Chapter 3. Agellius in his Cottage

{25} THE cottage for which Agellias was making, when last we had sight of him, was a small brick house consisting of one room, with a loft over it, and a kitchen on the side, not very unlike that holy habitation which once contained the Eternal Word in human form with His Virgin Mother, and Joseph, their guardian. It was situated on the declivity of the hill, and, unlike the gardens of Italy, the space before it was ornamented with a plot of turf. A noble palm on one side, in spite of its distance from the water, and a group of orange-trees on the other, formed a foreground to the rich landscape which was described in our opening chapter. The borders and beds were gay with the lily, the bacchar, amber-coloured and purple, the golden abrotomus, the red chelidonium, and the variegated iris. Against the wall of the house were trained pomegranates, with their crimson blossoms, the star-like pothos or jessamine, and the symbolical passion-flower, which well became a Christian dwelling.

And it was an intimation of what would be found within; for on one side of the room was rudely painted a red cross, with doves about it, as is found in early {26} Christian shrines to this day. So long had been the peace of the Church, that the tradition of persecution seemed to have been lost; and Christians allowed themselves in the profession of their faith at home, cautious as they might be in public places; as freely as now in England, where we do not scruple to raise crucifixes within our churches and houses, though we shrink from doing so within sight of the hundred cabs and omnibuses which rattle past them. Under the cross were two or three pictures, or rather sketches. In the centre stood the Blessed Virgin with hands spread out in prayer, attended by the holy Apostles Peter and Paul on her right and left. Under this representation was rudely scratched upon the wall the word, "Advocata," a title which the earliest antiquity bestows upon her. On a small shelf was placed a case with two or three rolls or sheets of parchment in it. The appearance of them spoke of use indeed, but of reverential treatment. These were the Psalms, the Gospel according to St. Luke, and St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, in the old Latin version. The Gospel was handsomely covered, and ornamented with gold.

The apartment was otherwise furnished with such implements and materials as might be expected in the cottage of a countryman: one or two stools and benches for sitting, a table, and in one corner a heap of dried leaves and rushes, with a large crimson coverlet, for rest at night. Elsewhere were two mill-stones fixed in a frame, with a handle attached to the {27} rim of one of them, for grinding corn. Then again, garden tools; boxes of seeds; a vessel containing syrup for assuaging the sting of the scorpion; the asir-rese or anagallis, a potent medicine of the class of poisons, which was taken in wine for the same mischance. It hung from the beams, with a large bunch of atsirtiphua, a sort of camomile, smaller in the flower and more fragrant than our own, which was used as a febrifuge. Thence, too, hung a plentiful gathering of dried grapes, of the kind called duracinę; and near the door a bough of the green bargut or psyllium, to drive away the smaller insects.

Poor Agellius felt the contrast between the ungodly turmoil from which he had escaped, and the deep stillness into which he now had entered; but neither satisfied him quite. There was no repose out of doors, and no relief within. He was lonely at home, lonely in the crowd. He needed the sympathy of his kind, hearts which might beat with his heart, friends with whom he might share his joys and griefs, advisers whom he might consult, minds like his own, who would understand him—minds unlike his own, who would succour and respond to him. A very great trial certainly this, in which the soul is flung back upon itself; and that especially in the case of the young, for whom memory and experience do so little, and wayward and excited feelings do so much. Great gain had it been for Agellius, even in its natural effect, putting aside higher benefits, to have been able to recur to sacramental confession; but to {28} confession he had never been, though once or twice he had attended the public homologesis of the Church. Shall we wonder that the poor youth began to be despondent and impatient under his trial? Shall we not feel for him, though we may be sorry for him, should it turn out that he was looking restlessly into every corner of the small world of acquaintance in which his lot lay, for those with whom he could converse easily, and interchange speculation, argument, aspiration, and affection?

"No one cares for me," he said, as he sat down on his rustic bench. "I am nothing to any one; I am a hermit, like Elias or John, without the call to be one. Yet even Elias felt the burden of being one against many; even John asked at length in expostulation, 'Art Thou He that shall come?' Am I for ever to have the knowledge, without the consolation, of the truth? am I for ever to belong to a great divine society, yet never see the face of any of its members?"

He paused in his thoughts, as if drinking in the full taste and measure of his unhappiness. And then his reflections took a turn, and he said, suddenly, "Why do I not leave Sicca? What binds me to my father's farm? I am young, and my interest in it will soon expire. What keeps me from Carthage, Hippo, Cirtha, where Christians are so many?" But here he stopped as suddenly as he had begun; and a strange feeling, half pang, half thrill, went through his heart. And he felt unwilling to pursue his thought, or to answer the question which he had asked; and he {29} settled into a dull, stagnant condition of mind, in which he seemed hardly to think at all.

Be of good cheer, solitary one, though thou art not a hero yet! There is One that cares for thee, and loves thee, more than thou canst feel, love, or care for thyself. Cast all thy care upon Him. He sees thee, and is watching thee; He is hanging over thee, and smiles in compassion at thy troubles. His angel, who is thine, is whispering good thoughts to thee. He knows thy weakness; He foresees thy errors; but He holds thee by thy right hand, and thou shalt not, canst not escape Him. By thy faith, which thou hast so simply, resolutely retained in the midst of idolatry; by thy purity, which, like some fair flower, thou hast cherished in the midst of pollution, He will remember thee in thy evil hour, and thine enemy shall not prevail against thee!

What means that smile upon Agellius's face? It is the response of the child to the loving parent. He knows not why, but the cloud is past. He signs himself with the holy cross, and sweet reviving thoughts enliven him. He names the sacred Name, and it is like ointment poured out upon his soul. He rises; he kneels down under the dread symbol of his salvation; and he begins his evening prayer.

Chapter 4

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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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