; but I undertake
nothing, unless you swear to keep Sextus safe, and at a distance from her,
till night-fall.”—“Good Dromo,” said I, “make yourself easy on that score;
it will be a new circumstance indeed, if we find any difficulty in
persuading Sextus to stay a single day away from the Suburra.”

“Persuading!” quoth the slave; “who ever heard of such a word as
persuasion at such a crisis as this? I tell you he _must_ be kept away;
and if no other plan can be fallen on, I have a great mind to turn the key
on him and his pedagogue both together. I heard them hammering at their
lessons already as I came along—and that puts me in mind that I have a
very shrewd notion there is more between that bearded goat of ours and
this Rubellia, than any of us had been suspecting. Unless that Calabrian
lies—and I think lying is above his sphere—this old rogue has been oftener
in the Suburra of late than we had any thought of. So help me Hermes! I
believe Licinius has been employing him to go his private messages to
Rubellia—but that is only one insult more, and I shall have my revenge all
in a lump.”

“I think it very likely,” answered I, quietly, “that Licinius may have
been employing Xerophrastes in some such embassies; and, if I mistake not
the matter, he would feel himself quite as much in his element, trotting
along the Sacred Way, and so forth, on such delicate errands for the
father, as in expounding musty parchments to the son.”—“No matter for all
that,” quoth Dromo, rubbing his hands; “the more enemies the more glory.
Would Miltiades have been pleased had the Spartans arrived?—Leave all to
me—take you care only of Sextus, and I am not afraid for any reinforcement
that rascally rhetorician may bring against me.”—While he was saying so,
the face of the Cretan exhibited symptoms of incipient glee; and he
concluded with snapping his fingers, and uttering a short keen whistle,
such as you have heard from the lips of a hunter, when the dogs begin to
bay around a thicket.

Seeing his eyes dance with the expectation of some bustling scene, I could
not help participating, in some measure, in the feelings of the Cretan;
and, “Dear Dromo,” said I, “I beseech you, if it be possible, let me have
a share in whatever you resolve upon.”—“Watch well,” replied he, “during
the day, and you shall see what you shall see, when the moon mounts above
the Cœlian, and the hour for grubbing among herbs and bones is come.—But
now I hear some one coming—it is Licinius.”—Dromo, finger on lip, glided
from the room. Nor had his well-practised ears deceived him, for he
scarcely vanished, before my kinsman entered.

“Valerius,” said he, saluting me affectionately, “I thought you were
probably much fatigued with your spectacles, so I desired that nobody
should call you this morning; but I met Boto in the hall, and hearing that
you were astir, I have come up, for I wish a little private conversation.
Shall we walk in the eastern portico, till Xerophrastes leaves Sextus at
liberty?”

He led the way along the gallery, and in passing, we also heard the deep
voice of the rhetorician resounding among the pillars, and could even
catch a few of the magniloquent phrases with which he was feeding the ears
of his pupil. “Ay, ay,” says Licinius, “I wish, indeed, it were possible
to inspire the youth with some sense of what is due to the dignity of
principle, and how absurd it is to think of gratifying whims at the
expense of duty. But I fear the boy is incorrigible; and, Caius, I am
sorry to say, I suspect you have been looking on his errors with a
countenance rather of favour and of confirmation, than, as I should have
expected, of rebuke.”

“Licinius,” said I, “you know not how much you distress me. I could rather
die than encourage Sextus in any thing I thought evil; but, indeed, I have
seen nothing to make me imagine him capable of such conduct.”

“Come, by Hercules,” returned he, “there is no occasion for so many words.
I thought it very odd that you went away so soon from the Forum the other
day, considering that you had never been there before; but I thought it
doubly and trebly remarkable that Sextus should have accompanied you, when
the case in hand affected the affairs of Rubellia. But I have since found
out that it was not the society of old Capito which attracted him—no, my
friend, nor yet the alarm of a thunder storm that detained you at the
villa. In a word, Valerius, I strongly suspect that Sextus is carrying on
an intrigue with a young lady whom I never saw, but who, I am quite sure,
will never be mistress of a dozen lizards, and that this is the true cause
of his reluctance concerning a match, which, to say nothing of the
pleasure it would give to me, is the only means by which I can see any
prospect of the young man’s fortune being made, and the dignity of his
family kept up, after another effigy shall have been added to our hall.
Infatuated and headstrong boy! if he owes nothing to himself or to me, is
it possible that he can look upon that venerable line of sages and heroes,
without feeling shame in the degradation of his own earth-stooping
desires?”

“Without question,” said I, “you allude to the Lady Rubellia, whom, as I
have heard from various quarters, you are desirous of seeing wedded to
Sextus.”

“Yes, Caius Valerius, it is indeed to her I allude; and it is of the
obstacle which—unwittingly, I doubt not—you yourself have been throwing in
the way of that union, that I have now to make my complaint. Not such the
service that I had expected from my kinsman. Rubellia is descended from a
noble family, and, both in possession and expectation, her wealth is
great. Two heavy fines laid upon me by Domitian, and the expense at which
I have maintained my rank among the great patrons of Rome—these things
together have impoverished me, and to an extent not altogether convenient.
In this boy my hopes were placed; and see now how they are all likely to
be blasted for a dimpled cheek and a pair of wanton eyes!—or rather,
indeed, I should say, for the sake of the malignant pleasure that is
derived from thwarting my purposes; for, if beauty were what the boy
wanted, where should he find beauty beyond Rubellia? Perhaps, Caius, I
should, before this time, have made you acquainted with my intentions from
my own lips. But it is my own foolish indulgence which has made my
degenerate boy quite forget, not only what is the duty of a son, but what
is the power of a father.”

“I trust,” said I, “there is no need for all this seriousness. Sextus has
only laid aside the garb of a stripling; it is too much to be despairing
of his success in life, only because he is unwilling, at a period so
early, to enter upon a permanent connection. Is it possible, that, if he
really dislike Rubellia, you would wish to see him marry her—only to
divorce her, without question, as soon as he should find it possible to do
so without inconvenience?”—“Handsome, rich, noble, and almost as young as
himself, why, in the name of all the gods, for what cause should he
divorce Rubellia?”—“Sir,” said I, “he loves not Rubellia, nor will ever
love her; and if you cause your son to marry this woman, look you well to
it, that the unhappiness of both rest not on your head. Handsome, rich,
noble, and young she may be; but I am sure, she has neither such a heart,
nor such a mind, as should belong to the wife of your Sextus. A luxurious
woman is Rubellia, and I have seen her find luxury in the contemplation of
blood. Wed not Rubellia to your son.”—“Peace, Valerius,” he answered;
“what boyish nonsense is this?—I _will_ wed Rubellia to my son; and let
him see to it, that he tempts me not farther with his disobedience.”

Licinius said these last words in a voice of so much earnestness, that I
knew not well what answer to make to him; but while I was hesitating, one
of the little boys about the house, (I mean the children of the domestic
slaves,) said, “If it please my lord, the same senator that was here in
the morning is waiting in the hall.”—“Pontius Mamurra!” said the orator,
leaving me.

I, for my part, when I heard the name of the visiter, began to understand
somewhat of the channel through which my kinsman had been informed about
what had passed at the Suburban. I had no leisure, however, to reflect
long upon this hint; for I found Sextus waiting for me. “Come,” he said,
“I was afraid I must set off without you. My father has been looking on me
this morning with such an aspect of displeasure as I rarely before
witnessed in him, and if I defer going to the painter about this likeness,
he will be altogether enraged at supper-time. I know very well he means
the ring, in which it is to be placed, for another present to Rubellia;
but notwithstanding, what can I do? Any opposition to him in lesser
matters would only tend to bring on some final explanation about the great
affair itself, and that, whether it be weakness in me or not, I as yet
have no courage to encounter. The man must be expecting me; and I am sure
you will accompany me, for I have much need of you to keep up my heart.
Xerophrastes, indeed, has been desired to go with me; but he will be no
comfort, for I see plainly, from the drift of his harangues, that he is
enlisted against me. Dear Caius, I have nobody in the whole world I can
trust to but Dromo and yourself.”

He had scarcely said so, when we heard Xerophrastes pacing up and down
with solemn strides in the gallery; so I knew not how to excuse myself,
although I was very anxious to have staid at home for another purpose.
Sextus had taken my gown from the nail; he threw it over my shoulders
before I had time to say any thing, and we were soon on our way to his
ungrateful destination.



                              _CHAPTER II._


We had to traverse a considerable part of the city; for this painter was
one of those who exercise their art during the public hours of the day in
the baths of the Palatine, where, as you have heard, in the wide circuit
of the princely residence, abundant accommodation is set forth for all
such ingenious persons. We proceeded along the edge of the river, and by
the west of the Capitol, following the line of that great Triumphal Way
which has been witness of so many glorious pageants; for so, they told me,
we should most easily ascend into the Cæsarian courts. But when we had
come thither, we found the whole open space, in front of the portico and
stairs of Trajan, occupied by a detachment of the Prætorian cohorts, drawn
up in splendid array to receive some promised donative; while the music,
and the clamours of their mustering, had collected enough of spectators to
render the passage onwards in some measure difficult. We were constrained
to form part of their attendance, and stood gazing among the multitude.
Even Xerophrastes caught some animation from the brilliancy of the
spectacle; and the enamoured and perplexed Sextus himself, beating time on
my shoulder, seemed to have forgotten, for a moment, the anxieties of his
situation.

Some horsemen, however, riding along to keep the ground open in front of
the soldiery, compelled us to shift to the eastward, where many chariots
were drawn up—and in one of these Rubellia. The lady looked paler than I
had before seen her, and had not the air of being in the smallest degree
occupied with what was passing. I did not think it necessary to take any
notice of her being there to my companions, and was willing, indeed, to
keep myself turned away from the place where she sat, in order to avoid
our being recognized. Yet there was something in her aspect and attitude,
that, as by a sort of fascination, drew my eyes to the spot I wished to
avoid. From time to time, therefore, I felt myself constrained to regard
the melancholy lady; and by and by, Sextus perceived what it was that
attracted my attention:—so I discovered, although he said not a word, from
a fervent pressure upon my arm as I stood before him. At that moment there
drew near a little ugly old woman, with no covering upon her head but long
coarse gray clusters of hair hanging matted and twisted down upon her
shoulders, who lifted up a basket of trinkets, and presented it; but
Rubellia started on her seat, and, looking in the face of the old
creature, manifested signs of no trivial emotion; for her colour returned
with a sudden flush, and her eyes recovered all their animation, and it
was evident she had something to say which could not regard the gaudy
ornaments offered to her view. Whatever it was, however, she did not
occupy much time in saying it; for scarcely a minute elapsed before the
basket was lowered again, and the old woman began to move towards another
part of the crowd; on which Rubellia sunk back in her chariot, and
appeared to relapse into pensive abstraction.

Presently a low voice croaking out, “Rings, rings—amulets and rings!”
amongst the crowd that stood immediately behind me; and I perceived the
same woman pushing her basket between Xerophrastes and Sextus.—“Noble
youth,” quoth the hag, leering, “lovely young gentleman—sweet Adonis, my
charming lord, do now look into old Pona’s basket—do take a look at
Ponula’s rings and amulets—her amulets and rings. Here is one that I could
have sold a hundred times, but I was determined to keep it till I should
see the prettiest young gentleman in Rome, and I will never go back to
Naples without selling it, after this day; for this little amulet must be
nobody’s but yours. You will break my heart, my prince, if you buy not my
beautiful amulet.”

“And what,” said Sextus, blushing and laughing, “may be the virtues of
your amulet?”

Then laying her yellow hand upon his shoulder, till she had made him stoop
down so that she might get close to his ear, she began to pour out, with
much mysterious volubility, all the story of its marvellous potencies; but
what she said even I could not know, only I heard the words, “Æthiopian,
Æthiopian,” and “Memnon, Memnon,” and something about “not a pretty lady
in Rome.” But just as the woman was most earnest in her whisper, and
Sextus, apparently at least, in listening, I found my gown plucked from
behind, and behold, there was Dromo, with a countenance tremulously
agitated, and white as a piece of dead parchment, pointing to his young
master and the old hag, and beseeching me to separate them, by motions in
nowise to be mistaken. How he had come thither, or what was the cause of
this anxiety, I had no time to conjecture, for before I could say a word,
he began to bellow out,—“The horses, the horses—make room for the horses;”
and immediately those that stood near him began to move a little, and
then, the cry being repeated, those that stood farther off mistaking the
noise of their feet for the approach of some new squadron, there arose a
sort of rushing among the crowd; and, in a twinkling, the voice of Pona
was heard grumbling and croaking at a distance from the place to which our
party were borne. Close, nevertheless, did the faithful Cretan stick to
us; and no sooner was quiet in some measure restored, and the false alarm
he had created at an end, than he whispered into my ear, “For the sake of
all that is sacred, let not that foul hag speak another word to my young
master—I will tell you more anon. Meantime, haste ye, haste ye. Make the
best of your speed to the Palatine; it will be much easier for you to push
your way thither, than it was for me to reach you.”

My friend being already weary of the heat and the pressure, we were ready
to take advantage of an opening pointed out by the Cretan. It so happened,
however, that in the same commotion the chariot of Rubellia also had
changed its situation; for just as we had escaped, as I thought, and were
about to place our feet on the magnificent flight of stairs that leads
from the New Way to the Augustan Towers, there came to us a lad of that
lady’s household, who told us she was near at hand, and desirous, if it so
pleased us, of our company. Aware that we were in sight, how could we
disobey? We found the lady in her chariot, but not such as we had seen her
before. On the contrary, the liveliness of her aspect seemed now to be
restored, and she received us with her usual gaiety of address. “Careless
men,” said she, as we drew near; “I suppose I might have sat here till the
Greek Kalends, before any one of you would have observed me.”

“Most noble lady,” quoth Xerophrastes, “bear it not indignantly, that
amidst all the confusion of men and horses, and trumpets and shoutings,
our attention was abstracted from that which was most worthy of notice. My
young friends deserve to be excused, since even I, who am not in the habit
of being much troubled by such vanities, was so bewildered that I scarcely
knew my right hand from my left, in this human chaos.—Pardon, noble
Rubellia; we have been unwitting offenders.”

“And was it so?” said the lady, not looking at the Stoic.—“But I did not
call for you to hear useless apologies. What new sight is it that attracts
you to the Palatine?—or is it only that you are desirous of exhibiting to
Valerius the old-established wonders of the place? In either case, I have
half a mind to accompany you. In spite of all they tell us about the
Golden House, I can scarcely think the Palatine shewed more splendidly
than it does now, even in the days of Nero.”

“Indeed,” said I, as we began to mount together the broad slabbed steps
which rise up, tier above tier, from the portico on the street, to that
which hangs on the brow—“Indeed, it is not easy for me to doubt that
Rubellia is in the right.”—For now, on one side, were all the pillars and
arches of the Forum stretched out below us, and, on the other, lay the
great Circus, topped with its obelisk; while before rose the gray cliffs
of the Capitoline, with their domes and proud pinnacles in the glow of
noontide—the space between, radiant with arms and banners. Even
Xerophrastes did not refrain from some ejaculations.—“Illustrious Rome!
how great is thy sublimity!” And then, after a pause, he repeated, in a
voice of much majesty, those verses from the Fury of Ajax:

  “Oh! might I be where o’er the living deep
  Lies the broad shadow of the Sounian cliff,
  Waving with all its glorious garniture,
  Of rock-sprung foliage: from old Ocean’s side,
  That I might look on Athens once again!”

Some of the hints which had reached me concerning his nativity recurring
to my recollection, I could not help echoing his quotation with another
from the Æneid, about the wide tracts ploughed by the Thracians; of which
impertinence the sage took no notice.

Nor was admiration diminished when, having gained the top of that massive
staircase, or rather, as I should say, hill of marble, we passed beneath
the sounding portal, the sole remnant of the original pile of Augustus,
and found ourselves within the first of those great imperial quadrangles,
by which the whole summit of that once so variously and multitudinously
peopled region is now occupied. The light and airy porticoes—the domes—the
princely towers—the universal profusion of marble, brass, ivory, flaming
gold, lavished on arch, metope, and architrave—all conspired to dazzle the
sight, and I stood still to gaze.

“Observe,” said Sextus, “those two equestrian statues of bronze on the
left hand. I have heard my father say that they mark the sites of two
houses, which, before Augustus began to enclose the whole Palatine in his
walls, were inhabited, the one by Cicero, the other by Clodius; these are
the only traces of their mansions.”

“What grim-looking figures!” said the lady; “yet, I dare say, they don’t
cast half such fierce looks on each other, as the predecessors you
mention. I should like to have seen the countenance of old Tully, the
morning he went down the hill to deliver his harangue for Milo.”

“I am glad,” said I, “that Sextus has told me this; for in reading those
famous philippics in time to come, I shall possess a new key to the
bitterness of their phraseology, knowing, as I do, that the two lived just
over the way from each other, and that the orator, when his spirits were
flagging, could derive a new reinforcement of spleen from merely putting
his head out of the window.”—“To hear you,” says Rubellia, “one would
think you were studying the art of making philippics—I am afraid, that if
it be so, my joining your party may prove to have been but an ill-judged
thing; for if any of you be preparing to abuse me, my presence will serve
to sharpen your weapons.”—“In that case, however,” interrupted the smiling
Xerophrastes, “my noble lady will admit, that the converse also will hold
good, and that if praise be in meditation, it will not be the feebler
because the subject of the intended panegyric has passed before our
eyes.”—“Most courteous of men,” replied the lady, “who talks of the
stiffness of the Porch? To-day and yesterday you have paid me as many
compliments as might give a lesson to the gayest trifler about these
baths. If all,” she continued, (gazing as she spoke, with all her eyes
upon Sextus,)—“if all were as profuse, I should be unable to sustain the
weight of their civilities.”—“Nay, Oh! generous lady,” quoth the sage
again, “it must be remembered, that, as the poet has expressed it, there
are two kinds of shame—there is the wicked shame and the good shame. Why
should it be doubted, that a modest Verecundity, not unsuitable to their
age, has laid her finger on the lips of our young friends? I swear by the
Victrix of Ida, that your presence itself is that which occasions their
silence;—bear it not ill—bear it not harshly—the young will learn—not
every one has seen Corinth.”—“No, truly,” answered the laughing lady; “but
I doubt whether they that have been so fortunate, have ever seen any thing
half so fine as what now awaits Valerius.”

She pointed to the solemn Doric columns which sustain the portico of the
famous Temple of Apollo, whose shade lay far out upon the court before us;
and, passing between those brazen horsemen, we soon began to ascend the
steps that lead up to the shrine. Nor can I tell you how delightful was
the fragrant coolness, which reigned beneath the influence of that massive
canopy of marble, to us whose eyes had been so long supporting the
meridian blaze. We entered with slow steps within the vestibule of the
Temple, and stood there for some space, enjoying in silence the soft
breath of air that played around the flowing fountains. Then passing on,
the airy hall received us; and I saw the statue of Phœbus presiding, like
a pillar of tender light, over the surrounding darkness of the vaulted
place; for, to the lofty shrine of the God of day no light of day had
access, and there lay only a small creeping flame burning thin upon his
altar; but a dim and sweet radiance, like that of the stars in autumn, was
diffused all upon the statue, and the altar, and the warlike trophies
suspended in the inner recesses, from the sacred tree of silver that
stands in the centre; amidst the trembling enamelled leaves and drooping
boughs of which hung many lamps, after the shape and fashion of
pomegranates: and out of every pomegranate flowed a separate gleam of that
soft light, supplied mysteriously through the stem of the silver tree.

There appeared presently from behind the statue, a majestic woman, arrayed
in long white garments, and having a fillet of laurel leaves twined above
her veil. Venerable and stately was her mien, but haughty, rather than
serene, the aspect of her countenance. Without looking towards us, she
went up to the altar, and began to busy herself in trimming the sacred
fire, which, as I have said, exhibited only a lambent flame. When, with
many kneelings and other ceremonies, she had accomplished this service,
the priestess turned again, as if to depart; and then first, as it seemed,
observing the presence of strangers, she stood still before the altar, and
regarding us attentively, began to recognize the Lady Rubellia; whom,
forthwith advancing, she saluted courteously, and invited to come with the
rest of us into her privacy, behind the shrine of the God.

She led the way, Rubellia and the rest of us in her train, through several
folding-doors, and along many narrow passages all inlaid, on roof, wall,
and floor, with snow-white alabaster and rich mosaic work; until at length
we came to a little airy chamber, where three young maidens were sitting
with their embroidering cushions, while one, taller than the rest, whose
back was placed towards us, knelt on the floor, touching, with slow
fingers, the strings of a Dorian lyre. Hearing the sound of her music as
we entered, we stood still in the door-way, and the priestess, willing
apparently that our approach should remain unknown, advancing a step or
two before us, said, “Sing on—I have trimmed the flame; but remember, I
pray you, that the precincts of Phœbus are not those of Pluto, and let not
your chant be of such funereal solemnity. We solitaries have little need
of depressing numbers.”

“Dear friend,” replied she that had been thus addressed, without changing
her attitude, “you must bear with my numbers such as they are; for if you
bid me sing only merry strains, I am afraid neither voice nor fingers may
be able well to obey you.”

These words were spoken in a low and melancholy voice, which I well
recognized. Sextus, also, perceived who spoke; but when he looked at me to
signify this, I motioned to keep silence.

“Then please yourself,” said the priestess, laying her hand on Athanasia’s
shoulders; “but do sing, for I should fain have my maidens to hear
something truly of your music.” With that she again applied her fingers to
the lyre, and stooping over it, began to play some notes of prelude, less
sorrowful than what we had at first heard. “Ay, my dear girl,” says the
priestess, “you could not have chosen better. Heavens! how many lordly
choirs have I heard singing to that old Delian air. There are a hundred
hymns that may be sung to it—give us whichsoever of them pleases your
fancy the best.”—“I will try,” replied the maiden, “to sing the words you
have heard before. If I remember, you liked them.” Then boldly at once,
yet gently, did her voice rush into the current of that ancient strain
that you have heard so often; but it was then that I myself for the first
time heard it.

  The moon, the moon is thine, O night,
  Not altogether dark art thou;
  Her trembling crescent sheds its light,
  Trembling and pale, upon thine ancient brow.

  The moon is thine, and round her orb
  A thousand sweet stars minister,
  Whose twinkling rays dark wells absorb,
  And all the wide seas drink them far and near.

  They kiss the wide sea, and swift smiles
  Of gladness o’er the waters creep;
  Old hoary rocks rejoice, and isles,
  And there is glory on the slumbering deep

  Afar. Along the black hill’s side,
  Right blithe of heart the wanderers go,
  While that soft radiance, far and wide,
  Gleams on the winding streams and woods below.

  And gaily for the fragile bark,
  Through the green waves its path is shorn,
  When all the murmurs of the dark
  Cold sea lie calm’d beneath that gliding horn.

  Yet hail, ye glittering streaks, that lie
  The eastern mountain tops upon!
  Hail, ye deep blushes of the sky,
  That speak the coming of the bridegroom sun!

  Hail to the healing beam of day,
  That rouses every living thing!
  The forest gulphs confess thy sway,
  And upon freshening branches glad birds sing.

  And loathsome forms, that crept unseen
  Beneath the star-light faint and wan,
  Cower in their brakes the thorns between,
  Dreading that fervid eye, and its sure scan

  Triumphant. Welcome life and light!
  Sing rocks and mountains, plain and sea;
  Fearful though lovely was the night;
  Hail to more perfect beauty—hail to THEE!

“Why stop you, Athanasia?” said the priestess, finding that here she
paused,—“why do you rise up, and take your fingers from the lyre, before
you sing out the chorus?”—“No more, dear aunt—excuse me—no more. I have
already sung all that I can,” replied Athanasia.—“Nay, then,” says she,
“if you be fatigued, sing not; but join me, maidens, in the close—perhaps
it rises too high for Athanasia.”

And with that the ancient lady herself, joined by the three damsels that
had been embroidering, took up the strain, which, indeed, rose higher
towards its end

  Hail to thee Phœbus, son of Jove,
  Glorious Apollo, Lord of Light,
  Hail, lovely in thy Delian grove,
  And terrible on Delphos’ haunted height!

  Hail to thee here beneath the dome,
  Great Phœbus, of thy Latian shrine;
  All hail from Cæsar and from Rome;
  Hail by thy dearest name, God Palatine!

But as they were singing the last verse of all, Rubellia also aided their
melody with a rich strong gushing voice, which rose far above all the
others; and the silent Athanasia turning round quickly, perceived, not
without manifestation of alarm, by how many strangers her song had been
overheard. On seeing who we were, she saluted Sextus and myself with
modest courtesy, amidst her confusion; and it may be that my companion, as
well as myself, blushed at the same moment; for he could not see Athanasia
without thinking of Sempronia.

It seemed as if her confusion were not unconnected with some suspicion of
having been recognized near the Prætorian guard-house; for, after the
first glance, I in vain endeavoured to meet her eye; while on the
contrary, to Sextus she directed both looks and words, enough to provoke
visibly some not altogether benign movements in our Rubellia. Such, at
least, was my interpretation of the fair widow’s aspect, and the tone of
impatience in which she, after a minute or two had passed, began to urge
the propriety of our proceeding to the part of the imperial edifice in
which the painter was expecting us.

The priestess of Apollo hearing her say so, courteously offered to guide
us beyond the precincts of the temple, and our whole party were again in
motion; but Athanasia remained behind with the three young damsels, and I,
who walked last, saw her, ere the portal received me, preparing again to
handle the lyre, with fingers visibly trembling, and a pale countenance,
not as I thought unstained with some yet more distinct traces of keen
emotion. The sight of her agitation fixed my footstep for a moment, and it
was then that, on her casting a sudden glance round to the place where I
stood, I perceived truly that I had not been mistaken, and that the tears
were gathered within her eyelids. It was no more, however, than one
glance, for immediately she stooped again, and, dashing her fingers along
the chords of the instrument, appeared to bury her thoughts in its
harmony. I stood for a moment, and then ashamed of myself, and troubled
with her troubles and with my own, I followed the rest into the great
library which Augustus placed beneath the protection of the Palatine
Apollo. The priestess parted from us at its entrance, after pointing out a
low and massive door of bronze on the right hand, within which, as she
told me, the remains of the Sybilline prophecies are preserved, unseen by
profane eyes, watched over perpetually by the guardians of the place.



                              _CHAPTER III._


I had walked by the side of my young friend, and behind the Stoic, (who, I
think, was expressing, in his pompous fashion, much admiration of the
singing of Rubellia,) along one or two of the great halls in which the
library is contained, before the novelty of the objects surrounding me
made any impression even on my eyes; and even after these were in some
measure engaged, my mind still continued to dwell on that troubled aspect,
and on the notes of the uncompleted song. At length, however, the levity
of youth, and natural curiosity revived; and I began to be present, not in
body merely, in a place where there was much that might well interest the
mind. Far-receding rows of columns conducted my eyes into the interminable
recesses of that wide range of chambers, in which the records of the
thought and spirit of all past ages are piled up together; and gazing on
the loaded shelves which every where ascended into the galleries, I could
not but be affected with many new emotions. I perused glorious names on
the busts that seemed to preside over the different compartments. The high
filletted front of Homer detained for the first time my contemplation; the
eyes of the divine old man, even in sculpture, distinctly and visibly
blind, while the serenity and sanctity of the towering forehead, revealed
how the intense perception at once of the lovely and the great could
compensate for visions of earthly beauty shut out. The mild Plato, and the
imperious Stagyrite—Pindar—Simonides—Alcæus—and I know not how many more,
succeeded as we passed along—each in his own sphere, reigning by himself;
yet all connected together by a certain common air of greatness, like so
many successive princes, or contemporary heroes of the same mighty empire.

From this main range, there diverged many lesser chambers, in which we saw
studious persons engaged, each seated by himself, and having his eyes
fixed on the parchment before him. Of these, some deigned not to intimate
by the smallest movement their perception that any one had approached; but
with others Xerophrastes exchanged, as he walked, lofty salutation, and
one or two even entered, for a moment, into conversation with him. With
one of these, indeed, (an ancient of bitter aspect,) to such a length did
the colloquy extend, that we began to think we should never be able to get
our Stoic away from him; till, as our fortune would have it, it became
necessary for them to have a certain book for the purpose of reference,
and then Xerophrastes began to make inquiries concerning Parmeno, who, as
I gathered, must needs be one of those intrusted with the care of the
library.

“I am afraid,” said the other, “if we must wait for him, we shall not be
able to get that work either to-day or to-morrow; for his pupil, the son
of Fabricius, is dead, and I suppose he will now change his quarters, and
be no longer seen so often about these haunts of the muses.”

“Alas!” interrupted Sextus, “I met Fabricius in the Forum a few days ago,
and he told me his son was ill; but little did I imagine my dear companion
was so near his end! Is it indeed so?”

“Even so,” rejoined the other. “Rapid have been the shears of Atropos! It
is but a few moments since Agaso, the painter passed; and, he told me he
had been receiving orders to take a likeness, as well as he could, from
the corpse.”

“If Agaso be so engaged,” replied Xerophrastes, “I am afraid we need not
expect to find him neither in his usual place. Perhaps we had better make
inquiry for him at the dwelling of Fabricius.”

To this Sextus assented; or rather, being lost in reflection concerning
the death of his friend, he suffered himself to be conducted by the Stoic.
Passing, therefore, through one or two more apartments, we issued forth,
and drew near to the vestibule of Fabricius’ house, who, as they told me,
was a noble Roman, having the chief superintendance of the whole library,
and an intimate friend of Licinius—one whose domestic calamity could not
fail to spread much affliction through a wide circle of patrician kindred.

At the vestibule, we found assembled not a few of the young man’s
relations; but Xerophrastes immediately said, “Behold Parmeno, he is the
most afflicted; and what wonder that it should be so?”

“Alas!” said Sextus, “the bier is set forth; the last rites are to be
performed this evening.”

This Parmeno was a striking figure. Seated close by the bier, his head was
involved in his cloak, so that only his eyes and his nose could be seen,
but these of themselves expressed a decorous affliction; and the folds of
the cloak fell down over the rest of his person in great order and
dignity. On the pavement beside him was seen lying, half-unfolded, a book
inscribed with the name of Heraclitus, which he appeared to have been
reading. When Xerophrastes approached, this mourner stretched forth his
hand, and shook his head, but he did not say any thing, nor even look
towards the rest of us; and indeed to have done so, would have disturbed
the attitude in which he had placed himself. Xerophrastes, on his part,
received the proffered hand, and shaking his head in response, said, “Yes,
my Ionian friend, I may still bid thee hail and live; but I must say
farewell to the plant thou wast rearing. Farewell to the youthful promise
of Fabricius!”

On hearing these words, the sitting philosopher drew his mantle quite over
his face, and leant himself heavily against one of the fluted columns of
the vestibule, for he seemed to be much shaken. In the meantime Sextus
approached the bier, and contemplated his companion as he lay there
wreathed with melancholy garlands; his countenance bearing a natural
mixture of sadness and astonishment. Nor could I, who had never before
seen the young man, behold the spectacle without similar emotions; for his
age, as it seemed, could not have been much different from my own, and the
pale features were interesting, their expression not less amiable than
solemn.

“Alas!” said Sextus, “the last time I saw him, how differently did he
appear! We rode out together with some others to Tibur, and spent all the
day there; and as we returned by the moonlight, how joyous his
conversation! Methinks I yet hear him laughing and speaking. We parted at
the foot of the Capitoline, and never did I see him again till now.”

“Oh, fate of man!” quoth Xerophrastes; “how uncertain is life, how certain
death! Without doubt, young Fabricius had as little thought of dying as
any of your company; and yet, see now, he is arrayed for the last time,
and this juvenile gown, which he should so soon have laid aside for the
manly, is destined to be consumed with him.”

“A fine lad he was,” cries one of the standers by,—“a fine lad, and an
excellent horseman. The Martian Field did not often behold such a rider in
these degenerate days of the Roman youth.”

But while the rest were still contemplating the bier, Xerophrastes,
turning to his brother philosopher, said, “Tell me now, my learned friend,
do you still, after this mournful event, continue to reside with the elder
Fabricius? Has that excellent man any more sons to be educated, or will he
retain you only for the sake of the library, with which assuredly he will
find few so conversant as yourself?”

To which Parmeno replied, “Your question, O Xerophrastes, shews that clear
judgment concerning the affairs of men, for which you have always been
celebrated. No, my friend, the gray-haired Fabricius no longer requires my
residence here; for he is about to retire into one of his villas on the
Campanian shore, and to bury for ever his affliction in the privacy of his
woods. We are about to part, not without mutual tears; and several
Patricians have already been applying to him for his influence with me,
whom, although unworthy of so much research, they earnestly covet, and
wish to engage as the instructor of their young men. I have been sitting
here not unseen, beside this my former charge, and each is impatient to
solicit me into his service.”

