Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/The Pythagorean
THE PYTHAGOREAN. (A Tale of the First Century.)
“Who shall deliver me from this body of death?”—St. Paul.
“I would, Father Claudius, that thou wouldst come and give the consolation of thy faith to my daughter: she lieth sick of fever, and is ill at ease till thou come.”
“Who art thou? I know not thy face as one of my hearers.”
“Thou dost not—yet is my daughter one of thy flock. She hath heard thee at the house of Servius the goldsmith, and desireth strongly to see thee now. Come quickly, I pray you, therefore.”
“Is thy daughter fair, with azure eyes—her name Virginia?”
“Right, holy father, the same. Thou didst but three sabbaths since bless her in the name of thy God, as thou didst leave the goldsmith’s house.”
“Virginia! fair!—her eyes! Is she near to death?”
“A few turnings of the glass, and her soul will be in Hades, and the white roses will crown her. Haste thee, good father!”
“I cannot come, alas! I cannot come!” said the old grey-bearded man addressed as Father Claudius. “I cannot come,” he added, with increasing vehemence of manner: “No, no! I cannot.”
“But, father, she is of thine own; she but lately wished to join thy sect of the Nazarenes, or Christians—I know not what ye are called.”
“She was a good child. I do remember her well: and yet I cannot come. I will give thee this tablet for her, let her read it; it will take my place.” He took the stylus, and wrote in a waxed tablet some few lines indicative of his own faith, and calculated to restore her confidence in her religion. “Say to her, I send her the blessing of God, the Three in One. Still I cannot go with thee! No, no! I cannot!” And the old man sat down in his seat, exhausted by some internal struggle, while large tears rolled down his furrowed cheeks.
“Father Claudius,” said the man, rendered desperate, “I warn thee, that if thou comest not with me, I will tell to the Church that which thou hast refused to do, and they shall judge betwixt us. What will the child judge of thy high-sounding words of self-denial, seeing it is but eight furlongs hence, and thou wilt not go?”
“I tell thee—Thy name?”
“I tell thee, Fabulus, that I would go with thee ten times the length, but for—no, no, I cannot see thy daughter die! Virginia! no, no, not again—I will not see her die,” he added, with fiercer tones. “Pardon an old man, I meant not anger; still I cannot go. I cannot go. Go in peace with the tablet; hasten, lest her sight grow dim.”
“Father Claudius, fare thee well, thou shalt surely hear more of this matter before long.”
The old man bowed his head, and murmured, regretfully, “No, I cannot see her die!—not again, not again!”
Some seven days after the departing of Fabulus, there might have been seen moving slowly towards the house of Claudius three persons: one was Fabulus, the others the elders or deacons of the Church meeting at the house of Servius, of which Claudius was the chief minister.
“I tell ye,” said Fabulus, “he did refuse.”
“With seeming regret and reluctance, ’tis true; but he did refuse.”
“That is not all,” said one of the others, “he doth refuse to partake of our feasts—to eat with us.”
“He should give good reason for that which he does, otherwise we shall have reproach amongst the Churches, if not reproof.”
They came to the house, and found the old man strangely altered since they had heard him on the intervening sabbath. His eyes were more sunken and bloodshot. The holy calm that had been his chief characteristic was gone, and in its place a nervous, excited manner painful to witness.
“Welcome, Fabulus: welcome, Hermas and Aquila. Peace be with ye!”
He set before them fruits, drinking cups, and a vase of water.
“We are come,” said Hermas, the elder of the deacons, “to inquire of thee why thou differest from other preachers of Christus of whom we have heard? Thou eatest not with us, neither dost thou visit our sick.”
“Tis false! Did not I, when the fierce ungodly mob stoned Lepidus, the slave of the armourer of the River Street,—did not I visit him? Did not these arms support his dying head—these garments wipe from his bleeding mouth the foam of death? Did not these lips speak to him of Christus and the future world; these hands, were they not lifted up to Heaven in prayer for his departing soul?—’tis false—most false. Did I not eat with one—with all of ye—when ye gathered your children at the house of Servius, at the time of fruits? Ye know these things, yet ye say I visit not your sick—I eat not with ye; even now I eat with ye, see——” And the old man seized an apple from the board, and ate eagerly.
“But still, Father Claudius, thou dost not feast with us. Though thou hast ministered unto us these three years, thou hast not once feasted at our houses,—our marriages thou dost not come to, our birth rejoicings know not thy presence, and Fabulus, here, will witness that, but seven days since, he did, with tears, entreat thee to visit his dying daughter, and thou wouldst not. These things are strange, and will bring us reproach amongst the Churches.”
