AND everything had failed. Vinicius lowered himself to the degree that h_ought support from freedmen and slaves, both those of Caesar and Poppaea; h_verpaid their empty promises, he won their good will with rich gifts. H_ound the first husband of Poppaea, Rufus Crispinus, and obtained from him _etter. He gave a villa in Antium to Rufius, her son by the first marriage; but thereby he merely angered Caesar, who hated his step-son. By a specia_ourier he sent a letter to Poppaea's second husband, Otho, in Spain. H_acrificed his property and himself, until he saw at last that he was simpl_he plaything of people; that if he had pretended that the imprisonment o_ygia concerned him little, he would have freed her sooner.
Petronius saw this, too. Meanwhile day followed day. The amphitheatre wa_inished. The "tesserae" were distributed, — that is, tickets of entrance, t_he ludus matutinus (morning games). But this time the morning games, becaus_f the unheard-of number of victims, were to continue for days, weeks, an_onths. It was not known where to put the Christians. The prisons wer_rammed, and fever was raging iO them. The puticuli — common pits in whic_laves were kept — began to be overfilled. There was fear that diseases migh_pread over the whole city hence, haste.
All these reports struck the ears of Vinicius, extinguishing in him the las_ope. While there was yet time, he might delude himself with the belief tha_e could do something, but now there was no time. The spectacles must begin.
Lygia might find herself any day in a cuniculum of the circus, whence the onl_xit was to the arena. Vinicius, not knowing whither fate and the cruelty o_uperior force might throw her, visited all the circuses, bribed guards an_east-keepers, laying before them plans which they could not execute. In tim_e saw that he was working for this only, — to make death less terrible t_er; and just then he felt that instead of brains he had glowing coals in hi_ead.
For the rest he had no thought of surviving her, and determined to perish a_he same time, But he feared lest pain might burn his life out before th_readful hour came. His friends and Petronius thought also that any day migh_pen the kingdom of shadows before him. His face was black, and resemble_hose waxen masks kept in lararia. In his features astonishment had grow_rigid, as if he hid no understanding of what had happened and what migh_appen. When any one spoke to him, he raised his hands to his fac_echanically, and, pressing his temples, looked at the speaker with a_nquiring and astonished gaze. He passed whole nights with Ursus at Lygia'_oor in the prison; if she commanded him to go away and rest, he returned t_etronius, and walked in the atrium till morning. The slaves found hi_requently kneeling with upraised hands or lying with his face to the earth.
He prayed to Christ, for Christ was his last hope. Everything had failed him.
Only a miracle could save Lygia; hence he beat the stone flags with hi_orehead and prayed for the miracle.
But he knew enough yet to understand that Peter's prayers were more importan_han his own. Peter had promised him Lygia, Peter had baptized him, Peter ha_erformed miracles, let him give aid and rescue.
And a certain night he went to seek the Apostle. The Christians, of whom no_any remained, had concealed him now carefully even from other brethren, les_ny of the weaker in spirit might betray him wittingly or unwittingly.
Vinicius, amid the general confusion and disaster, occupied also in efforts t_et Lygia out of prison, had lost sight of Peter, he had barely seen him onc_rom the time of his own baptism till the beginning of the persecution. Bu_etaking himself to that quarryman in whose hut he was baptized, he learne_hat there would be a meeting outside the Porta Salaria in a vineyard whic_elonged to Cornelius Pudens. The quarryman offered to guide him, and declare_hat he would find Peter there. They started about dusk, and, passing beyon_he wall, through hollows overgrown with reeds, reached the vineyard in a wil_nd lonely place. The meeting was held in a wine-shed. As Vinicius drew near, the murmur of prayer reached his ears. On entering he saw by dim lamplight _ew tens of kneeling figures sunk in prayer. They were saying a kind; o_itany; a chorus of voices, male and female, repeated every moment, "Chris_ave mercy on us." In those voices, deep, piercing sadness and sorrow wer_eard.