“Your reputation I well know is high,” replied Xerophrastes, “and
deservedly so; more particularly, for that fine talent you have for giving
metaphysical interpretations of mythology, and for explaining the obscure
allegories of ancient poets. But for my own part, Parmeno, I find not so
much delight in abstract ideas, or in the passive contemplation of the
universe; but incline rather to study, as heretofore, that part of
philosophy which relates to action, and the morality of duty.”

“Yes, worthy Xerophrastes,” returned he, with a most languid serenity;
“and so far as I understand, you sort well in this with the stirring
disposition of your friend Licinius.”

To which Xerophrastes made answer:—“My patron Licinius is fond of action,
and I of the rules of action. He says, it is only in war, or in civil
functions of a public nature, that a person can prove himself a man. The
rest, he says, is visionary, and comes to nothing, or is a slumber of the
mind in sensuality, without thought.”

“Does he think, then,” quoth Parmeno, his wobegone countenance relaxing
into a smile,—“Does Licinius think, then, there is no sensuality in
perpetual action, and declamation and noise? To me such things appear
almost as trivial as the lazy enjoyments of Epicureans, besides being
harsh and disagreeable, and not unfrequently ridiculous. But observe, O
Xerophrastes! that I speak these things as it were abstractly, and not by
any means in disparagement of Licinius, your excellent patron and friend.”

To which the stoic replied in astonishment—“What is this you have said? Do
you assert that action is sensual?”

Then Parmeno, lifting from the pavement the book which he had been
reading, or appearing to read, said, “It is even so, most erudite
Xerophrastes. Indeed, I have always delighted in the most primitive and
remote doctrines handed down from antiquity; and among others, in the
riddles of this obscure Ephesian. Following the scope of his philosophy, I
am led to believe, that, so often as the mind impels, or is impelled by
other causes, it begins to lose sight of pure knowledge, and becomes in
danger of thinking that every thing is vain, light, and evanescent, except
what is perceived by the senses. Heraclitus well says, that Love and
Hatred govern all things. Now, when the principle of Discord prevails, it
subjects all things to the dominion of action, and to the gross
perceptions of sense. But when that of Love is prevalent, it emancipates
the struggling chaos of things from the yearning of compulsion, and from
the darkness of sensual proximity; for, between things that struggle
immediately against each other, light has no room to enter in and shine;
and therefore it is, that, when Love gains the ascendency, a new
arrangement is produced—an arrangement which, if I may so express it, is
more serene, transparent, orderly and divine, and wherein things exist in
safety from the danger of mutual destruction.”

After a preliminary cough:—“My opinion,” replied Xerophrastes, “coincides
rather with that of Empedocles. The immortal Sicilian thinks that Discord
is the only separating and arranging principle which marks the boundaries
between things, and enables them mutually to act and repel, in such a way
as to preserve order.”—“Nay, nay,” interrupted Parmeno, his hands being by
this quite disentangled from his cloak, and his countenance lighted
up,—“Nay, nay, to such doctrine I never shall assent. From Empedocles—even
from Xerophrastes, I must differ for ever on this head. The order of which
you and the Sicilian speak, is the order of darkness only, and of blind
force,—a kind of order in which fierceness and cruelty always reign.” But
Xerophrastes continued:—“And I farther concur with Empedocles in thinking,
that Love is a principle of which the predominance is more fit to turn
order into a chaos, than to produce the effects you have described.”—“Nay,
speak not against Love,” quoth Parmeno—“Speak not against Love, nor
believe that any respect is due to the dictates of Empedocles, who taught
the worst that can be taught by any man—that is to say, the alternation of
order and confusion succeeding each other throughout all time. To seek for
truth in conceptions like these, is no better than to seek repose in the
bosom of Ætna.”—“In reference to that point,” resumed Xerophrastes, “I
agree with you in your disapprobation of Empedocles. But when you say,
that Love is the source of knowledge, you much astonish me; for I have
always thought rather that its tendency is to bring confusion upon the
mind.”

“Once more,” said Parmeno—“once more, let me beseech you to say nothing
against love. You are thinking of the love of particular objects. You
speak of Cupid, and not of that heavenly Eros, who, so far from
enchaining, or tyrannizing over the mind, rather enables it to escape into
the tranquil freedom of far extended contemplation. But what is
contemplation without the knowledge of permanent forms, on which the mind
may find repose, and so keep itself from being perplexed by the shifting
aspects of the many-coloured universe? And therefore it is, O
Xerophrastes, that, sometimes laying aside Heraclitus, I study the ancient
verses of the poet, Xenophanes, who shews, by the nature of abstract
forms, that a certain unity pervades all things. Xenophanes mused of old
at Colophon, looking through the blue ether of my native Ionia.—But why
should I speak thus at length? Alas! what is the occasion of our being
here!—I perceive the approach of the poet, who was to compose an
inscription for the urn of my dear Fabricius. Yonder also is the
architect, who comes with a design for the tomb. Oh! day of wo, that I
should sit in judgment concerning the epitaph and tomb of my ingenuous
youth!”

“It is, indeed, true,” replied Xerophrastes, “that even I, in the
repercussions of our talk, had well-nigh forgotten this unhappy
occurrence; but, perhaps, there is something not after all entirely
excusable in our giving so much superiority to the affairs of
philosophical discussion. Now, however, it is evident, that we must
suspend our colloquy—And who, I beseech you, above all things, is he that
now draws near to the place of this mournful assembly, holding a horse in
his hand. Methinks I have seen his face before.”

“That you have indeed, Master,” quoth he that had come up,—“that you have;
and no longer ago than yesterday neither, if you will be pleased to give
yourself the trouble of recollecting. My name is Aspar—I am well known. If
but my excellent friend, the noble Centurion Sabinus, were here, poor old
Aspar would have no reason to complain of the want of a good word.”

“Good morrow to you, Aspar,” said Sextus; “but what is it that brings you
hither just at this moment? And for what purpose have you brought your
horse with you? for people of your sort do not in general ride in the
courts of the Palatine.”

“Alas!” quoth Aspar, “and is it you, who seem to have been one of the
contemporaries of that peerless youth—is it you that ask such a question
as this? I did not, in truth, imagine that there was any friend of young
Fabricius, who did not know his affection for little Sora. There is not
such another within twenty miles of the Capitol; but I brought her hither
merely out of regard for the family. As for myself, I should never bear to
look on her again with pleasure, after knowing the sudden manner of his
death. I wish to Heaven the filly were fairly lodged in one of the
paddocks of the Lord Fabricius himself.”

“Lead the animal round into the stables,” says Parmeno, “and I doubt not
care will be taken of her.—Yonder comes one of the buffoons of the
theatre;—he, I doubt not, is here to disgrace, if he be permitted, this
solemn scene, with ranting quotations from the tragic poets. Alas! alas! I
cannot bear all this: There also advance the officiators from the Temple
of Libitina; they have their cypress boughs ready in their hands. Oh, my
learned friend, I cannot sustain these things; let me be gone into the
mansion.”

The admirer of Heraclitus, picking up his scroll, and gathering together
the folds of his mantle, moved slowly into the house, Xerophrastes
following with similar gestures. Sextus and I also were about to take our
departure; and he, having procured from one of the slaves of the house a
myrtle garland, had already placed it upon the bier of the young
Fabricius, as the last testimonial of his concern; when there drew near
two young men, clad in long mantles of black, who, solemnly embracing my
friend, began to exchange with him many expressions of grief.

While they were thus engaged, Rubellia, who had been standing all this
while a little apart, sent a boy to inform us that the painter we were in
search of had at last made his appearance, and was anxious to proceed with
his portrait. I drew Sextus away, therefore, and soon joined the lady and
the artist; but as we were moving off thus, one of the bystanding slaves,
an old gray-headed man, came up and whispered to Sextus, “Sir, be not
deceived; these two nephews of my bereaved master are to me the most
disagreeable part of all this preparation. You have heard their
lamentation, and seen their sweeping raiment of mourning; but, be sure, a
principal subject of their reflection is the probability that one or other
of them must be adopted by Fabricius. Alas! alas! so goes all between
Lucina and Libitina. There was never a birth nor a marriage that did not
create some sorrow, nor a funeral procession that did not give rise to
some joy. Your rhetoricians talk, but what avails it all? Slaves and
masters are alike subjected to the evils of the world, and of these death
is both the last and the least.”



                              _CHAPTER IV._


Agaso, the painter, was a smart dapper little bandy-legged man of Verona,
dressed in a Grecian mantle, and endeavouring to look as much as possible
like a Greek. Had Xerophrastes not gone off with his brother of Ionia, I
have no doubt this man would have made his presence a sufficient excuse
for speaking nothing but Greek to us; but, even as it was, his
conversation was interlarded with an abundant intermixture of that noble
tongue. Nothing could be spoken of which Agaso did not think fit to
illustrate, either by the narration of something he himself had seen or
heard during his residence at Athens, or, at least, by some quotation from
the Grecian poets. To judge from the square, and somewhat ponderous
formation of the man’s features, Nature had not designed him for any of
the most mercurial specimens of her workmanship; but he contrived,
notwithstanding, by perpetual shrugging and grimacing, and, above all, by
keeping his eyes and eyebrows continually in motion, to give himself an
air of no inconsiderable life and vivacity.

Hopping before us with much alacrity, this artist conducted our steps
through eight or ten galleries, until at length a curtain being withdrawn,
which had covered the space between two pilasters, we found ourselves in a
spacious apartment, which, from the courteousness wherewith he bowed us
into it, there could be no difficulty in perceiving to be the customary
sphere of his own exertions. It was not altogether deserted even when we
entered, but the removal of the curtain attracted more of the loungers of
the baths, and ere Sextus was fairly fixed before the table of the
painter, the modest youth had the mortification to find himself surrounded
with a very crowd of knowing and curious physiognomies. The presence of
these, however, appeared not unwelcome to the master. On the contrary,
there arose between the little man, as he was preparing his brushes, and
those who had come to survey him at his work, such a gabble of
compliments, remarks, and disquisitions, that it seemed to me as if he
would have been disappointed had he not been favoured with their
attendance.

“How noble,” cries one, “is that portrait you have just been finishing of
Rupilius!—Heavens! with what felicity you have caught the air! Methinks I
see him about to enter the Basilica, when he knows that some great cause
is awaiting his decision. What solemnity in his aspect! what grandeur in
the gown!—How finely the purple of the laticlave is made to harmonize with
the colouring of the cheeks and chin! What beautiful handling about the
fingers with which he grasps his tablets!—As for the head of the stylus,
it is the very eye of the picture.”—“Exquisite indeed,” quoth another;
“but who can look at it, or at any thing else, in the same room with this
little jewel?—Heavens! what a beauty! who can it be? for I never saw her
either at the Circus or the Amphitheatre. What an inimitable modesty!”

The painter heard this last piece of eulogy with an air of some
embarrassment, and at the same time looked very cunningly towards the
person who had uttered it. But the Lady Rubellia tossed her head, and
whispered to me, “Pretty she may be, though I cannot say that style of
dressing the hair is at all adapted for such features; but for modesty!
hem. I asked Agaso two or three days ago who it was, and he told
me—guess!—it is a little Spanish girl, whom that august-looking person,
with the grand laticlave, and the purple cheeks and chin, and the
glittering stylus, thought fit to bring home with him when he was relieved
from the hard duties of the Pro-prætorship. I dare say, he takes care she
shall not be seen either at Circus or Amphitheatre; and, indeed, I think
it is sufficient impudence to shew her likeness in the company of so many
portraits of respectability.”

“My dear lady,” quoth the painter, who overheard somewhat, “for the sake
of all that is sacred, no word of this again! Wait, at least, till the
canvass for the Augurship be over. There are always so many to exaggerate
and misrepresent.”—“Exaggerate, indeed! I think Rupilius ought to be
ashamed of himself; and at his time of life too. I think you said he was
just the same age with my uncle?”—“Yes,” says the painter, “he must be of
that standing; and I think he went to Spain just about the period of your
marriage.”—“Filthy old fellow,” quoth she, very quickly; “and this is the
treasure he has brought home with him! I have a great mind to tell his
wife.”—“Hush, hush,” said Agaso, “this is the very day Rupilius spoke of
bringing her to see his own portrait; and, indeed, I am sure that is the
Senator’s cough. I rely on your prudence.”

And the portly original of the laticlaved portrait walked into the room,
having his gown and every part of his dress arranged as represented in the
picture; although in the living countenance it was easy to discover a few
lines and spots which had been omitted in the copy. By his side moved a
short woman, arrayed in the extremity of costly attire, whose swarthy
complexion did not, in spite of cosmeticism, harmonize very well with the
bright golden ringlets of her Sicambrian peruque; while behind the pair
came a thin damsel, whose lineaments exhibited a sort of faint shadow of
the same visage, the rudiments of which had been so abundantly filled up
in that of the rubicund magistrate. The ex-pro-prætor, after saluting
Agaso, stood still with dignity in the midst of the apartment, while the
fond daughter, rushing close up to his picture, could with difficulty
affix any limits to her expressions of satisfaction:—“O Jupiter! look at
the ring. It is the very ring he wears!—the very images are engraved upon
it; one can see the three Graces. I never saw such a picture—when will it
be brought home?”—“Hush, hush, now, Primula,” quoth the mother. “It is
certainly a likeness; but why will artists, now-a-days, always paint
people older than they are? And besides, it wants something of his
expression. Don’t you think so yourself, sir?” (turning to the painter)
“Rupilius has surely been looking very gloomily when he sat.”

On this the painter, leaving Sextus, advanced to her side, and after a
pause of some moments, spent in contemplating alternately his own work and
the original, said, with a courteous simper, “How much am I indebted to
you, most noble lady, for this visit, and these judicious remarks! I only
wish you had accompanied the senator, for then, without question, his
countenance would have worn the look you desiderate; and I perhaps might
have more easily succeeded in catching it, being aided by your
suggestions. I hope it may yet be amended.”—“How modest he is!” ejaculated
the spouse. “A single sitting will suffice, I am sure. We shall come some
day when you are quite alone, and I will sit by you, and talk to Rupilius
all the while.”—“Delightful!” replied the artist; “how happy shall I be in
such an opportunity of improving both the picture and myself! We must
positively prevail on the senator to give us this one sitting
more.”—“Never ask his consent,” quoth the matron, smiling upon her lord;
“leave the whole matter to me. The picture is for me. And besides, if he
were to refuse, I know how I should be certain to overcome him; for he has
asked me to sit to you myself, and you know if I were to persist in
sitting with my gloomy face, as he has with his, we should soon bring him
to his right reason.”—“_Your_ gloomy face, noble lady!” replied the
artist, strutting back a pace or two. “I am afraid, if that is the charm
by which alone he is to be softened, we must give up all our hopes.”—“I
protest,” says the lady, “I believe you will keep me laughing all the time
I sit. And pray now, what dress do you think I should wear? Prima says, I
ought certainly to be in green; but I was thinking, that perhaps a yellow
byssine would suit me better. But I shall send over half a dozen robes,
and then we can choose whichever seems to be the best. One thing only I am
quite resolved upon, and that is, that I shall have my golden chain, with
the miniature of the Pro-prætor—the Senator, I mean—at the end of
it.”—“Nothing could be in finer taste,” he made answer; “and if my lady
should think of green, or purple, or any dark colour for the gown, the
rings of the chain and the setting of the miniature would have the richest
effect.”—“And do, my dear mother,” interrupted Prima; “and do have on the
sapphire tiara when you sit to Agaso. Or what would you think of having
your own hair simply like this lady here? What a beauty!”—“A smart little
girl, indeed,” quoth the mother. “I think I should know that face. Is she
Roman, Agaso?”—“No, not a Roman,” answered the artist; “nor do I think my
lady can ever have met with her. But perhaps my Lord Rupilius may, for she
is a Spaniard.”

Agaso turned with a smile to the Senator; but he, scarcely appearing to
look at the picture, answered, with great gravity, “I think I have seen
the countenance before; and perhaps it was in my province. The face is
certainly a pretty one; but nothing so very extraordinary.”—“They may say
what they like,” observed the spouse, drawing herself up; “but there is no
such thing as a really urbane air to be got out of Rome.”

Meantime, in another part of the room, some other picture appeared to be
exciting a scarcely inferior measure of curiosity. On approaching the
party, I perceived that this was a sketch, in chalk only, of the head and
shoulders of an old man; and when I had gained an opportunity of more
nearly surveying it, I recognized without difficulty the features of
Tisias of Antioch. The greater number of those who were looking on it,
seemed also to have been present at his death; for I heard pointed out by
them with exactness the parts in which the resemblance had been most
successfully taken. The beauty of the old man’s lineaments, and the
serenity of his aspect, they all admired; and while they were loud in
praising these, Agaso himself also joined them, saying, “Oh, so you have
found out my old Christian! How did you get hold of him? for I meant it
not to be seen till I had lain on a little of the colour. But is it not a
fine study?—is it not a noble head? I think I shall introduce it in the
picture I am painting for Pliny. The subject is the sacrifice of
Iphigenia. I went to the Amphitheatre,” he continued, “rather late,
without expecting any thing particular; but it immediately struck me that
he might be turned to some account. I made several little sketches of him,
for it was a long time ere it was over; and this is from the one I took
just after he had made his oration. His hands and feet were singularly
fine, I thought. Here,” said he, turning over the leaves of his
tablets—“here you have him in a variety of shapes!—the muscles shewed
powerfully when he knelt;—there, again, you have his fingers as they were
folded on his breast—not much flesh, but the lines good—veins well
expressed.”

But about this time the great bell rung in the tower above the Baths, and
the greater part of the young loungers soon dispersed themselves; some to
fence or wrestle—others to play in the tennis-court—others to ride in the
Hippodrome, in preparation for the bath. So Agaso, being left alone with
Sextus, Rubellia, and myself, had at length leisure to proceed with his
portrait of the youth.

Much did the lady and the painter discourse, and many merry things were
said by them both; but all they said could not entirely remove the
embarrassment fixed on the countenance of Sextus; nor, of a truth, did he
present himself with much advantage before the artist. Rubellia,
nevertheless, sate over against him with looks of no severe criticism; and
I doubt not she would have remained to the end of the sitting, had not one
of her household come with a message, which, as it seemed, rendered
necessary her departure. It struck me, that the messenger answered very
well to Dromo’s description of the fat Calabrian with whom he and Boto had
been drinking; but of this I said nothing to Sextus.

It was near the hour of supper before we were dismissed, and we found
Licinius already about to enter his eating chamber.



                               _CHAPTER V._


The orator received us with less coldness than I could have expected. I
suppose his knowledge that our morning had been spent in Rubellia’s
company, had in some measure softened his feelings of jealousy towards his
son; and perhaps he had given me credit for advice, to the merit of which
I had no claim. But he remained not long at table after supper was
concluded, being summoned to discourse in private with a client:—so that
Sextus and I were left to spend the evening as it might please ourselves;
for as to Xerophrastes, he had not as yet made his appearance, and we took
it for granted he had remained at the mansion of Fabricius, for the
purpose of consoling with philosophical controversies his bereaved brother
of Ionia.

We retired, therefore, into the apartment of my young friend; but he could
not read a page without coming upon some verse which made him throw down
the scroll to ruminate on the charms of his Sempronia. When he took up his
lute, his fingers seemed to evoke only the most melancholy sounds. It was
only in the exercise of the foil, that he succeeded in banishing from his
thoughts the troubles of his situation; but both of us having contended
till we were breathless, were soon compelled to sit down, and then the
unhappy boy’s exhausted body seemed to communicate a new debility to his
mind. We sat for the most part in silence, (for I soon found that I could
not say any thing capable of interesting him,) until the shades of evening
had quite darkened the chamber, and then we walked together, not less
silently, in the adjoining open gallery, until the moon had arisen from
above the tall poplars around the Pantheon and Baths of Agrippa, and
diffused her radiance over all the beautiful gardens and noble edifices
that lay beneath us down to the brink of the river. Lassitude of spirit
then, if not expectation of sleep, rendered Sextus desirous of retiring to
his couch; so, having exhorted the youth to wrestle with his grief, and to
call hope to his aid, I at length left him to himself. But as for me, I
had as yet no feeling of weariness, and, besides, I remembered the promise
I had made to Dromo in the morning.

I was very much surprised, indeed, that the Cretan had not as yet come to
me, and made inquiry concerning him of Boto; but hearing that the man was
absent from the house, I thought from this there was the more likelihood
of his being engaged in some scheme, the result of which I should by and
by learn from his own lips. I dismissed my Briton, therefore, and prepared
to read by my watch-light, and while I was considering what I should read,
I remembered the scroll I had received from Tisias, which forthwith I took
from the place in which I had locked it up on the morning of the preceding
day. There fell from out of it, as I unfolded it, a letter sealed, but
without any superscription. This I of course considered as meant only for
the eye of Athanasia; so I kissed the parchment her fingers were destined
to touch, and, before I began to read, restored it to its receptacle.

More than one of you, my young friends, have already heard me speak, on
another occasion, of the impression which that night’s reading made upon
my mind, and been told, from my own lips, what book it was that was
contained in the scroll of Tisias; the rest of you will judge for
yourselves with what astonishment it was that I, who had at the best
expected to unfold some obscure treatise of Asiatic lore, some
semi-barbarous exposition of mystical riddles, found myself engaged in the
perusal of a plain and perspicuous narrative of facts, written evidently
by a man of accomplishment and learning, and in Greek of which the most
elegant penman of these times could have had no occasion to be ashamed. In
a word, it was the Gospel of the holy physician St Luke which had been put
into my hands; and at this day I am still grateful that this was the first
of the Christian books which I had an opportunity of seeing; for such had
been my education, that I am afraid others, not less worthy of the true
faith, might have repelled me by the peculiarities of their composition,
as well as by the acquaintance with many things, to me then entirely
unknown, which they take for granted in the style of their commencement.
Here, however, there was enough only of mystery, the more effectually to
stimulate my curiosity, while the eagerness with which I engaged myself in
its gratification, was abundantly repaid from the beginning, both by the
beauty of the simple narrative itself, and the sublimity of the
conceptions embodied and evolved in its course.

Considering the book which I was reading, as one merely of human origin
and invention, I could not help regarding it with such admiration, that it
appeared to me above all things wonderful, I had never seen it mentioned
by any of the writers of the age, or heard it spoken of by any of those
who, in my presence, since I came to Rome, had talked concerning the faith
and doctrines of the persecuted Christians. But this was not all. At
least, said I to myself, there is something here which deserves to be
inquired into and examined. Of things such as these, if told falsely, it
must needs have been—nay, it must still be, easy to prove the falsehood.
It is impossible that, in the days of Tiberius, any such events should
have occurred in Palestine, without being more or less submitted to the
inspection of Roman eyes. This is no wild tale, handed down from the dark
ages of a barbarous race. Here I have a Roman Centurion described as among
the witnesses of this man’s miraculous power, and acknowledging the
divinity of his benevolence. Here, at least, must have been one spectator
without prejudices, otherwise than against this Prophet of Nazareth. Of a
surety, the legends of Rome herself contain many tales which demand a much
greater measure of indulgence; since the wonders they narrate appear to
have been oftentimes attended with no beneficial consequences, either to
individuals or to the state; whereas here the occasion seems always to
have been such as might justify the interference of supernatural might.
The power of this person seems to have been exerted only for good; and his
precepts are full of such godlike loftiness as neither Socrates, nor
Plato, nor any of those Greek sages, who bowed in reverence to the hoary
wisdom of Egypt and India, would have disdained to admire.

The doubts, suspicions, and distrusts, with which such thoughts were
mingled,—the under-current of reluctance with which I felt myself all
along contending,—were such as you may more easily imagine than I can
describe.

As the narrative went on, however, you will have no difficulty in
supposing that my attention became more and more rivetted, and that,
occupied with the strange events and sublime scenes it unfolds—and
agitated by turns with the pity, the wonder, the terror, and the
admiration that matchless story must ever awaken,—I had forgotten every
thing beyond the page of the volume on which my finger was fixed.

It was only the rustling of Dromo’s cloak against the edge of my chair,
that made me aware my privacy was disturbed. His hands seemed to be busied
in tightening his girdle even before he was able to speak, and the first
words he uttered, were—“Come, sir—this is no time for study. I have
acquaintance with some of the soldiers at the Capene Gate, and they will
let us pass through; but they are relieved at the next watch, and then we
shall have no chance.”—“And why,” said I, hastily thrusting the scroll
into my bosom—“why, Dromo, or for what purpose should we desire to pass
through the Capene Gate at the dead hour of night?”—“Come,” said he;
“there is no time for explanation. It is simply because it is the dead
hour of night that we must pass through the gate; for it would do nobody
any good to pass through at any other time. Come—or abandon Sextus to his
fate.”

Thus adjured, I could not oppose any obstacle to his zeal. The chained
porter was lying asleep across the threshold; but Dromo had already found
means to have the door opened, so he leaped lightly over the man, and I
imitated his agility. The Cretan then locked the gate on the outside, by
means of a key which he carried in his bosom; and I followed his rapid
steps without farther question.

This cunning varlet, (who seemed, indeed, to move as if he had a natural
aversion to every open place,) threaded one obscure lane after another,
keeping always, where the moonlight had any access, to the dark side of
the way; a person better skilled than myself might well have been somewhat
puzzled; as for me, I had not the least conception whither I was going.
Close, however, did I adhere to him; and we reached the Capene Port, which
is on the south side of the city, not many bow-shots from the Anio, before
I could have imagined it possible to traverse so great a space.

Here Dromo told me to wait for him a single moment, and stepped down into
a cellar, in which a light was burning; but he staid not long, and when he
returned to me, I observed that his style of walking was more clumsy than
usual, which, indeed, was not to be wondered at, considering that he had
now to carry, not only himself, but two huge skins of wine, intended, as I
at once suspected, for the purpose of facilitating our passage. I told him
my suspicion in a whisper; but he made no answer, except by handing to me
one of his burdens. So laden, we crept on as well as we could to the
portal, beneath the shadow of which two Prætorians were pacing, their
armour ringing audibly upon them amidst the silence of the night.—Silently
did the well-oiled hinges turn, and very silently stooping did we step
beneath the lintel of the Capene Gate, which as silently was again made
fast.

As we advanced among the funereal monuments which line the Appian Way on
either side, Dromo stood still every now and then for a moment, as if to
listen; but whatever he might have heard, or expected to hear, I perceived
nothing, except here and there the howl of a dog, or the lazy hooting of
the night-owl, from the top of some of the old cypresses that rose between
us and the moon.

At last he seemed to catch the sound he had been expecting, for he started
suddenly; and laying his finger on his lip, crept to the parapet.

The ground behind was more desolate of aspect than any part of that which
we had traversed—stoney and hard, with here and there tufts of withered
fern; and immediately below the wall two human figures were visible. The
one was sitting on the ground, wrapped in a dark cloak which entirely
concealed the countenance: the other was a half-naked boy, holding in a
string a little new-shorn lamb, which with one of his hands he continually
caressed. But forthwith the sitter arose, and throwing away the cloak,
displayed the gray tangled tresses of an old woman, and two strong boney
arms, one of which was stretched forth with an impatient gesture towards
the stripling, while the other was pointed upwards to the visible moon.
“Strike,” said she, “strike deeply—beware lest the blood tinge your feet
or your hands;”—and I recognized at once the voice of the same Pona that
had attracted my notice in the morning, at the foot of the Palatine.

The boy drew forth instantly a knife from his bosom, whose glittering
blade was buried in the throat of the yearling, and it was then first that
I perceived a small ditch dug between the boy and the woman, into which,
the lamb’s throat being held over it, the blood was made to drop from the
wound. So surely had the blow been given, that not one bleat escaped from
the animal, and so deeply, that the blood flowed in a strong stream,
dashing audibly upon the bottom of the trench. And while it was dropping,
the old woman muttering a sort of chant to Hecate, as I gathered, showered
from her girdle I know not what of bones or sticks, mingled with leaves
and roots, which afterwards she seemed to be stirring about in the blood
with one of the tall strong stems of the fern that grew there. The
wildness of her gestures was such, that I could not doubt she had herself
some faith in the efficacy of the foul charms to which she had resorted;
nor could I see her stirring that trench of innocent blood, without
remembering the still more ruthless charms, whose practice the poets of
Italy have ascribed to such hoary enchantresses. The dreariness of the
midnight wind, too, as it whistled along the bare and steril soil around
us, and the perpetual variations in the light, by reason of the careering
of those innumerable clouds, and the remembrance of the funereal purposes
for which, as it seemed, all this region was set apart—the whole of this
together produced, I know not how, a certain pressure upon my spirits, and
I confess to you, I felt, kneeling there by the side of my now trembling
Cretan, as if I owed him no great thanks for having brought me that night
beyond the Capene Gate.

It seemed as if the goddess, to whom the witch’s song had been addressed,
did not listen to it with favourable ear; for the clouds gathered
themselves more thickly than ever, while the wind howled only more loudly
among the tombs, and the half-scared owl sent up a feebler hooting.
Notwithstanding, the old woman continued fixed in the same attitude of
expectation, and the stripling still held the well-nigh drained throat of
his lamb above the trench. By degrees, however, the patience of both
seemed to be exhausted; and there arose between them an angry altercation.
“Infernal brat of Hades!” quoth the witch, “look ye, if you have not
stained your filthy hands, and if the thirsty shadows be not incensed,
because you have deprived them of some of the sweet blood which they
love!”—“Curse not me, mother,” replied the boy—“Did you think, in truth,
that the blood of a stolen lamb would ever propitiate Hecate?”—“Imp!”
quoth she, “Hold thy peace, or I will try whether no other blood may make
the charm work better!”—“Beware!” quoth the boy, leaping backwards—“beware
what you do! I am no longer so weak that I must bear all your blows.”

“Stop,” cried I, “for there are eyes that you think not of, to take note
of your wickedness;” and in my vehemence I shook one of the great loose
stones that were on the top of the wall, which rolled down and bounded
into the ditch beside them; and the woman, huddling her cloak over her
head, began to run swiftly away from us, along the wall over which we were
leaning. The boy only stood still for a moment, and looked upwards towards
the place where we were, and then he also fled, but in the opposite
direction; and Dromo said to me in a very piteous whisper, but not till
both were out of sight,—“Heaven and earth! was ever such madness as to
scare the witch from her incantation? Alas! for you and for me, sir—and,
most of all, alas for Sextus—for I fear me after this we shall have no
luck in counteracting the designs of Rubellia.”

“Rubellia! what? can you possibly imagine Rubellia to have any thing to do
with this madness?”

“Imagine?” quoth he; “do you need to be told, that if things had gone well
with that woman and her ditch, we should never have been able to preserve
Sextus from her clutches?”

“By the rod of Hermes, good Dromo!” said I, “this will never do. I shall
believe much on your credit, but not things quite so extravagant as this.”

He made no reply save a long, incredulous, and, I think, contemptuous
whistle, which seemed to reach the ears of every owl between us and the
Appian; with such a hooting and screeching did they echo its note from
every cypress. And when Dromo heard that doleful concert, his dread
redoubled within him, for he shook from head to foot, while I held his arm
in mine; until, at last, he seemed to make one violent effort, and
springing on his feet, said—“Come, Master Valerius, let us behave after
all like men!”—I smiled when he said so—“The hour has not yet come, if my
Calabrian friend is to be trusted, at which the lady was to visit Pona in
her dwelling. It is but daring a little more. If she has seen and known us
already, then nothing can endanger us farther; and if she hath not, we may
escape again.”—“Well spoken,” said I, “most shrewd Dromo, and like
yourself; but what is it that you would have us to do?”—“The first thing,”
he replied, “is what has already been too long delayed.”

The Cretan produced from under his cloak a long fictitious beard, which he
immediately proceeded to fix upon his own face with a string. A thin tall
cap of black cloth was next brought forth, which he fastened in like
manner around his brows; and a little piece of chalk, with which he once
or twice rubbed over his black bushy eye-brows, completed a disguise
beneath which I should certainly have sought in vain to discover any trace
of the natural countenance of Dromo. In short, after a few changes in the
folding of his cloak, there stood before me a figure so venerably
mysterious, that had I met it unawares at midnight, in the neighbourhood
of so many tombs, I am not sure, although of no superstitious temper, that
I could have regarded it without awe.

