DARKNESS had not come when the first waves of people began to flow int_aesar's gardens. The crowds, in holiday costume, crowned with flowers, joyous, singing, and some of them drunk, were going to look at the new, magnificent spectacle. Shouts of "Semaxii! Sarmentitii!" were heard on the Vi_ecta, on the bridge of !Emiius, and from the other side of the Tiber, on th_riumphal Way, around the Circus of Nero, and off towards the Vatican Hill. I_ome people had been seen burnt on pillars before, but never had any one see_uch a number of victims.
Caesar and Tigellinus, wishing to finish at once with the Christians and als_o avoid infection, which from the prisons was spreading more and more throug_he city, had given command to empty all dungeons, so that there remained i_hem barely a few tens of people intended for the close of the spectacles. So, when the crowds had passed the gates, they were dumb with amazement. All th_ain and side alleys, which lay through dense groves and along lawns, thickets, ponds, fields, and squares filled with flowers, were packed wit_illars smeared with pitch, to which Christians were fastened. In highe_laces, where the view was not hindered by trees, one could see whole rows o_illars and bodies decked with flowers, myrtle, and ivy, extending into th_istance on high and low places, so far that, though the nearest were lik_asts of ships, the farthest seemed colored darts, or staffs thrust into th_arth. The number of them surpassed the expectation of the multitude. On_ight suppose that a whole nation had been lashed to pillars for Rome'_musement and for Caesar's. The throng of spectators stopped before singl_asts when their curiosity was roused by the form or the sex of the victim; they looked at the faces, the crowns, the garlands of ivy; then they wen_arther and farther, asking themselves with amazement, "Could there have bee_o many criminals, or how could children barely able to walk have set fire t_ome?" and astonishment passed by degrees into fear.
Meanwhile darkness came, and the first stars twinkled in the sky. Near eac_ondemned person a slave took his place, torch in hand; when the sound o_rumpets was heard in various parts of the gardens, in sign that the spectacl_as to begin, each slave put his torch to the foot of a pillar. The straw, hidden under the flowers and steeped in pitch, burned at once with a brigh_lame which, increasing every instant, withered the ivy, and rising embrace_he feet of the victims. The people were silent; the gardens resounded wit_ne immense groan and with cries of pain. Some victims, however, raising thei_aces toward the starry sky, began to sing, praising Christ. The peopl_istened. But the hardest hearts were filled with terror when, on smalle_illars, children cried with shrill voices, "Mamma! Mamma!" A shiver ra_hrough even spectators who were drunk when they saw little heads and innocen_aces distorted with pain, or children fainting in the smoke which began t_tifle them. But the flames rose, and seized new crowns of roses and ivy ever_nstant. The main and side alleys were illuminated; the groups of trees, th_awns, and the flowery squares were illuminated; the water in pools and pond_as gleaming, the trembling leaves on the trees had grown rose-colored, an_ll was as visible as in daylight. When the odor of burnt bodies filled th_ardens, slaves sprinkled between the pillars myrrh and aloes prepare_urposely. In the crowds were heard here and there shouts, — whether o_ympathy or delight and joy, it was unknown; and they increased every momen_ith the fire, which embraced the pillars, climbed to the breasts of th_ictims, shrivelled with burning breath the hair on their heads, threw veil_ver their blackened faces, and then shot up higher, as if showing the victor_nd triumph of that power which had given command to rouse it.
At the very beginning of the spectacle Caesar had appeared among the people i_ magnificent quadriga of the Circus, drawn by four white steeds. He wa_ressed as a charioteer in the color of the Greens, — the court party and his.
After him followed other chariots filled with courtiers in brilliant array, senators, priests, bacchantes, naked and crowned, holding pitchers of wine, and partly drunk, uttering wild shouts. At the side of these were musician_ressed as fauns and satyrs, who played on citharas, formingas, flutes, an_orns. In other chariots advanced matrons and maidens of Rome, drunk also an_alf naked. Around the quadriga ran men who shook thyrses ornamented wit_ibbons; others beat drums; others scattered flowers.
All that brilliant throng moved forward, shouting, "Evoe!" on the widest roa_f the grtrden, amidst smoke and processions of people. Caesar, keeping nea_im Tigellinus and also Chilo, in whose terror he sought to find amusement, drove the steeds himself, and, advancing at a walk, looked at the burnin_odies, and heard the shouts of the multitude. Standing on the lofty gilde_hariot, surrounded by a sea of people who bent to his feet, in the glitter o_he fire, in the golden crown of a circus-victor, he was a head above th_ourtiers and the crowd. He seemed a giant. His immense arms, stretche_orward to hold the reins, seemed to bless the multitude. There was a smile o_is face and in his blinking eyes; he shone above the throng as a sun or _eity, terrible but commanding and mighty.
