Chapter 20. He shall not Lose his Reward

{226} THERE was no room for doubt or for delay. "What is to become of you, Callista?" he said; "they will tear you to pieces."

"Fear nothing for me, father," she answered; "I am one of them. They know me. Alas, I am no Christian! I have not abjured their rites! but you, lose not a moment."

"They are still at some distance," he said, "though the wind gives us merciful warning of their coming." He looked about the room, and took up the books of Holy Scripture which were on the shelf. "There is nothing else," he said, "of special value here. Agellius could not take them. Here, my child, I am going to show you a great confidence. To few persons not Christians would I show it. Take this blessed parchment; it contains the earthly history of our Divine Master. Here you will see whom we Christians love. Read it; keep it safely; surrender it, when you have the opportunity, into Christian keeping. My mind tells me I am not wrong in lending it to you." He handed to her the Gospel of St. Luke, {227} while he put the two other volumes into the folds of his own tunic.

"One word more," she said; "your name, should I want you."

He took up a piece of chalk from the shelf, and wrote upon the wall in distinct characters,

"Thascius Cęcilius Cyprianus, Bishop of Carthage."

Hardly had she read the inscription when the voices of several men were heard in the very neighbourhood of the cottage; and hoping to effect a diversion in favour of Cęcilius, and being at once unsuspicious of danger to herself, and careless of her life, she ran quickly forward to meet them. Cęcilius ought to have taken to flight without a moment's delay, but a last sacred duty detained him. He knelt down and took the pyx from his bosom. He had eaten nothing that day; but even if otherwise, it was a crisis, which allowed him to consume the sacred species without fasting. He hastily opened the golden case, adored the blessed sacrament, and consumed it, purifying its receptacle, and restoring it to its hiding-place. Then he rose at once and left the cottage.

He looked about; Callista was nowhere to be seen. She was gone; so much was certain, no enemy was in sight; it only remained for him to make off too. In the confusion he turned in the wrong direction; instead of making off at the back of the cottage from which the voices had scared him, he ran across the garden {228} into the hollow way. It was all over with him in an instant; he fell at once into the hands of the vanguard of the mob.

Many mouths were opened upon him all at once. "The sorcerer!" cried one; "tear him to shreds; we'll teach him to brew his spells against the city." "Give us back our grapes and corn," said a second. "Have a guard," said a third; "he can turn you into swine or asses while there is breath in him." "Then be the quicker with him," said a fourth, who was lifting up a crowbar to discharge upon his head. "Hold!" said a tall swarthy youth, who had already warded off several blows from him, "hold, will you? don't you see, if you kill him he can't undo the spell. Make him first reverse it all; make him take the curse off us. Bring him along; take him to Astarte, Hercules, or old Saturn. We'll broil him on a gridiron till he turns all these canes into vines, and makes olive berries of the pebbles, and turns the dust of the earth into fine flour for our eating. When he has done all this he shall dance a jig with a wild cow, and sit down to supper with an hyena."

A loud scream of exultation broke forth from the drunken and frantic multitude. "Along with him!" continued the same speaker in a jeering tone. "Here, put him on the ass and tie his hands behind his back. He shall go back in triumph to the city which he loves. Mind, and don't touch him before the time. If you kill him, you'll never get the curse off. Come here, you priests of Cybele," he added, "and be his {229} body-guard." And he continued to keep a vigilant eye and hand over the old man, in spite of them.

The ass, though naturally a good-tempered beast, had been most sadly tried through the day. He had been fed, indeed, out of mockery, as being the Christians' god; but he did not understand the shouts and caprices of the crowd, and he only waited for an opportunity to show that he by no means acquiesced in the proceedings of the day. And now the difficulty was to move at all. The people kept crowding up the hollow road, and blocked the passage, and though the greater part of the rioters had either been left behind exhausted in Sicca itself, or had poured over the fields on each side of Agellius's cottage, or gone right over the hill down into the valley beyond, yet still it was some time before the ass could move a step, and a time of nervous suspense it was both to Cęcilius and the youth who befriended him. At length what remained of the procession was persuaded to turn about and make for Sicca, but in a reversed order. It could not be brought round in so confined a space, so its rear went first and the ass and its burden came last. As they descended the hill back again, Cęcilius, who was mounted upon the linen and silk which had adorned the Dea Syra before the Tertullianist had destroyed the idol, saw before him the whole line of march. In front were flaunted the dreadful emblems of idolatry, so far as their bearers were able still to raise them.

Drunken women, ragged boys mounted on men's shoulders, ruffians and bullies, savage-looking Getulians, {230} half-human monsters from the Atlas, monkeys and curs jabbering and howling, mummers, bacchanals, satyrs, and gesticulators, formed the staple of the procession. Midway between the hill which he was descending and the city lay the ravine, of which we have several times spoken, widening out into the plain or Campus Martius, which reached round to the steep cliffs on the north. The bridle-path, along which he was moving, crossed it just where it was opening and became level, so as to present no abrupt descent and ascent at the place where the path was lowest. On the left every vestige of the ravine soon ceased, and a free passage extended to the plain.