“Come now, good Master,” quoth he, “you are taller than I, pluck me a
branch from the nearest tree, and I think you shall confess I make a
decent Soothsayer.” In this it was easy to gratify him; for there was an
old willow just a few yards off, and its boughs were so dry with age, that
I soon abstracted a very proper wand for him. After receiving which, he
stood for a moment leaning on it in a dignified fashion, as if to rehearse
an attitude worthy of his new vocation; and then said—“Well, sir, I think
if the Lady Rubellia comes now, we shall be tolerably prepared for her.
But I have no disguise for you; therefore, the moment you hear a footstep,
be sure you wrap your face in your gown, and stand behind me, for so shall
you best consult both your own concealment, and the dignity of this
Assyrian. There is no other way by which she can come from the Suburra,
therefore we might stay very well where we are; but I think it might be
still better to await her coming where there are either tombs or larger
trees to cast a shade over our equipage, in case the moon should take it
into her head to be more kind to us than she was to Pona.”—“By all means,”
said I, “most venerable man—and besides, the wind is rather chilly,
therefore I shall be well pleased to have shelter as well as shade.”

“You shall have both,” quoth he; “there is a thick grove of pines only a
little way on. I believe there is a very grand tomb in the midst of them,
in case you should prefer to sit under it.—By the bye,” he continued,
after some little pause, “it is odd enough that it should be so; but I
believe it is the very place where all that race of the Sempronii, to
which a certain young damsel belongs, have been burnt and buried ever
since Rome was a city. You cannot see their tomb yet; but that is only
from the thickness of the trees, some of which are, I suppose, even older
than itself. Now I remember me, it was just there that they set up two
winters ago the funeral pile of old Caius—I mean the father of the Lady
Athanasia, whom you saw at Capito’s villa. They are a very noble race, and
although none of the richest now-a-days, there is not a prouder in Rome. I
saw the procession at that old man’s funeral myself, and I think the
images of his ancestors that they carried before him, would have reached
half way from hence to the Great Road. Grim, dusty figures, I trow they
were; but I doubt not there had been many a haughty captain among them
when they were alive.”

These words were spoken as we were moving onwards towards this same grove
of pines, and before he had made an end of speaking, we could clearly hear
the wind sighing among their branches, and along the dry underground. And
on coming to them I found that he had said truly there was a tomb in the
midst of them, for a very noble, high, circular tower was indeed there,
which, from the grayness of its walls, and luxuriance of ivy, had the
appearance of being at least as ancient as any of the surrounding trees.
The only method of access to the inside, seemed to be by means of a
winding stair, which rose on the exterior from the ground to the summit—a
method not unusual in Roman sepulchres—and it was on one of the steps of
this stair that I seated myself, where, between the shaded wall on the one
side, and the pine branches on the other, I was effectually concealed. As
for Dromo, I know not whether it was that he coveted not exactly such
close proximity to the stones of such an edifice; but instead of ascending
with me, he took up a position beside one of the largest pines over
against me.

Although the moon had got rid of her clouds, and the sky, where any of it
could be seen, was abundantly brilliant, the natural darkness of that
funereal grove was such, that very little difference could be produced in
the midst of it by any variation on the face of any nightly luminary. The
tower itself received some of the moonbeams on its carved surface; but its
contemporary trees participated not in any such illumination,—one solemn
shade covering all things beneath the influence of their growth. “I can
scarcely see you, Dromo,” said I; “but I think that speck must be your
beard, and if so, I beg you would tell me what it is you really have in
view by all this preparation? Do you expect me to stay here on a
tomb-stone all night, merely because you wish to have an opportunity of
terrifying poor Rubellia by some ghost-like howl or other when she passes
you?—which, by the way, it seems by no means certain she will do at all.
Or what is your purpose?”—“Hush!” was his answer; “ask no questions, but
hem thrice if you hear a footstep—for young ears are the keenest.”
Accordingly silence was kept so strictly, that, in spite of the chillness
of the stone on which I sate, I presently fell into a sort of dozing
slumber.

By degrees, however,—nor, considering the hour and the fatigue I had
undergone, is it wonderful that it should have been so,—my sleep must have
become sufficiently profound, for I did not at first, on waking from it,
very well remember either where I was, or for what purpose I had come
thither. And, indeed, I have little doubt my slumbers might have continued
till day-break, but for the interruption I am now to mention.

And yet it seemed as if even in my sleep I had been prepared for this by
some strange anticipation, for although it was a near sound of singing
voices that dispelled my slumbers, and made me start from the stone on
which I had placed myself, I could not help feeling as if that sound were
not altogether new to me;—whether it were that the half-sensible ear had
been already ministering indistinctly to the dreaming spirit, or that some
purely fantastic prelude had been vouchsafed to the real music. I started
up suddenly, that much is certain, and listened with astonishment, yet not
altogether with such surprise as might have been expected to attend a
transition so hasty from sleep to waking, and from silence to the near
neighbourhood of sounds at once so strange and so sweet. With breathless
curiosity, nevertheless, with awe, and not entirely I think without
terror, did I listen to the notes which seemed to ascend out of the
habitation of the noble dead into the nightly air—wild, yet solemn, as if
breathed from the bosom of a stately repose and a pensive felicity;
insomuch, that almost I persuaded myself I was hearing the forbidden
sounds of another world, and the thought came over me,—yet almost I think
at that moment without farther disturbing me,—what fearful interpretations
the old poets have affixed to such untimely communion, and how the
superstition of all antiquity has shrunk from its omen.

My first impulse, after a moment had elapsed, was to call on Dromo, and I
did so, at first in a low whisper, and then two or three times more
loudly—but all equally in vain, for no answer was returned; and though I
strained my eyes in gazing on the place where I had last seen him, yet
there I could perceive no trace whatever of any human figure. The
moonlight indeed shewed with more distinctness than before the tall stem
of the old pine-tree against which he had been leaning; but no motion, nor
the least appearance of whiteness, could either my eyes or my imagination
discover there. I might easily, you will say, have stept across the road,
and entirely satisfied myself; but I know not well what it was that nailed
me to the place where I stood, and prevented me even from once thinking of
doing so. The calm sepulchral music, my friends, still continued to stream
from the recess of the mausoleum, and painless awe held me there, as if by
a charm incontrollable. I gazed upwards, and beheld the moon riding above
the black pine tops, in a now serene and cloudless heaven. The wind also
had passed away, as it appeared, with the clouds it had agitated. The bird
of night was asleep on her unseen bough; and all was silent as death,
except only the dwelling of the departed; and a certain indescribable
delight was beginning, as I gazed and listened, to be mixed with the
perturbation wherewith at first I had been inspired.

And I know not how long I might have stood so, but while I was yet
listening to this mysterious music, there was mingled with its expiring
cadence the sound of a heavy footstep on the staircase above me, and
looking up, I perceived in the moonlight the figure of a man, clad in a
white gown, but having a naked sword stretched forth in his hand,
immediately over the place whereon I was standing. I obeyed the first
natural impulse, and leaped downwards swiftly on seeing him; but this
availed me nothing, for he also leaped, and almost before my feet had
touched the ground, I felt the grasp of his hand upon my shoulder, and
that so strongly, that I perceived plainly there was as little possibility
of escape as of resistance. I made therefore no farther effort, but
suffered him to do with me as he pleased; and he, on his part, said not a
single word, but still retaining his hold, pointed with his sword to the
same steps from which I had descended, and compelled me to mount them
before him, up to the very summit of the round tower.

“Why is this, sir?” said I; “and whither do you conduct me?”

“Peace,” was all his answer; and, in like manner as he had made me climb
the exterior, so also he compelled me to begin the descent of a similar
flight of steps, which led down from an aperture above, into the interior
of the edifice. And although I must confess to you that I obeyed not this
silent guidance without considerable fear, yet I strove as well as I could
to control myself. I moved with a step in which I think not there could be
perceived any trembling.

Yet you will admit that even had I been master at that moment of less
firmness, I might have been excusable; for looking down, I perceived that
a lamp was burning in the midst of the sepulchral tower far below me, and
saw sitting around it a company of eight or ten persons, at whose mercy,
it was quite visible, I must be placed. Neither, if I might judge from the
demeanour of the person that was bringing me into their assembly, did
there appear to be any great room for dependance on them; for, as to
themselves, not one of them looked up towards me as I was stepping down,
and being wrapped in their cloaks, I had no means of discovering what
manner of persons they were. The way in which I had been treated, however,
by one of their number, was a sufficient evidence, either that they
conceived themselves to have been injured by my being there, or that they
were capable of taking some undue advantage of my helpless condition. The
calmness of their attitudes, and the recollection of the sounds that I had
heard, inclined me to the former of these suppositions; and when I
perceived that not one of them stirred, even till I had reached the
lowmost step of the interior staircase, in this, without question, I
already felt myself considerably strengthened.

“Behold,” said my guide, as I at length touched the marble floor of the
mausoleum itself—“Behold proof, and that living, that my suspicions were
not quite so groundless as you were pleased to imagine. Here is a man whom
I found listening, even on the very steps of this tower. It is for you to
decide what shall be done with the eaves-dropper.”

With this the whole company sprung at once to their feet, and I perceived
evidently, from the surprise expressed in their looks and attitudes, that
until that moment not one of them had been aware of my approach. I was
about to speak, and declare my innocence of any treachery, or even of any
knowledge concerning the purpose of their meeting; but before I could do
so, one of them, and I think the oldest of all that were present, having
in an instant recovered the tranquillity which my arrival had disturbed,
said to me in a voice of the utmost gentleness, “Young man, what has
brought thee hither, or who sent thee? Art thou indeed a spy, and was it
thy purpose to betray our assembly?”

“Sir,” said I, “I know nothing of your assembly, or of its purpose; I fell
asleep by accident on the outside of this tower, and, when I awoke, the
music that I heard detained me.”

“Examine the stripling,” quoth he that had conducted me—“examine his
person.”—“His looks belie him,” replied the senior, “if you have cause for
suspicion. But if you will it so, search the young man.” And with that my
guide, laying his unsheathed sword upon a table, or altar of black marble,
proceeded to search my garments, and finding in my bosom the scroll which
I had received from Tisias, he glanced on it for a moment, and then
handing it to the senior, said, “Now, sirs, doubt ye if ye will.”—“Before
heaven—it is the book of the holy Luke!” said the other; “this is indeed
suspicious. How came this scroll into thy hands, young man? Art thou aware
that one of the books of the Christians has been found in thy bosom?”—“I
know it,” said I; “it is one of the books of their faith, and I have read
in it this evening for the first time.”—“Then thou art not thyself a
Christian?”—“I received the book from one Christian,” said I, waiving the
question; “and I made promise to deliver it into the hands of
another?”—“Name the Christian who gave thee this book!” said my stern
guide.—“Tisias of Antioch,” I replied; “the same who died yesterday in the
Amphitheatre.”—“Yes,” quoth he, again; “and I suppose it was there he gave
it to you. Every one knows the name of Tisias. Name, if you please, the
person to whom you are to deliver the book.”—“You shall pardon me,” said
I, “that I will not. You may call me an eaves-dropper, if you will; but
you shall find I am no traitor. It is a Roman—a noble Roman lady to whom I
must give this book; and I would not tell you her name although you should
slaughter me here in this tomb, which I have entered living and without
guilt.” And having said this, I folded my arms, and stood still, abiding
their will.

But scarcely had I finished these words, ere I felt a small trembling hand
laid upon my shoulder, and looking round, I perceived Athanasia herself,
who whispered into my ear,—“Valerius, was the book for me? If so, you may
say it boldly, and I will vouch for your word.”—“For you, lady,” I
answered in the same tone, “and for none other. You well know that I was
present in his prison the night before his death; so far at least you can
confirm what I have said.”

“Sir,” said she, addressing the old man that had before questioned me, “I
know this young man: and I believe what he has said, and will be
answerable for his fidelity. It was he that went in to our friend the
other night in his prison, and the book was intrusted to him by the old
man, that it might be given into my hands. His name is Valerius—Caius
Valerius—and he is by birth a noble Roman.”

“Say you so, lady?” interrupted my original conductor; “then I ask his
pardon. I have wronged Caius Valerius; but both you and he must forgive
me, for it must be confessed he was found in a very extraordinary
situation.”

“Even so,” I replied, “I have nothing to complain of. I perceive that I am
present in an assembly of Christians; but he shall do me much wrong that
thinks I bear any enmity to them,—or, from all that I have yet seen or
read, to the faith which they profess. I have read part of that book,” I
continued, “for I made promise to Tisias that I should do so before giving
it to Athanasia; and I trust I shall still be permitted by her to read
more of it before it is finally demanded from me.”—“Oh, read it!” said
Athanasia, gently again whispering to me. “Oh yes, read the book,
Valerius, and may God enlighten the reader.” And so saying, she herself
took up the scroll from the table on which it was lying, and gave it again
into my hands.—“There was also a letter for you,” said I, receiving it,
“but that I left at home.”—“No matter,” said Athanasia, “you shall give me
the letter and the book both together hereafter.”

“In the meantime,” said I, “I suppose it were better I should retire.”

“Young sir,” said the senior, “that is as you please; in a little while we
shall all be moving towards the city. Stay with us till then, if such be
your will; that which you may hear, can at least do you no harm. Already,
I doubt not, you have seen enough to despise the ignorant calumnies of our
enemies.”

When he had said so, the old man walked to the side of the sepulchre, and
took out from behind one of the urns that stood there, (ranged in their
niches,) a small casquet, which, returning, he placed before him on the
marble table. Then, opening the casquet, he brought forth a silver goblet,
and a salver containing some little pieces of bread; and, untying from his
neck a massive cross of gold, he set that also on the table, between the
cup and the salver. In brief, the Christian priest, (for such, as you
already see, he was,) had finished his preparation, and was about to
commence the administration of the blessed Eucharist. And when all the
rest were kneeling before the table, Athanasia, laying her hand upon my
arm, beckoned to me to kneel by her side; and so indeed I would have done
in my ignorance, had not the priest himself pointed to a station a few
yards behind the lady, to which, accordingly, I drew back—apart from those
who were to be privileged with the participation of those holy symbols.

Scarcely had they composed themselves in their places, and listened to the
first words of the appointed service, when I, standing there by myself,
thought, unless my ears deceived me, there must be some one on the outer
stair-case of the tower; and my eyes instinctively, I suppose, were fixed
upon the aperture, which, as I have told you, was in the high roof above
the circle of the niched walls. Here, however, when I first looked, there
was nothing to be seen, but the round spot of the sky, far up in the midst
of the marble roof; but while I was looking steadfastly, that space was
suddenly diminished; and a dog bayed, and at the same moment a voice which
I well knew, screamed, “I have them—I hold them—let them burst the net if
they can.”

The cry of Pona disturbed effectually the Christian priest, and the whole
of those that were with him. Rising up hastily from their knees, they
stood all together around the table, while the old man, having kissed both
the cup and the cross, restored them as quickly as he could to the casket
from which they had been taken. But while the priest was doing this, he
that found me on the stair appearing to revert into his suspicion, and
looking sternly upon me where I stood, said, “Is this then the innocence
which we spared! Is this the noble Roman for whom Athanasia pledged
herself? Speak, brethren, what shall be done to this traitor, by whom,
even more than by those dogs of the tombs, it is a shame for us that we
have been hunted?” Saying so, the man lifted up his sword again, and it
seemed as if he would have smitten me to the ground without farther
question. But Athanasia threw herself swiftly between him and me. “For
shame, Cotilius,” said she; “such suspiciousness is unworthy of a Roman
knight.”—“You say well, noble damsel,” quoth the old priest, interrupting
her; “but you might say also that such cruelty is unworthy of a soldier of
Christ. Peace, peace, children; there is no evil in the youth, nor, if
there were, would it be our part to avenge it.”

While he was saying this, three or four blazing torches were thrust down
into the place from above, and Athanasia, laying her hand upon my arm,
said, “Look up, Caius, I see helmets.—Alas! am I not already here? why, if
they will slay me, should they drag me away now from the tomb of my
fathers?” I felt the trembling of her hands, and she leaned upon my
shoulder. I know not, I will confess to you, whether at that moment I
tasted more of pleasure or of pain.

But by this time several of the soldiers had already begun to descend into
the tower, and before another minute had elapsed, we found ourselves
surrounded by the flame of their torches. And he that seemed to lead the
party, after counting us one by one, said, turning to his companions,
“Well, an old woman has told the truth for once—here are even more I think
than she warned us of.—Come along, worthy people, you must not keep the
Tribune waiting for you all night, and our watch is well-nigh expired
already. Come, mount the stair—it will take a good half hour yet, I
believe, to lodge you all safely in the Tullian—And do you,” he added,
laying his hand on the hilt of Cotilius’ sword—“do you, brave sir, allow
me to save you the trouble of carrying this bauble.” Nor was the stern
knight so foolish as to dispute the command; but having yielded up his
sword, he forthwith began to ascend, one or two spearmen preceding him
with their torches. The priest followed, and so did the rest; the last
being Athanasia and myself.

On every side around the old tower, when I looked from the summit of it, I
perceived foot soldiers drawn up in a double line, while the road along
which I had come with Dromo, was occupied by a band of horsemen, one of
whom moved forward when he saw us descending, as if to take cognizance of
the number and quality of the surprised assembly. His long cloak being
muffled about his ears as he sate, and the shadow of his helmet falling
deeply, I did not at first suspect who it was; but he had not counted half
the party to the superior Officer behind him, ere I recognized him from
the sound of his voice; and who, think ye, should it be but my good friend
Sabinus?

The Centurion, when his eye detected me, checked his horse so sharply that
the animal bounded into the air; and, “Valerius!” quoth he, “ha! by the
life of Cæsar, what is the meaning of this? Valerius in a Christian
synagogue! By all the gods, there must be some mistake.” But before I, in
my confusion, could make any answer to these exclamations, his eye chanced
to glance on Athanasia, who, trembling, still retained the support of my
arm; whereupon, “Ha! ha!” said he, in a quite different tone of voice,
“there is a lady in the case.” And then, stooping in his seat, he
whispered, half laughing, into my ear, “My most hypocritical smooth-face,
you shall see what is the consequence of bringing these transatlantic
pranks of yours to Rome. By Hercules, you wild dog, it may cost you some
little trouble to get out of this scrape.”

Having said so, he turned his horse, and rejoining the troop, appeared to
enter into close conversation with him who sate at the head of the line.
Of what my friend said, I could catch nothing more than certain vehement
oaths, while, all the time, the Tribune (for such he was) continued to
shake his head, in a way significant at once of doubt and determination.
The end was, that he pointed with his sword; and Sabinus forced his horse
backwards, at one plunge, into the place from which he had advanced.

Our party were immediately separated one from another. I saw the priest
lifted on a mule and hurried away towards the city, with a horseman on
each hand of him. The fiery Cotilius, and one or two more, were compelled
to follow, with similar attendance, in the same direction; others, again,
had their horses’ heads turned more to the westward—but all departed at
speed, and were soon lost to my view among the projections of the tombs.
The last that remained to be disposed of were Athanasia and myself, and
for a moment I had some hope that we might perhaps be intrusted to the
same guards; but this hope was in vain, and after I perceived that it was
so, scarcely even was time permitted to me for bidding her farewell. To
kiss her hand, and to whisper a single word of parting hope into her ear,
was all I could do. A tear rolled from her cheek and fell upon my hand;
yet she smiled faintly upon me, and “Hope,” said she—“yes, dear Valerius,
Hope and Faith both go with me.” And with that the pale maiden was
separated from the arm to which she had trusted, and I saw her also
mounted and borne away rapidly. A moment after, I found myself, in like
manner, seized and lifted upon a horse, and almost before I could look
around me, we had escaped from the flare of the torches, and the crowd of
the soldiery, and were stretching at a rapid pace, I knew not whither,
although I suspected, from the width of the road, that we had regained the
Appian.

But I have forgotten to mention to you, that just at the moment when they
were lifting Athanasia upon the mule that was to bear her from my sight,
my eye caught a glimpse of the witch Pona, who was sitting at the root of
one of the pine-trees, close to the tower. And behind her stood, leaning
against the tree, a figure wrapped in a rich red cloak, which I suspected
to be a female also, but could not be certain, because the countenance was
concealed in the folds of the garment. To this person, whoever it might
be, the witch turned round eagerly, while the soldiers were carrying off
Athanasia. I saw no more, for, as I have told you, immediately afterwards
I also was carried away.



                              _CHAPTER VI._


Our hasty pace had not borne us to any great distance from the place where
all these things occurred, ere the sky, which, as ye have heard, had all
that night been sufficiently variable, began to exhibit appearances which
my two companions interpreted as significant of the approach of one of
those nocturnal storms, to which, at that season of the year, the fair
heaven of Italy is peculiarly subject. That they apprehended somewhat of
this sort, I perceived from their looks, as they stopped for a moment to
draw the hoods of their mantles over their brazen helmets; for words they
uttered none, either to me or to each other, until our journey drew near
its close. For me, however, the numberless agitations through which I had
passed in the course of the few preceding hours, had, I suppose,
communicated an unnatural measure of ardour to my boyish blood; for
neither did I feel the night-breeze chill me as we rushed through it, nor
partook, in any sort, of the desire my companions testified to cover
themselves from the rain, which seemed to be about to discharge itself out
of all those black and lowering clouds now gathered above our heads from
every region of the heavens. When, on the contrary, the first heavy drops
fell, I bared my forehead with the eagerness of one who, in a parched
region, comes suddenly upon the margin of a well-spring. Nor did this
sensation subside even after the storm had thickened to the utmost, and
the dusty roads had drunk abundantly of the plashing rain. The strong wind
blew with redoubled coolness upon my moistened neck—the rain-drops dashed
on my hot hands; and I perceived, that, as is the nature of those animals,
the thunder which was mustering in the air, filled my horse one moment
with dread, and the next with a blind fierceness. At last the thunder
shouted over-head, and its echoes spread wide and far on either side,
until they seemed to be absorbed to the left in the remote depths of the
Appenine, and on the right hand in the measureless bosom of the Western
Sea—of which, as we galloped along the hill side, the broad lightning
(unless my fancy deceived me) revealed ever and anon a distant and
melancholy glimpse.

We had passed a hill covered with towns, villages, and stately mansions,
(which I afterwards learned was no other than the famous Alban,) ere the
storm subsided beneath the influence of the reddening dawn. Yet even then
we slackened not our pace, although the horses were by this time not a
little exhausted with the swiftness of their motion, and the weight of
their wet riders. On rode we in the growing light of the morning; but I
perceived ere long that we had left the wide and magnificent Appian Way,
and were pursuing the line of a narrower road, which seemed to carry us
more and more westward.

We halted for a moment on the brow of a declivity, where three paths
separated; and I perceived that among my guides there was some little
uncertainty as to which of these it behoved them to follow. While they
were muttering together, I looked and beheld at length the wide sea
heaving far below, over what appeared to me to be a forest as mighty as I
had ever seen in my native island.

Old hoary oaks leaned on either hand quite over the narrow path-way, into
which (after their brief pause of consultation) my conductors directed our
course. Here and there, such a shield had those huge leafy boughs extended
over the road, that the dust rose from amongst the feet of our horses as
if all that night not one drop of rain had fallen there; although
elsewhere, in the absence of such mighty trees, the water lying across the
path in pools testified abundantly that the tempest had not spared the
forest any more than the champaign. Vast waving gulfs of bay and ilex,
with here and there some solitary pine raising itself proudly in the
midst, seemed to stretch away on either hand between the groves of those
gigantic oaks.

The path we followed carried us ever deeper and deeper into the bosom of
the woods; and, at length, so buried were we in the windings of their
stifling shade, that I had lost all notion of the direction in which I was
moving; until, after two or three hot hours, weary man and jaded horse
were, I believe, equally delighted with snuffing once more the open
current of the air. We reached not the edge of the forest, however, before
I could hear distinctly the dashing of the Mediterranean waves; and the
last ascent we climbed laid open to my view a long sweep of the rolling
waters, and their rocky coast garnished every where with the richness of
superincumbent woods. Far, very far, in the distant north, I thought I
could recognize some of the stately towers of Ostium, bosomed apparently
within the billows over which they presided. All between was one wide
waste of wood and rock, save here and there a watch-tower perched on the
margin, and whitened half-way up with the foam of the yet uncalmed sea.

Then, nor ever could I look upon the waters of the great deep, without
something of that filial yearning which seems so natural to every native
of our sea-girt island. But neither could I contrast the condition in
which I now approached it, with the gay and hopeful mood in which I had so
lately left it behind me, without many thoughts more sad and serious than
as yet had frequently visited my bosom. What a strange brood of visions
had passed before my eyes, since, but a few days before, I stept for the
first time, light of heart, beneath the shadow of those far-off bulwarks!
What new emotions had arisen, in the interval! How had every sense been
gratified! how had every dream of imagination been exceeded! Yet what a
void had been revealed within!—Alas! said I to myself, why is it that I
have been subjected to all these novelties? Had I not done better to have
remained, after all, where life flowed ever calmly—where affection hung
over me like a protecting buckler, and my soul could sleep in the security
of unbroken faith! But this was only for a moment. The thoughts of
Athanasia haunted me more deeply and more firmly. I thought over every
word she had spoken—every look of hers rose up in succession, with all the
vividness of a beautiful and a troubled dream. I seemed to feel, as if she
were yet present beside me, the trembling of her pale fingers upon my
shoulder—I kissed the hand on which her parting tear had fallen, as if it
were yet wet with the dear moisture. When I thought of the perils in which
she must now be enveloped—of the pains she must have suffered—must at that
moment be suffering,—it was as if I could have burst bands of iron, like
flax, from off my hands. When a glimpse of the darker future opened before
me, I shuddered, and, urging my poor horse onwards in the recklessness of
total abstraction, I perceived that even my guides pitied the agony of my
despair.



                              _CHAPTER VII._


We stopped before one of the watch-towers which, as I have told you, I had
seen scattered along the edge of the sea. But this, when we came up to it,
appeared larger than I had expected to find any of them. The narrow way,
alongst which we had been riding, brought us close to its gate, on the
side towards the land; but the rock shelving rapidly on the other side,
gave it the semblance, at a little distance, of being suspended over the
waves.

It was a building of rude, and apparently very antique structure, the
under part square, but the upper circular; as is, for the most part, the
old Roman fashion in such erections. And this, indeed, I doubt not, might
have stood there long enough to have shewn a beacon, when some fleet of
Syracuse or Carthage darkened the blue sea over against the Lestrigonian
bay renowned in old song, or the snow-white promontory of Gaieta.

One of the soldiers dismounted, and began to knock rather violently at the
door; but some little time elapsed ere any sound from within responded to
the clamour he raised. At last a hard and withered face made its
appearance at a little opening above the door, and then the helmets
passed, I suppose, for a sufficient warrant, for in a twinkling we heard
the bolts creaking; the old postern was soon set ajar, and forth stepped
the venerable keeper. Imagine a tall, skinny man of threescore years, with
a face as dry and yellow as ye have seen on the outside of a pye, and hair
as white as ever the skill of a confectioner could represent, and legs
bearing the same proportion to the feet, which the shaft of Saturn’s
scythe usually does to its blade. Clothe the nether part of this figure in
Dacian, or Gaulish breeches, throw a somewhat threadbare cloak over his
shoulders, and to finish the outfit, deck his head with a casque of the
Macedonian cut, that is to say, sitting close above the ears, and topped
with a bristling plume of horse hair. The Warder stood with dignity, and
listened with gravity, while one of my Prætorians whispered his message.
On its conclusion, he shrugged his shoulders, and regarding me with a
glance made up, I think, in pretty equal proportions, of surprise and
contempt, signified by the motion of his hand that we might all three
enter. He whistled at the same moment, and there came forth a comely
damsel, who, with many blushes and smiles, took possession of the reins of
our horses.—“Stand there,” quoth he, “stand there, little Cestia, and see
if there be never a handful of corn to be got for the prince’s
cattle,—stand there, and we shall be with you again anon.” And then he
also whispered something into the maiden’s ear, and I saw her looking at
me from under her eyelids with an expression of very uncommon curiosity.
Two or three curly-pated urchins, of different sizes, joined her at the
same moment, and to them, in her turn, the maiden whispered; whereupon the
eldest of the children retreating behind her, eyed me earnestly along the
skirt of her tunic, while the younger ones continued to gaze where they
were, with looks of open stupidity and wonder. Of all this I could make
nothing at the moment, but when we had got fairly into the inside of the
tower, I heard the children whispering to each other, “A Christian! A
Christian! A Jew! A Jew!”

The lower part of the tower, into which I had now been conducted, seemed
to form nothing more than one huge, bare, and quadrangular apartment,
serving, I supposed (and rightly) at once as hall and vestibule to the
upper chambers contained within the walls. A small flight of steps, in one
of the corners, seemed to afford the only means of access to what was
above; but from the position of a door immediately below these, it was we
inferred that there were vaults under ground. Close beside this door there
stood, upon a very rude pedestal, a still more rude bust, either of
Jupiter, of Apollo, or of Hercules. The workmanship was such, that I could
not be very certain which of the family it was intended to represent, nor
whether the principal appendage was a club, a lyre, a bow, or a
thunder-bolt; but it did not escape my observation, that the old keeper
crept as close as he could to the sacred stone, as soon as I stepped over
the threshold.

One of the little boys that had come out to the door on our arrival,
busied himself in setting forth a wooden board, whereon he placed in great
order a huge piece of yellow cheese, and a heap of crisp white cakes of
rye. A large jug of water also garnished the mess; but there seemed to be
a little less of diligence, or more of difficulty, about the wine. After
some pause, however, the mistress of the garrison appeared. A string of
amber beads floated to and fro on the ocean of her bosom. She had fine
golden bracelets on her arms too, but they were only half seen, being
almost buried in fat; and she wore a flaxen wig, which did not entirely
conceal the dark bristles below. At the girdle of the amazon hung, on the
right side, the much desiderated bunch of keys, being balanced on the left
by a dagger and toothpick case, almost of equal dimensions.

“Will _you_ drink to Cæsar, young man?” cried the matron, ere the sitting
had been much prolonged; “will you drink honestly to the Emperor, in case
you also have a full cup given you? and, by the by, I think you must have
almost as much need of it as the rest.” And, with this courteous
invitation, I heard her whisper to one of my guards,—“By Jove, ’tis a
proper lad, after all; is this true that they have told me of him? Why, I
believe, the young man has a red edge to his gown. What is his name? who
is he?”—I heard him answer,—“By the life of Cæsar, you know as much about
him as any of us. There was a whole cluster taken last night a little way
beyond the Capene-Gate, and he was one; but what they were about, or who
he is, I know not, only he is certainly somebody, for I saw our Centurion
salute him.”—“I saw him with Sabinus,” whispered the other—“I am quite
sure of it, the last day the Amphitheatre was open; they sate together,
and appeared familiar.”—“I pray you, sir,” quoth the lady, raising her
voice,—“I pray you fill your cup, and here I pledge you to our better
acquaintance. You shake your head—well. But what must be, must; and while
you are with us, we may at least be good friends.”—“Thanks,” said I,
complying with her command; “Here, then, is health to all present; and
fair health to the great Trajan, says no one here more heartily than I.”—I
drank off the wine, and setting down the goblet, I believe I said,
“Excellent, by Jove,” or something of that sort; for they all started when
they heard what I said, and the old woman called out lustily, “Fill him
another cup to the brim, whether he be Christian or not. The young man at
least swears by the gods, and drinks to Cæsar.”

“The old man,” observed one of the soldiers,—“he that was killed the other
day in the Amphitheatre—he might have saved his head, even at the last
moment, if he would have done as much.”—“Well, well,” quoth she again;
“let every one mind his own matters. Husband, bring down your book, and
let the new-comer enter his name with his own hand.”

Having drained his cup, the keeper rose, and ere long returned with a
musty scroll of parchment, which, having blown away the dust from it, he
presented to me. I glanced over the record, and found in it the names of
various persons, all apparently entered in their own handwriting; and most
of them, as I could perceive, bearing date in the troublous reign of
Domitian. The last was that of Marcus Protius Lamontanus, who, as it
seemed, had been set free from his confinement immediately on the
accession of Nerva; and immediately under this I wrote my own name, with
that of my birthplace. The keeper read, and said, “So preserve me the
power of Jove! A Valerius! and born in Britain! Can you be the son of the
same Valerius who was Centurion in the ninth legion under Agricola?”—“You
have guessed rightly—I am the same.”—“Then the more is the pity,” he
replied, in a grave voice, “that you should have entered, in such a case
as this, the dwelling of one that was a true soldier beneath the eagle of
your father. But forgive me if in any thing we have been
disrespectful.”—“There is no occasion,” said I, “for any such apology. I
am here as a prisoner, and have been treated with all courtesy beyond what
a prisoner could expect.”

