Chapter 4. Juba

{30} THERE was more of heart, less of effort, less of mechanical habit, in Agellius's prayers that night, than there had been for a long while before. He got up, struck a light, and communicated it to his small earthen lamp. Its pale rays feebly searched the room and discovered at the other end of it Juba, who had silently opened the door, and sat down near it, while his brother was employed upon his devotions. The countenance of the latter fell, for he was not to go to sleep with the resignation and peace which had just before been poured into his breast. Yet why should he complain? we receive consolation in this world for the very purpose of preparing us against trouble to come. Juba was a tall, swarthy, wild-looking youth. He was holding his head on one side as he sat, and his face towards the roof; he nodded obliquely, arched his eyebrows, pursed up his lips, and crossed his arms, while he gave utterance to a strange, half-whispered laugh.

"He, he, he!" he cried; "so you are on your knees, Agellius."

"Why shouldn't I be at this hour," answered Agellius, "and before I go to bed?" {31}

"O, every one to his taste, of course," said Juba; "but to an unprejudiced mind there is something unworthy in the act."

"Why, Juba?" said his brother somewhat sharply; "don't you profess any religion at all?"

"Perhaps I do, and perhaps I don't," answered Juba; "but never shall it be a bowing and scraping, crawling and cringing religion. You may take your oath of that."

"What ails you to come here at this time of night?" asked Agellius; "who asked for your company?"

"I will come just when I please," said the other, "and go when I please. I won't give an account of my actions to any one, God or man, devil or priest, much less to you. What right have you to ask me?"

"Then," said Agellius, "you'll never get peace or comfort as long as you live, that I can tell you, let alone the life to come."

Juba kept silent for awhile, and bit his nails with a smile on his face, and his eyes looking askance upon the ground. "I want no more than I have; I am well content," he said.

"Contented with yourself," retorted Agellius.

"Of course," Juba replied; "whom ought one to wish rather to content?"

"I suppose, your Creator."

"Creator," answered Juba, tossing back his head with an air of superiority; "Creator;—that, I consider, is an assumption." {32}

"O, my dear brother," cried Agellius, "don't go on in that dreadful way!"

"'Go on!' who began? Is one man to lay down the law, and not the other too? Is it so generally received, this belief of a Creator? Who have brought in the belief? The Christians. 'Tis the Christians that began it. The world went on very well without it before their rise. And now, who began the dispute but you?"

"Well, if I did," answered Agellius; "but I didn't. You began in coming here; what in the world are you come for? by what right do you disturb me at this hour?"

There was no appearance of anger in Juba; he seemed as free from feeling of every kind, from what is called heart, as if he had been a stone. In answer to his brother's question, he quietly said, "I have been down there," pointing in the direction of the woods.

An expression of sharp anguish passed over his brother's face, and for a moment he was silent. At length he said, "You don't mean to say you have been down to poor mother?"

"I do," said Juba.

There was again a silence for a little while; then Agellius renewed the conversation. "You have fallen off sadly, Juba, in the course of the last several years."

Juba tossed his head, and crossed his legs.

"At one time I thought you would have been baptized," his brother continued.

"That was my weakness," answered Juba; "it was {33} a weak moment: it was just after the old bishop's death. He had been kind to me as a child; and he said some womanish words to me, and it was excusable in me."

"Oh that you had yielded to your wish!" cried Agellius.

Juba looked superior. "The fit passed," he said. "I have come to a juster view of things. It is not every one who has the strength of mind. I consider that a logical head comes to a very different conclusion;" and he began wagging his own, to the right and left, as if it were coming to a great many.

"Well," said Agellius, gaping, and desiring at least to come to a conclusion of the altercation, "what brings you here so late?"

"I was on my way to Jucundus," he answered, "and have been delayed by the Succoth-benoth in the grove across the river."

Here they were thrown back upon their controversy. Agellius turned quite white. "My poor fellow," he said, "what were you there for?"

"To see the world," answered Juba; "it's unmanly not to see it. Why shouldn't I see it? It was good fun. I despise them all, fools and idiots. There they were, scampering about, or lying like hogs, all in liquor. Apes and swine! However, I will do as others do, if I please. I will be as drunk as they, when I see good. I am my own master, and it would be no kind of harm." {34}

"No harm! why, is it no harm to become an ape or a hog?"

"You don't take just views of human nature," answered Juba, with a self-satisfied air. "Our first duty is to seek our own happiness. If a man thinks it happier to be a hog, why, let him be a hog," and he laughed. "This is where you are narrow-minded. I shall seek my own happiness, and try this way, if I please."

"Happiness!" cried Agellius; "where have you been picking up all this stuff? Can you call such detestable filth happiness?"

