Chapter 26. What can it all Mean?

{281} WERE the origin of Juba's madness (or whatever the world would call it) of a character which admitted of light writing about it, much might be said on the surprise of the clear-headed, narrow-minded, positive, and easy-going Jucundus, when he found one nephew substituted for another, and had to give over his wonder at Agellius, in order to commence a series of acts of amazement and consternation at Juba. He summoned Jupiter and Juno, Bacchus, Ceres, Pomona, Neptune, Mercury, Minerva, and great Rome, to witness the marvellous occurrence; and then he had recourse to the infernal gods, Pluto and Proserpine, down to Cerberus, if he be one of them; but, after all, there the portent was, in spite of all the deities which Olympus, or Arcadia, or Latium ever bred; and at length it had a nervous effect upon the old gentleman's system, and, for the first evening after it, he put all his good things from him, and went to bed supperless and songless. What had been Juba's motive in the exploit which so unpleasantly affected his uncle, it is of course quite impossible to say. Whether his mention of Callista's name was intended to be for the {282} benefit of her soul, or the ruin of Agellius's, must be left in the obscurity in which the above narrative presents it to us; so far alone is certain, though it does not seem to throw light on the question, that, on his leaving his uncle's house in the course of the forenoon, which he did, without being pressed to stay, he was discovered prancing and gesticulating in the neighbourhood of Callista's prison, so as to excite the attention of the apparitor, or constable, who guarded the entrance, and who, alarmed at his wildness, sent for some of his fellows, and, with their assistance, repelled the intruder, who, thereupon, scudding out at the eastern gate, was soon lost in the passes of the mountain.

To one thing, however, we may pledge ourselves, that Juba had no intention of shaking, even for one evening, the nerves of Jucundus; yet shaken they were till about the same time twenty-four hours afterwards. And when in that depressed state, he saw nothing but misery on all sides of him. Juba was lost; Agellius worse. Of course, he had joined himself to his sect, and he should never see him again; and how should he ever hold up his head? Well, he only hoped Agellius would not be boiled in a caldron, or roasted at a slow fire. If this were done, he positively must leave Sicca, and the most thriving trade which any man had in the whole of the Proconsulate. And then that little Callista! Ah!—what a real calamity was there! Anyhow he had lost her, and what should he do for a finisher of his fine work in marble, or metal? {283} She was a treasure in herself. Altogether the heavens were very dark; and it was scarcely possible for any one who knew well his jovial cast of countenance, to keep from laughing, whatever his real sympathy, at the unusual length and blankness which were suddenly imposed upon it.

While he sat thus at his shop window, which, as it were, framed him for the contemplation of passers-by, on the day of the escape of Agellius, and the day before Callista's public examination, Aristo rushed in upon him in a state of far more passionate and more reasonable grief. He had called, indeed, the day before, but he found a pleasure in expending his distress upon others, and he came again to get rid of its insupportable weight by discharging it in a torrent of tears and exclamations. However, at first the words of both "moved slow," as the poet says, and went off in a sort of dropping fire.

"Well," said Jucundus, in a depressed tone; "he's not come to you, of course?"



"Oh! Agellius! No, he's not with me." Then, after a pause, Aristo added, "Why should he be?"

"Oh, I don't know. I thought he might be. He's been gone since early morning."

"Indeed! No, I don't know where he is. How came he with you?"

"I told you yesterday; but you have forgotten. I was sheltering him; but he's gone for ever." {284}


"And his brother's mad!—horribly mad!" and he slapped his hand against his thigh.

"I always thought it," answered Aristo.

"Did you? Yes, so it is; but it's very different from what it ever was. The furies have got hold of him with a vengeance! He's frantic! Oh, if you had seen him! Two boys, both mad! It's all the father!"

"I thought you'd like to hear something about dear, sweet Callista," said her brother.

"Yes, I should indeed!" answered Jucundus. "By Esculapius! they're all mad together!"

"Well, it is like madness!" cried Aristo, with great vehemence.