“By Hercules!” interrupted the spouse, “I thought I had some knowledge of
the face—Well, I hope ten years hence he will be as fine a man as his
father was the day he slew the Caledonian giant, and tumbled him from his
chariot in front of all the line—yes, in sight of Galgacus himself. It was
the same day,” said she, turning to her lord, “that you were taken
prisoner, and driven away into the woods.”—“As witness these marks,” quoth
the man; and with that he stripped open his tunic, and displayed part of
his breast, stamped with various figures of blue and yellow, after the
northern fashion, and bearing withal the traces of two formidable wounds.

The woman redoubled her kindness; but not wishing to interrupt festivity,
I soon requested her to shew me the place where I was to be confined. And,
indeed, as you may imagine, I had by this time not a little need of
repose.

Both she and her husband accordingly rose to usher me to my prison. I gave
money to the soldiers, and requested them to inform Sabinus of the place
to which I had been conveyed; but did not choose to write any thing,
either to him or to Licinius, until I should have had a little time for
reflection.



                             _CHAPTER VIII._


My fatigue brought speedy sleep; and so profound, that before I again
unclosed my eyes, the calm sea was already purple below me, and the sun
about to set. But neither purple sea, nor golden sky, nor all the divine
tranquillity of the evening air, could sooth my mind into repose, after I
had once awaked to a sense of the situation into which I had been
brought—I should say rather of the situation in which Athanasia was
placed. For myself, I could not in seriousness fear any calamity worthy of
the name,—if such should come, it must be my business to wrestle with it
as I might. But to think of her, young, beautiful, innocent; and of all to
which she might be exposed amidst the rude hands in which I had left her!

Some time had passed before my attention was attracted by a conversation
carried on in the chamber below me, in which you will not be surprised
that I should have felt myself interested, even although the distance was
such that I could not distinguish one word that was said. I knew from the
first moment that it was impossible I should be mistaken—I was perfectly
certain it was Sabinus himself, who was talking with the old woman; and I
at once suspected that the worthy Centurion, having learned from the
soldiers who carried me off, to what place they had conveyed me, had
undertaken this speedy journey, for the purpose of comforting me in my
confinement. The kindness with which he had treated me from the beginning
of our acquaintance had been such, that I could have no occasion to wonder
at his exerting himself to discover me; but I confess this alacrity was
more than I had been prepared for, and I waited only for the moment when
he should enter my apartment to throw myself upon his bosom, and intrust
all my troubles to him, as to a friend and a brother. There was something,
however, which I could not at all comprehend in the merriment which seemed
to be reigning below on his arrival. Peals of female laughter interrupted
the uniform hearty tone of the Centurion’s voice; and the feeble treble of
the old Warder himself was stretched ever and anon in attempt at a
chuckle.

At last in they came, and Sabinus, embracing me affectionately, thrust
into my hand a piece of parchment, which I perceived to be nothing less
than an order for my immediate release. Then taking off his riding-cap,
and rubbing with his handkerchief his most audacious and soldier-looking
brows, “My dear boy,” quoth he, “I see you are going to thank me—but wound
not modesty by fine speeches. There was war before Helen—have a better
care another time, and don’t pay Rome such a poor compliment, as to say
that you can find nobody to charm you but a Christian damsel, and no place
for flirtation but a gloomy tomb lined with urns and lachrymatories. My
honest friend here was quite frightened with the idea of having such an
unbelieving reprobate as they said you were, under the same roof with her
children. But now her fears are dispelled, for good souls are always
tolerant to the little vagaries of young blood; so thank your hostess, my
lad, kiss her hand, take one cup to the hearth of the old tower, and
tighten your girdle.”

“Well!” quoth the woman; “who should have thought when the soldiers
brought him in with such mystery, that it was all for kissing by
moonlight! I protest to Venus, they would have made me believe he had been
caught eating an infant; but still I cannot quite pardon him. Well—well—we
must e’en take good hope he will mend ere he dies.”

“Die?” cried the Centurion; “do you talk of dying to one that has scarcely
yet begun to live!—Come, come, Caius, I hope, after all, you may never get
into a worse scrape.”

“And if I do,” said I, “I hope I shall always be equally fortunate in my
jailers.”

“By the beard of Jove!” quoth Sabinus, “it needs no great skill to see
that you have been fortunate in that respect. I swear that, if the truth
were known, you are almost as unwilling to leave this tower now, as you
were last night to be torn away from another.”

“Oh, Master Kæso,” quoth she again, “when will you have done with your
joking? Well, your father loved a jest in his time himself; but now he, I
suppose, is quiet enough. And he, good old man, how does he wear?—Can he
still sit in his porch of a fine morning, and listen to the news, as he
used to do, with his cup at his knee?”

“I trust the old grasshopper can still chirp when the sun shines. But to
tell you the truth, it is long since I have seen him; and if this young
blade has no objection, I mean to pay him a visit this very night. I am
only just come home from Britain, and have not yet had leisure to salute
my Lares.”

I said something about being anxious to return as soon as possible to
Rome; but the Centurion answered me with another shout, “Come, come; she’s
safe enough. I suppose you think every one gets out of jail as easily as
yourself.”

I found it was out of the question to disapprove of any of the schemes of
Sabinus; so, having saluted the hostess, and flung my purse to her
children, (who, by the way, still regarded me with looks of apprehension,)
I accompanied him with a good grace to the gate. I made inquiry before I
went forth concerning the old jailer likewise; but I could easily gather
from the expression of face with which his wife accompanied her indistinct
reply, that he had, long before that time, reached a state in which she
felt little desire to exhibit him. The Centurion whistled as he stepped
across the threshold, and there forthwith drew near a soldier, wearing the
Prætorian helmet, (now sufficiently familiar to my sight,) and leading in
his hand three horses. In the rear, I recognized, not without
satisfaction, the busy countenance of my friend Dromo, whose ass did not
appear quite so eager to join the party as its rider. A few sturdy thumps,
however, at last brought the Cretan close to us, who saluted me with great
appearance of joy, and then whispered into my ear, “Great Jove! we must
keep silence for the present. What a story I have to tell; and I suppose
there is one to hear likewise—but all in good season. We must not crack
nuts before monkeys. I have a letter for you,” he added, “from Sextus, and
another from Licinius.”

The Centurion sprung on his trusty war-horse, who seemed to rejoice in the
feeling of his weight; and we were soon in motion. I asked no questions
either about the course or distance, but rode by his side so silently,
that he bestowed on me many good-natured rebukes, for suffering a little
affair of love to distress me so greatly. “Cheer up now,” quoth he, “and
do not make me repent of carrying you to my father’s house, by shewing the
old man, who has had enough of troubles, such a countenance as must make
him think of Orcus, even although he did not know himself to be near its
gates. It is more than a year since I have seen him.”

This sort of speech he repeated so often, that I thought the best way
would be to tell him frankly the true history of the adventure, from whose
immediate consequences he had delivered me. I told him, therefore, every
thing about both Tisias and Athanasia, and, indeed, kept nothing from him
in the whole matter, except only what referred to the impression made on
my own mind by what I had read of the Christian book,—for, as to this
subject, it was one which I totally despaired of being able to make him in
any measure comprehend,—and besides, the state of my own mind was still so
uncertain in regard to it, and my information so imperfect, that I could
not trust myself with speaking of it to any one, until I should have had
leisure for more both of reading and of reflection.

He preserved silence for some minutes, and then said, “In truth, Caius,
you have distressed me. I thought it was merely some little frolic born of
an hour, to be forgotten in a day; but I cannot refuse you my sympathy.
Would I had more to offer!”—“Dear Sabinus,” said I, “I know not how to
thank you. You saw me but a few days ago the merriest young fellow that
ever trod the pavement of Rome—happy in the moments that passed, and full
of glad hopes for all that were to come; but now I feel myself quite
changed. Almost I wish I had never left my British fields; and yet I
should never have seen Athanasia.”—“Poor fellow!” quoth he, laying his
hand on the mane of my horse, “I perceive there is, indeed, no trifling in
your case. Compose yourself; whatever chances there may be in your favour
will never be bettered by despondence.” He paused a little, and
proceeded—“The worst of the whole is this new bitterness against these
Christians. Except during Nerva’s time, there was always some punishment
to be feared by them, in case of being detected; but there was a way of
managing things in almost every case, and people were well enough disposed
to grant immunities which were always attended with some good to the Fisk.
Nero and Domitian, to be sure, acted otherwise—but these were madmen; and
even they did so only by fits and starts. But now, when a prince like
Trajan has taken up the matter, it is no wonder that one should consider
it more seriously. One cannot help fancying he must have had some good
reason before he began—that is one thing; and having once begun, he is not
the man to drop it lightly—which is a more weighty consideration. Do you
think there is positively no chance of her giving up this dream, when she
finds what it has exposed her to?”

“No,” said I; “I am sure she will not, nor can I wish it would be
otherwise with her.”

“Well,” he resumed, “I enter into your feelings so far, my friend, even on
that point. I cannot imagine you to have been so deeply smitten with a
girl of a flighty unsteady character. But then this is not a case to be
judged of on common principles. It is no light thing to be exposed to such
examinations as are now set afoot for these people; and if she behaves
herself so resolutely as you seem to expect, what is the end of it? I
consider it highly probable—for there is no friendship in uncandid
speaking—that, in spite of all her friends can do, they will banish her at
the very least; scarcely dare I speak of it, but even worse than
banishment has heretofore befallen Romans—ay, Roman ladies too,—and these
as high in birth and place as Athanasia.”

“My dear Sabinus,” said I, “do not imagine that now for the first time all
these things are suggested to me. Imagine rather, how, unable for a moment
to expel them from my mind, I have spent these miserable hours. Her
friends, too, what must not be their alarm!”

“The thing was so done,” quoth the Centurion, “that I think it is
impossible it should have made much noise as yet. If there was in the
family no suspicion that the lady had any connection with these people,
they must be in perfect perplexity. I lay my life they take it for granted
she has had some private intrigue, and has gone off with her lover.”

“Alas!” said I, “when they hear the truth, it will be still worse than
this in their eyes. Yet it appears fit that no time should be lost in
making them acquainted with the real state of the case. O Sabinus, I
foresee that in all these things I shall have need of your counsel and
your help.”

“You shall have them both, my dear boy,” said he,—“you shall have them
both to the uttermost. But there is no question at all about the propriety
of telling the relations all you know. Licinius is probably well
acquainted with them. I am almost sorry for having prevented your
immediate return to the city; and yet one night will soon be over.”

“But Athanasia herself——”

“Ah! that indeed is a point of some difficulty. It was merely from having
remembered who the men were that rode off with you, that I was enabled to
learn so soon whither you yourself had been conveyed. But the party
consisted of a few men out of almost every one of our cohorts,—those, in
short, that were on duty, scattered up and down in different parts of the
city; and I may not find it very easy to discover who had the care of any
other individual.”

“But Athanasia——”

“True,” said he, “I had not thought of it. There was but one female
besides herself. That will furnish a clue. You may rely on it, I shall
easily find out the place to which they have taken her; but then where,
and at what distance that may be, Heaven only knows; for it seemed as if
every prisoner were to be carried to a separate place of confinement. At
all events, even if we knew where she is, we could do nothing at present.
Come, cheer up, now you have unburdened yourself of all this load. I shall
be ready to start as early as ever you please in the morning.”

By this time the moon was in full splendour, and nothing could be more
beautiful than the scenery of the native place of Sabinus, as we drew near
to its precincts. A little gentle stream, which kissed our path, did not
desert us as we entered the village, but murmured all through its humble
street. Street, indeed, I should not say; for there were dwelling-houses
on the one side only, the other being occupied with gardens, in the midst
of which I saw the Doric portico of a small temple. In front of this a
bridge crossed the stream, and there we were met by a troop of maidens,
who seemed to be moving toward the sacred place with some purpose of
devotion, for they were singing in alternate measures, and in their hands
they carried garlands. Some recognized Sabinus, and, without interrupting
their chant, saluted him with their laughing eyes. We halted our horses,
and saw them proceed all together into the hallowed enclosure, which they
did, not by means of the bridge, although they were close by it, but by
wading hand in hand through the stream below; whose pebbles, as it
appeared from the evenness of their motion, dared not to offer any
violence to the delicate feet that trod upon them. “Happy creatures,” said
I to the Centurion; “of a surety they think these moonbeams shine on
nothing but glad faces like their own. Alas! with what heart does poor
Athanasia at this moment contemplate this lovely heaven!”—“Nay, Valerius,”
quoth he, “if people were not to be contented with their own share of
sorrow, would the world, think ye, be worth living in? I hope Athanasia
herself will ere long sing again by the moonlight.—But stop, here is my
own old haunt, the abode of our village barber, and now I think of it,
perhaps it might be as well that you and Dromo should remain here for a
moment, till I ride on to the house, and let them know you are coming, for
the sudden sight of strange faces might alarm the old folks at this hour.”

He had scarcely said so, when the tonsor himself, hearing, I suppose, the
sound of our horses’ feet, ran out with his razor and basin in his hand,
to see what might be the matter. “Ah, good Virro,” quoth the Centurion,
“with joy do I once more behold your face. Well, the girls still sing, and
Virro still shaves; so every thing, without question, goes well.”—“The
Centurion himself!” replies the barber; “so Venus smile upon me, it is
Kæso Sabinus, who I began to think would never come back again.—Here, boy,
bring out a cup of the best. Alight, I pray you—well, at least, you shall
kiss the rim of the goblet.”—“I will,” said he, “I promise you, my good
friend, and that in a minute or two; but I must first salute my father;
and, in the meantime, I leave with you in pledge, good Virro, my excellent
friend here, and the most knowing Cretan that ever landed at
Brundusium.—Dismount, Valerius, I shall be with you again ere Virro can
half smoothen the chin of Dromo, which even this morning shewed no small
need of trimming.”—“Well, well,” said the tonsor, “eagles will have their
own way. Be speedy.”

The Centurion had set the spur to his charger; and we, in obedience to his
command, submitted ourselves to the guidance of the oily-faced little
barber. A stripling was already holding two horses at the door, but
another came out and took care of our animals, and we entered, exchanging
courteous salutations, the tonsorial penetralia.

They were occupied by as various and talkative a company, as the
imagination of Lucilius ever assembled in such a place. In the middle of
the room, which was spacious, though low-roofed, hung a huge shield of
brass, with a dozen mouths of flame blazing around the edge of its
circumference, close beside which sat a man with a napkin tucked about his
neck, the one side of whose visage, still besmeared with a thick coat of
lather, testified that the curiosity of Virro had induced him to abandon a
yet uncompleted job. The half-trimmed physiognomy, however, displayed no
sign of impatience, and the barber himself seemed not to think any apology
necessary, for he resumed his operations with an air of great
cheerfulness, saying, “Neighbours all, here is Kæso Sabinus, that is now
the Centurion, come once more to gladden the old village with his merry
face, and that, I promise you, is prettily tanned since we knew him
first.”

This piece of news appeared not a little to interest several of those who
were sitting under the tonsor’s roof. “Ha!” said one, “the noble
Centurion! Well, has he brought home a wife with him at last? for the talk
was, that he had been seen at the Amphitheatre, paying great court to one
of the richest ladies in Rome.”

“A wife?” says Virro, “no, no, centurions and barbers can do without
wives. But if he is to have one, I shall be happy to hear she is rich; for
centurions, after all, sometimes carry most of their silver upon their
helmets, as we do most of our brass on our basins.”—“Indeed,” said I, “I
never heard of it before.”

“If it please you, friend,” said another of them, “is this the same
Sabinus that has lately been in Britain?”—“Britain,” quoth an ancient
dame; “I never heard that name before—Britain! I know it not—I know not
where he hath been, but they told me it was over the sea, perhaps in
Palestine.”—“Tut, dame,” interrupted the barber, (who was now busy on
Dromo,) “you think every one goes to Palestine, because your own boy
carried a spear with Titus; but you know they ruined the city, and killed
all the Jews and Christians, and there is no occasion for sending
Centurions thither now.”—“Killed all the Jews and Christians, said you?”
quoth another. “I think the old dame has the better of you as to that
point at least, Virro. Not Trajan himself will ever be able to kill them
all; the superstition spreads like a pestilence. It was but last night
that a hundred of them were taken together in one place, eating human
flesh.”—“Human flesh!” quoth the barber. “Oh, ye gods, why do ye endure
such barbarians!”

“Human flesh!” echoed Dromo, springing from his seat, and I looked at him,
and saw that the barber in his horror had made in truth a deep incision
upon the cheek of the poor man. The blood, oozing from the cut, had
already traced a river of crimson upon the snowy surface of his
well-soaped chin. It was this that had deranged the philosophic composure
and customary phlegm of my Cretan; and no wonder; but the enthusiastic
tonsor took no notice of what had occurred.—“Great Jove,” he proceeded,
and he pointed to the roof with his razor as he spake—“Great Jove! I
adjure thee! are all thy lightnings spent; is there never a thunderbolt
remaining?”

“In the meantime,” quoth one of the bystanders, “they are in the hand not
of Jove, but of Trajan, and he, I think, cannot now be accused of treating
these wretches with too much lenity. You have all heard of that
Tisias?”—“We have,” cried another; “but what was a single individual to
this great assembly? what a sight will it be the day they are all
executed!”

“I think,” said the same person who had inquired whether our Centurion
were the Sabinus that had been in Britain,—“I think you are overrating the
numbers of that assembly. I heard of no more than a dozen.”

This stranger (for such he seemed) had probably taken that day a
considerable journey, for his tunic and boots were covered with dust. He
was attired in the plainest manner, but notwithstanding, there was
something about him which gave one the idea of rank superior to the
company in which he was seated; and his complexion was so dark that I
could not help thinking to myself,—I am not the only provincial in the
room; here is certainly some well-born African or Asiatic.

“You have not told me, however,” said he, after a pause, “whether or not
this be the Sabinus that was lately in Britain.”—“Sir,” said I, “it is the
same; I myself came in the same ship with him, but a few days ago. He is a
Centurion in the Prætorian Bands.”—“Yes,” replied the stranger, “I guessed
in truth, it must be the same; for I remember no other of that rank
bearing the same name.”—“If you are acquainted with him,” said I, “you may
have an opportunity of seeing him immediately, for I expect him here every
moment to conduct me to his father’s villa, which is hard by.”

“Well,” quoth the barber, who by this time had ended, without fresh
misadventure, the trimming of the Cretan—“well, I hope he will stay for a
moment when he does come, and then we shall be sure to hear the truth as
to this story about the Christian assembly. They may talk as they please,
but may Jove devote me, if I had Cæsar’s ring upon my finger for one
night, this should be the last of them.”—“And how, friend,” said the
stranger, “by what means, if I may ask you, should you propose so speedily
to do away with this fast-spreading abomination?”—“Look ye, sirs,” quoth
he, “I would place myself thus in my tribunal”—(he took his seat at a
little table, beside a goblet of wine, as he spake,) “I would seat myself
thus in the midst of a field, as Cato and the great Censors of old used to
do. I would cause Rome to be emptied—man, woman, and child should pass
before me; and every one that did not acknowledge the gods as he passed,
by all the gods! he should sprawl upon a tree in presence of all the
people. What avails watching, prying, spying, and surprising? I should
make shorter work of it, I trow.”

“You may say what you will,” said one who had not before spoken, “I cannot
bring myself to believe every thing I hear concerning their
superstition.”—“Ay, goldsmith,” quoth the barber, “you were always fond of
having an opinion of your own; and, pray, what is it that you have had
occasion to know about the Christians, more than the rest of us who hear
you? If you mean that you have seen some of them die bravely in the
Amphitheatre, why, that we have all heard of at least, and I think nobody
disputes it.”—“No, master barber,” replied he, “that is not what I was
thinking of. I have seen your common thief-knave, when he knew he could do
no better, brace you his nerves for the extremity, and die like a
Hercules. I would rather judge of a man by his living than his
dying.”—“True,” rejoins Virro; “and pray, what have you got to tell us
about the life, then, of the Christians?”—“Not much,” said he, “you shall
hear. My old mother (peace to her manes) was passing the Salarian one day
last year, and there came by a hot-headed spark, driving four abreast in a
chariot as fiercely as Nero in the Circus. He called out, that I believe,
but the dame was deaf, and whether he tried to pull up, I know not, but
the horses trod upon her as she fell. Another of the same sort came close
behind, and I have been told they were running a race; but however that
might be, on they both passed like a whirlwind, and my poor mother was
left by herself among the flying dust. But the gods had mercy on her; they
sent a kind heart to her aid. She was carried into one of the stateliest
villas on that side of Tiber, and tended for six weeks by a noble lady, as
if she had been not my mother, but her own; and this lady, friends—by Jove
I suspected it not for long after—this lady was a Christian; but I shall
not say how I found it out, nor would I mention the thing at all but among
honest men. But where were these you spoke of taken?—I should like to know
who they were.”

“They were taken,” said the stranger, “not far from the Appian Way, within
one of the old monuments there,—a monument, it is said, of the
Sempronii.”—“Of the Sempronii?” cried the goldsmith, “Phœbus Apollo shield
us!” and from that moment he became as silent as hitherto he had been
communicative.

The swarthy stranger, the silence yet continuing, arose from his seat,
laid a piece of money upon the table, and moved towards the door. The
barber also rose up, but he said to him, “Sit still, I pray you, my
friend;” at the same time beckoning with his finger to the goldsmith, who,
with a very dejected countenance, followed him into the street. What
passed between them there, we perceived not; but the artificer re-entered
not the chamber till some moments after we had heard the departing tread
of the stranger’s horses. When he did come in again, he had the appearance
of being in great confusion.



                              _CHAPTER IX._


Shortly after Sabinus reappeared, and bidding adieu to our tonsor, we
walked with him towards the paternal mansion,—and we soon reached it; for,
as I have already said, it was but a little way out from the village.

The dwelling was modest enough, having no external ornament but a single
portico, with a few statues ranged between its pillars. We entered by this
portico, and found the feeble old man sitting by himself in an apartment
immediately adjacent, wherein the beams of the moon, having partial
access, were mingled with the subdued light of a painted lamp suspended
from the ceiling. The father of my friend had all the appearance of
sinking apace; yet he received me with an air, not of cheerfulness, but of
kindness. The breeze found admission through the open pillars, and his
countenance exhibited in its wan and faint lines the pleasure with which
the coolness affected him. Beside him were placed baskets of roses,
gathered from the abundance of his gardens. The young Vernæ, who from time
to time brought in these flowers, came into the chamber with a decent
appearance of sobriety and concern; but they were never long gone before
we could hear them laughing again at their play.—“Poor children,” quoth
the old man; “why should they trouble themselves with thinking of the not
remote victim of Orcus?”—To which the Centurion replied, somewhat
softening that loud and cheerful tone with which he was accustomed to
address all persons—“Courage, my dear father, you must not speak so.
Cerberus, I perceive, has only been making an ineffectual snap at you, and
you will be growing younger after all this.”

At which the old man shook his head, without any external sign of emotion,
and replied, in a low monotonous voice,—“Younger in the wrong way, my boy;
for I become every day smaller in body, and feebler, and less able to do
any thing to help myself. Nor am I unconscious that I have seen my due
proportion of time. And yet, oh! fast sliding gentle brook, which I see
between these paternal trees—I am still loath to exchange thee for Styx,
and to lose the cheerful and sacred light of the sun and moon. I wish only
I were once more able to repair with thy stream to the banks of father
Tiber, that I might salute the good Emperor, who has been so kind to my
son, and who would treat even an old broken-down, and long-retired
soldier, like myself, with more favour than is to be expected from
Rhadamanthus. As clouds let down their drops, so the many-peopled earth
lets fall dismissed ghosts upon the Stygian shore.”

While he was saying things in the same strain, an ancient Egyptian, who
seemed to have the chief management of every thing, came into the chamber,
and after desiring some of the boys to bring forth refreshments, took his
place on a low stool by the foot of his master’s couch. “Come, Tarna,”
said the Centurion, “what has become of all your philosophy? Why do you
not inspire our friend with less of gloominess? Why is it that you do not
bring out for his use some of those old stories, with which, when I was
young, you were more willing to treat my ears than they were to attend?”

“Nay,” said the invalid, before the Egyptian could make any answer,—“I
liked well to listen to his Epicurean theories when I was able to walk
about the fields; but now I would rather have him be silent. Do not
trouble me any more, good Tarna, with any of your speeches. Allow me to
believe as all my fathers did, and to contemplate not only the sepulchre
in which their urns are placed, but the same dim regions in which many
dear shades expect the greeting of a descendant.”

“To me,” said the slave modestly, “it still seems, that by the rushing
shower of atoms which moves every where through space, the mind is
soothed, as by the sound of a great river carrying continually the watery
offspring of the mountains into the bosom of ocean. The mind, sirs,
appears to me to be calmed by the contemplation of infinity, even as the
ear of an Egyptian sleeper is calmed by the eternal music of rolling
Nilus. It mingles itself with that which it contemplates; it perceives—it
feels itself to be a liquid part of that vast endless stream of universal
being: a part which has been casually arrested and detained, but which
will soon mingle again and be scattered away in a thousand fragments, to
wander, no one knows whither, through the great all-receiving void—not to
lose existence, for in that my dear master entirely misunderstands me—but
to cease from feeling as a Sabinus, or a Tarna.”

The old man kept regarding his Egyptian with a placid smile; but I could
not help interposing: “What is this you have said? Do you assert that I
can cease to be Valerius, to feel as Valerius, and yet not lose my
existence? Can I _be_, and yet not be _myself_?”

“Most easily,” replied he; “the divided fragments may move about for a
thousand years, before it befall any of them to be stopped in some future
combination of atoms. These, it is manifest, only tremble and suffer when
they form part of a soul, but are immediately released from all pain or
mischance, when this confinement and cohesion are at an end, and they,
being dispersed, regain liberty and wander about singly, as of yore; for,
as our great dispeller of delusion says—When death is, we are not. If,
therefore, Sabinus shrinks from the fear of death, it is an idle fear.
Does he not perceive that when death arrives, Sabinus is no longer to be
found. Whatever its effects may be, they must affect not him, but an army
of innumerable disjointed essences, in no one of which could he by any
means be able to recognize himself.”

“To make a short story out of a very long one,” interrupted the Centurion;
“life, you think, is not worthy of the name of existence—that being so, it
is no wonder you should think lightly of death.”

“Mistake me not,” quoth the sage; “no—life _is_ existence; I not only
admit that, but I assert that it is the business of every man, and the
sole true object of wisdom, to render life, while it endures, pleasant.
Earthly pleasure consists in a bland juxta-position of atoms necessarily,
though not permanently, connected; the removal of pain implies that
quiescence which pervades the nobleness of the unenclosed ALL. To exist in
this shape, we are compelled; it is our business to render our existence
as near an approach to felicity as we may.”

“Fill your cup, Tarna,” quoth the Centurion; “I am no great philosopher,
yet methinks I can see the drift of this part of your story. Fill up your
goblet, most venerable Epicurean, and see (if it be not below your
dignity,) whether the atoms, which, by a fortuitous and temporary
juxta-position have formed your throat, will not feel their corners very
philosophically softened by the rushing of a little rivulet of good
Falernian—one cup of which, saving your presence, I hold to be more worthy
of wetting my guttural atoms, than all the water that ever sported its
music between Memphis and Alexandria.”

While the slave and the Centurion were thus discoursing, the old man
appeared to taste, as it were, the pleasure of a renovated existence, in
contemplating the brown health and strong muscular fabric of the inheritor
of his name. The hearty masculine laugh with which my friend usually
concluded his observations, was, I take leave to think, richer music to
his ears than ever Egyptian heard in the dark rollings of the Nile, or
Epicurean dreamt of in the airy dance of atoms. I suspect he was more
reconciled to the inevitable stroke of fate, by considering that he was to
leave such a representative behind him, than by any argument which his own
superstition, or the philosophy of his attendant, could suggest. In return
for this obvious admiration, the Centurion, without question, manifested
every symptom of genuine affection. Yet, I think, the instinctive
consciousness of his own strength made the piety of the robust son assume
an air more approaching to that of patronage, than might have been
altogether becoming. If such a fault there were, however, it escaped the
notice of the invalid, who continued, till Tarna insisted upon his
retiring, to gaze upon my friend, and listen to his remarks, with looks of
exultation.

The Centurion withdrew with his father, so that I was left alone with
Tarna for some time; and it was then that, in my juvenile simplicity, I
could not help expressing my surprise at finding in servile condition a
man possessed of such acquirements as his, and addicted to such pursuits.

“It would argue little,” he replied, “in favour of such pursuits, if they
tended only to make me repine at the place which has been allotted me—no
matter whether by the decree of fate, or the caprice of fortune. And after
all, I am not of opinion that any such external circumstances can much
affect the real happiness of any one. Give to him that has been born a
slave, what men are pleased to call his freedom; in a few weeks he will
become so much accustomed to the boon, that he will cease to think of it.
Heap wealth upon him; to wealth also he will gradually become habituated.
Rank—power—with all it is the same. It is in the mind only that the seat
of happiness is placed; and there it never can be, unless in companionship
with thoughts that look down upon, and despise being affected by trifling
things.”

“And are such,” said I, “the views of all those who follow your sect?”

“I wish it were so,” he replied; “but ere you remain long in the city, you
will meet with not a few, philosophers only in the name, who, having small
means of subsistence, but being desirous of leading a luxurious and
agreeable life, become teachers of such doctrines as may accord best with
the vicious inclinations of those who are most likely to entertain them.
These persons assume too often the name of Epicureans. They are seen every
where at feasts crowned with myrtle, and fawning upon gouty senators; and
whenever a boar’s-head appears, they are sure to call it worthy of
Meleager. Their conversation is made up of stale jests about Charon and
his boat, and the taking of Auguries; and, when finally inebriated, they
roll upon the ground like those animals, to whom, in consequence of the
proceedings of such hypocritical pretenders, the ignorant have dared too
often to liken the wisest of mankind. Such things I disdain—I am satisfied
to remain, as I was born, in the rank of Æsop, Epictetus, Terence.”

By this time the Centurion had returned. He had a lamp in his hand; and he
interrupted our conversation. “Come, we start betimes, Caius; and you too,
my sweet cock of Cyrene, I think you had better fold your wings, and
compose yourself upon your roost.”

Oh, enviable temperament! said I to myself—you liken the slave to a bird.
Methinks yourself are more deserving of the simile. The light and the air
of heaven are sufficient to make you happy—your wings are ever
strong—their flight ever easy—and the rain of affliction glides off them
as fast as it falls. Sleep softly, kind heart. It is only the troubles of
a friend that can ever disturb your serenity.



                               _CHAPTER X._


I was in bed before Dromo interrupted my reflections by saying, in a low
tone of considerable confidence, “And now, Master Valerius, do you still
continue, as much as two days ago, to disbelieve in philtres and despise
enchantresses? You see what, with all my precaution, has come of this
connection between Rubellia and the Neapolitan.”

“In truth, Dromo,” I replied, “it is visible that Pona had some share in
leading the soldiers to the Sempronian Sepulchre; but I am doubtful if
that had any thing to do with the private affairs of the lady Rubellia. As
to that matter, I confess myself entirely in the dark.”—“Dark indeed,”
quoth he, “must your observation have been, if you have yet to learn that,
but for that accursed witch, nothing of all this had befallen; but if
there be an edict against the Christians, there are twenty laws against
sorcery; and that both Pona and she that consulted her shall know well ere
long, if they do not as yet know it; or may Cretan change places with
Bœotian!”—“Say on, good Dromo,” I replied, “I am all ears; and as you
appear to have been all eyes, I shall probably soon be more enlightened.”

“Well,” quoth he, “I am glad to find that you are in a mood to listen to
me decently. You remember where I took my station when you mounted those
unfortunate steps upon the tower. I had not stood there many minutes
before I heard somebody approaching; and having no doubt it was Rubellia,
I was preparing myself for giving her such a salutation as I thought would
put a speedy end to her wandering for that night. On came the steps, but
no Rubellia. No; it was Xerophrastes himself; and although he had laid
aside the Greek mantle, and donned a boatman’s black cloak for the nonce,
I promise you I knew his stately gait well enough beneath all these new
trappings. It was no part of my job, however, to attempt frightening the
stoic.”—“And so you let him pass without doing any thing?”—“I did; I
confess I gave one or two groans after he had gone on a few paces, but I
did not observe him much quicken his walk, and I believe, to do the man
justice, he set it all down to the wind rustling among the trees. But I
thought not much of him at all, to speak the truth; for, said I to myself,
Well, if it be as I have suspected for these two blessed days, and this
master long-beard is really in league with the widow, the chances are, she
herself is not far behind him. I lay by, therefore, and expected in
silence till I should hear another tread; and in the meantime I spoke to
you once or twice across the path, but you made me no answer, for which
you know your own reasons.”—“The reason,” said I, “was a very simple one,
I assure you. I had fallen asleep, and no wonder, for you know how long I
had been a watcher.”—“Well,” said he, “I guessed as much, and it was
nothing but the born tenderness of my disposition, which made me cease
from offering you any disturbance. I thought I should surely be enough
single-handed for the widow; and besides, in case of need, I knew your
waking would always be in my power.”