Peter was present. He was kneeling in front of the others, before a woode_ross nailed to the wall of the shed, and was praying. From a distance Vimciu_ecognized his white hair and his upraised hands. The first thought of th_oung patrician was to pass through the assembly, cast himself at th_postle's feet, and cry, "Save!" but whether it was the solemnity of th_rayer, or because weakness bent the knees under Vinicius, he began to repea_hile he groaned and clasped his hands: "Christ have mercy!" Had he bee_onscious, he would have understood that his was not the only prayer in whic_here was a groan; that he was not the only one who had brought with him hi_ain, alarm, and grief. There was not in that assembly one soul which had no_ost persons dear to the heart; and when the most zealous and courageou_onfessors were in prison already, when with every moment new tidings wer_orne about of insults and tortures inflicted on them in the prisons, when th_reatness of the calamity exceeded every imagination, when only that handfu_emained, there was not one heart there which was not terrified in its faith, which did not ask doubtfully, Where is Christ? and why does He let evil b_ightier than God? Meanwhile they implored Him despairingly for mercy, sinc_n each soul there still smouldered a spark of hope that He would come, hur_ero into the abyss, and rule the world. They looked yet toward the sky; the_istened yet; they prayed yet with trembling. Vinicius, too, in proportion a_hey repeated, "Christ have mercy on us!" was seized by such an ecstasy a_ormerly in the quarryman's hut. Now from the depths they call on Him in th_rofoundness of their sorrow, now Peter calls on Him; so any moment th_eavens may be rent, the earth tremble to its foundations, and He appear i_nfinite glory, with stars at His feet, merciful, but awful. He will raise u_he faithful, and command the abysses to swallow the persecutors.
Vinicius covered his face with both hands, and bowed to the earth. immediatel_ilence was around him, as if fear had stopped further breathing on the lip_f all present. And it seemed to him that something must happen surely, that _oment of miracle would follow. He felt certain that when he rose and opene_is eyes he would see a light from which mortal eyes would be blinded, an_ear a voice from which hearts would grow faint.
But the silence was unbroken. It was interrupted at last by the sobbing o_omen. Vinicius rose and looked forward with dazed eyes. In the shed, instea_f glories not of earth, shone the faint gleam of lanterns, and rays of th_oon, entering through an opening in the roof, filled the place with silver_ight. The people kneeling around Vinicius raised their tearful eyes towar_he cross in silence; here and there sobbing was heard, and from outside cam_he warning whistles of watchmen. Meanwhile Peter rose, and, turning to th_ssembly, said,—
"Children, raise your hearts to the Redeemer and offer Him your tears."
After that he was silent.
All at once was heard the voice of a woman, full of sorrowful complaint an_ain, —
"I am a widow; I had one son who supported me. Give him back, O Lord!" Silenc_ollowed again. Peter was standing before the kneeling audience, old, full o_are. In that moment he seemed to them decrepitude and weakness personified.
With that a second voice began to complain,—
"Executioners insulted my daughter, and Christ permitted them!"
Then a third, —
"I alone have remained to my children, and when I am taken who will give the_read and water?"
Then a fourth, —
"Linus, spared at first, they have taken now and put to torture, O Lord!"
Then a fifth,—
"When we return to our houses, pretorians will seize us. We know not where t_ide."
"Woe to us! Who will protect us?"
And thus in that silence of the night complaint after complaint was heard. Th_ld fisherman closed his eyes and shook his white head over that human pai_nd fear. New silence followed; the watchman merely gave out low whistle_eyond the shed.
Vinicius sprang up again, so as to break through the crowd to the Apostle an_emand salvation; but on a sudden he saw before him, as it were, a precipice, the sight of which took strength from his feet. What if the Apostle were t_onfess his own weakness, affirm that the Roman Caesar was stronger tha_hrist the Nazarene? And at that thought terror raised the hair on his head, for he felt that in such a case not only the remnant of his hope would fal_nto that abyss, but with it he himself, and all through which he had life, and there would remain only night and death, resembling a shoreless sea.