"The world's going mad!" answered Jucundus, who was picking up, since he began to talk, an exercise which was decidedly good for him. "We are all going mad! I shall get crazed. The townspeople are crazed already. What an abominable, brutal piece of business was that three days ago! I put up my shutters. Did it come near you?—all on account of one or two beggarly Christians, and my poor boy. What harm could two or three, toads and vipers though they be, do here? They might have been trodden down easily. It's another thing at Carthage. Catch the ringleaders, I say; make examples. The foxes escape, and our poor ganders suffer!"

Aristo, pierced with his own misery, had no heart or head to enter into the semi-political ideas of Jucundus, who continued,— {285}

"Yes, it's no good. The empire's coming to pieces, mark my words! I told you so, if those beasts were let alone. They have been let alone. Remedies are too late. Decius will do no good. No one's safe! Farewell, my friends! I am going. Like poor dear Callista, I shall be in prison, and, like her, find myself dumb! ... Ah! yes, Callista; how did you find her?"

"O dear, sweet, suffering girl!" cried her brother.

"Yes, indeed!" answered Jucundus; "yes!" meditatively. "She is a dear, sweet, suffering girl! I thought he might perhaps have taken her off—that was my hope. He was so set upon hearing where she was, whether she could be got out. It struck me he had made the best of his way to her. She could do anything with him. And she loved him, she did!—I'm convinced of it!—nothing shall convince me otherwise! 'Bring them together,' I said, 'and they will rush into each other's arms.' But they're bewitched!—The whole world's bewitched! Mark my words,—I have an idea who is at the bottom of this."

"Oh!" groaned out Aristo; "I care not for top or bottom!—I care not for the whole world, or for anything at all but Callista! If you could have seen the dear, patient sufferer!" and the poor fellow burst into a flood of tears.

"Bear up! bear up!" said Jucundus, who by this time was considerably better; "show yourself a man, my dear Aristo. These things must be;—they are {286} the lot of human nature. You remember what the tragedian says: stay! no!—it's the comedian,—it's Menander"—

"To Orcus and Erebus with all the tragedy and comedy that ever was spouted!" exclaimed Aristo. "Can you do nothing for me? Can't you give me a crumb of consolation or sympathy, encouragement or suggestion? I am a stranger in the country, and so is this dear sister of mine, whom I was so proud of; and who has been so good, and kind, and gentle, and sweet. She loved me so much, she never grudged me anything; she let me do just what I would with her. Come here, go there,—it was just as I would. There we were, two orphans together, ten years since, when I was double her age. She wished to stay in Greece; but she came to this detestable Africa all for me. She would be gay and bright when I would have her so. She had no will of her own; and she set her heart upon nothing, and was pleased anywhere. She had not an enemy in the world. I protest she is worth all the gods and goddesses that ever were hatched! And here, in this ill-omened Africa, the evil eye has looked at her, and she thinks herself a Christian, when she is just as much a hippogriff, or a chimæra."

"Well, but, Aristo," said Jucundus, "I was going to tell you who is at the bottom of it all. Callista's mad; Agellius is mad; Juba is mad; and Strabo was mad;—but it was his wife, old Gurta, that drove him mad;—and there, I think, is the beginning of our {287} troubles.—Come in! come in, Cornelius!" he cried, seeing his Roman friend outside, and relapsing for the moment into his lugubrious tone; "Come in, Cornelius, and give us some comfort, if you can. Well, this is like a friend! I know if you can help me, you will."

Cornelius answered that he was going back to Carthage in a day or two, and came to embrace him, and had hoped to have a parting supper before he went.

"That's kind!" answered Jucundus: "but first tell me all about this dreadful affair; for you are in the secrets of the Capitol. Have they any clue what has become of my poor Agellius?"

Cornelius had not heard of the young man's troubles, and was full of consternation at the news.

"What! Agellius really a Christian?" he said, "and at such a moment? Why, I thought you talked of some young lady who was to keep him in order?"

"She's a Christian too," replied Jucundus; and a silence ensued. "It's a bad world!" he continued. "She's imprisoned by the Triumviri. What will be the end of it?"