"What do you know about such matters?" asked Juba. "Did you ever see them? Did you ever try them? You would be twice the man you are if you had. You will not be a man till you do. You are carried off your legs in your own way. I'd rather get drunk every day than fall down on all fours as you do, crawling on your stomach like a worm, and whining like a hound that has been beaten."

"Now, as I live, you shan't stop here one instant longer!" cried out Agellius, starting up. "Be off with you! get away! what do you come here to blaspheme for? who wants you? who asked for you? Go! go, I say! take yourself off? Why don't you go? Keep your ribaldry for others."

"I am as good as you any day," said Juba.

"I don't set myself up," answered Agellius, "but it's impossible to confound Christian and unbeliever as you do." {35}

"Christian and unbeliever!" said Juba, slowly. "I suppose, when they are a-courting each other, they are confounded." He looked hard at Agellius, as if he thought he had hit a blot. Then he continued, "If I were a Christian, I'd be so in earnest: else I'd be an honest heathen."

Agellius coloured somewhat, and sat down, as if under embarrassment.

"I despise you," said Juba; "you have not the pluck to be a Christian. Be consistent, and fizz upon a stake; but you're not made of that stuff. You're even afraid of uncle. Nay, you can be caught by those painted wares, about which, when it suits your purpose, you can be so grave. I despise you," he continued, "I despise you, and the whole kit of you. What's the difference between you and another? Your people say, 'Earth's a vanity, life's a dream, riches a deceit, pleasure a snare. Fratres charissimi, the time is short;' but who love earth and life and riches and pleasure better than they? You are all of you as fond of the world, as set upon gain, as chary of reputation, as ambitious of power, as the jolly old heathen, who, you say, is going the way of the pit."

"It is one thing to have a conscience," answered Agellius; "another thing to act upon it. The conscience of these poor people is darkened. You had a conscience once."

"Conscience, conscience," said Juba. "Yes, certainly, once I had a conscience. Yes, and once I had a bad chill, and went about chattering and {36} shivering; and once I had a game leg, and then I went limping; and so, you see, I once on a time had a conscience. O yes, I have had many consciences before now—white, black, yellow, and green; they were all bad; but they are all gone, and now I have none."

Agellius said nothing; his one wish, as may be supposed, was to get rid of so unwelcome a visitor.

"The truth is," continued Juba, with the air of a teacher—"the truth is, that religion was a fashion with me, which is now gone by. It was the complexion of a particular stage of my life. I was neither the better nor the worse for it. It was an accident, like the bloom on my face, which soon," he said, spreading his fingers over his dirty-coloured cheeks, and stroking them, "which soon will disappear. I acted according to the feeling, while it lasted; but I can no more recall it than my first teeth, or the down on my chin. It's among the things that were."

Agellius still keeping silence from weariness and disgust, he looked at him in a significant way, and said, slowly, "I see how it is; I have penetration enough to perceive that you don't believe a bit more about religion than I do."

"You must not say that under my roof," cried Agellius, feeling he must not let his brother's charge pass without a protest. "Many are my sins, but unbelief is not one of them."

Juba tossed his head. "I think I can see through a stone slab as well as any one," he said. "It is {37} as I have said; but you're too proud to confess it. It's part of your hypocrisy."

"Well," said Agellius coldly, "let's have done. It's getting late, Juba; you'll be missed at home. Jucundus will be inquiring for you, and some of those revelling friends of yours may do you a mischief by the way. Why, my good fellow," he continued, in surprise, "you have no leggings. The scorpions will catch hold of you to a certainty in the dark. Come, let me tie some straw wisps about you."

"No fear of scorpions for me," answered Juba; "I have some real good amulets for the occasion, which even boola-kog and uffah will respect."

Saying this, he passed out of the room as unceremoniously as he had entered it, and took the direction of the city, talking to himself, and singing snatches of wild airs as he went along, throwing back and shaking his head, and now and then uttering a sharp internal laugh. Disdaining to follow the ordinary path, he dived down into the thick and wet grass, and scrambled through the ravine, which the public road crossed before it ascended the hill. Meanwhile he accompanied his quickened pace with a louder strain, and it ran as follows;—

"The little black Moor is the mate for me,
When the night is dark, and the earth is free,
Under the limbs of the broad yew-tree.

"Twas Father Cham that planted that yew,
And he fed it fat with the bloody dew
Of a score of brats, as his lineage grew.
{38}

"Footing and flaunting it, all in the night,
Each lock flings fire, each heel strikes light;
No lamps need they, whose breath is bright."

Here he was interrupted by a sudden growl, which sounded almost under his feet, and some wild animal was seen to slink away. Juba showed no surprise; he had taken out a small metal idol, and whispering some words to it, had presented it to the animal. He clambered up the bank, gained the city gate, and made his way for his uncle's dwelling, which was near the temple of Astarte.

Chapter 5

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