“Admirably reasoned, Dromo,” said I; “and so it seems no need came, for
you certainly never awakened me; for which I may thank the bonds from
which the Centurion’s kindness has just set me free. But you have atoned
abundantly—I pray you, get on with your tale.”

“Presently,” he resumed, “I heard footsteps, indeed, my good master, and
not footsteps alone, but voices; and I moved from the place as hastily as
I could, till I came to a tree, the branches of which, springing low on
the trunk, offered an opportunity for mounting, which I should have been a
Bœotian indeed had I neglected. I mounted, and hiding myself as well as I
could among the boughs, awaited the arrival of the party, which
consisted—ay, stare if you will—of Xerophrastes and the widow, walking in
front, in earnest talk by themselves,—and the Neapolitan in the rear. They
halted, and though they spoke low, I could hear them distinctly.”—“And
what, in the name of Heaven, said they?”

“‘Are you sure,’ said the widow, ‘that this is indeed the girl whom Sextus
went to see at the Villa? Can there be no mistake?’—‘Mistake, lady, there
is none,’ replied the Stoic. ‘Pona was at the villa with her basket, and
she saw them all walking together in the garden.’—‘And this little
Christian,’ said the lady as if to herself, ‘it is she that has cost me
all this trouble! It is for this Athanasia that I have been insulted as
never woman was by man, and they are both here in the tower!’—‘They are,
lady,’ quoth the witch; ‘they are both in the tower, for I saw her go in
by her self first, and then in went some dozen of those muffled
blasphemers, and, last of all, went in he himself. I saw him not enter
indeed, but I swear to you, that I saw him here not twenty paces from
hence, and he had with him that cunning slave of his, (meaning myself,
sir,) whose ugly face, (the foul woman added,) I would know although it
were disguised beneath all the washes that were ever mixed in the
seething-pots of Calabria.’—‘But what,’ interrupted our long-beard, ‘what
will Licinius say? At least, my lady and my friend Pona will take good
care that no suspicion rests upon me. Sextus is a silly boy, without
taste, judgment, or discretion; but Licinius is acute and powerful.’—‘Fear
not,’ said Rubellia; ‘fear not, dear Xerophrastes. Nobody shall appear in
the matter except Pona, and she tells you she has already given warning at
the Capene Gate. There are always a hundred men stationed on the Cœlian.
Nothing can save them!’

“These words were scarcely out of her mouth, ere the soldiers were heard
approaching. Xerophrastes ascended with great agility a tree just over
against mine; Rubellia retreated among the pines; and Pona alone awaited
the guard. I would have periled a limb to have been able to give you the
alarm; but little did I suspect, that had I sought you where I left you, I
should have sought in vain.—How, I pray you, did you contrive to get into
the accursed tower?”

I told him I should give him the story another time at full length, and
mentioned briefly what had occurred. And then the Cretan proceeded with
his narrative.

“I leave you to guess, Valerius, how my heart beat when I saw the witch
lead the soldiers straight to the place where I supposed you were still
sitting—with what anxiety I saw the tower surrounded—its tenants brought
out,—with what astonishment I saw you led out, the last of their number.—I
had neither time to think by what means all this had happened, nor the
least power to interfere. I saw you all mounted—guarded—borne away.
Whither they carried you, I was unable to make the smallest conjecture. I
saw Sabinus speak to you, and then I had hope,—but that too failed. In
brief, I did not venture from my tree till the whole assembly, not
forgetting Xerophrastes, had departed; and you may judge what a story I
had to tell Sextus when I reached home.

“Instead of waiting to ponder and hesitate, as he used to do when his own
matters perplexed him, he went from me straight to his father. But before
they had done with their conversation, Sabinus himself arrived, and he was
immediately taken into the same chamber where they were. Licinius and he
went out together soon afterwards, and I think they walked towards the
Palatine; but whithersoever they went, they had a good deal of work before
them, for the day had advanced considerably before they returned. The
Centurion’s horses were brought to the door shortly after; my master
desired me to accompany him; and gave me letters for you, which I had
almost forgotten to deliver.”

Such was the story of the faithful Cretan. The letter of Licinius I have
still preserved:—

“Since our Sabinus desires that I should write to you, although his own
kindness renders it unnecessary that I should do so, I cannot refuse. I
understand little, my Valerius, of what has brought you into this
condition, from which, not without difficulty overcome, you are,
notwithstanding, speedily to be delivered. I guess, that hastiness of
various sorts, not, however, entirely without excuse in a person of your
age, has been the means of implicating you in the affairs of a sect,
equally unworthy of your communication, whether you consider the country
in which their superstition originated, or the barbarities with which it
is stained. But even for beauty, my young friend, it becomes not a Roman,
least of all a Valerius, to forget what is due to the laws of Rome, and
the will of the Prince. Consider with yourself how nearly you have escaped
serious evil. Return to us, and forget what has passed, except for the
lesson it must teach you. Of Rubellia and Xerophrastes I am unwilling to
believe, without farther examination, what has been told me by my slave
Dromo. We shall speak of that and other matters, when (which I hope will
be early to-morrow) you once more give me the pleasure of seeing you. I
have then much to say. Farewell.”



                          _BOOK III. CHAPTER I._


Day was far advanced before the Centurion and myself once more drew near
to the city. When we reached the first declivity beyond the Anio, the sun
was about to sink behind the Janicular. The innumerable sounds of the
capital, blended together into one mighty whisper, seemed only to form
part of the natural music of the air, and might almost have been
confounded with the universal hum of insects. We rode slowly down the
hill, the base of which is ever darkened by the solemn groves of the
Appian.

We advanced in silence through that region of melancholy magnificence. I
scarcely knew whether I should be able of myself to recognize, among so
many similar edifices, the mausoleum of the Sempronii, and some feeling
rendered me unwilling to put any questions concerning it to Sabinus.

But while we were moving leisurely, we heard of a sudden a clang of
cymbals among the trees, a little to the right hand, and the Centurion,
saying, “What company can this be?” led the way down a narrow path
branching from the main road. This path was winding and dusky, being edged
on either side with pines and cypresses, so that for some space we saw
nothing; and the cymbals having ceased again, the Centurion said, “I
suppose it is some funeral; they have probably completed every thing, and
have seen out the last gleam among the embers. Let us get on, for perhaps
we may be kept back by their procession, if they are already returning.”
We quickened our pace accordingly, till a sharp turning of the road
discovered to us a great number of persons who were standing silent, as if
in contemplation of some ceremony. Several persons on horseback seemed,
like ourselves, to have had their progress interrupted; but they were
sitting quietly, and making no complaint. The silence of the whole
assembly was indeed such, that Sabinus motioned to me to ask no questions,
adding, in a whisper, “Take off your cap; it is some religious rite—every
body is uncovered.”

The Centurion, however, was not a person to be stopped thus, without
wishing to understand farther the cause of the interruption. The one side
of the road was guarded by a high wall, to the top of which a number of
juvenile spectators had climbed;—the other by a ditch of great breadth,
and full of water, beyond which was a grove of trees; and I saw him eyeing
the ditch, as if considering whether, by passing it, it might not be
possible, without disturbing the crowd, to get nearer the object of their
attention, or at least to make progress in our journey. At last he
beckoned to me to follow him, and the bold equestrian at one leap passed
easily. I imitated the example, and so did the Prætorian soldier, his
attendant, who had now come up to us; but as for Dromo, he was obliged to
remain behind.

Ere we reached the bottom of the declivity, I perceived that we had come
close to the Sempronian monument, and that the ceremony, whatever it might
be, was taking place in front of the tower. We gave our horses to the
soldier, and contrived to gain the bank over against it—the same place, in
fact, where the Cretan slave had taken his station among the pine-trees,
on the night when all those things occurred of which I have spoken to you.
Like him, we placed ourselves as quietly as we could behind the trees,
and, indeed, for our purpose, there could have been no better situation.
We were contented, however, to occupy it as much as possible without
attracting observation; for it was evident, in spite of the curiosity that
detained so great a multitude near at hand, there must be something
mysterious or ominous of nature in that which was taking place, since not
one of the crowd had dared to come forward, so as to be within hearing of
the officiators.

And these, indeed, were a melancholy group. For men, and women, and
children of every age, to the number it may be of an hundred, appeared all
standing together in garments of black; while, in the midst of them, and
immediately by the base of the tower, two or three veiled priests, with
their necessary assistants, seemed to be preparing for sacrifice a black
bull, whose hoofs spurned the dust as they held him, and his gilded horns
glittered in the light of the declining sun. Sabinus no sooner discovered
the arrangement of the solemn company, than he whispered to me, “Be sure,
these are all the kindred of the Sempronii. Without question they have
come to purify the mausoleum, and to avert the vengeance of the violated
Manes. Behold,” said he, “that stately figure, close to the head of the
animal on the right hand; that, I know, is Marcia Sempronia, Priestess of
Apollo. Without doubt, these by her are her brothers.”

“Some of her near relations they must be,” I made answer; “for observe you
that girl whose face is wrapped in her mourning veil, and whose sobs are
audible through all its folds? I had one glimpse of her countenance, and I
am sure it is young Sempronia, the cousin and companion of Athanasia,—the
daughter of Lucius the senator.”

“Poor girl,” replied Sabinus, “from my heart I pity her. They are all
joining hands, that the nearest of the kindred touching the priest, his
deed may appear manifestly to be the deed of all.”

At this moment, one of the officiators sounded a few mournful notes upon a
trumpet. The priest who held the axe, clave at one blow the front of the
bull. The blood streamed, and wine streamed with it abundantly upon the
base of the mausoleum; and then, while we were yet gazing on the
convulsions of the animal, the trumpet sounded a second time, and the
whole company sung together, the priest leading them.

The shadows of the tower and of the pine trees lay strongly upon them, and
I thought there was something of a very strange contrast between the
company and their chant, on the one hand, and the beautiful sculptures,
full of all the emblems of life and happiness, on the other, with which,
according to the gay dreams of Grecian fancy, the walls of the funereal
edifice itself had here and there been garnished. Fauns, and torch-bearing
nymphs, and children crowned with garlands, and wreathed groups and
fantastic dances, seemed to enliven almost to mockery the monumental
marbles; but one felt the real gloominess both of death and of
superstition, in the attitudes and accents of the worshippers. It was thus
they sung:—

  Ye Gods infernal! hear us from the gloom
  Of venerable depths remote, unseen;
  Hear us, ye guardians of the stained tomb,
  Majestic Pluto—and thou, Stygian Queen,
  On the dark bosom leaning of great Dis—
  Thou reconciled Star of the Abyss.

  Blood, not for you, unholy hands have poured,
  Ye heard the shriek of your insulted shrine;
  Barbarian blasphemies, and rites abhorred,
  Pollute the place that hath been long divine;
  Borne from its wounded breast an atheist cry
  Hath pierced the upper and the nether sky.

  With blood of righteous sacrifice again
  The monumental stone your suppliants lave.
  Behold the dark-brow’d bull—Behold him slain!
  Accept, ye powers of the relenting grave,
  The sable current of that vital stream;
  And let the father’s hope upon the children gleam.

  And ye, that in the ever dusky glades
  Of Hades, wandering by Cocytus’ shore,
  Ancestral spirits—melancholy shades—
  With us the tresspass of the tomb deplore;
  Oh! intercede—that terror and disgrace
  May not possess (as now) your resting-place.

  What though the liquid serpent of the deep
  Between lie coil’d in many a glittering ring:
  Not unobserved of your pale eyes we weep,
  Nor to deaf ears this doleful chant we sing;
  Strong is the voice of blood through night to go,
  Through night and hell, and all the realms below.

  Then hear us, kindred spirits—stately Sire
  And pensive Mother! wheresoe’er ye glide;
  If ever solemn pile and soaring fire
  In freedom sped you to the Stygian tide,—
  Have pity on your children: let the breath
  Of living sorrow melt the frozen ear of death.

  For Her that, sprung like us from your high line,
  Hath mingled in the sacrifice of guilt,
  Ye know that angry star, her natal sign,
  To expiate whose curse this blood is spilt;
  If not suffices this atoning blood,
  Oh, steep the thought of her in Lethe’s flood.

  Beneath that current lazy and serene,
  In whose unfathomable waters lie
  The slumbering forms of horrors that have been
  In Hades, and in Ocean, Earth, and Sky—
  With long forgotten curse and murder old,
  Steep that lost daughter’s errors manifold.

  Once more for you an hallowed flame there burns.
  Once more for you an hallowed stream there flows;
  Despise not our lustrations of your urns,
  Nor let unhoused Manes be our foes!
  Above the children of your lineage born,
  Hover not, awful ghosts, in anger and in scorn.

These words were sung, as I have said, by the whole of this kindred there
assembled together; the first part of them distinctly, though not loudly;
but the last verses in a note so low, that no one, unless quite near,
(like ourselves,) could have comprehended their meaning. But as for the
young Sempronia, when they came to that part of the chant in which
reference was so particularly made to Athanasia, not only did her lips
refuse to join in the words, but her agitation was such that I thought the
poor maiden would have screamed outright, had she not been controlled by
the eye, and the hand also, of her aunt the Priestess. Sobs, however, and
low hysterical groans, could not be stifled; and at last so great was her
agony, that even the haughty Priestess was compelled to give way to it.

“Bring water,” said she; “dash ye water upon the foolish thing: methinks
it seems almost as if she had partaken in the frenzy of her unhappy——”

And before she could finish the sentence, one or two of the females that
were present did take hold of Sempronia, and began, seeing there was no
water nearer at hand, to bear her slender form towards the small stream of
which I have already spoken, and which flowed immediately behind the clump
of pine trees, amongst which the Centurion and I were standing.

She was quite passive in their hands; and they dragged her without
resistance or difficulty to the place where we were standing; but they
could not pass without seeing us: and no sooner did the eyes of Sempronia
fall upon me, than she burst by one unexpected effort from the arms of
those that were sustaining her, and ere I or any one could suspect what
she was to do, there lay she at my feet, clinging with her arms around my
knees. “Oh, Valerius,” said she—“Oh, dear Valerius, they curse Athanasia!
Where is my Athanasia? whither have they taken her? Oh, tell me, that I
may go to her—that I may go to comfort Athanasia!”

“Peace!” said, before I could answer, the Priestess of Apollo—“Peace, mad,
wretched thing,—has infatuation blasted the whole of our line?” And she
seized Sempronia by the arm, and compelled her to spring from her knees.
But the maiden still clung by her hands to me, and continued, with looks
and words of misery, to demand from me that knowledge which, alas! I would
myself have given so much to possess. Sabinus, however, smote me on the
shoulder, as if to make me recollect myself; and I had resolution enough
not to betray the feelings with which I listened to Sempronia’s frantic
supplication.

“What is this, sir?” then said the Priestess—“What is it that you know of
Athanasia? and why is it that you have presumed to witness the secret
sacrifice of a noble race?—Speak—or is there no meaning in this poor
girl’s frenzy? And yet, methinks I have seen you before, and that, too, in
the presence of——”

“It was,” said I, hastily—“it was indeed in the presence of Athanasia; but
that circumstance, if you please to remember, was altogether accidental. I
was with the lady Rubellia when you found her in the Temple of Apollo——”

“Yes,” said she, “it was that same day when she refused to name the name
of Phœbus in his own precincts! Ha! little did I imagine what thoughts
were in her breast—else might we at least have been spared this open
degradation. And yet you, methinks, saluted Athanasia.—What is your name,
sir?—Know you, in truth, whither the lady Athanasia has been conveyed?”

“He was with her!—he was with her!” exclaimed Sempronia,—“he was with her
in the tower when the soldiers came.—O Valerius! tell me where she is
now,—into what dungeon have they cast my friend—my sister——”

“Ha!” quoth the Priestess, “he was with her in the
tower!—Romans—kinsmen—Lucius—Marcus—hear ye this? I charge ye, seize upon
this treacherous blasphemer!—It is he that has deceived Athanasia; and now
must he come here to taint the smoke of our sacrifice, and pollute our
prayers with his presence.—Seize him!”—And she herself grasped my cloak as
she spake—“Seize, I charge ye, this accursed Christian!”

But Sabinus, when he saw the Priestess thus furious, stept forward, and
said to her kinsmen, who were standing in perplexity behind her, “Sirs, I
beseech you, be not you also carried away with this madness.—My friend
here knows nothing of the lady Athanasia, except that she was borne away
by soldiers from the very place where we are standing. I myself witnessed
it also, being here with the Prætorians. Valerius is no more a Christian
than she who accuses him.”

“I know not, sirs, how we are to understand all this,” said one of the
Sempronii, in a calm voice. “Is this young man the same Valerius who is
living in the house of Licinius?—Yet it must be he. I have been with
Licinius this very day; and if this be he, whatever he may have known
before, I am sure he knows nothing of where Athanasia is now,—and, sister,
I am well assured he is no Christian.”

“It is the same, sir,” said Sabinus. “He is the same Caius Valerius of
whom you spake, and I am Sabinus, a Centurion of the Prætorians.”

“We have all heard of your name,” said Sempronius, respectfully; “I
perceive there is some mistake in all this matter. If it please you, let
us walk aside, and understand each other.”

So saying, he withdrew Sabinus to a little distance, and beckoned to me to
accompany him. “Valerius,” said the old man, when he perceived that we
were out of hearing, “I crave you, in the first place, to forget all this
trouble which has been occasioned to you by the violence of my daughter,
on the one hand, and of my sister on the other. They are women; and, for
different reasons, the violence of both is excusable. I have been for a
considerable part of this day with Licinius, and have heard from him
enough to satisfy me how guiltlessly you yourself have been involved in
this affair; and your speedy liberation from confinement is more than
enough to confirm my belief of all that he said. Yet there is much which I
do not understand. I pray you speak openly, and fear nothing—you have,
indeed, nothing to fear. Was it in consequence of any private meeting with
my niece—nay, I mean not to suspect you of any thing amiss—in one word,
how was it that you happened to be taken into custody with that unhappy
girl?”

“Sir,” I replied, “you are a noble Roman, and the near kinsman of
Athanasia. You have a right to put these questions, and whatever
reluctance I may have to overcome, I feel that I have no right to refuse
an answer.” And so I told Sempronius, plainly and distinctly, the story
both of my unwilling entrance into the mausoleum, and of my forcible
abduction from it. In short, I saw no reason to conceal any thing from the
person who was most likely to be able to serve Athanasia, if any thing to
serve her were possible.

“It is well,” he said; “you speak as becomes a man of the Valerian blood.
But as for poor Athanasia, I swear to you I cannot yet bring myself to
believe that she hath in reality been privy to such things as have been
discovered concerning these Christians.”—“Discovered!” said I. “I pray
you, what has been discovered concerning them? If you allude to any of the
wild stories that are circulated about their religion, you may depend upon
it, it is all mere madness to believe a word of it. I have read in their
sacred books myself, and I swear to you, that, so far as I have seen,
nothing can be more simple, benign, humane, than the morality inculcated
by their leader.”

“Young man,” he answered, “I was not thinking of their creed, which, for
aught I know or care, may be sublime enough; for there was always a
mysterious sort of philosophy current among those old Asiatic nations. But
I speak of the designs of these men; in one word, I speak of their
conspiracy.”—“Conspiracy!—What? How? Against whom? I will pledge my life,
no conspiracy was sheltered beneath yon tower that night. I swear to you,
they are simple people, and were thinking of nothing but their
worship.”—“Worship!” quoth he; “I promise you it will not be so easy to
persuade me that Cotilius has suddenly become a man of so much piety,
either to our gods, or to the deities (if they have any) of the
Christians.—What, Cotilius? By Jove, Rome does not hold at this moment a
more bold, daring, godless rascal. You may as soon try to make me believe
that Capaneus came to Thebes with a hymn in his mouth. No, no—the sworn
friend of Domitian will not easily gain credit for his new-sprung
sanctity.”—“Cotilius? That was the very name of the man that seized me, as
I have told you.”—“I should have guessed as much,” said he;—“Yes, I
promise you, how little soever Athanasia might have known, secrets they
had; and Cotilius was well aware at what peril they should be revealed.”

“The late example,” said I, “must indeed have alarmed him.”—“What,” said
he, “do you speak of that fanatic Syrian? You know little of Cotilius. No,
no—had the worst of his fears been the necessity to worship all the
deities between Euphrates and Rhine, he would have slept soundly.”—“But
surely,” said I, “you do not believe that Athanasia had any knowledge of
the man’s secret designs, if he had any. He may have used Christianity, or
desired to use it, as a weapon against the State; but be certain, neither
she nor any of those really attached to their religion, had any notion of
his purpose.”

“It may be so, indeed,” he answered;—“Heaven grant it may. As for
Cotilius, I will speak to you more at length of him anon. I will bid adieu
to my sister, and take order about my daughter; and then, if it so please
you, we shall walk together to the city.”

To this I agreed, but Sabinus rode on to the camp of the Prætorians. He
whispered to me, however, that unless he were most necessarily detained,
he should be, ere long, at the house of Licinius.

“To you,” said the Senator, as we went on, “who have so lately come from
your island, the whole of this expiatory spectacle is probably quite new;
but I am sure Sabinus could not have been aware what was its purpose,
otherwise he would not have been guilty of so grievously offending the
feelings of my sister, and some of the rest of my kindred, by remaining a
witness of these most private rites. The Priestess is indeed inconsolable,
and her grief has set half her other passions in motion likewise.
Athanasia was as dear to her as if she had been her daughter; so, in
truth, she was to us all, ever since her parents died. But Cotilius, this
knave Cotilius, has, I fear, blasted her hopes and ours.”—“It occurs to
me,” said I, “and I should have mentioned it to you before, that there
seemed to be no great understanding between this Cotilius and Athanasia.
She was evidently displeased with many things he both said and did; and
he, on his part, did not appear to relish her interference.”—“True,” he
continued, “you have already hinted as much; and I assure you, these are
some of the circumstances in the whole case that tend most to excite my
hopes. Great Heavens! what would Caius have said had he dreamt that his
orphan was to be suspected of having sympathy with any of the dark designs
of that shame to Roman knighthood! But you, of course, are a stranger to
this man’s history.”—“With its end, at least,” I replied, “it is like we
may all be soon enough acquainted.”

“Yes,” said he, “Heaven grant we have not cause too deeply to remember it!
but I have known him from the beginning. I told you already that he was in
great favour with Domitian.”—“And the reverse, of course,” said I, “both
with Nerva and Trajan.”

“Even so,” he continued, “and with reason; for in all the disturbances
which occurred on the accession of the last sovereign, and, in particular,
in those foul intrigues among the Prætorians, which at one time brought
Nerva’s own life into immediate danger and compelled him to bare his neck
to the soldiery at his gate, this Cotilius was more than suspected to have
had a deep concern. When Petronius and Parthenius(2) were hacked in
pieces, it needed no great witchcraft to detect some of the moving spirits
that produced their catastrophe; but proof there was none at the time; and
even had there been proof enough, the good old man would have been too
timid to act upon it. These things, however, could not be forgotten either
by Nerva or his successor. Hitherto, the strong hand has repressed every
rebellious motion; but be sure that no man ever lived more an object of
suspicion, than this man has done ever since Nerva adopted Trajan.”

“And you think,” said I, “that, among other intrigues, it had occurred to
this man to make his own use of the Christians; despised and persecuted
though they be, there can, indeed, be no doubt that their numbers are
considerable, and that their faith is a strong bond of cohesion.”

“It is even so,” said the Senator. “But as yet the treason even of
Cotilius rests on suspicion only, and report; and, after all, even if he
were proved guilty of having nourished such schemes, the account you give
of what you saw and heard at their assembly, inspires me with considerable
doubts whether he can be supposed to have ever as yet ventured to invite
their participation;—unless, indeed, they practised deception while you
were with them. The moment I heard of what had happened, I went to the
Palatine, in hopes of attaining either assistance from Urbicus, or mercy,
if that were all we could look for, from Trajan. But Urbicus could give me
no satisfaction, except that my niece was in a solitary and safe place.
The charges, he said, against one of the leaders (he meant Cotilius) were
heavy; and until these were sifted, it was impossible that access could be
afforded to any one who had been thrown into confinement. The Emperor had
shewn unusual symptoms of anxiety, and had even, so he hinted, been in
person investigating the matter at a distance from the city, during great
part of the preceding night and day. To tell you the truth, Valerius, till
this thing fell out, I was wont to consider the new violence about the
Christians as somewhat unworthy of the enlarged intellect of Trajan: it
had not occurred to me, how easily the resources of such a superstition
might be enlisted in the cause of discontent.”

“Of course,” said I, “nothing will be done in regard to Athanasia until
all circumstances have been examined.”

“Done!” said he; “has not enough been done already to justify almost in a
man more than you have seen among our women? Has not a whole family been
disgraced? Has not the mausoleum of their fathers been prostituted for the
unholy purposes of this barbarian sect? If the Senate should be summoned,
with what countenance should I shew myself among my friends?—Unhappy girl!
How little did she know in what trouble she was to involve those that love
her the best.”

By this time we had come within sight of the house of Licinius, and the
Senator took leave, with a promise that I should see him on the morrow.

I found Sextus alone in his chamber, where he embraced me with all the
ardour of juvenile affection. “Alas!” said he, “my dear Caius, at any
other time I might have found fault with you for taking so great a part in
my griefs, and yet keeping so many of your own to yourself. But if it be
indeed as Sempronia has said, I should be a strange friend to choose this
hour for complaining of such trifles as regard only myself.”

“Sextus,” I replied, “it was only because of the greatness of your own
distresses that I concealed from your kindness any of mine.”

“My Valerius,” he answered, “we shall talk at length to-morrow; at
present, I have only time to say, that the misfortune of Athanasia was
communicated to Sempronia almost immediately, by an old freedwoman, who
had been in the habit of attending her when she went from home in secret,
and who, going to the mausoleum to accompany her on her return, arrived
there just in time to see what befel her. She saw you also, (how she knew
who you were, I know not,) and when she had told her story to Sempronia,
the poor girl, before speaking even with her father, sent for me to come
to her in the gardens. I did so; all that passed I need not repeat; but I
hope my advice was the right one. At all events, I acted for the best, and
my father, who is now aware of every thing, seemed to approve of what I
had done. O Valerius! were Athanasia free, and you happy, many things have
occurred to make me much more at ease than when you left us. My father is
evidently shocked with what Dromo told about Rubellia; and as for
Xerophrastes, he had not once spoken to him either yesterday or to-day.
Indeed, neither of them have been much here. My father is continually
exerting himself concerning Athanasia; and Xerophrastes, I suppose, is
afraid of a discovery. As for me, I am sorry I must leave you, for I
promised to meet Sempronia; and although I have nothing to tell her, I
cannot fail in my appointment. She must have returned before this time
from the mausoleum, where an expiatory sacrifice was to be made at
sunset.”

Sabinus by this time had hastened to me once more, according to his kind
promise. I told him that my kinsman was not at home, and that I proposed,
in the meantime, accompanying his son a part of the way towards the
Suburban of Capito. The Centurion insisted on going with us, saying, that
he could not think of returning to the camp without having spoken with
Licinius.



                              _CHAPTER II._


The Centurion, in virtue of his office, had free access to the gardens of
Trajan; so he led us by both a more delightful and a nearer path towards
the Salarean Gate. Young Sextus then quitted us; and we returned slowly
through the beautiful groves of the Imperial Villa, in hopes of finding my
kinsman by the time we should reach his mansion. But as we were walking
very quietly along one of the broad green terraces, we heard voices in an
adjoining alley, separated from us by luxuriant thickets of myrtle, and
Sabinus, whispering to me, “Hush, let us see what we have got here,”
insinuated himself with great dexterity among the verdant shrubs. I
followed him with as little noise as was possible, and having found a
convenient peeping place, we soon perceived two figures at some little
distance from us in the moonlight.—“Come, Sabinus,” I whispered, “they are
lovers perhaps—I don’t see what right we have to overhear.”—“Peace,” quoth
he, “if you stir, they will detect us, and it is nothing unless it be
known.”

With some reluctance I remained where I was; but my scruples were at an
end the moment I perceived who they were.

“Most noble, most illustrious lady,” said Xerophrastes, “this matter has
indeed been conducted unfortunately, yet no reason see I why you should
give way to so many groundless apprehensions. The only thing, after all,
that you have lost, if indeed you have lost it, is the good opinion of
Licinius; for, as to that foolish boy——”—“Name him not,” replied Rubellia,
“name not the stripling. Surely madness alone can account for my
behaviour.”—“Madness!” quoth the Stoic; “yes, truly, and who, at certain
moments, is free from such madness? As Euripides has expressed it, Venus,
if she come in wisdom, is the wisest; if otherwise, the most frenzied of
influences. The greatest have not been exempt from such visitations.
Banish it from your heart, noble lady, or replace it by something more
worthy of your discernment. There is, I think, but one pair of eyes in
Rome that could have been blind to such perfections.”—“O Xerophrastes!”
said she, “speak not to me of perfections. Alas! I was born under a
deceitful star—a star of apparent splendour and real misery.”—“Noble
lady,” he replied, “I swear to you that what tincture of philosophy I have
imbibed, is unable to sustain my serenity when I hear such words from your
lips. You are surrounded by all that externals can minister. It is your
part to compose your mind, and then how should it be possible for you to
taste of unhappiness? Think no more of that boy.”

The philosopher took her hand with an air of the deepest sympathy, and at
the same time drew the end of his mantle over his face, as if to conceal
the extent of his participation in her distresses.—“Alas! lady, this is,
after all, a miserable world. There is no rest but in the affections, and
behold how they are harassed on every hand by the invidious accidents of
life. Philosophy proclaims her antidote, but the poison is every where;
and it is all one course of being wounded to be cured, and being cured
only to be more easily wounded again.”

Our friend continued in an attitude of pensive contemplation. The
moonbeams fell full on his high brow and the large massy features of his
countenance, and on the robust limbs which emerged from below the stately
folds of his mantle; and I could not help thinking that there was
something almost heroic, which I had never before remarked, in the whole
of his appearance. Rubellia kept her eyes fixed steadfastly upon him.

“I should have known nothing of it,” he resumed, “had I never deserted my
paternal valley for the vain pleasures of Athens, and the magnificence of
Rome.”—“You repent,” said she, “that you ever visited Italy? I pray you
deal with me openly. If it be your wish to leave Rome, speak, and I shall
put it in your power to retire to Greece as handsomely as you could ever
have hoped to do from the family of Licinius. Of wealth, as you well know,
I have enough both for myself and for my faithful friends, among whom, be
sure, I place you in the first rank. Control your feelings, I pray you
once more—and speak freely.”

Hastily and fervently he pressed his lip upon the beautiful hand of
Rubellia, and whispered something into her ear. She started, and I think
blushed in the moonlight; but neither seemed offended very deeply with
what he had said, nor with the gesture he had used.—“Softly, softly,”
whispered the Centurion, “be not ashamed, fair lady, of the love of thy
servant.”

But (whether the echo of his Horatian parody had reached her ear or not, I
cannot tell,) scarcely had these words been uttered, ere Rubellia started
from her seat, and began to move pretty quickly down the shaded alley, as
if towards the entrance of the gardens. Xerophrastes sate still for a
moment, even after the lady had arisen, covering his eyes, and part of his
broad forehead with his hands, as if buried in his own thoughts too deeply
to be with ease affected with a sense of things passing around him. Then,
at last, he arose, and uttering an exclamation of surprise, walked after
the noble dame, taking heed, however, (it did not escape our observation,)
to arrange, as he rapidly followed her, the massive folds of his mantle
into a graceful drapery.

Sabinus restrained himself till they were beyond the reach of his voice;
but he then made himself ample amends. “Ha!” said he, “is this to be the
end? Most pensive ghost of Leberinus, is this to be thy successor?”—“Good
heavens!” said I, “Sabinus, do you think it possible she should make the
pedagogue her husband—she that was but yesterday so desperately enamoured
of the beautiful young Sextus?”—“My dear islander,” quoth the Centurion,
“do you remember the story of a certain beautiful boy, called Adonis?”—“To
be sure,” said I, “who is ignorant of the story of Adonis, or of the
beautiful verses of Bion—

  “I weep for fair Adonis—for Adonis is no more,
  Dead is the fair Adonis—his beauty I deplore;
  His white thigh with a tusk of white the greenwood monster tore,
  And now I weep Adonis—for Adonis is no more.’”