Cornelius shook his head, and looked mysterious.

"You don't mean it?" said Jucundus. "Not anything so dreadful, I do trust, Cornelius. Not the stake?"

Cornelius still looked gloomy and pompous. {288}

"Nothing in the way of torture?" he went on; "not the rack, or the pitchfork?"

"It's a bad business, on your own showing," said Cornelius: "it's a bad business!"

"Can you do nothing for us, Cornelius?" cried Aristo. "The great people in Carthage are your friends. O Cornelius! I'd do anything for you!—I'd be your slave! She's no more a Christian than great Jove. She has nothing about her of the cut;— not a shred of her garment, or a turn of her hair. She's a Greek from head to foot—within and without. She's as bright as the day! Ah! we have no friends here. Dear Callista! you will be lost because you are a foreigner!" and the passionate youth began to tear his hair. "O Cornelius!" he continued, "if you can do anything for us! Oh! she shall sing and dance to you; she shall come and kneel down to you, and embrace your knees, and kiss your feet, as I do, Cornelius!" and he knelt down, and would have taken hold of Cornelius's beard.

Cornelius had never been addressed with so poetical a ceremonial, which nevertheless he received with awkwardness indeed, but with satisfaction. "I hear from you," he said with pomposity, "that your sister is in prison on suspicion of Christianity. The case is a simple one. Let her swear by the genius of the Emperor, and she is free; let her refuse it, and the law must take its course," and he made a slight bow.

"Well, but she is under a delusion," persisted Aristo, "which cannot last long. She says distinctly {289} that she is not a Christian, is not that decisive? but then she won't burn incense; she won't swear by Rome. She tells me she does not believe in Jupiter, nor I; can anything be more senseless? It is the act of a mad woman. I say, 'My girl, the question is, Are you to be brought to shame? are you to die by the public sword? die in torments?' Oh, I shall go mad as well as she!" he screamed out. "She was so clever, so witty, so sprightly, so imaginative, so versatile! why, there's nothing she couldn't do. She could model, paint, play on the lyre, sing, act. She could work with the needle, she could embroider. She made this girdle for me. It's all that Agellius, it's Agellius. I beg your pardon, Jucundus; but it is;" and he threw himself on the ground, and rolled in the dust.

"I have been telling our young friend," said Jucundus to Cornelius, "to exert self-control, and to recollect Menander, 'Ne quid nimis.' Grieving does no good; but these young fellows, it's no use at all speaking to them. Do you think you could do anything for us, Cornelius?"

"Why," answered Cornelius, "since I have been here, I have fallen in with a very sensible man, and a man of remarkably sound political opinions. He has a great reputation, he is called Polemo, and is one of the professors at the Mercury. He seems to me to go to the root of these subjects, and I'm surprised how well we agreed. He's a Greek, as well as this young gentleman's sister. I should recommend him {290} to go to Polemo; if any one could disabuse her mind, it is he."

"True, true," cried Aristo, starting up, "but, no, you can do it better; you have power with the government. The Proconsul will listen to you. The magistrates here are afraid of him; they don't wish to touch the poor girl, not they. But there's such a noise everywhere, and so much ill blood, and so many spies and informers, and so much mistrust—but why should it come upon Callista? Why should she be a sacrifice? But you'd oblige the Duumvirs as much as me in getting her out of the scrape. But what good would it do, if they took her dear life? Only get us the respite of a month; the delusion would vanish in a month. Get two months, if you can; or as long as you can, you know. Perhaps they would let us steal out of the country, and no one the wiser; and no harm to any one. It was a bad job our coming here."

"We know nothing at Rome of feelings and intentions, and motives and distinctions," said Cornelius; "and we know nothing of understandings, connivances, and evasions. We go by facts; Rome goes by facts. The question is, What is the fact? Does she burn incense, or does she not? Does she worship the ass, or does she not? However, we'll see what can be done." And so he went on, informing the pair of mourners that, as far as his influence extended, he would do something in behalf both of Agellius and Callista.

Chapter 27

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