Chapter 13. And Resurrection

{145} JUCUNDUS was quite as much amused as provoked at the result of the delicate negotiation in which he had entangled his nephew. It was a gratification to him to find that its ill success had been owing in no respect to any fault on the side of Agellius. He had done his part without shrinking, and the view which he, Jucundus, had taken of his state of mind, was satisfactorily confirmed. He had nothing to fear from Agellius, and though he had failed in securing the guarantee which he had hoped for his attachment to things as they were, yet in the process of failure it had been proved that his nephew might be trusted without it. And it was a question, whether a girl so full of whims and caprices as Callista might after all have done him any permanent good. The absurd notion, indeed, of her having a leaning for Christianity had been refuted by her conduct on the occasion; still, who could rely on a clever and accomplished Greek? There were secret societies and conspiracies in abundance, and she might have involved so weak and innocent a fellow in some plans against the government, now or at a future time; or might have {146} alienated him from his uncle, or in some way or other made a fool of him, if she had consented to have him for her slave. Why she had rejected so eligible a suitor it was now useless and idle to inquire; it might be that the haughty or greedy Greek had required him to bid higher for her favourable notice. If the negotiation had taken such a turn, then indeed there was still more gratifying evidence of Agellius having broken from his fantastic and peevish superstition.

Still, however, he was not without anxiety, now that the severe measures directed against the Christians were in progress. No overt act, indeed, beyond the publication of the edict, had been taken in Sicca—probably would be taken at all. The worst was, that something must be done to make a show; he could have wished that some of the multitude of townspeople, half suspected of Christianity, had stood firm, and suffered themselves to be tortured and executed. One or two would have been enough; but the magistracy got no credit with the central government for zeal and activity if no Christians were made an example of. Yet still it was a question whether the strong acts at Carthage and elsewhere would not suffice, though the lesser towns did nothing. At least, while the populace was quiet, there was nothing to press for severity. There were no rich Christians in Sicca to tempt the cupidity of the informer or of the magistrate; no political partisans among them, who had made enemies with this or that class of the community. {147} But, supposing a bad feeling to rise in the populace, supposing the magistrates to have ill-wishers and rivals—and what men in power had not?—who might be glad to catch them tripping, and make a case against them at Rome, why, it must be confessed that Agellius was nearly the only victim who could be pitched upon. He wished Callista no harm, but, if a Christian must be found and held up in terrorem, he would rather it was a person like her, without connections and home, than the member of any decent family of Sicca, whose fair fame would be compromised by a catastrophe. However, she was not a Christian, and Agellius was, at least by profession; and his fear was lest Juba should be right in his estimate of his brother's character. Juba had said that Agellius could be as obstinate as he was ordinarily indolent and yielding, and Jucundus dreaded lest, if he were rudely charged with Christianity, and bidden to renounce it under pain of punishment, he would rebel against the tyrannical order, and go to prison and to death out of sheer perverseness or sense of honour.

With these perplexities before him, he could find nothing better than the following plan of action, which had been in his mind for some time. While the edict remained inoperative, he would do nothing at all, and let Agellius go on with his country occupations, which would keep him out of the way. But if any disposition appeared of a popular commotion, or a movement on the part of the magistracy, he determined to get possession {148} of Agellius, and forcibly confine him in his own house in Sicca. He hoped that in the case of one so young, so uncommitted, he should have influence with the municipal authorities, or at the prętorium, or in the camp (for the camp and the prętorium were under different jurisdictions in the proconsulate), to shelter Agellius from a public inquiry into his religious tenets, or if this could not be, to smuggle him out of the city. He was ready to affirm solemnly that his nephew was no Christian, though he was touched in the head, and, from an affection parallel to hydrophobia, to which the disciples of Galen ought to turn their attention, was sent into convulsions on the sight of an altar. His father, indeed, was a malignant old atheist—there was no harm in being angry with the dead—but it was very hard the son should suffer for his father's offence. If he must be judged of by his parents, let him rather have the advantage of the thorough loyalty and religiousness of his mother, a most zealous old lady, in high repute in the neighbourhood of Sicca for her theurgic knowledge, a staunch friend of the imperial government, which had before now been indebted to her for important information, and as staunch a hater of the Christians. Such was the plan of proceedings resolved on by Jucundus before he received the news of his nephew's serious malady. It did not reach him till many days after; and then he did not go to see him, first, lest he should be supposed to be in communication with him, next, as having no respect for that romantic sort of generosity {149} which risks the chances of contagion for the absurd ceremony of paying a compliment.

