Chapter 34. The Martyrdom

{366} CALLISTA had sighed for the bright and clear atmosphere of Greece, and she was thrown into the Robur and plunged into the Barathrum of Sicca. But in reality, though she called it Greece, she was panting after a better country and a more lasting home, and this country and home she had found. She was now setting out for it.

It was, indeed, no slight marvel that she was not already there. She had been lowered into that pit of death before noon on the day of her second examination, and, excepting some unwholesome bread and water, according to the custom of the prison, had had no food since she came into the custody of the commentariensis the day before. The order came from the magistrates to bring her out earlier in the morning than was intended, or the prison might have really effected that death which Calphurnius had purposed to pretend. When the apparitors attempted to raise her, she neither spoke or moved, nor could well be seen. "Black as Orcus," said one of the fellows, "another torch there! I can't see where she nestles." "There she is, like a bundle of clothes," said another. "Madam gets up late this morning," said a third. {367} "She's used to softer couches," said a fourth. "Ha! ha! 'tis a spoiler of beauty, this hole," said a fifth. "She is the demon of stubbornness, and must be crushed," said the jailer; "she likes it, or she would not choose it." "The plague take the witch," said another; "we shall have better seasons when a few like her are ferreted out."

They got her out like a corpse, and put her on the ground outside the prison. When she still did not move, two of them took her between them on their shoulders and arms, and began to move forward, the instrument of torture preceding her. The fresh air of the morning revived her; she soon sat up. She seemed to drink in life again, and became conscious. "O beautiful Light!" she whispered, "O lovely Light, my light and my life! O my Light and my Life, receive me!" Gradually she became fully alive to all that was going on. She was going to death, and that rather than deny Him who had bought her by His own death. He had suffered for her, and she was to suffer for Him. He had been racked on the Cross, she too was to have her limbs dislocated after His pattern. She scarcely rested on the men's shoulders; and they vowed afterwards that they thought she was going to fly away, vile witch as she was.

"The witch, the witch," the mob screamed out, for she had now come to the place of her conflict. "We'll pay you off for blight and pestilence! Where's our bread, where's the maize and barley, where are the grapes?" And they uttered fierce {368} yells of execration, and seemed disposed to break through the line of apparitors, and to tear her to pieces. Yet, after all, it was not a very hearty uproar, but got up for the occasion. The populace had spent their force, not to say their lives, in the riot in which she was apprehended. The priests and priestesses of the temples had sent the poor wretches and paid them.

The place of execution was on the northeast of the city, outside the walls, and towards the mountain. It was where slaves were buried, and it was as hideous as such spots usually were. The neighbourhood was wild, open to the beasts of prey, who at night used to descend and feast upon the corpses. As Callista approached to the scene of her suffering, the expression of her countenance had so altered that a friend would scarce have known it. There was a tenderness in it and a modesty which never had been there in that old time. Her cheek had upon it a blush, as when the rising sun suddenly touches some grey rock or tower, yet it was white and glistening too, so much so that others might have said it was like silver. Her eyes were larger than they had been, and gazed steadfastly, as if at what the multitude did not see. Her lips spoke of sweet peace and deep composure. When at length she came close upon the rabble, who had been screaming and yelling so fiercely, men, women, and boys suddenly held their peace. It was first from curiosity, then from amazement, then from awe. At length a fear smote through them, and a strange pity {369} and reverence. They almost seemed inclined to worship what stirred them so much, they knew not how; a new idea had visited those poor ignorant souls.

A few minutes sufficed to put the rack into working order. She was laid down upon its board in her poor bedimmed tunic, which once flashed so bright in the sun,—she who had been ever so delicate in her apparel. Her wrists and ankles were seized, extended, fastened to the moveable blocks at the extremities of the plank. She spoke her last word, "For Thee, my Lord and Love, for Thee! … Accept me. O my Love, upon this bed of pain! And come to me, O my Love, make haste and come!" The men turned round the wheels rapidly to and fro; the joints were drawn out of their sockets and then snapped in again. She had fainted. They waited for her coming-to; they still waited; they got impatient.

"Dash some water on her," said one. "Spit in her face, and it will do," said a second. "Prick her with your spike," said a third. "Hold your wild talk, said a fourth; "she's gone to the shades." They gathered round, and looked at her attentively. The could not bring her back. So it was: she had gone to her Lord and her Love.

"Lay her out for the wolves and vultures," said the cornicularius, and he was going to appoint guards till nightfall, when up came the stationarii and Calphurnius in high wrath. {370}

"You dogs!" he cried, "what trick have you been practising against the soldiers of Rome?" However, expostulation and reproach were bootless; nor would it answer here to go into the quarrel which ensued over the dead body. The magistrates, having got scent of Calphurnius's scheme, had outwitted the tribune by assigning an earlier hour than was usual for the execution. Life could not be recalled; nor did the soldiers of course dare publicly to disobey the Proconsul's order for the exposure of the corpse. All that could be done, they did. They took her down with rude reverence from the rack, and placed her on the sand; and then they set guards to keep off the rabble, and to avail themselves of any opportunity which might occur to show consideration towards her.

Chapter 35

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