AFTER the spectacle in Caesar's gardens the prisons were emptied considerably.
It is true that victims suspected of the Oriental superstition were seized ye_nd imprisoned, but pursuit brought in fewer and fewer persons, — barel_nough for coming exhibitions, which were to follow quickly. People were sate_ith blood; they showed growing weariness, and increasing alarm because of th_nparalleled conduct of the condemned. Fears like those of the superstitiou_estinius seized thousands of people. Among the crowds tales more and mor_onderful were related of the vengefulness of the Christian God. Priso_yphus, which had spread through the city, increased the general dread. Th_umber of funerals was evident, and it was repeated from ear to ear that fres_iacula were needed to mollify the unknown god. Offerings were made in th_emples to Jove and Libitina. At last, in spite of every effort of Tigellinu_nd his assistants, the opinion kept spreading that the city had been burne_t command of Caesar, and that the Christians were suffering innocently.
But for this very reason Nero and Tigellinus were untiring in persecution. T_alm the multitude, fresh orders were issued to distribute wheat, wine, an_lives. To relieve owners, new rules were published to facilitate the buildin_f houses; and others touching width of streets and materials to be used i_uilding so as to avoid fires in future. Caesar himself attended sessions o_he Senate, and counselled with the "fathers" on the good of the people an_he city; but not a shadow of favor fell on the doomed. The ruler of the worl_as anxious, above all, to fix in people's minds a conviction that suc_erciless punishments could strike only the guilty. In the Senate no voice wa_eard on behalf of the Christians, for no one wished to offend Caesar; an_esides, those who looked farther into the future insisted that th_oundations of Roman rule could not stand against the new faith.
The dead and the dying were given to their relatives, as Roman law took n_engeance on the dead. Vinicius received a certain solace from the though_hat if Lygia died he would bury her in his family tomb, and rest near her. A_hat time he had no hope of rescuing her; half separated from life, he wa_imself wholly absorbed in Christ, and dreamed no longer of any union excep_n eternal one. His faith had become simply boundless; for it eternity seeme_omething incomparably truer and more real than the fleeting life which he ha_ived up to that time. His heart was overflowing with concentrated enthusiasm.
Though yet alive, he had changed into a being almost immaterial, whic_esiring complete liberation for itself desired it also for another. H_magined that when free he and Lygia would each take the other's hand and g_o heaven, where Christ would bless them, and let them live in light a_eaceful and boundless as the light of dawn. He merely implored Christ t_pare Lygia the torments of the Circus, and let her fall asleep calmly i_rison; he felt with perfect certainty that he himself would die at the sam_ime. In view of the sea of blood which had been shed, he did not even thin_t permitted to hope that she alone would be spared. He had heard from Pete_nd Paul that they, too, must die as martyrs. The sight of Chilo on the cros_ad convinced him that even a martyr's death could be sweet; hence he wishe_t for Lygia and himself as the change of an evil, sad, and oppressive fat_or a better.
At times he bad a foretaste of life beyond the grave. That sadness which hun_ver the souls of both was losing its former burning bitterness, and changin_radually into a kind of trans-terrestrial, calm abandon to the will of God.
Vinicius, who formerly had toiled against the current, had struggled an_ortured himself, yielded now to the stream, believing that it would bear hi_o eternal calm. He divined, too, that Lygia, as well as he, was preparing fo_eath, — that, in spite of the prison walls separating them, they wer_dvancing together; and he smiled at that thought as at happiness.
In fact, they were advancing with as much agreement as if they had exchange_houghts every day for a long time. Neither had Lygia any desire, any hope,
save the hope of a life beyond the grave. Death was presented to her not onl_s a liberation from the terrible walls of the prison, from the hands o_aesar and Tigellinus, — not only as liberation, but as the hour of he_arriage to Vinicius. In view of this unshaken certainty, all else los_mportance. After death would come her happiness, which was even earthly, s_hat she waited for it also as a betrothed waits for the wedding-day.
And that immense current of faith, which swept away from life and bore beyon_he grave thousands of those first confessors, bore away Ursus also. Neithe_ad he in his heart been resigned to Lygia's death; but when day after da_hrough the prison walls came news of what was happening in the amphitheatre_nd the gardens, when death seemed the common, inevitable lot of al_hristians and also their good, higher than all mortal conceptions o_appiness, he did not dare to pray to Christ to deprive Lygia of tha_appiness or to delay it for long years. In his simple barbarian soul h_hought, besides, that more of those heavenly delights would belong to th_aughter of the Lygian chief, that she would have more of them than would _hole crowd of simple ones to whom he himself belonged, and that in eterna_lory she would sit nearer to the "Lamb" than would others. He had heard, i_s true, that before God men are equal; but a conviction was lingering at th_ottom of his soul that the daughter of a leader, and besides of a leader o_ll the Lygians, was not the same as the first slave one might meet. He hope_lso that Christ would let him continue to serve her. His one secret wish wa_o die on a cross as the "Lamb" died. But this seemed a happiness so grea_hat he hardly dared to pray for it, though he knew that in Rome even th_orst criminals were crucified. He thought that surely he would be condemne_o die under the teeth of wild beasts; and this was his one sorrow. Fro_hildhood he had lived in impassable forests, amid continual hunts, in which,
thanks to his superhuman strength, he was famous among the Lygians even befor_e had grown to manhood. This, occupation had become for him so agreeable tha_ater, when in Rome, and forced to live without hunting, he went to vivari_nd amphitheatres just to look at beasts known and unknown to him. The sigh_f these always roused in the man an irresistible desire for struggle an_illing; so now he feared in his soul that on meeting them in the amphitheatr_e would be attacked by thoughts unworthy of a Christian, whose duty it was t_ie piously and patiently. But in this he committed himself to Christ, an_ound other and more agreeable thoughts to comfort him. Hearing that the
"Lamb" had declared war against the powers of hell and evil spirits with whic_he Christian faith connected all pagan divinities, he thought that in thi_ar he might serve the "Lamb" greatly, and serve better than others, for h_ould not help believing that his soul was stronger than the souls of othe_artyrs. Finally, he prayed whole days, rendered service to prisoners, helpe_verseers, and comforted his queen, who complained at times that in her shor_ife she had not been able to do so many good deeds as the renowned Tabitha o_hom Peter the Apostle had told her. Even the prison guards, who feared th_errible strength of this giant, since neither bars nor chains could restrai_t,'came to love him at last for his mildness. Amazed at his goo_emper,'aethey asked more than once what its cause was. He spoke with suc_irm certainty of the life waiting after death for him, that they listene_ith surprise, seeing for the first time that happiness might penetrate _ungeon which; sunlight could not reach. And when he urged them to believe i_he "Lamb," it occurred to more than one of those people that his own servic_as the service of a slave, his own life the life of an unfortunate; and h_ell to thinking over his evil fate, the only end to which was death.
But death brought new fear, and promised nothing beyond; while that giant an_hat maiden, who was like a flower cast on the straw of the prison, wen_oward it with delight, as toward the gates of happiness.