THE Apostle's words put confidence in the souls of the Christians. The end o_he world seemed ever near to them, but they began to think that the day o_udgment would not come immediately, that first they would see the end o_ero's reign, which they looked on as the reign of Satan, and the punishmen_f God for Caesar's crimes, which were crying for vengeance. Strengthened i_eart, they dispersed, after the prayer, to their temporary dwellings, an_ven to the Trans-Tiber; for news had come that the fire, set there in _umber of places, had, with the change of wind, turned back toward the river, and, after devouring what it could here and there, had ceased to extend.
The Apostle, with Vinicius and Chilo, who followed him, left the excavatio_lso. The young tribune did not venture to interrupt his prayers; hence h_alked on in silence, merely imploring pity with his eyes, and trembling fro_larm. Many approached to kiss Peter's hands, and the hem of his mantle; mothers held out their children to him; some knelt in the dark, long passage, and, holding up tapers, begged a blessing; others, going alongside, sang: s_here was no chance for question or answer. Thus it was in the narrow passage.
Only when they came out to broader spaces, from which the burning city was i_iew, did the Apostle bless them three times, and say, turning to Vinicius, —
"Fear not. The hut of the quarryman is near; in it we shall find Linus, an_ygia, with her faithful servant. Christ, who predestined her to thee, ha_reserved her."
Vinicius tottered, and placed his hand against the cliff. The road fro_ntium, the events at the wall, the search for Lygia amidst burning houses, sleeplessness, and his terrible alarm had exhausted him; and the news that th_earest person in the world was near by, and that soon he would see her, too_he remnant of his strength from him. So great a weakness possessed him on _udden that he dropped to the Apostle's feet, and, embracing his knees, remained thus, without power to say a word.
"Not to me, not to me, but to Christ," said the Apostle, who warded off thank_nd honor.
"What a good God!" said the voice of Chilo from behind, "but what shall I d_ith the mules that are waiting down here?"
"Rise and come with me," said Peter to the young man.
Vinicius rose. By the light of the burning, tears were visible on his face, which was pale from emotion. His lips moved, as if in prayer.
"Let us go," said he.
But Chilo repeated again: "Lord, what shall I do with the mules that ar_aiting? Perhaps this worthy prophet prefers riding to walking."
Vinicius did not know himself what to answer; but hearing from Peter that th_uarryman's hut was near by, he said, —
"Take the mules to Macrinus."
"Pardon me, lord, if I mention the house in Ameriola. In view of such an awfu_ire, it is easy to forget a thing so paltry."
"Thou wilt get it."
"O grandson of Numa Pompilius, I have always been sure, but now, when thi_agnaninious prophet also has heard the promise, I will not remind thee eve_f this, that thou hast promised me a vineyard. Fax vobiscum. I shall fin_hee, lord. Fax vobiscurn."
They answered, "And peace with thee."
Then both turned to the right toward the hills. Along the road Vinicius said,—
"Lord, wash me with the water of baptism, so that I may call myself a rea_onfessor of Christ, for I love Him with all the power of my soul. Wash m_uickly, for I am ready in heart. And what thou commandest I will do, but tel_e, so that I may do it in addition."
"Love men as thy own brothers," answered the Apostle, "for only with lov_ayst thou serve Him."
"Yes, I understand and feel that. When a child I believed in the Roman gods, though I did not love them. But I so love Him the One God that I would give m_ife for Him gladly." And he looked toward the sky, repeating with exaltation:
"For He is one, for He alone is kind and merciful; hence, let not only thi_ity perish, but the whole world, Him alone will I confess and recognize."
"And He will bless thee and thy house," concluded the Apostle.
Meanwhile they turned into another ravine, at the end of which a faint ligh_as visible. Peter pointed to it and said, —
"There is the hut of the quarryman who gave us a refuge when, on the way fro_strianum with the sick Linus, we could not go to the Trans-Tiber."
After a while they arrived. The hut was rather a cave rounded Out in a_ndentation of the hill, and was faced outside with a wall made of reeds. Th_oor was closed, but through an opening, which served for a window, th_nterior was visible, lighted by a fire. Some dark giant figure rose up t_eet them, and inquired, — "Who are ye?"
"Servants of Christ," answered Peter. "Peace be with thee, Ursus."
Ursus bent to the Apostle's feet; then, recognizing Vinicius, seized his han_y the wrist, and raised it to his lips.
"And thou, lord," said he. "Blessed be the name of the Lamb, for the joy whic_hou wilt bring to Callina."
He opened the door rhaen, and entered. Linus was lying on a bundle of straw, with an emaciated face and a forehead as yellow as ivory Near the fire sa_ygia with a string of small fish, intended evidently for supper. Occupied i_emoving the fish from the string, and thuiiking that it was Ursus who ha_ntered, she did not raise her eyes. But Vinicius approached, and, pronouncin_er name, stretched his hand to her. She sprang up quickly then; a flash o_stonishment and delight shot across her face. Without a word, like a chil_ho after days of fear and sorrow had found father or mother, she thre_erself into his open arms.
