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Chapter 52

  • 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, —
  • "I am Thine; take me instead of her."
  • The sky began to grow pale in the east.