“Well spouted,” quoth the soldier; “and with an excellent gravity: But
think you Venus never altered the burden of her ditty? Have you never
heard of Mars the blood-stained, the destroyer of men, the leveller of
city walls—nor of Anchises, the Dardan shepherd, wiser in his generation
than one who inherited both his station and his opportunity; no, nor even
of Vulcan, the cunning Artificer, the Lord of the One-eyed Hammerers, the
Lemnian, the Chain-maker, the Detector, the awkward Cup-bearer, whose
ministration, as honest Homer confesses, fills Olympus with
inextinguishable laughter. Have you heard of all these, and I take it of a
few more besides; and yet do you talk as if Venus, after the white boar’s
tusk had pierced the white thigh of her Adonis, had made no use of her
beautiful girdle, but to wipe the tears from her pretty eyes withal?—her
girdle, of which, heaven pity your memory, I know not how many blessed
ages after Adonis had fallen, the same faithful bard said,

  ‘In it is stored whate’er can love inspire:
  In it is tender passion, warm desire,
  Fond lovers’ soft and amorous intercourse;
  The endearing looks and accents that can fire
  The soul with passionate love’s resistless force,
  ’Gainst which the wisest find in wisdom no resource.’

I was there the night she espoused Leberinus, and I pitied her very
sincerely, when I saw the pretty creature lifted over the old man’s
threshold in her yellow veil, which I could not help thinking concealed
more sighs, if not more blushes, than are usual on such occasions. But I
promise you the glare of her new torches shall affect me with different
emotions.”

Such talk passed as we were leaving the gardens of Trajan. But as we
advanced into the more peopled region, we found the streets full of
clamour, insomuch that quiet discourse could no longer be carried on. The
evening was one of the most lovely I had ever seen, and the moon was
shedding a soft and yellow light upon the lofty towers and trees, and upon
all that long perspective of pillars and porticos. Yet groups of citizens
were seen running to and fro with torches in their hands; while many more
were stationary in impenetrable crowds, which had the air, as it seemed to
us, of being detained in the expectation of some spectacle. Accordingly we
had not jostled on much farther, ere there arose behind us a peal of what
seemed to me martial music; but my companion, as soon as the sounds
reached him, warned me that a procession of the priests of Cybele must be
at hand.

At last they came quite close to us, and passed on dancing around the
image of the Goddess, and singing the chaunt of Atys. A path being opened
for them by the crowd all along, they made no halt in their progress, but
went on at the same pace, some of them leaping high from the ground as
they dashed their cymbals, and others dancing lowly while they blew the
long Phrygian trumpets and crooked horns of brass. The image itself was
seated in a brazen chariot, to which brazen lions also were fastened, the
whole being borne on the shoulders of some of the assistants. Behind it
came others, beating great hollow drums; and then again more, leaping, and
dancing, and singing, like those who preceded it. They were all clad in
long Asiatic vests, with lofty tiaras; and their countenances, as well as
their voices, intimated sufficiently that they were ministers of the same
order to which the hapless Atys had belonged. Yet nothing but enthusiasm
and triumph could be discovered in their manner of singing that terrible
hymn.

They had not advanced much beyond the spot where we were standing, ere
they stopped of a sudden, and, placing the chariot and image of Cybele
between the pillars of one of the porticos that run out into the street,
began a more solemn species of saltation. When they had finished this
dance also, and the more stately and measured song of supplication with
which it was accompanied, the priests then turned to the multitude, and
called upon all those who reverenced the Didymæan mysteries, to approach
and offer their gifts. Immediately the multitude that were beyond formed
themselves into a close phalanx, quite across the street, and torches
being conveyed into the hands of such as stood in the foremost rank, there
was left in front of the image an open space, brightly illuminated, for
the convenience, as it seemed, of those who might come forward to carry
their offerings to the foot of the statue. And, indeed, it appeared as if
these were not likely to be few in number; for the way being quite blocked
up by those torch-bearers, no one could hope to pass on easily without
giving something, or to pass at all without being observed. Not a few
chariots, therefore, and litters also, having been detained, the persons
seated in these vehicles seemed to be anxious, as soon as possible, to
present their offerings, that the path onward might be cleared to them by
command of the priests. It was necessary, however, as it turned out, that
each person in advancing to the chariot of Cybele, should imitate the
motions practised by the Galli themselves; and this circumstance, as may
be imagined, was far from being the most acceptable part of the ceremony
to some of those who had thus been arrested. A few of the common sort,
both men and women, stepped boldly into the open ring, and with great
appearance of joy went through the needful gesticulations. But, at first,
none of the more lordly tenants of the chariots and litters seemed to be
able to prevail on themselves to follow the example. At length, however,
the impatience even of these dignified persons began to overcome their
reluctance; one and another red-edged gown was seen to float in lofty
undulations across the torch-lighted stage, and when a handful of coin was
heard to ring upon the basin of the Goddess, doubt not the priests
half-cracked their cheeks in blowing horn and trumpet, and clattered upon
their great tambarines as violently as if they had made prize of another
Atys. But how did the Centurion chuckle when he observed that one of the
next chariots was no other than that of Rubellia herself, and perceived
that she and the Stoic were now about to pass onwards like the rest, at
the expense of exhibiting their agility before the multitude.

“Jove in heaven!” cried he, “I thought the garden scene was all in all;
but this is supreme! Behold how the sturdy Thracian tucks up his garment,
and how, nodding to the blows of the tambarine, he already meditates
within himself the appropriate convolutions. And the pretty widow! by the
girdle of Venus, she also is pointing her trim toe, and, look ye! better
and better, do you not see that she has given her veil to the Stoic, that
so she may perform the more expeditely?”

At this moment, some one from behind laid hold of my arm, and whispered my
name. I looked round, and perceived an old man, wrapped in a very large
and deep mantle, the folds of which, however, were so arranged that I
could see very little of his features. Stepping a pace or two backwards,
he beckoned to me with his hand. I hesitated; but his gesture being
repeated, I also entered within the shade of the pillars, and then he,
dropping his mantle on his shoulders, said, “Valerius, do you not remember
me? We met last at the tomb of the Sempronii.”—“At the tomb of the
Sempronii!” said I; and recognized, indeed, the features of the Christian
priest, who had treated me on that eventful evening with so much courtesy;
but my wonder was great to find him in such a situation; for I had seen
him conveyed away between armed guards, and I could not imagine by what
means he, of all others, should have so soon regained his freedom. He
observed my astonishment, and said, in a low voice, “My friend, perhaps I
might have as much reason to be surprised with seeing you here, as you
have in seeing me. But follow me into this house, where we may communicate
what has occurred.”

The hope of perhaps hearing something concerning Athanasia determined me.
I cast a look towards Sabinus, and saw him attentively engaged in
witnessing the performance; and hoping that he might continue to amuse
himself so for a few minutes longer, I permitted the old man to lead me
into the vestibule. The slaves, who were waiting there, seemed to receive
him with much respect. He passed them, saying, “Do not trouble
yourselves—I shall rejoin your master;” and shortly ushered me into a
chamber situated over the hall of entrance, where a grave personage was
reclining by the open window. He perceived not our approach till we had
come close up to his couch, for he was occupied with what was going on
without. When the old man accosted him, and said, “Pontius, I have been
successful. Here is my friend, Caius Valerius,” the stranger rose up, and
saluted me with kindness. “Caius Valerius,” said he, “will pardon me for
being desirous of seeing him here, when he learns that I was one of his
father’s oldest friends, and served with him many campaigns both in
Germany and Britain. I should have been ill pleased had I heard that you
had been in Rome, and departed without my having an opportunity of
retracing, as I now do, the image of my comrade.”

I had to answer not a few questions concerning the situation of my mother
and myself, before I could lead the conversation into the channel I
desired; and at length, indeed, it was not so much any thing I said, as
the readiness of the priest himself, which gave to it that direction; for
the first pause that occurred in the discourse between Pontius and myself,
he filled up, by saying, “And now, will Valerius pardon me for asking, if
he has ever looked again into the narrative of Luke, or whether his
curiosity, in regard to these matters, has been entirely satisfied by the
adventures of one unfortunate night?”

The manner in which Pontius regarded me when the priest said this, left me
no doubt that he was at least favourably inclined to the opinions of the
Christians; so I answered without hesitation, “My curiosity, instead of
being satisfied by what I saw that evening, received new strength; but you
may easily believe that the troubles in which I was involved, and still
more the troubles with which I know others yet to be surrounded, have
hitherto taken away from me both the means and the power of gratifying my
curiosity as I would wish.—But tell me, I pray you, by what means is your
imprisonment at an end?”—“My friend,” replied the priest, “you speak
naturally but rashly. I believe you yourself are the only one of those
surprised in the tower, whose imprisonment has as yet terminated. Yet
hope, good hope is not absent,—above all, I trust there is no reason to
despair concerning that dear child who interfered in your behalf, when a
bold, and, I fear me, a false man, had drawn his weapon to your peril. As
for me, I have but gained the liberty of an hour or two, and long ere dawn
I shall be restored again to my fetters.”—“Your fetters!” said I, “am I to
understand, that, by the connivance of a Roman jailor, you are this night
at liberty to perambulate the streets of Rome?”—“Young man,” answered the
priest, “he is a Christian.”—“Even for his sake,” said I, “the name is
honourable.”

“Valerius,” said he, “I pray you speak not things which may hereafter give
pain to your memory. Already you have read something of the life of ONE,
for whose sake our name is indeed honourable—of Him I trust you shall ere
long both read and think more; but how shall I bless God, that threw my
lot, since captivity it was to be, into a place where such authority was
to have the superintendence of me? Yet more, how shall I be sufficiently
grateful, that She, in all things so delicate, although in nothing
fearful, has shared the same blessing?”

“Heavens,” said I, “what do I hear!—Is Athanasia indeed lodged in the same
prison with yourself, and may she also go abroad thus freely?”

“Think not,” he replied, “that I embrace such freedom for any purposes of
mine own. What I do for the service to which I am bound, think not that
Athanasia will ever desire to do for herself. She abides her time
patiently where the lot hath been cast for her; in due season, if such be
the will of the Lord, she shall regain that in truth, of which this is but
the shadow.”

“God grant our prayer,” said Pontius, “and not ours only, but the prayer
of all that know her, and have heard of this calamity!—Whatever the
exertions of her family and their friends can accomplish, most surely
shall not be awanting. Would that those who are linked to her by ties yet
more sacred had the power, as they have the will, to serve her! Yet Hope
must never be rejected. The investigations of this very night may produce
the true accomplices of Cotilius; and then Trajan will be satisfied that
the Christians stand guiltless of that treason.”

“Alas!” said I, “if this faith be a crime, how can any one hope to follow
it without being continually liable to accidents as unfortunate? In Rome,
at all events, what madness is it thus to tempt the fate which impends
over the discovery of that which it must be so difficult, so impossible to
conceal?”

The aged Priest laid his finger on his lips, and pointed to the window. I
listened, and heard distinctly the shrill voices of the mutilated dancers,
as they brake forth above the choral murmurs of the drums and cymbals, and
I perceived that the bloody legend of Atys was once more the subject of
their song.

The ancient waited till the voices were drowned again in the clamour of
the instruments, and then said to me, “Young man, do you know to what
horrid story these words of theirs refer? Do you know what sounds all
these are designed to imitate? Do you know what terror—what flight—what
blood—what madness are here set forth in honour of a cruel demon—or
rather, I should say, for the gain of these miserable and maimed
hirelings? Do you know all these things, and yet give counsel of flight
and of cowardice to me, upon whose head the hand of Christ’s holy apostle
hath been laid? Read, dear Valerius, read and ponder well.—My prayers, and
the prayers of one that is far purer than me—they are ever with you. But
now since I have introduced you to Pontius, why should I delay here any
longer? He, both for your father’s sake and for your own, and for that of
the faith, (of which you have had some glimpses) will abundantly aid you
in all things. Deal not coldly nor distantly with him. I commit you into
his hands, as a brand to be snatched from the burning.”

Pontius reached forth his hand and grasped mine in token of acquiescence
in all the old man expressed. He, by and by, looking into the street,
said, “These jugglers have now departed to their dens, and the gaping
multitudes have dispersed. But I still see one person walking up and down,
as if expecting somebody; and it seems to me that it is the same,
Valerius, who was in your company.” I perceived that it was indeed
Sabinus, whistling to himself on the bright side of the pavement. I
therefore bade them adieu, saying, “Dear father, when shall I see you
again, and when shall I hear farther of Athanasia?”—The old man pausing
for a moment, said, “To-morrow at noontide be in the Forum, over against
the statue of Numa. You will there find tidings.”

The Centurion plainly intimated that he took it for granted I had been
engaged in something which I wished to keep from his knowledge; but such
affairs made no great impression on him; and after laughing out his laugh,
he bade me farewell by the portico of Licinius.



                              _CHAPTER III._


In the morning I found my kinsman and his son extremely uneasy, in
consequence of the absence of Xerophrastes, who had not returned during
the night; but Sabinus came in while they were talking to me, and
narrated, without hesitation, all he had seen and heard both in the garden
of Trajan, and at the procession of the Galli. Young Sextus could scarcely
be restrained by respect for his father, from expressing, rather too
openly, his satisfaction in the course which the affairs of the
disappointed lady appeared to be taking; while the orator muttered words
which I thought boded not much of good to the ambitious pedagogue. The
Centurion alone regarded all these things as matters of mere amusement, or
so at least he seemed to regard them; for, as I have already hinted, I was
not without my suspicion, that he was at bottom by no means well pleased
with the contemplation of the future splendour of the Stoic.

However, after many jests had been exchanged between Sextus and the
Centurion concerning this incongruous amour, Licinius said, he was in so
far much relieved by what he had heard, as it satisfied him that both the
widow and Xerophrastes were now otherwise occupied, than in prosecuting
their designs against the niece of his friend Capito.

“I myself,” he continued, “was all yesterday, as well as the day before,
exerting every means in my power for her extrication from this unfortunate
confinement. Cotilius, without question, has indeed been a traitor; but I
believe the Prince himself is, by this time, well inclined to absolve, not
only the young lady, but by far the greater part of those who were taken
with her, from any participation in his traitorous designs. The charge,
however, of which it rests with them alone to exculpate themselves, is one
of a nature so serious, that it is impossible to contemplate without much
anxiety the pain to which so many families—above all, the noble and
excellent Sempronii—may still be exposed. But this day Cotilius will, in
all likelihood, pay the last penalty of _his_ crimes—and then we shall see
what intercession may avail. Would to heaven there were any one who could
obtain access to the deluded lady, and prevail with her to do that which
would be more effectual than I can hope any intercession to prove. This
infatuation—this dream—this madness—is, indeed, a just source of fear; and
yet, why should we suppose it to be already so deeply confirmed in a
breast young, ingenuous, so full, according to report, of every thing
modest and submissive? Surely this affectionate girl cannot be insensible
to the affliction of those who love her.—But you still shake your head,
Valerius; well, it is in our hands to do what we can; as for the issue,
who can hope to divert Trajan from doing that which he believes to be
just? Our best hope is in his justice——”

“And in his clemency,” interrupted the Centurion; “you will scarcely
persuade me that Cæsar can meditate any thing serious concerning a young
beauty, who has been guilty of nothing but a little superstition and
enthusiasm. Nobody will confound her case with that of any obstinate old
fanatic. In the meantime, what avails it to distress ourselves more than
is necessary? Licinius is able to do something; and as for Valerius, the
best thing he can do is to get on horseback, and go with Sextus and myself
to inspect the cohorts that have arrived from Calabria.”

Young Sextus, on all occasions fond of military spectacles, embraced this
proposal; and fain would they both have prevailed on me to accede to it
likewise. I knew, however, that it would be impossible, if I accompanied
them, to keep my appointment with the old Christian; and that I was
resolved on no account to forego. I therefore retired to my chamber, there
to await the approach of the hour; and spent the time till it drew near,
in perusing once more the volume which had been restored to me by
Athanasia. This volume, and the letter which I have before mentioned, I
placed together in my bosom, before I went forth into the city.

I entered the Forum, and found it, as formerly thronged with multitudes of
busy litigants and idle spectators. A greater concourse, indeed, than was
usual, crowded not it only, but the avenues to it, and the neighbouring
streets, by reason of a solemn embassy from the Parthian, which was to
have audience that day in the Senate. But I, for my part, having
discovered the statue of Numa Pompilius, resolved to abide by it, lest,
being mingled in the tumult of the expecting multitudes, I should, by any
mischance, escape the notice of the old man, who, I doubted not, meant to
seek me there in person. The time, however, went on—senator after senator
entered the temple—and, at last, the shouts of the people announced that
Trajan had arrived. And immediately after he had gone in, the pomp of the
embassy appeared, and every eye was fixed upon the long line of slaves,
laden with cloth of gold and rich merchandise, and upon the beautiful
troop of snow-white horses, which pawed the ground, in magnificent
caparisons, before the gate of the Senate-house. But while all were intent
upon the spectacle, I observed a little fair-haired girl standing over
against me, who, after looking at me for some moments, said with great
modesty, “Sir, if you be Caius Valerius, I pray you, follow me.”

I followed her in silence up the hanging stairs, and, in a word, had soon
reached the level of the Capitol, from whence, looking back, I could
perceive the whole array of the forensic multitudes far below me. The
child paused for a moment at the summit, and then, still saying nothing,
conducted me across two magnificent squares, and round about the Temple of
Jupiter, until, at length, she stopped at one of the side doors of an
edifice, which, from the manner in which it was guarded, I already
suspected to be the Mammertine.

The girl knocked, and he who kept the gate, saluting her cheerfully,
allowed us to pass without question into the interior of the prison. My
companion tripped before me along many passages, till we reached at length
a chamber which was arranged in such a manner that I could with difficulty
believe it to belong to a place of punishment.

Here I was soon joined by the old priest, (whose name, if I have not
before mentioned it, was Aurelius Felix,) together with a mild-looking man
of middle age, whom he desired me to salute as the keeper of the prison,
saying, “Here, Valerius, is that Silo, of whom yesterday evening you spake
with so great admiration. But I hope the benevolence of a Christian will
ere long cease to be an object of so much wonder in your eyes.”

“My father,” said the jailer, “methinks you yourself say too much about
such little things. But, in the meantime, let us ask Valerius if he has
heard any thing of what has been determined by Cæsar.”

I answered by telling what I had just heard from Licinius; upon which the
countenance of the old man was not a little lightened; but Silo fixed his
eyes upon the ground, and seemed to regard the matter very seriously. He
said, however, after a pause, “So far, at least, it is well. Let us hope
that the calumnies which have been detected, may turn more and more of
discredit upon those that have gone abroad concerning that which is dearer
to you, my father, and to all your true companions, than any thing of what
men call their own. But, alas! these, after all, are but poor tidings for
our dear young lady.”

“Fear not,” answered Aurelius: “have I not told you already oftentimes,
that strength of heart goes not with bone and sinew, and that my gentle
child is prepared for all things? She also well knows that the servant is
not greater than the master.”

The old man motioned to us to remain where we were, and withdrew. I sate
for some minutes by the side of Silo, who was, indeed, manifestly much
troubled, until at length the same modest little damsel opened the door,
and addressing the jailer as her father, asked leave to conduct me to
Aurelius.

The child led me, therefore, into the adjoining chamber, and tapped gently
at a door on the other side of it. The voice of the old priest bade us
come in, and Athanasia arose with him to receive me. She was dressed in a
white tunic, her hair braided in dark folds upon her forehead; her
countenance was calm, and, but for the paleness of her lips, I should have
said that her gravity scarcely partook of sadness. When, however, we had
exchanged our salutations, it was evident that some effort had been
necessary for this appearance of serenity; for when she spoke to me her
voice trembled in every tone, and, as she stooped to caress my young
guide, who had sate down by her feet, I saw the tear that had been
gathering drop heavily, and lose itself among the bright clusters of the
little damsel’s hair. I took her unresisting hand, and imitated as best I
could the language of consolation. But it seemed as if my poor whispers
only served to increase the misery. She covered her face with her hands,
and sobs and tears were mingled together, and the blood glowed red in her
neck, in the agony of her lamentation.

The old priest was moved at first scarcely less than myself by this
sorrowful sight. Yet the calmness of age deserted him not long, and after
a moment there remained nothing on his countenance but the gravity and
tenderness of compassion. He arose from his seat, and walked quietly
towards the end of the apartment, from which when he returned, after a
brief space, there was an ancient volume open in his hand. And standing
near us, he began to read aloud, in the Greek tongue, words which were
then new, and which have ever since been in a peculiar manner dear to me.

_God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble. Therefore
will not we fear though the earth be removed; though the mountains be
carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be
troubled; though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof._

Athanasia took her hands from her face, and gradually composing herself,
looked through her tears upon the old man as he proceeded.

_There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God;
the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High._

_God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God shall help her,
and that right early._

_The heathen raged; the kingdoms were moved. He uttered his voice; the
earth melted._

_The Lord of Hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge._

The blood had mounted in the countenance of Aurelius, ere he reached these
last words. The tears also had been dried up on the pale cheek of
Athanasia; and although her voice was not heard, I saw that her lips moved
fervently along with those of the priest. Even in me, ignorant of their
source, the words of the royal prophet produced I know not what of
buoyance and emotion, and perhaps my lips, too, had involuntarily essayed
to follow them; for when he paused from his reading, the old man turned to
me with a face full of benignity, and said, “Yes, Valerius, it is even so;
Homer, Pindar, Æschylus—these, indeed, can stir the blood; but it is such
poetry as this that alone can sooth in sorrow, and strengthen in the hour
of tribulation. Your vain-glorious Greeks called all men barbarians but
themselves; and yet these words, and thousands not less precious than
these, consoled the afflictions, and ennobled the triumphs of the chosen
race of Israel long, long years, ere ever the boasted melody of Ionian or
Doric verse had been heard of. From this alone, young man, you may judge
what measure of candour inhabits along with the disdain of our proud
enemies:—how fairly, without question, or opportunity of defence, the
charge of barbarity is heaped upon what they are pleased to call our
_superstition_;—how wisely the learned and the powerful of the earth have
combined in this league against the truth which they know not,—of which
they fear or despise the knowledge. Surely the truth is mighty, and the
gates of hell shall not prevail against her.”

“But, alas! my dear father,” said Athanasia, “I fear me this is not the
place, nor the situation, in which Valerius might be most likely to listen
to your words. It may be that his own narrow escape, to say nothing of our
present danger, has rendered him even more cautious than he was before.”

“And who, my dear child,” he replied hastily,—“and who is he that shall
dare to blame caution, or to preach, above all in such things as these,
the rashness that is of folly? Valerius will not believe that we, like the
miserable creatures whose impious songs he heard last night, are studious
only of working upon the fears of the ignorant, and harassing, with dark
and lying dreams, the imaginations of the simple. _Here_ are no wild
stories of blood-thirsty deities, and self-sacrificing maniacs. _Here_ is
that which Socrates vainly sought by all the ingenuity of reason. _Here_
is that of which some faint and mysterious anticipations would appear to
have been shadowed forth in the visions of Plato. _Here_ is that which, as
that Mighty Martyr who died in this very city hath said, innumerable
prophets and kings of the old time desired to see, and yet saw not. Do
nothing rashly, young man; but it is possible, as you yourself well know,
that this may be the last opportunity I shall ever have of speaking with
you; and therefore, before we part, I must needs charge you solemnly, that
henceforth, if your knowledge increase not, the sin shall be upon your
head. I charge you, Valerius, that when you return to your island, you
blot not from your memory the things that you have seen and heard in this
great city of light and of darkness. Examine—judge—ask aid, and aid shall
not be refused you. I take Athanasia to witness, that I have given you the
warning that is needful.”

“Oh, sir!” said Athanasia, “I am sure it shall not be in vain that you
have done so. I am sure Valerius will never forget this hour——”

She gazed in my face, and a tear was again visible, yet on all her
countenance there was no other semblance of passion. The venerable
Aurelius clasping his thin hands together, whispered,—“Would to God that I
were here alone! Shall the axe be laid to the root of the fair young tree
that hath but begun to blossom, when so many old trunks stand around
withered with the lightnings, and sore broken by the winds?—The will of
the Lord be done!”

“Amen!” said Athanasia, taking the old man by the hand, and smiling, I
think, more cheerfully than I had yet seen her—“My dear father, I fear you
yourself, after all, are teaching Valerius to take but a sad farewell of
us.”

“Alas! my child,” he replied, “he must have a hard heart that could look
unmoved on that sweet face in this hour of sadness. But we are in the
hands of a greater than Trajan. If so it please Him, all may yet go well
with us even here upon the earth. You may live to see many happy years
among your kindred—and I, (the old man smiled most serenely,) and for me,
my gray hairs may be laid in bloodless dust. Whatever awaits us, blessed
be the name of the Lord!”

So saying, the old man retired from the chamber, and once more I was left
alone in the presence of Athanasia. I took from my bosom the book and the
letter which I had placed there, and laid them upon her knee. She broke
the seal, and read hastily what Tisias had written, and then concealed the
scroll within her tunic, saying, “Alas! Valerius, little did the brave old
soldier suspect how soon his peril was to be mine—Will you permit me like
him to make you my messenger?—will you seek out my cousin, my sister, and
tell Sempronia in what condition you have found me?—no, not in what you
found—but in what you now see me. Will you go, Valerius, and speak comfort
to my poor friend? Her pity, at least, I am sure is mingled with no angry
thoughts; and yet she only has reason to complain, for her secret thoughts
were not hid from me, and, alas! I concealed mine from her.”

“I have already seen her,” said I, “and you do her no more than justice.
But, indeed, Sempronius himself thinks of you even as gently as his
daughter.”

“I doubt it not, Valerius; but, alas! there are many others besides these;
and I know not what relic of weakness it is, but methinks I could have
borne the worst more easily, had it not been for what I picture to myself
of their resentment. Alas! I am cut off for ever from the memory of my
kindred.” She threw open the lattice, as if that she might inhale the free
air, and her eyes wandered to and fro over all the magnificent prospect
that lay stretched out below us,—the temples and high porticos of the
Forum—the gleaming battlements and long arcades of the Palatine—the baths,
and theatres, and circuses between and the river—Tiber winding away among
fields and groves—and the sky of Italy extending over all things its arch
of splendour. When the trumpets were blown by the gate of the
Senate-house, the sound floated upwards to us as gently as if it had been
borne over the waters. The shouts of the multitude were faintly re-echoed
from the towers and the rocks. The princely pageant shewed like a pomp of
pigmies; spear, and helmet, and eagle glittered together, almost like dews
upon the distant herbage. Athanasia rested her eye once more upon the wide
range of the champaign, where fields and forests were spread out in
interminable succession—away towards the northern region and the visible
mountains. She raised her hand, and said, “Valerius, your home lies far
away yonder. I must give you something which you shall promise me to carry
with you, and preserve in memory—of Rome.”

Before I had time to make any answer, she had taken out of a casket that
stood beside us, a scroll of parchment, bound with a silk ribbon, which
she immediately put into my hands, and—“To-morrow,” said she, “Valerius,
our fate, they tell us, must at length be determined;—if we share the fate
of Tisias, the last gift of Tisias shall be yours. If, however, any mercy
be extended to us, I cannot part with that memorial of a dying martyr. I
must keep to myself the old man’s favourite volume, for it was for me he
had designed it. But I have made a copy of the same book for yourself. I
have written it since I came hither, Valerius, and you must not despise it
because the Mammertine has not furnished the finest of materials. Take
this, Valerius, and take with it my thanks—my prayers. I know you will not
forget my message to my dear sister.—Sextus and she—may many happy days be
theirs—and yours.”

I kissed the sad gift, and placed it in my bosom.

“Valerius,” she said, “dry up your tears. You weep for me because I am a
Christian; forget not that the Roman blood flows in my veins, and think
not that its current is chilled, because I have forsworn the worship of
idol and demon, and am in peril for the service of The Living God.”

“Athanasia!” said I,—“I weep for you, but not for you alone. I ask
nothing—I hope nothing—but I could not bear to part with you thus, and not
to tell you that when I part from you, I bid farewell to all things.
Pardon me—once more pardon me.”

A single flush of crimson passed over her face, and I saw her lips move,
but the syllables died ere they were uttered. She continued for a moment
gazing on me, pale, and trembling; and then at last she fell upon my neck
and wept—not audibly—but I felt her tears.

Athanasia was still folded to my bosom in that strange agony of sorrow and
of confidence, when Silo, the jailer, entered the apartment, abrupt and
breathless.

“Oh, sir!” said he, “your sufferings are mine—but it is necessary that you
should leave us, and on the instant, for the Prefect is already at the
gate, and unquestionably he will examine every part of the prison; and
should you be recognized as the person who was taken in the Mausoleum, you
see plainly to what suspicions it might give rise. Come then, sir, and let
me secure your escape—we shall take care to warn you of whatever occurs,
and we shall send for you, if there be opportunity.”

Athanasia recovered herself almost instantly, when she heard what Silo
said.

“We shall meet again,” said I.

“Once more,” she replied—“at least once more, Valerius.”

And I tore myself away from her; and the jailer having once again
committed me to the guidance of his child, I was in a few moments
conducted to the same postern by which I had been introduced. In a word, I
found myself in the court of the Capitol, at the instant when the Prefect,
with all his attendants, was entering by the main gate of the Mammertine.



                              _CHAPTER IV._


On reaching home, I was told that Licinius was still absent; and found at
the same time a billet upon the table, which informed me that Sabinus had
carried Sextus with him to his quarters, and that both expected I would
join them there immediately upon my return. I knew not how to refuse
compliance, and yet I could not bear the thought of being so far from the
Capitol, in case of any message being sent to me from the prison. Since I
could do no better, however, I charged Boto to remain in my apartment till
sunset, and bring me, without delay, any letter or messenger that might
arrive in my absence. Should none such appear within that space, I gave
him a note, which I desired him to deliver into the hands of Silo; and
having, as I thought, furnished him with sufficient directions how to
discharge this commission, I myself took the path to the Prætorian Camp,
where I thought it very probable that I might gather some new intelligence
as to Cotilius.

The Prætorian who had accompanied Sabinus at my release from the rustic
tower, recognized me at the gate, and conducted me immediately to the
Centurion, who, to my surprise and displeasure, had directed that I should
be ushered without delay to, not his own apartment, but the general table.
Here I was received most courteously, however, and hoping the feast was
nearly over, took my place near my friend.

Several of those high-fed warriors who had more than once disposed of the
empire, were reclining upon rich couches around the board; and their
effeminate exterior would, perhaps, have made them less formidable in my
eyes, had I not remembered the youth of the great Cæsar, the Parthian
retreat of Antony, and the recent death of Otho.(3) There were present,
besides, a few casual visiters like ourselves; among others, a sleek
Flamen, who reclined on the right hand of the presiding Tribune, and a
little bald Greek, who seemed to think it incumbent upon himself to fill
up every pause in the conversation, by malicious anecdotes or sarcasms, of
which last it was easy to see that the Flamen opposite was a favourite
subject. Neither wit nor impiety, however, could make speedy impression
upon the smooth-faced Flamen, who seemed to think, if one might judge from
his behaviour, that the most acceptable service he could render to the
deities, was to do full and devout justice to the gifts of their
benevolence.

A very animated discussion concerning the review of the newly-arrived
cohorts, (which, I have told you, had taken place that morning by the
river side,) relieved for some time the patient Flamen from the attacks of
this irreverent person, and engaged the zealous participation of those who
had hitherto been the most silent of the company. Sabinus, among the rest,
was ready with a world of remarks upon the equipments, the manœuvres, the
merits, and the demerits of the troops in question; but something he said
was quite at variance with the sentiments of one of his brother
Centurions, who disputed with him rather warmly than successfully for a
few moments, and at last ended with saying,—“But why should I take so much
trouble to discuss the point with you, who, we all know, were thinking of
other matters, and saw not much more of the review than if you had been a
hundred miles off from it?”

The Centurion coloured a little, and laughed, as it seemed to me, with
rather less heartiness than usual; but the disputant pursuing his
advantage, said, “Yes, you may laugh if you will; but do you think we are
all blind, or do you suppose we are not acquainted with certain
particulars? Well, some people dislike the Suburra, but for my part I
agree with Sabinus; I think it is one of the genteelest places in Rome,
and that there are some of the snuggest houses in it too—and if old men
will die, for me, I protest, I don’t see why young men should not succeed
them.” The Centurion laughed again, and natural ruddiness of complexion
was, I thought, scarcely quite sufficient to account for the flush on his
countenance, as he listened to these innuendos. But the master of the
feast cut the matter short, by saying that he had a health to propose, and
that he expected all present should receive it with honour.—“Here,” said
he, “is to the fair lady Rubellia, who is never absent when the Prætorians
turn out, and may all things fair and fortunate attend her now and
hereafter.” I whispered to Sabinus,—“My friend, I think you have really
some reason for blushing. If you had no pity on Xerophrastes, you might at
least have had some for the pretty widow.”