The youth who had placed Cęcilius on the ass still kept close to him and sung at the pitch of his voice, in imitation of the rest—

"Sporting and snorting in shades of the night,
His ears pricking up, and his hoofs striking light,
And his tail whisking round in the speed of his flight."

"Old man," he continued to Cęcilius in a low voice, and in Latin, "your curse has not worked on me yet."

"My son," answered the priest, "you are granted one day more for repentance."

"Lucky for you as well as for me," was the reply: and he continued his song:—

"Gurta, the witch, was out with the rest;
Though as lame as a gull, by his highness possessed,
She shouldered her crutch, and danced with the best.

"She stamped and she twirled in the shade of the yew,
Till her gossips and chums of the city danced too;
They never are slack when there's mischief to do.

"She danced and she coaxed, but he was no fool;
He'd be his own master, he'd not be her tool:
Not the little black moor should send him to school."

He then turned to Cęcilius and whispered, "You see, old father, that others, besides Christians, can forgive and forget. Henceforth call me generous Juba." And he tossed his head.

By this time they had got to the bottom of the hill, and the deep shadows which filled the hollow showed that the sun was rapidly sinking in the west. Suddenly, as they were crossing the bottom as it opened into the plain, Juba seized and broke the thong which bound Cęcilius's arms, and bestowing a tremendous cut with it upon the side of the ass, sent him forward upon the plain at his greatest speed. The youth's manœuvre was successful to the full. The asses of Africa can do more on an occasion of this kind than our own. Cęcilius for the moment lost his seat; but, instantly recovering it, took care to keep the animal from flagging; and the cries of the mob, and the howlings of the priests of Cybele cooperated in the task. At length the gloom, increasing every minute, hid him from their view; and even in daylight his recapture would have been a difficult matter for a wearied-out, famished, and intoxicated rabble. Before Cęcilius well had time to return thanks for this unexpected turn of events, he was out of pursuit, and was ambling at a pace more suitable to the habits of the beast of {232} burden that carried him, over an expanse of plain which would have been a formidable night-march to a fasting man.

We must not conclude the day without relating what was its issue to the persecutors, as well as to their intended victim. It is almost a proverb that punishment is slow in overtaking crime; but the present instance was an exception to the rule. While the exiled Bishop of Carthage escaped, the crowd, on the other hand, were caught in the trap which had been laid for them. We have already said it was a ruse on the part of the governing authorities of the place to get the rioters out of the city, that they might at once be relieved of them, and then deal with them just as they might think fit. When the mob was once outside the walls, they might be refused re-admittance, and put down with a strong hand. The Roman garrison, who, powerless to quell the tumult in the narrow and winding streets and multiplied alleys of the city, had been the authors of the manœuvre, now took on themselves the stern completion of it, and determined to do so in the sternest way. Not a single head of all those who poured out in the afternoon should return at night. It was not to be supposed that the soldiers had any tenderness for the Christians, but they abominated and despised the rabble of the town. They were indignant at their rising, thought it a personal insult to themselves, and resolved they should never do so again. {233} The gates were commonly in the custody of the city guard, but the Porta Septimiana, by which the mob passed out, was on this occasion claimed by the Romans. It was most suitably circumstanced for the use they intended to make of it. Immediately outside of it was a large court of the same level as the ground inside, bordered on the right and left by substantial walls, which after a time were drawn to meet each other, and contracted the space to the usual breadth of a road. The walls continued to run along this road for some distance, till they joined the way which led to the Campus Martius, and from this point the ground was open till it reached the head of the ravine. The soldiers drew up at the gate, and as the worn-out and disappointed, brutalized and half-idiotic multitudes returned towards it from the country, those who were behind pushed on between the border walls those who were in front, and, while they jammed together their ranks, also made escape impossible. It was now that the Roman soldiers began their barbarous, not to say cowardly, assault upon them. With heavy maces, with the pike, with iron gauntlets, with stones and bricks, with clubs, with scourge, with the sword, with the helmet, with whatever came to hand, they commenced the massacre of that large concourse of human beings, who did not offer one blow in return. They slaughtered them like sheep; they trampled them down; they threw the bodies of the wounded over the walls. Attempting to run back, numbers of the poor {234} wretches came into conflict with the ranks behind them, and an additional scene of confusion and overthrow took place; many of them straggled over to the open country or woods, and perished, either from the weather, or from hunger, or even from the wild beasts. Others, weakened by excess and famine, fell a prey to the pestilence that was raging. After some days a remnant of them was allowed silently and timidly to steal back into the city as best they could. It was a long day before the Plebs Siccensis ventured to have any opinion of its own upon the subject of Christianity, or any other political, social, or ecclesiastical topic whatever.

Chapter 21

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