“’Tis true!” said the old man, now excited beyond endurance, “tis true! but drive me not away from among ye, for that I will not eat of your feasts nor see your daughters die. Brethren, I have suffered much. Ye know, that when first I came to ye, I told you of my life, how that I could not tell you of my youth, but showed you letters from the Churches of Jerusalem, of Macedonia, of Galatia, and others, making known to ye that for the last thirty years I had taught the faith in all lands. I told ye then that in my youth I was as one of the world, and when ye asked how came I to know and believe in Christus, I could not tell ye then, but now, lest ye drive me from ye, I must. I had hoped to have ended my days amongst ye in peace—to have carried my sorrows to the grave alone. Ye will share them; the burden is heavy; ’tis of your own seeking,—complain not of its weight.”
The old man paused for breath, drank a deep draught of the water, and restlessly paced to and fro in the small room. The sun was within an hour of setting, and the light streamed in at the narrow window full on his face, as he passed and repassed the opening, making the changes of his countenance awfully sudden as he came to the light, and then disappeared in the partial darkness of the room. A narrow couch stretched along the opposite wall, and on it lay the large upper cloak, or toga, which he habitually wore.
The three sat attentive. Something in the old preacher’s look taught them fear. They came as his judges, they felt they were unfit for the high office.
“I remember,” said Claudius, after a long pause, during which he seemed to be making a violent effort to suppress some strong emotion, and speaking more in the manner of one thinking aloud and seeking to recal past events than one addressing others. “I remember my youth. I was the son of an Athenian. Both my parents died before I knew them, and left me to the care of an old man, my father’s eldest brother. He was a disciple of the doctrines of the Pythagoreans. He taught me well. From him I learnt how to live; the luscious fruit, the sweet honey, the wholesome grain, these were our food. Exercises of all kinds and study in its season, helped the flight of time till I became a man, then he died and left me his small property. I knew a trade—that of a carpenter—and with the money he left me and my trade, I travelled much—in Greece, Egypt, and Italy. Still I felt unsatisfied with my lot. There was a void here,” and the old man placed his shrivelled hand upon his heart, “that would not fill.
“One day—that day is as yesterday—I felt the void was gone; the place was filled! I was walking in one of the woods, near to a city in the north of Italy, when I heard a footstep behind me. The leaves rustled as though dancing to the music of the faint breeze that sighed amongst the tops of the young trees. I turned, and beheld—Virginia! just such a sun shone on her.”
The old man paused in his walk, full in front of the window. The reddish light cast a glow upon his features, and he seemed to blush as did the youth when first he saw his idol.
“Virginia! Shall I ever forget thee!”
He had quite lost his hearers now, while they eagerly drank in his words.
“Her step, her mien, her face! The void was gone. She bore upon her head a vessel of milk, which she poised gracefully with one arm uplifted, and with the other held her tunic from contact with the damp grass, for the dew was falling. I followed her—saw her deliver the vessel which was emptied—and returned to her. She came back by the same path carelessly swinging the vessel by one of its handles, and singing some childish lay. I had heard in my own city the voices of the hired singers of the great, but never did my ears drink in such melody as flowed from that swelling throat. She thought she was alone, and warbled like a bird. I followed her still, and saw her enter a poor mean cottage near the borders of the wood. It was not long before I found an excuse in my thirst to call there. I drank milk from a cup she handed me. It was the nectar of the gods.”
His hearers started. Where was the Nazarene now? he was gone. It was a young man with the full tide of passion flowing in his veins to whom they listened.
“The father was a slave of Sporus the magistrate of the district, but was allowed by his owner to have all the privileges of freedom on payment of a certain sum at every month. He was a carpenter, his wife kept a few cows from which the household of Sporus was supplied. I soon hired myself to the father, and being a good workman raised myself in his esteem; why need I delay, I wooed Virginia—I won her. All the freshness of her girlhood’s love was mine. At evenings she would listen to me as I detailed for her my travels by sea and land. She, too, could teach me something, for she had with her mother joined the Nazarenes, the Christians.
“We were to have been united—all was ready, two moons only had to run their course and she was mine. Alas! how we build on sand.
“Sporus had often seen Virginia. He knew she was his slave. I knew it, too. I must buy her freedom. I went to his house, saw him; he asked to see her again. I urged that it could not affect the price—he would see her. He saw her—he refused—I could not marry a slave. What could we do? I offered him thrice her value as a slave—he still refused; and why? He wanted her for himself!