Meanwhile Peter began to speak in a voice so low at first that it was barel_ossible to hear him, —
"My children, on Golgotha I saw them nail God to the cross. I heard th_ammers, and I saw them raise the cross on high, so that the rabble might gaz_t the death of the Son of Man. I saw them open His side, and I saw Him die.
When returning from the cross, I cried in pain, as ye are crying, 'Woe! woe! _ord, Thou art God! Why hast Thou permitted this? Why hast Thou died, and wh_ast Thou tormented the hearts of us who believed that Thy kingdom woul_ome?'
"But He, our Lord and God, rose from the dead the third day, and was among u_ill He entered His kingdom in great glory.
"And we, seeing our little faith, became strong in heart, and from that tim_e are sowing His grain."
Here, turning toward the place whence the first complaint came, he began in _oice now stronger, —
"Why do ye complain? God gave Himself to torture and death, and ye wish Him t_hield you from the same. People of little faith, have ye received Hi_eaching? Has He promised you nothing but life? He comes to you and says,
'Follow in my path.' He raises you to Himself, and ye catch at this earth wit_our hands, crying, 'Lord, save us!' I am dust before God, but before you I a_is apostle and vicegerent. I speak to you in the name of Christ. Not death i_efore you, but life; not tortures, but endless delights; not tears an_roans, but singing; not bondage, but rule! I, God's apostle, say this: _idow, thy son will not die; he will be born into glory, into eternal life, and thou wilt rejoin him! To thee, O father, whose innocent daughter wa_efiled by executioners, I promise that thou shalt find her whiter than th_ilies of Hebron! To you, mothers, whom they are tearing away from you_rphans; to you who lose fathers; to you who complain; to you who will see th_eath of loved ones; to you the careworn, the unfortunate, the timid; to yo_ho must die, — in the name of Christ I declare that ye will wake as if fro_leep to a happy waking, as if from night to the light of God. In the name o_hrist, let the beam fall from your eyes, and let your hearts be inflamed."
When he had said this, he raised his hand as if commanding, and they felt ne_lood in their veins, and also a quiver in their bones; for before them wa_tanding, not a decrepit and careworn old man, but a potentate, who took thei_ouls and raised them from dust and terror.
"Amen!" called a number of voices.
From the Apostle's eyes came a light ever increasing, power issued from him, majesty issued from him, and holiness. Heads bent before him, and he, when the
"Amen" ceased, continued: —
"Ye sow in tears to reap in joy. Why fear ye the power of evil? Above th_arth, above Rome, above the walls of cities is the Lord, who has taken Hi_welling within you. The stones will be wet from tears, the sand steeped i_lood, the valleys will be filled with your bodies, but I say that ye ar_ictorious. The Lord is advancing to the conquest of this city of crime, oppression, and pride, and ye are His legions! He redeemed with His own bloo_nd torture the sins of the world; so He wishes that ye should redeem wit_orture and blood this nest of injustice. This He announces to you through m_ips."
And he opened his arms, and fixed his eyes upward; the hearts almost ceased t_eat in their breasts, for they felt that his glance beheld something whic_heir mortal sight could not see.
In fact, his face had changed, and was overspread with serenity; he gazed som_ime in silence, as if speechless from ecstasy, but after a while they hear_is voice, —
"Thou art here, O Lord, and dost show Thy ways to me. True, O Christ! Not i_erusalem, but in this city of Satan wilt Thou fix Thy capital. Here out o_hese tears and this blood dost Thou wish to build Thy Church. Here, wher_ero rules to-day, Thy eternal kingdom is to stand. Thine, O Lord, O Lord! An_hou commandest these timid ones to form the foundation of Thy holy Zion o_heir bones, and Thou commandest my spirit to assume rule over it, and ove_eoples of the earth. And Thou art pouring the fountain of strength on th_eak, so that they become strong; and now Thou cornmandest me to feed Th_heep from this spot, to the end of ages. Oh, be Thou praised in Thy decree_y which Thou commandest to conquer. Hosanna! Hosanna!"
Those who were timid rose; into those who doubted streams of faith flowed.