At times he stopped to look with more care at some maiden whose bosom ha_egun to shrink in the flames, or at the face of a child distorted b_onvulsions; and again he drove on, leading behind him a wild, excite_etinue. At times he bowed to the people, then again he bent backward, drew i_he golden reins, and spoke to Tigellinus. At last, when he had reached th_reat fountain in the middle of two crossing streets, he stepped from th_uadriga, and, nodding to his attendants, mingled with the throng.
He was greeted with shouts and plaudits. The bacchantes, the nymphs, th_enators and Augustians, the priests, the fauns, satyrs, and soldier_urrounded him at once in an excited circle; but he, with Tigellinus on on_ide and Chilo on the other, walked around the fountain, about which wer_urning some tens of torches; stopping before each one, he made remarks on th_ictims, or jeered at the old Greek, on whose face boundless despair wa_epicted.
At last he stood before a lofty mast decked with myrtle and ivy. The re_ongues of fire had risen only to the knees of the victim; but it wa_mpossible to see his face, for the green burning twigs had covered it wit_moke. After a while, however, the light breeze of night turned away the smok_nd uncovered the head of a man with gray beard falling on his breast.
At sight of him Chilo was twisted into a lump like a wounded snake, and fro_is mouth came a cry more like cawing than a human voice.
In fact, Glaucus the physician looked down from the burning pillar at him.
Glaucus was alive yet. His face expressed pain, and was inclined forward, a_f to look closely for the last time at his executioner, at the man who ha_etrayed him, robbed him of wife and children, set a murderer on him, and who, when all this had been forgiven in the name of Christ, had delivered him t_xecutioners. Never had one person inflicted more dreadful or bloody wrongs o_nother. Now the victim was burning on the pitched pillar, and the executione_as standing at his feet. The eyes of Glaucus did nor leave the face of th_reek. At moments they were hidden by smoke; but when the breeze blew thi_way, Chilo saw again those eyes fixed on him. He rose and tried to flee, bu_ad not strength. All at once his legs seemed of lead; an invisible han_eemed to hold him at that pillar with superhuman force. He was petrified. H_elt that something was overflowing in him, something giving way; he felt tha_e had had a surfeit of blood and torture, that the end of his life wa_pproaching, that everything was vanishing, Caesar, the court, the multitude, arid around him was only a kind of bottomless, dreadful black vacuum with n_isible thing in it, save those eyes of a martyr which were summoning him t_udgment. But Glaucus, bending his head lower down, looked at him fixedly.
Those present divined that something was taking place between those two men.
Laughter died on their lips, however, for in Chilo's face there was somethin_errible: such pain and fear had distorted it as if those tongues of fire wer_urning his body. On a sudden he staggered, and, stretching his arms upward, cried in a terrible and piercing voice, —
"Glaucus! in Christ's name! forgive me!"
It grew silent round about, a quiver ran through the spectators, and all eye_ere raised involuntarily.
The head of the martyr moved slightly, and from the top of the mast was hear_ voice like a groan, —
Chilo threw himself on his face, and howled like a wild beast; grasping eart_n both hands, he sprinkled it on his head. Meanwhile the flames shot up, seizing the breast and face of Glaucus; they unbound the myrtle crown on hi_ead, and seized the ribbons on the top of the pillar, the whole of whic_hone with great blazing.
Chilo stood up after a while with face so changed that to the Augustians h_eemed another man. His eyes flashed with a light new to him, ecstasy issue_rom his wrinkled forehead; the Greek, incompetent a short time before, looke_ow like some priest visited by a divinity and ready to reveal unknown truths.
"What is the matter? Has he gone mad?" asked a number of voices.
But he turned to the mulitiude, and, raising his right hand, cried, or rathe_houted, in a voice so piercing that not only the Augustians but the multitud_eard him, —
"Roman people! I swear by my death, that innocent persons are perishing here.
That is the incendiary!"
And he pointed his finger at Nero.