It was thus that Jucundus addressed himself to the present state of affairs, and anticipated the chances of the future. As to Aristo, he had very little personal interest in the matter. His sister might have thwarted him in affairs which lay nearer his heart than the moral emancipation of Agellius; and as she generally complied with his suggestions and wishes, whatever they were, he did not grudge her her liberty of action in this instance. Nor had the occurrence which had taken place any great visible effect upon Callista herself. She had lost her right to be indignant with her brother, and she resigned or rather abandoned herself to her destiny. Her better feelings had been brought out for the moment in her conversation with Agellius; but they were not ordinary ones. True, she was tired, but she was the slave of the world; and Agellius had only made her more sceptical than before that there was any service better. So at least she said to herself; she said it was fantastic to go elsewhere for good, and that, if life was short, then, as her brother said, it was necessary to make the most of it.

And meanwhile, what of Agellius himself? Why, it will be some little time before Agellius will be in a condition to moralize upon anything. His faithful slave half-carried, half-drew him into the cottage, and stretched him upon his bed. Then, having sufficient skill for the ordinary illnesses of the country, {150} though this was more than an ordinary fever, he drew blood from him, gave him a draught of herbs, and left him to the slow but safe processes of nature to restore him. It could not be affirmed that he was not in considerable danger of life, yet youth carries hope with it, and his attendant had little to fear for his recovery. For some days certainly Agellius had no apprehension of anything, except of restlessness and distress, of sleepless nights, or dreary, miserable dreams. At length one morning, as he was lying on his back with his eyes shut, it came into his mind to ask himself whether Sunday would ever come. He had been accustomed upon the first day of the week to say some particular prayers and psalms, and unite himself in spirit with his brethren beyond seas. And then he tried to remember the last Sunday; and the more he thought, the less he could remember it, till he began to think that months had gone without a Sunday. This he was certain of, that he had lost reckoning, for he had made no notches for the days for a long while past, and unless his slave Asper knew, there was no one to tell him. Here he got so puzzled, that it was like one of the bad dreams which had worried him. He felt it affect his head, and he was obliged to give up the inquiry.

From this time his sleep was better and more refreshing for several days; he was more collected when he was awake, and was able to ask himself why he lay there, and what had happened to him. Then gradually his memory began to return like the dawning {151} of the day; the cause and the circumstances of his recent visit to the city, point after point came up, and he felt first wonder, and then certainty. He recollected the Forum, and then the edict; a solemn, overpowering emotion here seized him, and for a while he dared not think more. When he recovered, and tried to pursue the events of the day, he found himself unequal to the task; all was dark, except that he had some vague remembrance of thirsting, and some one giving him to drink, and then his saying with the Psalmist, "Transivimus per ignem et aquam."

He opened his eyes and looked about him. He was at home. There was some one at the bed-head whom he could not see hanging over him, and he was too weak to raise himself and so command a view of him. He waited patiently, being too feeble to have any great anxiety on the subject. Presently a voice addressed him: "You are recovering, my son," it said.

"Who are you?" said Agellius abruptly. The person spoken to applied his mouth to Agellius's ear, and uttered lowly several sacred names.

Agellius would have started up had he been strong enough; he could but sink down upon his rushes in agitation.

