Chapter 25. Callista in Durance

{274} WE will hope that the reader, as well as Agellius, is attracted by the word Callista, and wishes to know something about her fate; nay, perhaps finds fault with us as having suffered him so long to content himself with the chance and second-hand information which Jucundus or Juba has supplied. If we have been wanting in due consideration for him, we now trust to make up for it.

When Callista, then, had so boldly left the cottage to stop the intruders, she had in one important point reckoned without her host. She spoke Latin fluently, herself, and could converse with the townspeople, most of whom could do the same; but it was otherwise with the inhabitants of the country, numbers of whom, as we have said, were in Sicca on the day of the outbreak. The two fellows, whom she went out to withstand, knew neither her nor the Latin tongue. They were of a race which called itself Canaanite, and really was so; huge, gigantic men, who looked like the sons of Enac, described in Holy Writ. They knew nothing of roads or fences, and had scrambled up the hill as they could, the shortest way, and, {275} being free from the crowd, with far more expedition than had they followed the beaten track. She and they could not understand each other's speech; but her appearance spoke for her, and, in consequence, they seized on her as their share of the booty, and without more ado, carried her off towards Sicca. As they came up by a route of their own, so they returned, and entered the city by a gate more to the south, not the Septimian; a happy circumstance, as otherwise she would have stood every chance of being destroyed in that wholesale massacre which the soldiery inflicted on the crowd as it returned.

These giants, then, got possession of Callista, and she entered Sicca upon the shoulder of one of them, who danced in with no greater inconvenience than if he was carrying on it a basket of flowers, or a box of millinery. Here the party met with the city police, who were stationed at the gate.

"Down with your live luggage, you rascals," they said, in their harsh Punic; "what have you to do with plunder of this kind? and how came you by her?"

"She's one of those Christian rats, your worship," answered the fellow, who, strong as he was, did not relish a contest with some dozen of armed men. "Long live the Emperor! We'll teach her to eat asses' heads another time, and brew fevers. I found her with a party of Christians. She's nothing but a witch, and she knows the consequences."

"Let her go, you drunken animal!" said the constable, still keeping his distance. "I'll never believe {276} any woman is a Christian, let alone so young a one. And now I look at her, so far as I can see by this light, I think she's priestess of one of the great temples up there."

"She can turn herself into anything," said the other of her capturers, "young or old. I saw her one night near Madaura, a month ago, in the tombs in the shape of a black cat."

"Away with you both, in the name of the Suffetes of Sicca and all the magistracy!" cried the official. "Give up your prisoner to the authorities of the place, and let the law take its course."

But the Canaanites did not seem disposed to give her up, and neither party liking to attack the other, a compromise took place. "Well," said the guardian of the night, "the law must be vindicated, and the peace preserved. My friends, you must submit to the magistrates. But since she happens to be on your shoulder, my man, let her even remain there, and we depute you, as a beast of burden, to carry her for us, thereby to save us the trouble. Here, child," he continued, "you're our prisoner; so you shall plead your own cause in the popina there. Long live Decius, pious and fortunate! Long live this ancient city, colony and municipium! Cheer up, my lass, and sing us a stave or two, as we go; for I'll pledge a cyathus of unmixed, that, if you choose, you can warble notes as sweet as the manna gum."

Callista was silent, but she was perfectly collected, and ready to avail herself of any opportunity to {277} better her condition. They went on towards the Forum, where a police-office, as we now speak, was situated, but did not reach it without an adventure. The Roman military force at Sicca was not more than a century of men; the greater number were at this moment at the great gate, waiting for the mob; a few, in parties of three and four, were patrolling the city. Several of these were at the entrance of the Forum when the party came up to it; and it happened that a superior officer, who was an assistant to what may be called the military resident of the place, a young man, on whom much of the duty of the day had devolved, was with the soldiers. She had known him as a friend of her brother's, and recognised him in the gloom, and at once took advantage of the meeting.

"Help," she said, "gentlemen! help, Calphurnius! these rascals are carrying me off to some den of their own."

The tribune at once knew her voice. "What!" he cried, with great astonishment, "what, my pretty Greek! You most base, infamous, and unmannerly scoundrels, down with her this instant! What have you to do with that young lady? You villains, unless you would have me crack your African skulls with the hilt of my sword, down with her, I say!"

There was no resisting a Roman voice, but prompt obedience is a rarity, and the ruffians began to parley. "My noble master," said the constable, "she's our prisoner. Jove preserve you, and Bacchus and {278} Ceres bless you, my lord tribune! and long life to the Emperor Decius in these bad times. But she is a rioter, my lord, one of the ringleaders, and a Christian and a witch to boot."

"Cease your vile gutturals, you animal!" cried the officer, "or I will ram them down your throat with my pike to digest them. Put down the lady, beast. Are you thinking twice about it. Go, Lucius," he said to a private, "kick him away, and bring the woman here."

Callista was surrendered, but the fellow, sullen at the usage he had met with, and spiteful against Calphurnius, as the cause of it, cried out maliciously, "Mind what you are at, noble sir, it's not our affair; you can fry your own garlic. But an Emperor is an Emperor, and an Edict is an Edict, and a Christian is a Christian; and I don't know what high places will say to it, but it's your affair. Take notice," he continued, as he got to a safer distance, raising his voice still higher, that the soldiers might hear, "yon girl is a Christian priestess, caught in a Christian assembly, sacrificing asses and eating children for the overthrow of the Emperor, and the ruin of his loyal city of Sicca, and I have been interrupted in the discharge of my duty—I, a constable of the place. See whether Calphurnius will not bring again upon us the plague, the murrain, the locusts, and all manner of larvŠ and maniŠ before the end of the story."

This speech perplexed Calphurnius, as it was intended. It was impossible he could dispose of Callista {279} as he wished, with such a charge formally uttered in the presence of his men. He knew how serious the question of Christianity was at that moment, and how determined the Imperial Government was on the eradication of its professors; he was a good soldier, devoted to head-quarters, and had no wish to compromise himself with his superiors, or to give by-standers an advantage over him, by setting a prisoner at liberty without inquiry, who had been taken in a Christian's house. He muttered an oath, and said to the soldiers, "Well, my lads, to the Triumviri with her, since it must be so. Cheer up, my star of the morning, bright beam of Hellas, it is only as a matter of form, and you will be set at liberty as soon as they look on you." And with these words he led the way to the Officium.

But the presiding genius of the Officium was less accommodating than he had anticipated. It might be that he was jealous of the soldiery, or of their particular interference, or indignant at the butchery at the great gate, of which the news had just come, or out of humour with the day's work, and especially with the Christians; at any rate, Calphurnius found he had better have taken a bolder step, and have carried her as a prisoner to the camp. However, nothing was now left for him but to depart; and Callista fell again into the hands of the city, though of the superior functionaries, who procured her a lodging for the night, and settled to bring her up for examination next morning. {280}

The morning came, and she was had up. What passed did not transpire; but the issue was that she was remanded for a further hearing, and was told she might send to her brother, and acquaint him where she was. He was allowed one interview with her, and he came away almost out of his senses, saying she was bewitched, and fancied herself a Christian. What precisely she had said to him, which gave this impression, he could hardly say; but it was plain there must be something wrong, or there would not be that public process and formal examination which was fixed for the third day afterwards.

Chapter 26

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