He made no answer to this, and looked, if possible, more confused than
ever; but, just at that moment, a soldier came in, and delivered a billet
to the presiding Tribune, who handed it to Sabinus immediately after he
had read it, and said, loud enough to be heard by all those who sate near
him, “I wish the Prince would give some of this work to these new comers.
But, indeed, I wonder what Lictors are good for now-a-days; but every
thing that these Christians are any way concerned in seems to be a matter
of importance.”

Sabinus, having read the billet, handed it back again to the Tribune, and
said aloud, “_Exit_ Cotilius!—Who would not be of the chorus at the
falling of that curtain?”

The Tribune shrugged his shoulders, whispered something into the ear of
the messenger, and then, dashing more wine into his cup, said, “Rome will
never be a quiet place, nor the Prætorian helmet a comfortable head-piece,
till these barbarians be extirpated.”

The Flamen tossed off a full goblet, and, smiting with his hand upon the
table, said, “There spake a true Roman, and a worshipper of the Gods. I
rejoice to find that there is still some religion in the world; for, what
with skulking Jews on the one hand, and bold blasphemous Cyrenæans on the
other, so help me Jupiter, the general prospect is dark enough!”

“In my opinion,” quoth the bald Greek, putting on an air of some gravity,
“the Jews will have the better of the Cyrenæans. Indeed, I should not be
much surprised to see this Christian superstition supplant every other.”
The Flamen half started from his couch. “You observe, gentlemen,”
proceeded the Greek,—“what great advantage any new superstition has over
any thing of the same sort that is old. We all know, for example, that
Isis and Cybele have for many years past left comparatively few
worshippers to Mars, Apollo,—even to Jupiter. It is lamentable; but it is
true. I have heard that unless on some very great day, a gift is now quite
a rarity upon the altar of any of the true ancient deities of Rome. Egypt
and Mount Ida have done this; and why should not Palestine succeed as well
as either? In the meantime, the enlightened contemplate every different
manifestation of the superstitious principle with equal indifference; and,
I confess to you, I have been a little surprised to perceive how far
Trajan is from imitating their example. But that Chæronæan master of his,
that Plutarch, was always an old woman; and I fear the Prince has not been
able to shake off the impression of his ridiculous stories.”

“Hush!” quoth the master of the day, “if it please you, nothing can be
said here against either Trajan or his friends; and, as for Plutarch, he
was one of the pleasantest fellows that I ever met with.”

Sabinus, desirous of restoring the harmony of the assembly, called
forthwith on a musical senior, to join him in a song. The gentleman
required solicitation, but at last announced his consent to attempt the
female part in the duet of Horace and Lydia. Sabinus, always ready, began
to roar out the tender words of regret and expostulation which the most
elegant of poets has ascribed to himself; and the delicate squeaking
response of our wrinkled Lydia formed an agreeable contrast.

All, in short, were once more in perfect good humour, when another soldier
appeared behind the couch of the president, and handed to him what seemed
to be another billet of the same complexion. He tossed the paper as before
to my friend, who looked very serious as he read it.—“Caius,” he
whispered, “an additional guard is ordered to the Palatine—and the reason
is said to be that the rest of the Christian prisoners are to be examined,
within an hour, by the Emperor himself.”

I had scarcely had a moment to compose myself, when one of the slaves in
attendance signified that a person wished to speak with me in the
anti-chamber. It was Dromo.—“Sir,” said he, “I have no time for
explanation. Silo wishes to see you—I left Boto with him at the
Mammertine.”

As we walked from the camp, Sabinus, with his guard, passed without
noticing me; and I received some explanations which I must give to you
very briefly. Boto, mistrusting his recollection of my instructions, had
requested Dromo to assist him in finding his way to the Mammertine; and
the Cretan had come to be witness of a scene, which, in spite of his
sarcastic disposition, he could not narrate without tokens of sympathy. I
mentioned to you that my faithful slave, in coming with me to Rome, had
indulged the hope of meeting once more with a brother, who many years
before had been carried off from Britain. I smiled when the poor man
expressed confidence that he should find out this ere he had been many
days in the metropolis of the world. But now, in truth, a fortunate
accident had recompensed much ill-regulated search. He had found his
brother, and he had found him in the Mammertine. That very brother was
Silo, to whose kindness I, and one dearer than myself, had been so deeply
indebted. The Cretan, himself a slave and an exile, had partaken in the
feelings of the long-lost brothers, and hastened to bring me from the
camp, that Boto might be spared the pain of immediately parting from Silo.



                               _CHAPTER V._


I had hurried along the darkening streets, and up the ascent of the
Capitoline, scarce listening to the story of the Cretan. On reaching the
summit, we found the courts about the Temple of Jupiter already occupied
by detachments of foot. I hastened to the Mammertine—and before the
postern opened to admit us, the Prætorian squadron had drawn up at the
great gate. Sabinus beckoned me to him. “Caius,” said he, stooping on his
horse, “would to heaven I had been spared this duty! Cotilius comes forth
this moment, and then we go back to the Palatine; and I fear—I fear we are
to guard thither your Athanasia. If you wish to enter the prison, quicken
your steps.”

We had scarcely entered the inner-court, ere Sabinus also, and about a
score of his Prætorians, rode into it. Silo and Boto were standing
together; and both had already hastened towards me; but the jailer, seeing
the Centurion, was constrained to part from me with one hurried
word:—“Pity me, for I also am most wretched. But you know the way—here,
take this key—hasten to my dear lady, and tell her what commands have
come.”

Alas! I said I to myself, of what tidings am I doomed ever to be the
messenger!—but she was alone; and how could I shrink from any pain that
might perhaps alleviate hers? I took the key, glided along the corridors,
and stood once more at the door of the chamber in which I had parted from
Athanasia. No voice answered to my knock; I repeated it three times, and
then, agitated with indistinct apprehension, hesitated no longer to open
it. No lamp was burning within the chamber, but from without there entered
a wavering glare of deep saffron-coloured light, which shewed me Athanasia
extended on her couch. Its ominous and troubled hue had no power to mar
the image of her sleeping tranquillity. I hung over her for a moment, and
was about to disturb that slumber—perhaps the last slumber of peace and
innocence—when the chamber-walls were visited with a yet deeper glare.
“Caius,” she whispered, as I stepped from beside the couch; “why do you
leave me? stay, Valerius.” I looked back, but her eye-lids were still
closed; the same calm smile was upon her dreaming lips. The light streamed
redder and more red. All in an instant became as quiet without as within.
I approached the window, and saw Cotilius standing in the midst of the
court; Sabinus and Silo near him; the horsemen drawn up on either side,
and a soldier close behind resting upon an unsheathed sword. I saw the
keen blue eye as fierce as ever. I saw that the blood was still fervid in
his cheeks: for the complexion of this man was of the same bold and florid
brightness so uncommon in Italy, which you have seen represented in the
pictures of Sylla, and even the blaze of the torches seemed to strive in
vain to heighten its natural scarlet. The soldier had lifted his sword,
and my eye was fixed, as by fascination, when suddenly a deep voice was
heard amidst the deadly silence—“Cotilius!—look up, Cotilius!”

Aurelius, the Christian priest, standing at an open window, not far
distant from that at which I was placed, stretched forth his fettered hand
as he spake:—“Cotilius! I charge thee, look upon the hand from which the
blessed water of baptism was cast upon thy head. I charge thee, look upon
me, and say, ere yet the blow be given, upon what hope thy thoughts are
fixed?—Is this sword bared against the rebel of Cæsar, or a martyr of
Jesus?—I charge thee, speak; and for thy soul’s sake speak truly.”

A bitter motion of derision passed over his lips, and he nodded, as if
impatiently, to the Prætorian. Instinctively I turned me from the
spectacle, and my eye rested again upon the couch of Athanasia—but not
upon the vision of her tranquillity. The clap with which the corpse fell
upon the stones had, perhaps, reached the sleeping ear, and we know with
what swiftness thoughts chase thoughts in the wilderness of dreams. So it
was that she started at the very moment when the blow was given; and she
whispered—for it was still but a deep whisper—“Spare me, Trajan, Cæsar,
Prince—have pity on my youth—strengthen, strengthen me good Lord!—Fie!
fie! we must not lie to save life. Felix—Valerius—come close to me,
Caius—Fie! let us remember we are Romans—’Tis the trumpet——”

The Prætorian trumpet sounded the march in the court below, and Athanasia,
starting from her sleep, gazed wildly around the reddened chamber. The
blast of the trumpet was indeed in her ear—and Valerius hung over her—but
after a moment the cloud of the broken dream passed away, and the maiden
smiled as she extended her hand to me from the couch, and began to gather
up the ringlets that floated all down upon her shoulder. She blushed and
smiled mournfully, and asked me hastily whence I came, and for what
purpose I had come; but before I could answer, the glare that was yet in
the chamber seemed anew to be perplexing her: and she gazed from me to the
red walls, and from them to me again: and then once more the trumpet was
blown, and Athanasia sprung from her couch. I know not in what terms I was
essaying to tell her what was the truth, but I know that ere I had said
many words, she discovered my meaning. For a moment she looked deadly
pale, in spite of all the glare of the torch-beams; but she recovered
herself, and said in a voice that sounded almost as if it came from a
light heart,—“But Caius, I must not go to Cæsar, without having at least a
garland on my head. Stay here, Valerius, and I shall be ready anon—quite
ready.”

It seemed to me as if she were less hasty than she had promised, yet many
minutes elapsed not ere she returned. She plucked a blossom from her hair
as she drew near to me, and said, “Take it: you must not refuse one token
more; this also is a sacred gift. Caius, you must learn never to look upon
it without kissing these red streaks—these blessed streaks of the
Christian flower.”

I took the flower from her hand, and pressed it to my lips; and I
remembered that the very first day I saw Athanasia, she had plucked such
an one, when apart from all the rest, in the gardens of Capito. I told her
what I remembered; and it seemed as if the little circumstance had called
up all the image of peaceful days; for once more sorrowfulness gathered
upon her countenance. If the tear was ready, however, it was not permitted
to drop; and Athanasia returned again to her flower.

“Do you think there are any of them in Britain?” said she; “or do you
think that they would grow there? You must go to my dear uncle, and he
will not deny you, when you tell him that it is for my sake he is to give
you some of his. They call it the Passion-flower—’tis an emblem of an
awful thing. Caius, these purple streaks are like trickling drops; and
here, look ye, they are all round the flower. Is it not very like a bloody
crown upon a pale brow? I will take one of them in my hand, too, Caius;
and methinks I shall not disgrace myself when I look upon it, even though
Trajan should be frowning upon me.”

I had not the heart to interrupt her; but heard silently all she said, and
I thought she said the words quickly and eagerly, as if she feared to be
interrupted.

The old priest came into the chamber while she was yet speaking so, and
said very composedly, “Come, my dear child, our friend has sent again for
us, and the soldiers have been waiting already some space, who are to
convey us to the Palatine. Come, children, we must part for a
moment—perhaps it may be but for a moment—and Valerius may remain here
till we return to him. Here, at least, dear Caius, you shall have the
earliest tidings, and the surest.”

The good man took Athanasia by the hand, and she, smiling now at length
more serenely than ever, said only, “Farewell, then, Caius, for a little
moment!” And so, drawing her veil over her face, she passed away from
before me, giving, I think, more support to the ancient Aurelius than, in
her turn, she received from him. I began to follow them, but the priest
waved his hand as if to forbid me:—the door closed after them, and I was
alone.



                              _CHAPTER VI._


I know not, my friends, how to proceed with the narrative of what
followed. Thoughts, passions, fears, hopes, succeeding so rapidly, give to
that strange night, when I look back upon it through the vista of years,
the likeness of some incoherent, agonizing dream. Much, without doubt, of
what passed within my own mind I have forgotten; but it seems to me as if
what I saw or heard were still present in the distinctness of reality.
That chamber in the Mammertine! Its walls are before me blazing with the
reflection of torch-light, and then again, all dim and shadowy—the stars
shining feebly upon them from the twilight sky—every thing around lonely
and silent, except the voice of Silo’s little maiden,—bewailing no doubt
in her privacy the departure of Athanasia.

Her father after a little time rejoined me. “Sir,” said he, “all is now
quiet here; will you walk with me towards the Palatine, that we may at
least be near to know what is reported of their proceedings? My brother
will stay here till we return.”

We soon had descended from the Capitoline, passed through the silent
Forum, and gained the brow of the opposite eminence, where, as shortly
before at the Mammertine, all was light and tumult. Every court was
guarded with soldiery, and groups of busy men were passing continually
about the imperial gates and porticos. Silo led me round and round the
buildings, till we reached what seemed an abandoned wing. “Sir,” said he,
“you do not know more familiarly the house in which you were born and
reared, than I do every corner within these wide walls. But I have not
crossed the threshold since the day Cæsar died.—I was the slave of
Domitian, and he gave me my freedom.—He was kind to his household.”

We entered beneath a small portico—and Silo drew a key from his bosom. The
lock, after two or three trials, yielded to its pressure. A large empty
hall received us, the circumference of which was scarcely visible by the
light of the newly-risen moon, streaming down from a cupola.

Another and another sombre chamber we in like manner traversed, till at
length Silo opened one so comparatively light, that I started back,
apprehending we had intruded farther than he intended. A second glance,
however, seemed to indicate that we were still in the region of
desolation, for a statue lay in the midst of the floor, one of its limbs
snapped over, as if it had fallen and been permitted to remain.

“Where are we, Silo?” I whispered, “what means this unnatural light among
so many symptoms of confusion?”

“Sir,” said the freedman, “this is the place in which alone Domitian used
to eat and sleep, and walk about for the last months of his life, when he
was jealous of all men; and he contrived these walls, covered all over
with the shining Ethiopian stone, that no one might be able to approach
him without being discovered. Even when a slave entered, he would start as
if every side of the chamber had been invaded by some host of men; fifty
different reflections of one trembling eunuch. It was, they say, behind
this shattered piece of marble that he ran when he had felt the first
treacherous blow. Yonder in the corner is the couch he slept upon, and he
had always a dagger under his head, and he called to the little page that
was waiting upon him to fetch it from the place; but the scabbard only
remained; and then in came Parthenius and Claudianus, and the gladiator,
and the rest, who soon finished what the cunning Stephanus had begun. Let
us go on;—we have not yet reached the place to which I wished to bring
you—but it is not far off now.”

With this Silo walked to the end of the melancholy chamber, and pressing
upon a secret spring, where no door was apparent, opened the way into a
room, darker and smaller than any of those through which we had come. He
then said to me, “Now, sir, you must not venture upon one whisper more—you
touch on the very heart of Domitian’s privacy. It is possible that the
place I have been leading you to may have been shut up—it may exist no
longer; but the state in which all things are found here makes me think it
more likely that Trajan has never been master of its secret. And in that
case, we shall be able both to see and to hear, without being either seen
or heard, exactly as Domitian used to do, when there was any council held
either in the Mars or the Apollo.”

I started at the boldness of the project which now, for the first time, I
understood; but Silo laid his finger on his lip again,—cautiously lifted
up a piece of the dark-red cloth with which this chamber was hung,—and
essayed another spring in the pannelling beneath. Total darkness appeared
to be beyond; but the jailer motioning to me to remain for a moment where
I was, and to keep up the hanging, glided boldly into the recess. I
wondered how he should tread so lightly, that I could not perceive the
least echo; but this no longer surprised me, when I had the sign to
follow. The floor felt beneath my foot as if it were stuffed like a
pillow; and, after I had dropped the hanging, every thing was totally
dark, as it had at first appeared to me, except only at certain points,
separate and aloft, which let in gleams of light, manifestly artificial.
Silo, taking hold of me by the hand, conducted me up some steps towards
the nearest of these tiny apertures; and, as I approached it, I heard
distinctly the voices of persons talking together in the room beyond. I
did not draw my breath, you may well believe, with much boldness; but my
eye was soon fixed at one of the crevices, and, after the first dazzle was
over, I saw clearly. Silo took his station by my side, gazing through
another of these loop-holes, which, that you may understand every thing,
were evidently quite concealed among the rich carved-work of an ivory
cornice.

The chamber was lighted by three tall candelabra of silver, close beside
one of which was placed a long table covered with an infinity of scrolls
and tablets. One person, who had his back turned towards us, was writing,
and two others, in one of whom I instantly recognized the Emperor, were
walking up and down on the other side.

“No, Palma,” said Trajan, for it was that old favourite whom he
addressed—“I have made up my mind as to this matter. I shall never permit
any curious inquisition as to private opinion. Every man has a right,
without question, to think—to believe—exactly what pleases him; and I
shall concede as much in favour of every woman, Palma, if you will have it
so. But it is totally a different affair, when the fact, no matter how, is
forced upon my knowledge, that a subject, no matter who or what he be—a
subject of the Roman empire, refuses to comply with the first, the
elemental, and the most essential of the laws. The man—aye or the
woman—that confesses in my presence contempt for the deities whom the
commonwealth acknowledges in every step of its procedure—that person is a
criminal; and I cannot dismiss him unpunished, without injuring the
commonwealth by the display of weakness in its chief. As for these poor
fanatics themselves, it is the penalty of my station that I must control
my feelings.”

“But you are satisfied, my lord,” said Palma, “that these people are quite
innocent as to Cotilius’s designs; and as it was upon that suspicion they
were apprehended, perhaps it may be possible——”

“Yes, Palma,” interrupted the Prince; “quite possible and quite easy,
provided they will condescend to save themselves by the most trivial
acknowledgment of the sort which, I repeat to you, I do and must consider
as absolutely necessary. And women too—and girls forsooth—I suppose you
would have me wait till the very urchins on the street were gathering into
knots to discuss the nature of the Gods.—Do you remember what Plato
says?”—

“No, my lord, I do not know to what you refer.”

“Why, Plato says that nobody can ever understand any thing accurately
about the Deity, and that, if he could, he would have no right to
communicate his discoveries to others; the passage is in the Timæus, and
Tully has translated it besides. And is it to be endured that these modest
fanatics are to do every hour what the Platos and the Ciceros spoke of in
such terms as these? I think you carry your tolerance a little farther
than might have been expected from a disciple of the Academy.”

“I despise them, my lord, as much as yourself; but, to tell you the truth,
it is this young lady that moves me to speak thus—and I crave your pardon,
if I have spoken with too much freedom.—Her father was one of the best
soldiers Titus had.”

“The more is the pity, Palma. Have you ever seen the girl yourself? Did
you give orders that she should be brought hither? I have not the least
objection that you should have half an hour, or an hour if you will, to
talk with her quietly; perhaps your eloquence may have the effect we
desire.”

“I doubt it, my lord, I greatly doubt it,” he replied; “but, indeed, I
know not whether she be yet here—Did you not send to the Mammertine?”

The man writing at the table, to whom this interrogation was addressed,
said, “I believe, sir, both this lady and the old man that was in the same
prison are now in attendance.” And upon this Trajan and Palma retired
together towards the farther end of the apartment, where they conversed
for some minutes in a tone so low, that I could not understand any thing
of what was said. Trajan at length turned from his favourite with an air,
as I thought, of some little displeasure, and said aloud, coming back into
the middle of the room,—“I know it is so; but what is that to the affair
in hand? I am very sorry for the Sempronii, but I doubt if even they would
be so unreasonable as you are.”

“Will you not see the poor girl yourself, Cæsar?”

“You do not need to be told, that my seeing her would only make it more
difficult for me to do that, which, seeing or not seeing her, I know to be
my duty. Do you accept of my proposal? Are you willing to try the effect
of your own persuasion? I promise you, if you succeed, I shall rejoice not
less heartily than yourself; but it is rather too much to imagine that I
am personally to interfere about such an affair as this—an affair which,
the more I think of it, seems to me to be the more perfectly contemptible.
Nay, do not suppose it is this poor girl I am talking of—I mean the whole
of this Jewish, this Christian affair, which does indeed appear to me to
be the most bare-faced absurdity, that ever was permitted to disturb the
tranquillity of the empire. A mean and savage nation have but just
suffered the penalty of obstinacy and treachery alike unequalled, and from
them—from the scattered embers of this extinguished fire, we are to allow
a new flame to be kindled—ay, and that in the very centre of Rome. I tell
you, that if my own hand were to be scorched in the cause, I would
disperse this combustion to the winds of heaven; I tell you, that I stand
here Cæsar, and that I would rather be chained to the oar, than suffer,
while the power to prevent it is mine, the tiniest speck to be thrown upon
the Roman majesty. By all the Gods, Palma, it is enough to make a man sick
to think of the madness that is in this world, and of the iron arguments
by which we are compelled to keep those from harming us, that at first
sight of them excite no feeling but our pity. But I am weary of these very
names of Palestine—Jew—Christian. Go to this foolish girl, and try what
you can make of her; I give you fair warning—no breeders of young
Christians here.”



                              _CHAPTER VII._


Cornelius Palma, after the Prince retired, was apparently for some space
busied with his reflections. He then talked in a whispering manner with
the secretary, and moved towards an extremity of the chamber. But the
moment Silo perceived this, he plucked my sleeve, and drew me to the other
end of our closet, where, as I have told you, the light had admittance in
a similar manner. Here another of the imperial apartments was visible in
equal distinctness; and in it appeared Athanasia and her friend, as
waiting now at length in entire composure the moment when they should be
summoned.

Palma entering, both rose, and he, returning their salutation, remained
before them for a moment in silence, his eyes fixed on Athanasia. It was
to Aurelius, nevertheless, that his first words were addressed:—“From what
has been reported of your behaviour at the execution of Cotilius, I fear
there is nothing to be gained by speaking to _you_, concerning the only
means by which your own safety can yet be secured. You are obstinate, old
man, in your superstition?”—“Noble Palma,” said the priest, “contempt is
the only thing I fear from men. But I thank my God, that it is the only
thing I have it in my power to avoid.”—“I will not argue with you,”
answered Palma, pointing to a door near him:—“It was not with any purpose
of bending you, that I undertook this painful office. I desire to speak in
freedom with one whose case is, I trust, less hopeless.”

The old man, pointing to his fetters, said meekly, “Let them guard me
whither it pleases you.”

“Sir,” said Athanasia, “I pray you let Aurelius remain; imagine not that I
shall either hear or answer less freely because of my friend’s presence.”

“He will, at least, retire to the other end of the chamber,” said
Palma—“and interfere no farther.”

The priest drew back;—Athanasia, on her part, seeing that Palma hesitated,
and seemed at a loss how to begin, said to him in a tone of modest
composure:—“Noble sir, if your purpose be indeed as kind as I think it is,
I pray you spare me at least the pain that is needless, and spare yourself
what I am sure is painful to you. You see my youth and my sex, and it is
not unnatural for you to think as you do; but know that my faith is fixed,
and that I hope I shall not be deserted, when I strive even at the last
moment to do it no dishonour.”

“This gray beard,” said Palma, “has made you, then, thoroughly a
Christian?”

“I would it were so,” she answered—“I would to God it were so!”

“Lady,” resumed Palma, “we have knowledge both of your father’s high
character, and of your own amiable dispositions. If you persist in this
manner, you will give grief to Cæsar; and as for your family, have you yet
seriously considered into what misery they must be plunged?”

“Sir,” she replied, “this is cruel kindness. I have considered all
things.”

“Young maiden,” continued Palma, “the touch of the physician’s knife is
painful, yet his hand must not falter. But I have sent for those, who, I
hope, may speak more effectually.”

The Senator turned from the pedestal on which he had been leaning, and
walked to the door over against where Aurelius was sitting: and after a
moment had elapsed, there entered, even as I had anticipated, both her
uncles, Lucius and Velius. Behind them came, wrapped in her consecrated
veil, the Priestess of Apollo; and last of all, gazing wildly around, her
apparel disordered, the friend of her youth, the sister of her bosom,—she
to whom in all things, save one, Athanasia’s heart had ever been laid
open. The two Patricians advanced, deeply dejected, towards the place
where Athanasia stood waiting their approach. The stately Priestess,
walking yet more slowly, lifted the veil from her face, which was pale and
calm as marble. But when the youthful companion at last rested her eye
upon her friend, and the fettered hands clasped together on that bosom,
she rushed past them all, and was folded in a cold embrace; for though
Athanasia pressed Sempronia to her bosom, I saw also that she trembled
from head to foot, and that her eyes were riveted on those who approached
with seriousness more terrible than the passion of young sympathy.

“Athanasia,” said Lucius, taking her by the hand, “look not upon us thus;
we come as to a daughter.”

“Dearest,” said old Velius, “listen to thy true friends. Do you put more
faith in the words of strangers than in the blood of kindred—the affection
of your father’s brothers—the guardians of his dear orphan?”

“Wo is me!” said Athanasia—“O God, strengthen me! Why, oh, why am I forced
to wound these kind hearts! Have pity upon me, have pity upon me—you know
not what you speak of, else you would all be silent.”

“Weep,” said the Priestess; “weep, and weep largely. There is yet time to
repent. Abjure this madness; let the last of your tears be shed upon the
altars of your paternal Gods, and they also will be merciful. Nay, tremble
not when you hear my voice, Athanasia. I love you as tenderly as the rest,
and if you have deceived me also, I have long since pardoned.”

The Priestess kissed her forehead; and she bowed her head, weeping at
length audibly. But Athanasia speedily recovered herself, and gently
removing the hands of Sempronia, stood erect again in the midst.

“Dear friends,” said she, “the moments you have to be with me are
numbered; what avails it that they should be spent in words that can have
no effect? I have been baptized in the name of the one true God—I have
partaken of the symbols of the Christian mystery—and I have no more power
to bring myself out of this peril, than he that stands in the front
rank—without sword or buckler—deprived of all things but his honour.”

“Athanasia!” said Velius, “alas! my dear girl, what madness is this? Do
you hold yourself wiser than all the wise men, and all the good, and all
the great men that have ever lived in Rome? Do you deem yourself able to
penetrate mysteries from which all the sages of the earth have retreated
with humility? Consider with yourself—remember the modesty that might be
becoming in your tender years—and, I must speak the truth, your
ignorance.”

“Oh, sir!” she answered, “believe not that I have been brought into this
place, because of my being puffed up with emptiness of conceit. I know
well that I am a poor, young, unlearned creature; but God gives not
according to our deserts; and because I am poor and ignorant, must I
therefore reject the promise of his riches, and the great light that has
been manifested to me,—which, would to God it had also been to you,
despite the perils which a dark world has thrown around it.”

“O Athanasia!” said young Sempronia, “I know the secrets of your heart,
although you have kept from me some of them. Think, dear sister, of all
the love that we bear to you—and, oh! think of Valerius.”

“The more, then, is the sacrifice!” said Athanasia. “Caius Valerius also
is a Christian—at least I hope in God he will soon be sealed into our
brotherhood.”

“Amen! amen!” said Aurelius.

The Priestess turned round when he uttered this, and observing that he
also was fettered, “Blasphemer!” cried she, “behold the end of your
frenzy. Your eyes are dim, your clay is already yearning, it may be, to be
sprinkled into ashes; but behold your victim. Ye Gods that see all things,
have mercy upon the errors of deceived, ensnared, murdered youth! Hoary
Apostate! feeble though you be, may strength be given to you in anger,
that you may taste the full struggle and the true agony. May you be strong
to wrestle, that you may fall slowly, and feel your fall! Would to the
Gods, just and merciful, that you might struggle and fall alone!”

“Rash woman,” said the manacled Saint, “most surely your last wish is
mine. But why is it that you have come hither with cruel words, to
imbitter equally the last moments of a life that is dear to you, and a
life that you despise? You speak of ignorance and of deceit. Little know
ye who are the deceived. We are the servants of the living God, whose
light will soon shine abroad among the nations, and quench glimmering
tapers, fashioned with the hands of men, with which, hitherto, ye have sat
contented amidst darkness. Cæsar may bind and slay—but think ye that the
spirit is his to do with it what he will? Think ye that chains and
dungeons, and the sword of man can alter the course of things that are to
be, or shake from its purpose the will of Him, in whom, blind and
ignorant, ye refuse to behold the image of the Maker of all—shutting eyes,
and ears, and your proud hearts; and blaspheming against the God of
heaven, whose glory ye ascribe to stocks and stones, and to the ghosts of
wicked and bloody tyrants, long since mouldered into dust,—and to the sun,
and the moon, and the stars of the sky, which God set there to rule the
day and the night, even as he lets loose his winds to scatter the leaves
of the forest, and to lift up the waves of the great deep?—Leave us, I
beseech you.—The young and the old are alike steadfast, for God is our
strength, and he bestows it on them that ask for it in the name of the
Redeemer.”

“Peace, thou accursed!” said the Priestess; “I serve the altar, and came
not hither to hear the Gods of heaven and earth insulted by the lips of
hardened impiety.—Athanasia! will you go with us, or will you stay here,
and partake the fate of this madman?”

“O God!” cried the maiden; “how shall I speak that they may at length hear
me!—Friends—dear friends—if you have any love, any compassion, I pray you
kiss me once, and bid me farewell kindly, and lay my ashes in the
sepulchre of my fathers—beside the urn of my mother. Fear not that I will
disturb the repose of the place—I shall die in anger against no one, and I
shall have rest at length when I am relieved from this struggle. Pardon,
if in any thing besides I ever gave you pain—remember none of my offences
but this—think of me kindly. And go now, dear friends; kiss my lips in
love, and leave me to bear that which must be borne, since there is no
escape but in lying, and in baseness, and in utter perdition here and
hereafter. May the Lord strengthen his day soon, and may ye all bless the
full light, although now ye are startled by the redness of the dawn!
Farewell—kiss me, Velius—kiss me, Lucius—my aunt also will kiss me.”

They did kiss her, and tears were mingled with their embraces; and they
said no more, but parted from her where she was. Palma himself lifted the
desolate Sempronia from the ground, and he and her father carried her away
senseless, her tresses sweeping the pavement as they moved.

The prisoners were alone. “The moment is come,” said Silo; “now, sir,
prepare yourself to risk every thing where every thing may be gained.”

He did not whisper this, but spake the words boldly; and ere I could
either answer any thing, or form any guess as to his meaning, he had
leaped down from my side, and thrown open another secret spring. Silo
rushed in, and I followed him. It was all done so rapidly, that I scarce
remember how. I cannot, indeed, forget the wild and vacant stare of
Athanasia, the cry which escaped from her lips, nor the fervour with which
she sunk into my embrace. But all the rest is a dream. The door closed
swiftly behind us;—swiftly I ran, bearing the maiden in my arms through
all the long course of those deserted chambers. Door after door flew open
before us. All alike, breathless and speechless, we ran on. We reached the
last of the chambers, the wide and echoing saloon, ere my heart had
recovered from the first palpitation of surprise; and a moment after we
breathed once more the free air of heaven.

“Stop not,” said I, “for the sake of God. Hasten, Silo, it is you that
must guide us.”—“Ha!” said he, “already have they perceived it? Great God!
after all, is it in vain?” We heard shout echoing shout, and the clapping
of doors. “Treachery, treachery! Escape, escape!”—and trumpet and horn
mingled in the clamour of surprise, wrath, terror. “Ride, ride,” screamed
a voice high over all the tumult—“ride this instant—guard every
avenue—search every corner—the wing of Domitian!”

“We are lost,” said Silo;—“we can never reach the gate.”

“To the Temple of Apollo!” said I; “the Priestess will shelter Athanasia.”

“Thank God,” whispered Silo, “there is one chance more.”—And so we began
again to run swiftly, keeping close beneath the shaded wall of the
edifice, and then threading many narrow passages of the hanging gardens of
Adonis, we reached indeed the adjoining court of the Palatine, and found
ourselves, where all was as yet silent and undisturbed, under the sacred
portico. The great gate was barred. Athanasia herself pointed out a
postern, and we stood within the temple.

It was filled as before, (for here the alternations of day and night made
no difference,) with the soft and beautiful radiance proceeding from the
tree of lamps. But the fire on the altar burned high and clear, as if
recently trimmed, and behind its blaze stood one of the ministering
damsels. Her hand held the chain of the censer, and she was swinging it
slowly, while the clouds of fragrant smoke rolled high up above the
flames;—and the near light, and the intervening smoke, and the occupation
with which she was busied, prevented her from at first perceiving what
intrusion had been made on the solitude of the place. Athanasia ran on,
and clasping the knees of the astonished girl with her fettered hands,
began to implore her by the memory of old affection and companionship, and
for the sake of all that was dear to her, to give escape, if escape were
possible—at least to give concealment. The girl had dropped the censer
from her hand, and seemed utterly confused, and unable to guess the
meaning of what she saw and heard. “Lady!” cried Silo, falling by the side
of Athanasia—“Oh, lady! stand not here considering, for this is the very
moment of utmost peril. Behold these fetters—they tell you from what her
flight hath been.”