"Be content to know no more at present," said the stranger, "praise God, as I do. You know enough for your present strength. It is your act of obedience for the day." {152}

It was a deep, clear, peaceful, authoritative voice. In his present state, as we have said, it cost Agellius no great effort to mortify curiosity; and the accents of that voice soothed him, and the mystery employed his mind, and had something pleasing and attractive in it. Moreover, about the main point there was no mystery, and could be no mistake, that he was in the hands of a Christian ecclesiastic.

The stranger occupied himself for a time with a book of prayers which he carried about him, and then again with the duties of a sick-bed. He sprinkled vinegar over Agellius's face and about the room, and supplied him with the refreshment of cooling fruit. He kept the flies from tormenting him, and did his best so to arrange his posture that he might suffer least from his long lying. In the morning and evening he let in the air, and he excluded the sultry noon. In these various occupations he was from time to time removed to a distance from the patient, who thus had an opportunity of observing him. The stranger was of middle height, upright, and well proportioned; he was dressed in a peasant's or slave's dark tunic. His face was rather round than long; his hair black, yet with the promise of greyness, with what might be baldness in the crown, or a priest's tonsure. His short beard curled round his chin; his complexion was very clear. But the most striking point about him was his eyes; they were of a light or greyish blue, transparent, and shining like precious stones.

From the day that they first interchanged words, {153} the priest said some short prayers from time to time with Agellius—the Lord's Prayer, and portions of the Psalms. Afterwards, when he was well enough to converse, Agellius was struck with the inexpressible peculiarity of his manner. It was self-collected, serene, gentle, tender, unobtrusive, unstudied. It enabled him to say things severe and even stern, without startling, offending, or repelling the hearer. He spoke very little about himself, though from time to time points of detail were elicited of his history in the course of conversation. He said that his name was Cęcilius. Asper, when he entered the room, would kneel down and offer to kiss the stranger's sandal, though the latter generally managed to prevent it.

Cęcilius did not speak much about himself; but Agellius, on the other hand, found it a relief to tell out his own history, and reflect upon and describe his own feelings. As he lay on his bed, he half soliloquized, half addressed himself to the stranger. Sometimes he required an answer; sometimes he seemed to require none. Once he asked suddenly, after a long silence, whether a man could be baptized twice; and when the priest answered distinctly in the negative, Agellius replied that if so, he thought it would be best never to be baptized till the hour of death. It was a question, he said, which had perplexed him a good deal, but he never had had any one to converse with on the subject.

Cęcilius answered, "But how could you promise yourself that you would be able to obtain the sacrament {154} at the last moment? The water and the administrator might come just too late; and then where would you be, my son? And then again, how do you know you would wish it? Is your will simply in your own power? 'Carpe diem;' take God's gift while you can."

"The benefit is so immense," answered Agellius, "that one would wish, if one could, to enter into the unseen world without losing its fulness. This cannot be, if a long time elapses between baptism and death."

"You are, then, of the number of those," said Cęcilius, "who would cheat their Maker of His claim on their life, provided they could (as it is said) in their last moment cheat the devil."

Agellius continuing silent, Cęcilius added, "You want to enjoy this world, and to inherit the next; is it so?"

"I am puzzled, my head is weak, father; I do not see my way to speak." Presently he said, "Sin after baptism is so awful a matter; there is no second laver for sin; and then again, to sin against baptism is so great a sin."

The priest said, "In baptism God becomes your Father; your own God; your worship; your love—can you give up this great gift all through your life? Would you live 'without God in this world'?"

Tears came into Agellius's eyes, and his throat became oppressed. At last he said, distinctly and tenderly, "No." {155}

After a while the priest said, "I suppose what you fear is the fire of judgment, and the prison; not lest you should fall away and be lost."

"I know, my dear father," answered the sick youth, "that I have no right to reckon on anything, or promise myself anything; yet somehow I have never feared hell—though I ought, I know I ought; but I have not. I deserve the worst, but somehow I have thought that God would lead me on. He ever has done so."

"Then you fear the fire of judgment," said Cęcilius; "you'd put off baptism for fear of that fire."

"I did not say I would," answered Agellius; "I wanted you to explain the thing to me."