He embraced her, pressed her to his bosom for some time with such ecstasy a_f she had been saved by a miracle. Then, withdrawing his arms, he took he_emples between his hands, kissed her forehead and her eyes, embraced he_gain, repeated her name, bent to her knees, to her palms, greeted her, di_er homage, honored her. His delight had no bounds; neither had his love an_appiness.
At last he told her how he had rushed in from Antium; had searched for her a_he walls, in the smoke at the house of Linus; how he had suffered and wa_errified; how much he had endured before the Apostle had shown him he_etreat.
"But now," said he, "that I have found thee, I will not leave thee near fir_nd raging crowds. People are slaying one another under the walls, slaves ar_evolting and plundering. God alone knows what miseries may fall yet on Rome.
But I will save thee and all of you. Oh, my dear, let us go to Antium; we wil_ake a ship there and sail to Sicily. My land is thy land, my houses are th_ouses. Listen to me! In Sicily we shall find Aulus. I will give thee back t_omponia, and take thee from her hands afterward. But, O carissima, have n_urther fear of me. Christ has not washed me yet, but ask Peter if on the wa_ither I have not told him my wish to be a real confessor of Christ, an_egged him to baptize me, even in this hut of a quarryman. Believe, and le_ll believe me."
Lygia heard these words with radiant face. The Christians formerly, because o_ewish persecutions, and then because of the fire and disturbance caused b_he disaster, lived in fear and uncertainty. A journey to quiet Sicily woul_ut an end to all danger, and open a new epoch of happiness in their lives. I_inicius had wished to take only Lygia, she would have resisted the temptatio_urely, as she did not wish to leave Peter and Linus; but Vinicius said t_hem, "Come with me; my lands are your lands, my houses your houses." At thi_ygia inclined to kiss his hand, in sign of obedience, and said, —
"Where thou art, Caius, there am I, Caia."
Then confused that she had spoken words which by Roman custom were repeate_nly at marriage, she blushed deeply, and stood in the light of the fire, wit_rooping head, in doubt lest he might take them ill of her. But in his fac_oundless homage alone was depicted. He turned then to Peter, and continued, —
"Rome is burning at command of Caesar. In Antium he complained that he ha_ever seen a great fire. And if he has not hesitated at such a crime, thin_hat may happen yet. Who knows that he may not bring in troops, and command _laughter? Who knows what proscriptions may come; who knows whether after th_ire, civil war, murder, and famine may not come?
Hide yourselves, therefore, and let us hide Lygia. There ye can wait till th_torm passes, and when it is over return to sow your grain anew."
Outside, from the direction of the Vatican Field, as if to confirm his fears, distant cries were heard full of rage and terror. At that moment the quarryma_ntered, the master of the hut, and, shutting the door hastily, he cried, —
"People are killing one another near the Circus of Nero. Slaves and gladiator_ave attacked the citizens."
"Do ye hear?" said Vinicius.
"The measure is full," said the Apostle; "and disasters will come, like _oundless sea." Then he turned, and, pointing to Lygia, said, "Take th_aiden, whom God has predestined to thee, and save her, and let Linus, who i_ick, and Ursus go with you."
But Vinicius, who had come to love the Apostle with all the power of hi_mpetuous soul, exclaimed: "I swear, my teacher, that I will not leave the_ere to destruction."
"The Lord bless thee for thy wish," answered Peter; "but hast thou not hear_hat Christ rcpcatcd thricc on the lake to me, 'Feed my lambs'?"
Vinicius was silent.
"If thou, to whom no one has confided care over me, sayest that thou wilt no_eave me to destruction, how canst thou wish me to leave my flock in the da_f disaster? When there was a storm on the lake, and we were terrified i_eart, He did not desert us; why should I, a servant, not follow my Master'_xample?"
Then Linus raised his emaciated face and inquired, —
"O vicegerent of the Lord, why should I not follow thy example?"
Vinicius began to pass his hand over his head, as if struggling with himsel_r fighting with his thoughts; then, seizing Lygia by the hand, he said, in _oice in which the energy of a Roman soldier was quivering, —
"Hear me, Peter, Linus, and thou, Lygia! I spoke as my human reason dictated; but ye have another reason, which regards, not your own danger, but th_ommands of the Redeemer. True, I did not understand this, and I erred, fo_he beam is not taken from my eyes yet, and the former nature is heard in me.
But since I love Christ, and wish to be His servant, though it is a questio_or me of something more than my own life, I kneel here before thee, and swea_hat I will accomplish the command of love, and will not leave my brethren i_he day of trouble."
Then he knelt, and enthusiasm possessed him; raising his hands and eyes, h_ried: "Do I understand Thee, O Christ? Am I worthy of Thee?"
His hands trembled; his eyes glistened with tears; his body trembled wit_aith and love. Peter took an earthen vessel with water, and, bringing it nea_im, said with solemnity, —
"Behold, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen."
Then a religious ecstasy seized all present. They thought that some light fro_eyond this world had filled the hut, that they heard some superhuman music, that the cliffs had opened above their heads, that choirs of angels wer_loating down from heaven, and far up there they saw a cross, and pierce_ands blessing them.
Meanwhile the shouts of fighting were heard outside, and the roar of flames i_he burning city.