Then came a moment of silence. The courtiers were benumbed. Chilo continued t_tand with outstretched, trembling arm, and with finger pointed at Nero. AU a_nce a tumult arose. The people, like a wave, urged by a sudden whirlwind, rushed toward the old man to look at him inure closely. Here and there wer_eard cries, "Hold!" In another place, "Woe to us!" In the throng a hissin_nd uproar began. "Ahenobarbus! Matricide! Incendiary!" Disorder increase_very instant. The bacchantes screamed in heaven-piercing voices, and began t_ide in the chariots. Then some pillars which were burned through, fell, scattered sparks, and increased the confusion. A blind dense wave of peopl_wept away Chilo, and bore him to the depth of the garden.
The pillars began to burn through in every direction and fall across th_treets, filling alleys with smoke, sparks, the odor of burnt wood and burn_lesh. The nearer lights died. The gardens began to grow dark. The crowds, alarmed, gloomy, and disturbed, pressed toward the gates. News of what ha_appened passed from mouth to mouth, distorted and increased. Some said tha_aesar had fainted; others that he had confessed, saying that he had give_ommand to burn Rome; others that he had fallen seriously ill; and stil_thers that he had been borne our, as if dead, in the chariot. Here and ther_ere heard voices of sympathy for the Christians: "If they had not burne_ome, why so much blood, torture, and injustice? Will not the gods avenge th_nnocent, and what piacula can mollify them now?" The words innoxia corpor_ere repeated oftener and oftener. Women expressed aloud their pity fo_hildren thrown in such numbers to wild beasts, nailed to crosses or burned i_hose cursed gardens' And finally pity was turned into abuse of Caesar an_igellinus. There were persons, too, who, stopping suddenly, asked themselve_r others the question, "What kind of divinity is that which gives suc_trength to meet torture and death?" And they returned home in meditation.
But Chilo was wandering about in the gardens, not knowing where to go or wher_o turn. Again he felt himself a weak, helpless, sick old man.
Now he stumbled against partly burnt bodies; now he struck a torch, which sen_ shower of sparks after him; now he sat down, and looked around with vacan_tare. The gardens had become almost dark. The pale moon moving among th_rees shone with uncertain light on the alleys, the dark pillars lying acros_hem, and the partly burnt victims turned into shapeless lumps. But the ol_reek thought that in the moon he saw the face of Glaucus, whose eyes wer_ooking at him yet persistently, and he hid before the light. At last he wen_ut of the shadow, in spite of himself; as if pushed by some hidden power, h_urned toward the fountain where Glaucus had yielded up the spirit.
Then some hand touched his shoulder. He turned, and saw an unknown perso_efore him.
"Who art thou?" exclaimed he, with terror.
"Paul of Tarsus."
"I am accursed! — "What dost thou wish?"
"I wish to save thee," answered the Apostle.
Chilo supported himself against a tree. His legs bent under him, and his arm_ung parallel with his body.
"For me there is no salvation," said he, gloomily.
"Hast thou heard how God forgave the thief on the cross who pitied Him?"
"Dost thou know what I have done?"
"I saw thy suffering, and heard thy testimony to the truth."
"And if a servant of Christ forgave thee in the hour of torture and death, wh_hould Christ not forgive thee?"
Chilo seized his head with both hands, as if in bewilderment.
"Forgiveness! for me, forgiveness!"
"Our God is a God of mercy," said Paul.
"For me?" repeated Chio; and he began to groan like a man who lacks strengt_o control his pain and suffering.
"Lean on me," said Paul, "and go with me."
And taking him he went to the crossing of the streets, guided by the voice o_he fountain, which seemed to weep in the night stillness over the bodies o_hose who had died in torture.
"Our God is a God of mercy," repeated the Apostle. "Wert thou to stand at th_ea and cast in pebbles, couldst thou fill its depth with them? I tell the_hat the mercy of Christ is as the sea, and that the sins and faults of me_ink in it as pebbles in the abyss; I tell thee that it is like the sky whic_overs mountains, lands, and seas, for it is everywhere and has neither en_or limit. Thou hart suffered at the pillar of Glaucus. Christ saw th_uffering. Without reference to what may meet thee to-morrow, thou didst say,
'That is the incendiary,' and Christ remembers thy words. Thy malice an_alsehood are gone; in thy heart is left only boundless sorrow. Follow me an_isten to what I say. I, am he who hated Christ and persecuted His chose_nes. I did not want Him, I did not believe in Him till He manifested Himsel_nd called me. Since then He is, for me, mercy. He has visited thee wit_ompunction, with alarm, and with pain, to call thee to Himself. Thou dids_ate Him, but He loved thee. Thou didst deliver His confessors to torture, bu_e wishes to forgive and save thee."
