Chapter 21. Startling Rumours

{235} WHEN Jucundus rose next morning, and heard the news, he considered it to be more satisfactory than he could have supposed possible. He was a zealous imperialist, and a lover of tranquillity, a despiser of the natives and a hater of the Christians. The Christians had suffered enough to vindicate the Roman name, to deter those who were playing at Christianity, and to show that the people of Sicca had their eyes about them. And the mob had received a severe lesson too; and the cause of public order had triumphed, and civic peace was re-established. His anxiety, too, about Agellius had terminated, or was terminating. He had privately denounced him to the government, come to an understanding with the military authorities, and obtained the custody of him. He had met him at the very door to which the boy Firmian brought him, with an apparitor of the military staff (or what answered to it), and had clapped him into prison in an underground cellar in which he kept damaged images, and those which had gone out of fashion, and were otherwise unsaleable. He was not at all sorry, by some suffering, and by some {236} fright, to aid the more potent incantation which Callista was singing in his ears. He did not, however, at all forget Juba's hint, and was careful not to overdo the rack-and-gridiron dodge, if we may so designate it; yet he thought just a flavour or a thought of the inconveniences which the profession of Christianity involved might be a salutary reflection in the midst of the persuasives which the voice and eyes of Callista would kindle in his heart. There was nothing glorious or heroic in being confined in a lumber cellar, no one knowing anything about it; and he did not mean to keep him there for ever.

As the next day wore on towards evening, rumour brought a piece of news which he was at first utterly unable to credit, and which for the moment seemed likely to spoil the appetite which promised so well for his evening repast. He could hardly believe his ears when he was told that Callista was in arrest on a charge of Christianity, and at first it made him look as black as some of those Egyptian gods which he had on one shelf of his shop. However, he rallied, and was very much amused at the report. The imprisonment indeed was a fact, account for it as one could; but who could account for it? "Varium et mutabile:" who could answer for the whims and fancies of womankind? If she had fallen in love with the owl of Minerva, or cut off her auburn tresses, or turned rope-dancer, there might have been some shrugging of shoulders, but no one would have tried to analyze {237} the motive; but so much his profound sagacity enabled him to see, that, if there was one thing more than another likely to sicken Agellius of Christianity, it was to find one who was so precious to him suffering from the suspicion of it. It was bad enough to have suffered one's self in such a cause; still he could conceive, he was large-minded enough to grant, that Agellius might have some secret satisfaction in the antagonist feeling of resentment and obstinacy which that suffering might engender: but it was carrying matters too far, and no comfort in any point of view, to find Callista, his beloved, the object of a similar punishment. It was all very well to profess Christianity as a matter of sentiment, mystery, and singularity; but when it was found to compromise the life or limbs of another, and that other Callista, why it was plain that Agellius would be the very first to try and entreat the wayward girl to keep her good looks for him, and to be loyal to the gods of her country; and he chuckled over the thought, as others have done in other states of society, of a love-scene or a marriage being the termination of so much high romance and fine acting.

However, the next day Aristo came down to him himself, and gave him an account at once more authentic and more extended on the matter which interested him. Callista had been called up before the tribunal, and had not been discharged, but remanded. The meaning of it was as obscure as ever; Aristo could give no account of it; it almost led him to believe {238} in the evil eye; some unholy practices, some spells such as only potent wizards know, some deplorable delusion or hallucination, had for the time got the mastery of his sister's mind. No one seemed quite to know how she had found her way into the hands of the officers; but there she was, and the problem was how to get her out of them.

However, whatever mystery, whatever anxiety, attached to the case, it was only still more urgent to bring the matter home to Agellius without delay. If time went on before the parties were brought together, she might grow more obstinate, and kindle a like spirit in him. Oh that boys and girls would be giving old people, who wish them well, so much trouble! However, it was no good thinking of that just then. He considered that, at the present moment, they would not be able to bear the sight of each other in suffering and peril; that mutual tenderness would make them plead with each other in each other's behalf, and that each would be obliged to set the example to each of a concession, to which each exhorted each; and on this fine philosophical view he proceeded to act.

Chapter 22

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