"Which would you rather, Agellius, be without God here, or suffer the fire there?"

Agellius smiled; he said faintly, "I take Him for my portion here and there: He will be in the fire with me."

Agellius lay quiet for some hours, and seemed asleep. Suddenly he began again, "I was baptized when I was only six years old. I'm glad you do not think it was wilful in me, and wrong. I cannot tell what took me," he presently continued. "It was a fervour; I have had nothing of the kind since. What does our Lord say? I can't remember: 'Novissima pejora prioribus."

He continued the train of thought another day, or rather the course of his argument; for on the thought itself his mind seemed ever to be working. "My {156} spring is gone," he said, "and I have no summer. Nay, I have had no spring; it was a day, not a season. It came, and it went; where am I now? Can spring ever return? I wish to begin again in right earnest."

"Thank God, my son, for this great mercy," said Cęcilius, "that, though you have relaxed, you have never severed yourself from the peace of the Church, you have not denied your God."

Agellius sighed bitterly. "O my father," he said, "'Erravi, sicut ovis quę periit.' I have been very near denying Him, at least by outward act. You do not know me; you cannot know what has come on me lately. And I dare not look back on it, my heart is so weak. My father, how am I to repent of what is past, when I dare not think of it? To think of it is to renew the sin."

"'Puer meus, noli timere,'" answered the priest; "'si transieris per ignem, odor ejus non erit in te.' In penance, the grace of God carries you without harm through thoughts and words which would harm you apart from it."

"Ah, penance!" said Agellius; "I recollect the catechism. What is it, father? a new grace, I know; a plank after baptism. May I have it?"

"You are not strong enough yet to think of these things, Agellius," answered Cęcilius. "Please God, you shall get well. Then you shall review all your life, and bring it out in order before Him; and He, through me, will wipe away all that has been amiss. Praise Him who has spared you for this." {157}

It was too much for the patient, in his weak state; he could but shed happy tears.

Another day he had sat up in bed. He looked at his hands, from which the skin was peeling; he felt his lips, and it was with them the same; and his hair seemed coming off also. He smiled and said, "Renovabitur, ut aquila, juventus mea."

Cęcilius responded, as before, with sacred words which were new to Agellius: "'Qui sperant in Domino mutabunt fortitudinem; assument pennas, sicut aquilę.' 'Sursum corda!' you must soar, Agellius."

"'Sursum corda!'" answered he; "I know those words. They are old friends; where have I heard them? I can't recollect; but they are in my earliest memories. Ah! but, my father, my heart is below, not above. I want to tell you all. I want to tell you about one who has enthralled my heart; who has divided it with my True Love. But I daren't speak of her, as I have said; I dare not speak, lest I be carried away. O, I blush to say it; she is a heathen! May God save her soul! Will He come to me, and not to her? 'Investigabiles vię ejus.'"

He remained silent for some time; then he said, "Father, I mean to dedicate myself to God, simply, absolutely, with His grace. I will be His, and He shall be mine. No one shall come between us. But O this weak heart!"

"Keep your good resolves till you are stronger," said the priest. "It is easy to make them on a sickbed. You must first reckon the charges." {158}

Agellius smiled. "I know the passage, father," he said, and he repeated the sacred words: "If any man come to Me, and hate not his father and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple."

Another time Agellius said: "The Martyrs; surely the old bishop used to say something about the Martyrs. He spoke of a second baptism, and called it a baptism of blood; and said, 'Might his soul be with the Martyrs!' Father, would not this wash out every thing, as the first?"

It was now Cęcilius who smiled, and his eyes shone like the sapphires of the Holy City; and he seemed the ideal of him who, when

                           "Called upon to face
Some awful moment to which heaven has joined
Great issues, good or bad for humankind,
Is happy as a lover, and attired
With sudden brightness, like a man inspired."

However, he soon controlled himself, and said, "Quo ego vado, non potes me modo sequi; sequeris autem postea."

Chapter 14

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