Some voices cried, "Hosanna!" others, "Pro Christo!" Then silence followed.
Bright summer lightning illuminated the interior of the shed, and the pale, excited faces.
Peter, fixed in a vision, prayed a long time yet; but conscious at last, h_urned his inspired face, full of light, to the assembly, and said, —
"This is how the Lord has overcome doubt in you; so ye will go to victory i_is name.
And though he knew that they would conquer, though he knew what would grow ou_f their tears and blood, still his voice quivered with emotion when he wa_lessing them with the cross, and he said, —
"Now I bless you, my children, as ye go to torture, to death, to eternity."
They gathered round him and wept. "We are ready," said they; "but do thou, _oly head, guard thyself, for thou art the vicegerent who performs the offic_f Christ."
And thus speaking, they seized his mantle; he placed his hands on their heads, and blessed each one separately, just as a father does children whom he i_ending on a long journey.
And they began at once to go out of the shed, for they were in a hurry, t_heir houses, and from them to the prisons and arenas. Their thoughts wer_eparated from the earth, their souls had taken flight toward eternity, an_hey walked on as if in a dream, in ecstasy opposing that force which was i_hem to the force and the cruelty of the "Beast."
Nereus, the servant of Pudens, took the Apostle and led him by a secret pat_n the vineyard to his house. But Vinicius followed them in the clear night, and when they reached the cottage of Nereus at last, he threw himself suddenl_t the feet of the Apostle.
"What dost thou wish, my Son?" asked Peter, recognizing him.
After what he had heard in the vineyard, Vinicius dared not implore him fo_nything; but, embracing his feet with both hanbds, he pressed his forehead t_hem with sobbing, and called for compassion in that dumb manner.
"I know. They took the maiden whom thou lovest. Pray for her."
"Lord," groaned Vinicius, embracing his feet still more firmly,—"Lord, I am _retched worm; but thou didst know Christ. Implore Him, — take her part."
And from pain he trembled like a leaf; and he beat the earth with hi_orehead, for, knowing the strength of the Apostle, he knew that he alon_ould rescue her.
Peter was moved by that pain. He remembered how on a time Lygia herself, whe_ttacked by Crispus, lay at his feet in like manner imploring pity. H_emembered that he had raised her and comforted her; hence now he raise_inicius.
"My son," said he, "I will pray for her; but do thou remember that I tol_hose doubting ones that God Himself passed through the torment of the cross, and remember that after this life begins another, — an eternal one."
"I know; I have heard!" answered Vinicius, catching the air with his pal_ips; "but thou seest, lord, that I cannot! If blood is required, implor_hrist to take mine, — I am a soldier. Let Him double, let Him triple, th_orment intended for her, I will suffer it; but let Him spare her. She is _hild yet, and He is mightier than Caesar, I believe, mightier. Thou dids_ove her thyself; thou didst bless us. She is an innocent child yet."
Again he bowed, and, putting his face to Peter's knees, he repeated, —
"Thou didst know Christ, lord, — thou didst know Him. He will give ear t_hee; take her part."
Peter closed his lids, and prayed earnestly. The summer lightning illuminate_he sky again. Vinicius, by the light of it, looked at the lips of th_postle, waiting sentence of life or death from them. In the silence quail_ere heard calling in the vineyard, and the dull, distant sound of treadmill_ear the Via Salaria.
"Vinicitis," asked the Apostle at last, "dost thou believe?"
"Would I have come hither if I believed not?" answered Vinicius.
"Then believe to the end, for faith will remove mountains. Hence, though tho_ert to see that maiden under the sword of the executioner or in the jaws of _ion, believe that Christ can save her. Believe, and pray to Him, and I wil_ray with thee."
Then, raising his face toward heaven, he said aloud, —
"O merciful Christ, look on this aching heart and console it! O mercifu_hrist, temper the wind to the fleece of the lamb! O merciful Christ, wh_idst implore the Father to turn away the bitter cup from Thy mouth, turn i_rom the mouth of this Thy servant! Amen."
But Vinicius, stretching his hand toward the stars, said, groaning, —