“Virginia not my wife, but the slave and mistress of Sporus! The thought was horrible. Wealth can do much. I persuaded her to flee.
“It wanted but a week of the day fixed, when she, as her custom was, went to the house of Sporus with her milk. I was at work, and saw her go. She was longer than usual returning. I watched the openings in the trees through which she was to come. She came not. I could not endure the suspense—I went to meet her. I reached the wood, I heard her scream. I should have known that voice anywhere. I ran—I found her with disordered dress and dishevelled hair—struggling in the arms of her master, Sporus.
“I struck him to the earth, and she twined her arms round me and clung to me, as though dreading to lose me.
“‘Loose me, dearest, I am powerless. See he rises.’
“She left me free, but took fast hold of my girdle, as though there was safety in the very act of touching me.
“He rose. ‘Glaucus, she is my slave, her father is my slave, leave her to me.’
“‘Sporus, thou wretch accursed, I will not leave thee. I will with these fingers tear thy vile heart from its place to feed the dogs, if thou darest but to touch the hem of her robe.’
“‘Glaucus, I warn thee. Thou hast struck me. I am a Roman. I never forget an insult. Yet if thou wilt leave her to me, and leave this place thyself, thou shalt cheat my revenge.’
“‘Demon that thou art, I will not leave thee with her. Thou art more vile than the very beasts whose cries do nightly echo through this wood. They wed with no unwilling mates, whilst thou—wolf that thou art—wouldst have despoiled this poor lamb, but for me. I will not leave thee with her.’
“‘Once more, I warn thee, Glaucus, tempt not the vengeance of Sporus. Virginia, if thou dost love him, bid him go. I will make thee my queen, thou shalt have slaves at thy command. Thou who art thyself a slave shalt have thy freedom; thou shalt wed Sporus the magistrate. Bid him go.’
“‘Sporus, I would not be thy bride for all the riches of earth. Glaucus, leave me not with this wretch; I will live with thee, or die with thee, but leave me not.’
“‘Once more, Glaucus, I warn thee, go.’
“‘I will not, thou doubly condemned wretch. I defy thee—thy country’s laws thou darest not ask to help thee now.’
“‘Glaucus—Virginia—I have warned ye thrice. Beware the vengeance of Sporus!’
“He left us—she fell into my arms—I carried her home. The seven days had passed—the night of flight had come. We stole out together, reached the wood in safety; not a sound but from the leaves—the waving of the living, the crushing of the dead under our feet. Hope lit her lamp. A few hours and we should be safe. I heard a sound—other feet. Oh, God! They had us bound, blindfolded, gagged, in a moment. Hope’s lamp went out never to be rekindled.
“They hurried us through the wood, and then I know not where, till we came to a building. I heard the gates shut. They fastened my wrists with fetters softly lined with leather, and light. I was almost free. They led me further along a stone vaulted corridor. I heard the echoes, and I heard her footsteps—a door opened, my feet rustled on straw. The gag was taken from my mouth; the bandage from my eyes—Oh, Christus! what a pitiable sight met my gaze. Virginia was kneeling on the ground, her face upraised to mine. I could see by the dim light that came from a large opening above, that she was bound as I was, but—O Sporus! thou child of Tartarus—her fetters were so heavy she could scarcely lift them unaided.
“There was a window in the place. I rushed towards it. She screamed, and was dragged with me. We were linked together—most cruel mockery!
“I sat down on the stone bench against the wall. She leaned on me. We spoke not. Our hearts were too full. I noticed that my slightest movement caused her pain. I could see her eyes close and the lips compressed even in that shady light.
“Morning broke at last: then I found why the lips compressed in pain. Her fetters, four fingers broad, had the edges turned in to the wrists and filed to points like a fine saw. They had cut through the skin, and the blood flowed on the hands and arms. No wonder, now, the poor child screamed so piteously at my movement.
“The place we were in was a small square room with a partial roof, the middle open to the air. Through the centre, in a channel cut in the stone floor, ran a stream of water. I dipped my finger and tasted it. It was salt to bitterness. On one side of the room was the stone bench on which we had sat the long night through. On the opposite side ran two small fountains—the one water, the other wine; one flowed into a basin till it was full, then ran over and was lost, it was the wine; the other ran away at once, there was no basin to collect that. Between the fountains, at a man’s height from the ground, was a circular metal mirror. Other objects the room had none, except a trough or ledged shelf under the mirror. The windows were high—higher than my head—I could just catch sight of the distant hill-tops through them. Such was our prison.