Immense sobbing shook the breast of the wretched man, sobbing by which th_oul in him was rent to its depths; but Paul took possession of him, mastere_im, led him away, as a soldier leads a captive.
After a while the Apostle began again to speak: —
"Come with me; I will lead thee to Him. For why else have I come to thee?
Christ commanded me to gather in souls in the name of love; hence I perfor_is service. Thou thinkest thyself accursed, but I say: Believe in Him, an_alvation awaits thee. Thou thinkest that thou art hated, but I repeat that H_oves thee. Look at me. Before I had Him I had nothing save malice, whic_welt in my heart, and now His love suffices me instead of father and mother, wealth and power. In Him alone is refuge. He alone will see thy sorrow, believe in thy misery, remove thy alarm, and raise thee to Himself."
Thus speaking, he lcd him to the fountain, the silver stream of which gleame_rom afar in the moonlight. Round about was silence; the gardens were empty, for slaves had removed the charred pillars and the bodies of the martyrs.
Chilo threw himself on his knees with a groan, and hiding his face in hi_ands remained motionless. Paul raised his face to the stars. "O Lord," praye_e, "look on this wretched man, on his sorrow, his tears, and his suffering! _od of mercy, who hart shed Thy blood for our sins, forgive him, through Th_orment, Thy death and resurrection!"
Then he was silent; but for a long time he looked toward the stars, an_rayed.
Meanwhile from under his feet was heard a cry which resembled a groan, —
"O Christ! O Christ! forgive me!"
Paul approached the fountain then, and, taking water in his hand, turned t_he kneeling wretch, —
"Chilo! — I baptize thee in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen!"
Chilo raised his head, opened his arms, and remained in that posture. The moo_hone with full light on his white hair and on his equally white face, whic_as as motionless as if dead or cut out of stone. The moments passed one afte_nother. From the great aviaries in the gardens of Domitian came the crowin_f cocks; but Chilo remained kneeling, like a statue on a monument. At last h_ecovered, spoke to the Apostle, and asked, —
"What am I to do before death?"
Paul was roused also from meditation on the measureless power which even suc_pirits as that of this Greek could not resist, and answered, —
"Have faith, and bear witness to the truth."
They went out toaeether. At the gate the Apostle blessed the old man again, and they parted. Chslo himself insisted on this, for after what had happene_e knew that Caesar and Tigellinus would give command to pursue him.
Indeed he was not mistaken. When he returned home, he found the hous_urrounded by pretorians, who led him away, and took him under direction o_cevinus to the Palatine.
Caesar had gone to rest, but Tigellitius was waiting. When he saw th_nfortunate Greek, he greeted him with a calm but ominous face.
"Thou hast committed the crime of treason," said he, "and punishment will no_ass thee; but if to-morrow thou testify in the amphitheatre that thou wer_runk and mad, and that the authors of the conflagration are Christians, th_unishment will be limited to stripes and exile."
"I cannot do that;" answered Chilo, calmly.
Tigellinus approached him with slow step, and with a voice also low bu_errible, —
"How is that?" asked he. "Thou canst not, Greek dog? Wert thou not drunk, an_ost thou not understand what is waiting for thee? Look there!" and he pointe_o a corner of the atrium in which, near a long wooden bench, stood fou_hracian slaves in the shade with ropes, and with pincers in their hands.
But Chilo answered, —
Rage seized Tigellinus, but he restrained himself yet.
"Hast thou seen," inquired he, "how Christians die? Dost wish to die in tha_ay?"
The old man raised his pale face; for a time his lips moved in silence, and h_nswered,
"I too believe in Christ."
Tigellinus looked at him with amazement. "Dog, thou hast gone mad in fact!"
And suddenly the rage in his breast broke its bounds. Springing at Chilo, h_aught him by the beard with both hands, hurled him to the floor, trample_im, repeating, with foam on his lips, —
"Thou wilt retract! thou wilt!"
"I cannot!" answered Chilo from the floor.
"To the tortures with him!"
At this command the Thracians seized the old man, and placed him on the bench; then, fastening him with ropes to it, they began to squeeze his thin shank_ith pincers. But when they were tying him he kissed their hands wit_umility; then he closed his eyes, and seemed dead.
He was alive, though; for when Tigellinus bent over him and inquired onc_gain, "Wilt thou retract?" his white lips moved slightly, and from them cam_he barely audible whisper, —
Tigellinus gave command to stop the torture, and began to walk up and down i_he atrium with a face distorted by anger, but helpless. At last a new ide_ame to his head, for he turned to the Thracians and said, —