The girl grasped the hands of Athanasia, and gazed upon the manacles, and
still seemed quite amazed and stupified; and while Silo was renewing his
entreaties, we heard suddenly some one trying to open the postern which
the freedman had fastened behind us. Once and again a violent hand essayed
to undo the bolt, and then all was quiet again. And in a moment after, the
great gate was itself thrown open, and the Priestess entered, followed by
her two brothers, who supported between them the yet faint and weeping
young Sempronia.

In a moment Athanasia had rushed across the temple, and knelt down with
her forehead to the ground, close by where the feet of her haughty
kinswoman were planted.

“Unhappy!” said she; “by what magic do I behold you here? How have you
escaped? and why—oh! why fled hither? Think ye, that here, in the Temple
of Apollo, the priestess of an insulted God can give shelter to blasphemy
flying from the arms of justice? Ha! and he, too, is here!—Outcast! how
durst thou? Speak, unhappy Athanasia—every thing is dark, and I see only
that you have brought hither——”—“Friends, friends—oh! blame them not,”
interrupted the maiden—“Oh! blame them not for venturing all to save me.
Oh! help us, and help speedily—for they search every where, and they may
speedily be here.”

“Here?” cried the priestess—“who, I pray you? Ha! run, fly, bolt the door.
If Cæsar speaks, I answer.”

The ring of arms, and voices of angry men, were heard distinctly
approaching. In a moment more we could hear them talking together beneath
the very portico, and trying, in their turn, to thrust open the massive
valves of the temple. “Who calls there?” cried the Priestess—“Who calls
and knocks? If a suppliant approaches, let him come as a
suppliant.”—“Castor! We are no suppliants,” answered a rough voice:—“Dead
or alive, you must give up our pretty Christians. Come, come, my sly
masters; yield, yield, there is no flying from Cæsar.”

“Peace, insolent!” quoth the Priestess—“peace, and begone! This is the
Temple of Apollo, and ye shall find no Christians here. Turn, rude man,
and dread the arm that guarded Delphos!” And saying so, she at length
lifted up Athanasia, and moved towards the other extremity of the fane,
where, as I had occasion once to tell you before, the private chamber of
the Priestess was situated on the right hand beyond the statue of Apollo.
In passing the image she halted an instant, laid her hand on her eyes, and
kissed its feet, with a murmur of supplication; but that was her only
utterance: and the rest gave none.

She thus led us across the chamber in which, on a former day, I had heard
Athanasia sing; and in like manner, having taken a lamp in her hand, on
through the long passages which conduct towards the receptacle wherein the
Sybilline prophecies are said to be preserved. She opened the door which
she had, on that earlier day, told me led into the repository of those
mysterious scrolls. Two inner doors appeared before us; that to the left
she opened likewise, and we perceived, descending from its threshold, a
dark flight of steps, as if down into the centre of the rock.

“Here,” said she, as she paused, and held the lamp over the gloomy
perspective—“here, at last, I leave you, having already done too much,
whether I think of the God I serve, or of Trajan, or of myself. But for
the blood of kindred not little may be dared. Go with her, since you have
come with her. More I cannot do. Here—take this lamp; the door at the
bottom is fastened only from within; let it fall behind you, and make what
speed you may.”

“One thing,” said Silo, “had better be done ere you depart;” and so, very
adroitly, he, by means of his jailer’s key, relieved both of them from
their fetters. He then whispered, “Go no farther, Valerius; you may rest
assured that no one suspects us.” I saw that he designed to return into
the courts of the Palatine, and so proceed homewards, as if ignorant of
every thing that had occurred. The good freedman had no other course to
pursue, either in duty to himself or to his family. But for me, all my
cares were here. I squeezed by the hand both Lucius and Velius, and both
warmly returned my pressure. The Priestess gave the lamp into my hand, and
the door was shut upon us; and we began, with hearts full of thankfulness,
but not yet composed enough to taste of lightness—with thankfulness
uppermost in our confused thoughts, and with no steady footsteps, to
descend into the unknown abyss.



                             _CHAPTER VIII._


The steps were abrupt and narrow; but in a few minutes our feet became
accustomed to them, and we descended rapidly. After we had done so for
some time, we found ourselves in a low chamber of oblong form, in the
midst of which an iron stake was fixed into the floor, having chains of
ponderous workmanship attached to its centre, and over against it, a
narrow chair of the same metal, it also immoveable. I asked Athanasia to
repose herself here for a moment; for it was evident that the tumultuous
evening had much worn out her strength. But she said, shuddering, “No, not
here, Valerius; I never saw this place before, but the aspect of it recals
to me fearful stories. Here, wo is me, many a poor wretch has expiated
offences against the dignity of the shrine, and the servants of its Demon.
My father knows, I doubt not, some humble Christian roof, beneath which we
may be safe until the first search be over. Let us breathe at least the
open air, and He who has hitherto helped will not desert us.”

“No, my children,” said Aurelius; “let us not linger here. Christian
roofs, indeed, are known to me, both humble and lofty; but how to know how
far suspicion may already have extended?—or why should we run any needless
risk of bringing others into peril, having by God’s grace escaped
ourselves, when all hope as to this life had been utterly taken away? Let
us quit these foul precincts—let us quit them speedily—but let us not
rashly be seen in the busy city. There is a place known to me, (and
Athanasia also has visited it heretofore,) where safety, I think, may be
expected, and where, if danger do come, it shall find no unnecessary
victim. Let us hasten to the Esquiline.”

“Thanks, father!” said Athanasia; “there no one will seek us: there best
shall our thanksgivings and our prayers be offered. We will rest by the
sepulchre of our friend, and Valerius will go into the city, and procure
what things are needful.”

We began the descent of another flight of steps, beyond the dark chamber.
This terminated at length in a door, the bolts of which being withdrawn,
we found ourselves beneath the sky of night, at the extremity of one of
the wooded walks that skirt the southern base of the Palatine—the remains
of the Assyrian magnificence which had once connected the Golden House of
Nero with the more modest structures of his predecessors. I wrapped
Athanasia in my cloak, and walked beside her in my tunic; and Aurelius
conducted us by many windings, avoiding as far as was possible the glare
of the Suburra, all round about the edge of the city, to the gardens which
hang over the wall by the great Esquiline Gate.

“Is it here,” said I, when he paused—“is it in the midst of this splendour
that you hope to find a safe obscurity?”

“Have patience,” replied the old man; “you are a stranger:—and yet you
speak what I should have heard without surprise from many that have spent
all their days in Rome. Few, indeed, ever think of entering a region which
is almost as extensive as the city itself, and none, I think, are
acquainted with all its labyrinths.”

So saying, the priest led the way into one of the groves. Its trees formed
a dense canopy overhead; nor could we pass without difficulty among the
close-creeping undergrowth. At length we reached the centre of the wide
thicket, and found a small space of soil comparatively bare. The light of
moon and star plunged down there among the surrounding blackness of
boughs, as into some deep well, and shewed the entrance of a natural
grotto, which had, indeed, all the appearance of oblivion and utter
desertedness. “Confess,” said he, “that I did not deceive you. But there
is no hurry now; let me taste once more the water of this forgotten
spring.”

I had not observed a small fountain hard by the mouth of the grotto,
which, in former days, had evidently been much cared for, although now
almost all its surface was covered with leaves. The marble margin shewed
dim with moss; nor had a statue just within the entrance of the grot
escaped this desolation. Damp herbage obscured its recumbent limbs, and
the Parian stone had lost its brightness. “You can scarcely see where the
inscription was,” said Aurelius, “for the letters are filled up or
effaced; but I remember when many admired it, and I can still repeat the
lines—

  ‘Nymph of the grot, these sacred springs I keep,
  And to the murmur of these waters sleep;
  Ah! spare my slumbers, gently tread the cave,
  And drink in silence, or in silence lave.’(4)

Little did they, who graved this command, conjecture how well it was to be
obeyed. But there should be another inscription.—Ay, here it is,” said he,
stepping on a long flat piece of marble among the weeds. I was advancing
to examine the stone, but the old man stopped me:—“What avails it to spell
out the record? Do you remember the story of Asinius? It was within this
very cavern that the man was butchered;(5) and now you see both he and his
monument are alike sinking into forgetfulness. I believe, however, the
monument itself must bear the blame in part; for I have heard my father
say that he had been told this was a favourite fountain until that
slaughter.”

Athanasia meantime had sat down by the grotto, and was laving her forehead
with the water of the solitary fountain. Aurelius, too, dipped his hands
in the well, and tasted of the water, and then turning to me, he said,
with a grave smile, “Valerius, methinks you are religious in your regard
for the slumbers of the nymph.” He whispered something into the ear of
Athanasia, and received an answer from her in the same tone, ere he
proceeded:—“Draw near—fear not that I shall do any thing rashly—we owe all
things to your love—we know we do; but speak plainly.—Do you indeed desire
to be admitted into the fellowship of the true Faith? Let not the symbol
of regeneration be applied hastily. Without doubt, great were my joy might
my hands be honoured to shed the blessed water of baptism upon the brow of
dear Valerius.”

“Caius,” said Athanasia, “I know God has touched your heart; why should
this be delayed any longer? You have shared the perils of the faithful.
Partake with them in good as in evil. Hesitate no longer; God will perfect
what hath been so begun.”

“Dearest friends!” said I, “if I hesitate, it is only because I doubt if I
am yet worthy. Surely I believe that this is the right faith, and that
there is no God but He whom you worship.”

“Acceptable is humility in the sight of Heaven,” said the priest; and he
rose up from the place where he had been sitting, and began, standing by
the margin of the well, to pour out words of thanksgiving and
supplication, such as I have never heard equalled by any lips but his. The
deep calm voice of the holy man sounded both sweet and awful in the
breathless air of midnight. The tall black trees stood all around, like a
wall, cutting us off from the world, and from the thoughts of the world;
and the moon, steady in the serene sky, seemed to shower down light and
beauty upon nothing in all the wide earth, but that little guarded space
of our seclusion. I stepped into the cool water of the fountain. The old
man stooped over me, and sprinkled the drops upon my forehead, and the
appointed words were repeated. Aurelius kissed my brow, as I came forth
from the water, and Athanasia also drew slowly near, and then hastily she
pressed my forehead with trembling lips.

We sate down together by the lonely well; and we sate in silence, for I
could not be without many thoughts partaken by none but myself, at the
moment when I had thus, in the face of God and man, abjured the faith of
all my fathers, and passed into the communion of the despised and
persecuted Few; nor did either the priest or Athanasia essay to disturb my
meditations.

There were moments (for I must not conceal from you my weakness) in which
I could scarcely help suspecting that I had done something that was wrong.
I thought of my far distant mother; and I could not reflect without pain
upon the feelings with which I had every reason to suppose that she, kind
as she was, and merciful in all things, would have contemplated the scene
which had passed. I thought of my dead parent too; and that was yet more
serious and awful. The conviction of my own mind, in obedience to which I
had acted, relieved me, however, from any feelings of self-reproach.—My
father is dead, said I to myself—He died in ignorance, and he has not been
judged according to the light, which never shone upon him. But now—Oh,
yes! it must be so—the darkness has passed from before his eyes; and, if
the spirits of the departed ever visit, in the dim hours of silence, those
who were dear to them upon this earth, surely his venerable shade stood by
smiling while the forehead of his son was laved with these blessed waters.

Meantime, minutes—hours, perhaps, glided away, while troubled, and solemn,
and tender thoughts thus occupied by turns my bosom. The old priest sate
by me, his arms folded on his breast, gazing upwards upon the spangled
glories of the firmament. Athanasia was on the other side, close by the
statue of the Sleeping Naiad. From time to time, she too would fix her
eyes for a moment upon the untroubled beauty of the moon; and then,
stooping over the brink of the fountain, once and again I saw its calm
dark waters rippled beneath her by the dropping of a tear.

“My children,” said, at length, Aurelius, “methinks more sadness is
amongst us than might suit the remembrance of what Providence has done for
us, since the sun that went down upon fear and sorrow is about to rise
upon many fair hopes. I am old; the world lies behind me, save a remnant I
know not how brief. It lies all before you, and you have a light whereby
to look upon it, which my early day wanted. I trust that soon, very soon,
ye shall both be far from this city—I say both, for I know well, go where
ye may, ye will go together. As for me, my lot is cast here, and here I
will remain. Caius, you must leave us betimes—you must return into the
city, and consult with your friends and hers, how best Athanasia may be
conveyed safely beyond the bounds of Italy. Cæsar, indeed, rules every
where; but at a distance from Rome suspicion is, at least, less watchful;
and there is no precept given by which ye are bound to seek unnecessary
perils.”

“Aurelius,” said I—“dear father, think not but that I have already been
considering all these things anxiously. As soon as I have seen you safely
placed within the retreat of which you have spoken, I shall hasten to
Licinius, my kinsman, who already, indeed, must be feeling no small
anxiety from my absence. I shall speak with him, and with both the
Sempronii. My own errand to the capital I value as nothing, and I shall be
ready on the instant, if Athanasia herself will consent to partake my
voyage.”

“Yes, Caius,” said the father—“this child of God will be your wife, and ye
will both serve the Lord many days, amidst the quiet valleys of your far
off island.—Nay, daughter, do not weep, for these are not common days, and
you must follow without fear the path which God’s providence points out.
Before ye go, my children, I myself shall join your hands in the name of
our God.”

Athanasia heard his words, and saw me gaze upon his face, but she made no
reply, except by the tears which Aurelius rebuked, and a timid, yet grave
and serious pressure, with which she, when he had made an end of speaking,
returned the fervid pressure of my hand upon hers.

“Children,” said the old man, “there is no need of words when hearts are
open—the tears that ye have shed together are the best earnest of the vows
that ye shall ere long, I trust, pronounce. Yet, let no rashness attend
your steps. The dawn must now be near, and Athanasia and I had better
retire into our protecting covert. Valerius will leave us, and return at
eventide. Till then, fasting and praying, we shall give thanks for our
deliverance, and ask the aid that alone is precious for the time that yet
remains.”

I had, fortunately, brought all the way with me the lamp which lighted our
steps down the mysterious staircase, from the shrine of Apollo. Some
little oil still remained within it, and Aurelius soon struck a light,
and, taking it in his hand, began to enter before us the dark cavern, by
the mouth of which we had all this while been sitting. You, perhaps, have
never heard of those strange excavations, the whole extent of which has
probably never been known to any one person, but which appear, indeed, as
the priest had said, to be almost co-extensive with the great city beneath
which they are placed. For what purpose they were at first dug, is a
subject which has long exercised the conjectures of those fond of
penetrating into the origin of things, and the customs of antiquity. By
some it is supposed, that in such caverns, winding far away into unseen
recesses, the first rude inhabitants of Italy, like the Troglodytes of
Upper Egypt and Ethiopia, had fixed their miserable abodes. Others assert,
that they owe their origin merely to the elder builders of the visible
Rome, who, to avoid marring the surface of the earth, were contented to
bring their materials of sand, clay, and stone, from these subterraneous
labyrinths, which so grew with the progress of diligence, and with the
extension of the city itself. Perhaps both conjectures may have some
foundation in truth; but be that as it may, there is no question, that, in
succeeding times, these catacombs had been widened and extended, to serve
as places of burial for the mortal remains of the poor citizens. And now
is it to be wondered at, that here, in regions so obscure and dismal, the
persecuted adherents of the Faith should have frequently sought not only
resting-places for the bodies of their dead, but even shelter for
themselves, amidst the terror of those relentless days? Hither, more than
once, the aged priest said, he had fled to escape the pursuit of his
enemies—here once more he hoped the shield of safety would lie over his
peril—here, at last, by whatever death he should die, his brethren had
promised to lay his bones in the earth, beside Tisias of Antioch, and many
more that, in the bloody times of Nero and Domitian, had already, in the
sight of all that heartless city, merited the crown, and the spotless
robe, and the palm-branch of martyrdom, by patient endurance of the last
insolence of man.

Our father, therefore, held the lamp before us, and we entered those
gloomy regions, wherein alone the servants of the Son of God could at that
troubled era esteem themselves in safety from the hot pursuit of
contemptuous power. We passed along beneath the arches of the rock-hewn
roof, and between the endless winding walls, on either side of which
appeared many humble inscriptions, recording the virtues of the departed
and the regrets of the surviving poor. Of these last, however, as it
appeared, all must long since have been gathered to the ashes of those
they lamented, for there was no semblance of any new monument among all
that we observed, and most of them, to judge from the shape of the letters
upon them, must have been set up at least as long ago as the period of
Asinius. After traversing many of these subterraneous galleries, we came,
at last, to one more low-roofed than the rest, into which Aurelius struck
aside, saying, “Here Tisias lies, but no inscription marks the place where
a martyr finds repose. Here is the spot; with my own hands I lent feeble
help in digging the grave. Athanasia, too, knows it well, for she also did
not fear to assist in rendering the last honours to that soldier of
Christ.”

A flat thin stone, without mark or epitaph, indicated the spot.

“Father,” said Athanasia, “let me rest here. I am weary and worn—but here
I shall fear no evil. Conduct Caius back to the grotto; it is time he
should go.”

Thus leaving her by the funeral-stone, Aurelius and I retraced our steps
to the mouth of the catacomb.

“Already,” said he, “the sky is red eastward—walk cautiously through the
gardens, and regain with all speed the house of your kinsman. Go, my son;
may all blessings attend your steps. Come back at the rising of the moon,
and cast a stone into the fountain, and I shall be within hearing. Go, and
fear not.”



                              _CHAPTER IX._


I passed without disturbance through the gardens of the Esquiline, and the
streets of the city, in which no one was as yet moving, except a few
rustics driving asses laden with herbs to the market-place. When I reached
the house of my kinsman, however, it was evident that sleep did not
prevail within its gates; lights were visible in the vestibule, and there
I found several of the slaves sitting in conversation. My own could not
conceal the extravagance of his satisfaction on seeing me enter among them
in safety; so that I had no doubt his brother had informed him, in so far
at least, of what had passed after our leaving him in the Mammertine.
Dromo received me also with warm demonstrations of joy, and conducted me
to the chamber of Licinius, in which, with the orator himself, were
Sextus, pale with watching, Sabinus, still habited in military attire,
with a goblet of wine before him on the table, and Lucius Sempronius, who
was reclining at some little distance from the rest. It was he that
eagerly began to question me; and I perceived from the style in which he
spoke, that all present had already been made aware of the manner in which
Athanasia had been withdrawn from the council-chamber. A few words
informed them of what had followed after we quitted the Temple of Apollo.

“I thank the gods,” said Sempronius,—“so far at least it goes well—but if
this strictness, of which the Centurion speaks, shall be adhered to, there
still must be no small difficulty about conveying her beyond the city.”

“In truth,” quoth Sabinus, after a little pause, “I am afraid this is
scarcely a matter in regard to which I should be consulted. I know not but
already I have done several things that could not be quite reconciled with
my duty. I shall, in all probability, be set on the watch myself, and if
so—much as I must regret the necessity—it certainly will be most necessary
for me to discharge what is committed to my trust. Is there no
possibility, think you, of inventing some impenetrable disguise? Depend on
it, it is quite impossible the young lady should remain any where in Rome,
without being ere long discovered. The first thing is to have her safe
beyond the city-walls.”

“I myself,” said I, “shall embark instantly for Britain. Sempronius,
Athanasia must go with me—Surely it may be possible to have her carried
unobserved to the shore.”

“You!” said Licinius—“you embark instantly for Britain?—You know not what
you speak; your law-suit has been determined this very afternoon. Every
thing that Cneius left is your own.”

“O Jove!” cried Sabinus, “did ever mortal receive such news with such a
face! But come, here is health to the heir of the Valerii, and may this
Massic choke me, if I love him not the better for his gravity.”

“Would to heaven!” said Sempronius, “our young friend had loved under
other auspices! No, Valerius must stay and take possession, destined, as I
hope he is, to equal, under the favour of the gods, the noblest name in
his lineage. My dear niece—let us trust she may be concealed somewhere in
safety from the pursuit. Separated from this fanatic crew, she will, ere
long, without question, abandon the dreams they have filled her mind
withal; and on some happier day, our friend may perhaps have no reason
either to fear or to blush, for lifting her over the threshold of the
Valerii.”

I drew near to the old man, and, receiving his embrace, whispered into his
ear, “Sempronius, you speak generously; but know that this very evening I
also have become a Christian.”

“Heavens!” cried he, “what limits shall be affixed to this contagion! Rash
boy! have you not seen already to what consequences this must lead?”

“What?” says Licinius—“what new calamity is this? Have my ears deceived
me? Speak, dear Caius—for the sake of all the blood in your veins—you have
not embraced this frenzy?”

“My friends,” said I, “why should I speak to one, when all of you are, I
well know, alike interested? In all things else I bow to age and
understanding so much above my own; but here I have thought for myself,
and my faith is fixed.”

Licinius heard me with a countenance of painful and anxious emotion. In
the eye of young Sextus I saw a tear ready to start, and his whole aspect
was that of one sad and bewildered. Sempronius leaned his brow upon his
hand, and turned himself away from me. But as for the Centurion, he
preserved his usual air; and after a moment, all the rest continuing
silent, said, “Valerius, I have been in love ere now, and perhaps am not
out of the scrape at present; but you have thrown a new light upon the
matter. What do you fancy to be the great merits of the present age, that
it should be treated with more favour than all that have gone before it?
And, if you come to speak of the Jews, every body knows they are a most
pitiful, mean, knavish set of creatures. They were always by the ears
among themselves; but I think it is rather too much that they should have
the credit of bringing their betters (by which I mean all the world
besides) into confusion. You are but green yet; all this will blow over
anon, and you will laugh more heartily than any one else when you think of
your weakness. But look up, good friend, I don’t think you are listening
to me.”

“My dear Sabinus,” said I, “I do listen, but I think it is rather to the
gay Prætorian, than to the patient friend I had expected to find in you.”

“Come!” said he again, “you take every thing so seriously. If you are
resolved to be a Christian, I am very sorry for it; but even that shall
not stand between me and a true friend. I hope you will soon see the thing
as I do—I know you will; but, in the meantime, Valerius, you may count
upon me.”—And the kind man squeezed my hand with his customary fervour.

He then turned round to the rest of our friends, and began to propose for
their consideration a dozen different schemes of escape, that had already
suggested themselves to his imagination.

Licinius took advantage of the first pause, to suggest that the Centurion
seemed in a hurry to get rid of me. He then passed into an account of the
speech he had delivered on the preceding afternoon before the Court of the
Centumvirs, and of the unhesitating manner, so gratifying to his feelings,
in which its judgment had been pronounced. For some moments, in his detail
of these proceedings, he seemed almost to have lost sight of the present
situation and views of the person most interested in their termination.
But when, in the progress of his story, he came to enlarge upon the
magnificence of my new possessions—the domains in Africa—the rich farms in
Sicily—the numerous slaves engaged in their cultivation—the Spanish silver
mine—and, last of all, the splendours of the great villa upon the banks of
the Tiber—it was not difficult to perceive that he could scarcely restrain
his indignation at the purpose I had been expressing. “And such,” said he,
“are the realities which our young friend quits for the reasons he has
mentioned! Well, every man must judge for himself. If it must be so, let
it be so.”

I heard him patiently to the end, and then said, “You have well summed up
the whole matter, my dear Licinius. It must indeed be so. I go immediately
to Britain, and I trust she—for whom I would leave all these things, were
they greater than they are—shall, by the aid of your kindness, go with me
in safety. There is one request only which I have, in addition to all
this, to lay before you; and that you may hear it the more patiently, it
does not concern myself.

“In a word, then,” I continued, “should happier days arrive, I hope once
more to be among you here in Rome. The wealth which, thanks to your zeal,
Licinius, is this day mine, can be of little use to me in the British
valley, to which, for the present, I retire. Above all, this beautiful
villa of which you speak,—why, because for a time I am unable to occupy
it, should the mansion of my fathers stand empty, when there are others
among their descendants, who lie not under the same necessity of exile?
Till I am enabled to breathe in freedom the air of Italy, I trust Licinius
will consent to let Sextus represent me in my villa. There, too, I hope
Sempronius will permit his daughter to be. It will give pleasure to
Athanasia, to think that those halls contain the dearest of our friends.
When we come back, if ever we do so, they will not grudge to make room for
us beneath the same roof with themselves. Licinius—Sempronius—what say
you?”

They were both silent for a moment; but Sabinus was at hand to answer for
them:—“By all Olympus! I shall knock down any man henceforth, that in my
presence abuses Christianity as a destruction of men’s hearts. Let it be,
good friends, as our Caius says. I know, Sextus, I have at least your
voice upon my side. Let it be so; and, for heaven’s sake, let it be
immediately. A wedding is the very thing to divert attention from these
troubles in both kindreds.”

Our conversation was interrupted by Dromo, who told me that Silo the
jailer had come to see me, and was below in the hall. There I found the
humane man, with his little daughter in his hand, and walked aside with
him into the inner portico of the house. I told him how the escape, for
which his zeal alone was to be thanked, had been terminated—and to what
resolution I had now come;—and then inquired whether no suspicion had been
attached to himself, in consequence of his absence from the Capitoline.
Having assured me that he had no reason to think so,—“The oath which I had
taken to Trajan,” said he, “prevented me from adopting the simpler course
of setting open for our dear friends the gates of the Mammertine; and I
trust that I did not offend against that oath by acting as I did, after
they had been taken away for the time from my keeping. But both they and
you must be aware of the pain which I suffered during their confinement,
and of the dangers which I have encountered by their escape. I am resolved
no more to be subject to such struggles. I cannot preserve my faith as a
Christian, and my honour as a servant of Trajan. This very day I resign my
charge in the Mammertine; this very night, if it so please you, I am ready
to accompany you and my dear young lady, in your flight to Britain.”

I need not say with what gladness I heard this proposal. Returning to my
friends, I informed them of what I had just heard, and perceiving now at
last that there was no chance of diverting me from my project, they
entered, like true friends, into serious consultation respecting the best
method of carrying my project into execution. The aid of Silo, who had
already given such proofs both of presence of mind, and of prudence, and
courage, was regarded by them as of the highest importance. He was shortly
summoned to take part in our deliberation, and it was resolved, that after
resigning in a formal manner the office he held, and transferring his
property for the present into the custody of Licinius, he should forthwith
repair to Ostium, and there hire and put in readiness, for immediate use,
a small vessel, the lightest he could find, in which the fugitive party
might transport themselves at least as far as Corsica. To this the zealous
Silo without hesitation assented. It was agreed that he should have the
mariners on their benches by the coming on of night, and that he himself
should be waiting for us by a certain ruined tower, which stands
conspicuously by the river side, about a mile and a half above Ostium. We
left it to Silo himself, to stock the bark with any merchandise which he
might deem best adapted to deceive the superintendents of the haven.

Partly from the necessity of making provision of various kinds for this
voyage, but still more in consequence of the law-suit, with the
termination of which you have just been made acquainted, I had no leisure
that day, from which to work out unnecessary pain either for myself or for
others. I had to assist Licinius in looking over an infinity of deeds, and
to superintend the drawing out of others. In the next place, I had to go
to the Forum for the purpose of manumitting some slaves, (such a largess
being naturally expected); and while I was occupied with this, need I tell
you, that my own poor Briton was not forgotten? Licinius having, at the
joint request of Sextus and myself, accorded that morning to the Cretan
also the well-merited gift of his liberty, Boto and Dromo were seen
strutting about the Forum together for some moments, each arrayed in that
worshipful cap which had formed the most prominent object in their
day-dreams of felicity. I shall not trouble you with needless particulars.
Let it suffice, that the greater part of the day was thus spent in
unavoidable business.

Towards evening, I stole privately from my kinsman’s house, being willing
to avoid a formal farewell, and repaired to Sabinus, who received me with
very lively emotion. What he dwelt upon most fervently, however, was the
probability—the certainty he seemed to esteem it—that a persecution of
this nature could not be long persisted in by such a prince as Trajan; and
the pleasure with which, that being all at an end, he should see me come
back to Rome, and take due possession of the inheritance of my fathers.
After expatiating most fluently for some minutes on the expected delights
of that day, he paused suddenly, and then added, in a tone of some little
hesitation, “And as for me, I wonder in what state you shall find me. Rich
or poor—married or single—Centurion or Tribune—one thing is certain, that
I shall, in all circumstances, be not a little rejoiced to see you.”

“You had better marry, my good captain,” said I.

“Marry! me to marry? I have not the least thought of such a thing. You did
not put any faith, did you, in the raillery of those waggish fellows of
yesterday?”

“A little—a very little, Sabinus.”

“Poh! poh! now you are jesting.”

“And much, very much, Sabinus, in the conscious looks of a certain
blushing Centurion, yesterday.”

“Come,” quoth he, “there is more cunning in these British eyes than I ever
should have dreamt of. Fill your cup to the brim, boy, and since you are
to leave us so speedily, I shall have no secrets for you. I have seen
service;—true, but what of that? I have kept a light heart in all my
campaigns. But my day, it must be confessed, begins to wear a little, a
very little, towards the evening; and, Castor! if you allow supper-time to
slip over, I don’t know but you must go to bed with a light stomach. Now
or never was the word, my boy; and the widow is mine own.”

“And Xerophrastes?” said I.

“And as for the most sagacious and venerable Xerophrastes, why, to tell
you the truth, I see nothing for him but that he should allow his beard to
curl as it pleases, drop his long cloak over his ambitious pair of shanks,
forswear moonlight, purchase for himself a dark lantern instead, and see
whether he can’t find, within the four walls of Rome, an honest Greek, and
a constant widow, to make one blessed wedding withal. That is my advice to
the Stoic—Stoic no longer—but, if there be hoops upon a tub, the most
cynical of all Cynics.”

When it was at last necessary that I should move—“Dear Caius,” said the
Centurion, “you know the Prefect has set a price on their heads, and I
promise you it is such a temptation as no virtue, that keeps watch beneath
any common prætorian breast-plate, could well be trusted to wrestle with.
But hope, and dare. And here, take once more this helmet, and cloak, and
sword, and with them share the password of the night.”

Sabinus then gave private orders to one of his troop, and walked with me
towards the Esquiline.—But why should I linger over what little remains of
this story? Why pain you with the parting which I witnessed between my
Athanasia and the holy Aurelius, afterwards numbered among the martyrs of
Christ?—Behold us at last issued from the Catacombs, and mounted on the
trusty horses which our friend had caused to be waiting at no great
distance from the thicket that clothed their entrance. Behold us arrived
without interruption at the Ostian Gate of Rome.

The soldiers on guard challenged us cheerily as we came up to them.

“The word, comrades?”

“_Titus!_” quoth the Centurion.

“Pass on—whom bear you with you, comrades!”

“A Christian—a Christian prisoner,” said I.

“By Jove, that’s worth gold to you, brother,” quoth the guard.—“Open the
gate there;—pass on, friends. I hope I shall have luck one day myself.”



                                  FINIS.



            PRINTED BY WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS, EDINBURGH.



                                FOOTNOTES


    1 “Concerning the nature of the Bacchic Stimulus.”

    2 These were the principal conspirators by whom Domitian was slain.
      They were afterwards butchered by the Prætorians, who regretted the
      tyrant; and it was supposed to be chiefly in consequence of that
      slaughter, and its shameful consequences to himself, (for he was
      compelled, among other insults, to return public thanks to the
      butchers,) that Nerva called to his aid the personal vigour and high
      military genius of Trajan.

                       3 ——Catonem
        Novisti moriens vincere, mollis Otho.

    4 So Pope has rendered the beautiful lines:

        Hujus Nympha Loci, sacri custodia fontis,
        Dormio, dum blandæ sentio murmur aquæ;
        Parce meum, quisquis tangis cava marmora, somnum
        Rumpere; sive bibas, sive lavere, tace.

    5 Asinius autem brevi illo tempore quasi in hortulos in _arenarias_
      quasdam juxta portam Exquiliniam perductus, occiditur.—Cic. _Pro
      Cluent._



                            TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE


Variations in hyphenation (e.g. “eyebrows”, “eye-brows”; “godlike”,
“god-like”) have not been changed.

Other changes, which have been made to the text:

      page 72, question mark added after “him”, quote mark added before
      “His”
      page 267, “Aybss” changed to “Abyss”
      page 307, “Capito” changed to “Capitol”





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