“I looked from the windows to her face. It was the old look, one of love and confidence, which it spoke better than words:—
“‘Glaucus, thou hast not kissed me since we came here.’
“‘My poor child’ (she was small and delicate, I called her child sometimes), ‘I have had sad thoughts; to think that I have brought thee to this suffering, those fetters, galls me to madness.’
“‘They do not hurt me much when you are quite still; it’s when you move they hurt me. But, oh, my Glaucus! it is I that brought thee here, not thou me. Thou mightest have been happy but for me. Ah! woe is me that I should thus have harmed thee!’
“‘Yet, Virginia, I would rather be here with thee than free with any other. Thou art mine in life or death.’
“‘Means he to starve us here?’
“‘Alas! I know not what he means. See, there is water—drink!’
“I lifted her fetters, and she came to the fountain and knelt. I filled my joined hands with the water, and she drank eagerly.
“‘Wilt not thou drink, Glaucus?’
“And she tried to fill her hands as I had done. I saw the lips firmly set and the tears start to her eyes with the pain of those horrible fetters’ teeth.
“‘Nay, love, I will thus,’ and I let the full stream fall into my parched mouth.
“We went back to the bench. I threw her fetters on my knee, to take their weight, and so the day toiled slowly away. The blood coagulated round the wrists, and the least movement tore open the wounds afresh. She slumbered at last with fatigue and pain. How fair she looked as lying on my breast she slept. Her breath was shorter and faster than I had ever known it. Evening came, and the sun was just sinking when I saw the mirror move and close again; and on the shelf there stood bread and flesh—the flesh was scarcely dressed.
“I dared not move, though hunger was rampant within me. At last she woke, and started with surprise, then shrieked with pain. Those accursed fetters! she had forgotten them.
“‘I am hungry—is there no food?’
“I pointed it out to her, and she eagerly seized the bread and began to eat ravenously. Then stopped—put down the bread.
“‘Forgive me! I did forget thee, but hunger made me. See! there is flesh—it is of swine, I cannot eat it. I am a Nazarene. Thou shalt have the flesh, and I the bread, Glaucus.’
“She had forgotten I was a disciple of Pythagoras. She ate—I gave her drink—and still I was famished.
“‘Thou dost not eat thy flesh,’ she said, with an effort to smile. ‘Ah! I had forgotten, thou didst tell me that thou hadst never tasted flesh, and all the bread—all is gone. Oh, wretch that I am! I have killed thee. Thou wilt perish of hunger whilst I am full. Oh, woe is me!’
“‘Dearest, fear not! I hunger not. Sorrow hath taken away desire for food.’
“I felt the mad wolves gnawing in my vitals then.
“And then came another night. I had placed her on my one knee as before, with her hands resting on the other, on which lay our chains. One arm was round her form, the other hand gripped the chains lest they should slip. She slumbered. The stars grew dim; I was awakened by a wild shriek and a jerk at my fetters. I had fallen asleep, the hand relaxed its hold, a movement of hers had thrown the chains from my knee towards the ground. The whole weight of the united mass was jerked on her slender wrists. What wonder that wild scream of anguish! She had fainted. I carried her to the fountain to bathe her bleeding arms. The stream was less! She recovered, and expressed such sorrow for having awoke me, that my eyes filled with tears. She kissed them away, and again we sat as before, till morning once more broke.
“I had noticed the previous day that all round the room there were openings near the bottom of the wall reaching to the floor about a span high. There came through one of these a large rake, which pulled the straw from under our feet, then a large fleece of wool on the end of a pole with which the floor was washed; and soon after a large bundle of straw was flung down from the opening in the roof. There was system in all this: we should be there some time: God only knew how long.
“How I longed for evening—for food. She talked to me of her youth, and then of her change of faith; never had she been so dear to me as at that moment. All the longings of my nature after purity and truth had been chilled by contact with the professors of the various religions. I was half inclined to think there was no truth or purity in any worship, in any God. But then she taught me of the God of the Nazarenes—of the Man-God Christus; told me of his deeds, his life of benevolence, his cruel death. I could not deny that truth was here, here was purity; and as she talked to me I felt I could believe. I was a believer in the Prophet of Nazareth from that time.
“At last evening came. We both watched intently the mirror. The light flashed a moment on its surface, it turned, the bread and flesh were there, the mirror closed again.
“‘Glaucus, thou shalt have thy share of bread to-night.’ She broke it in halves: there was less bread than the day before. She saw it, too.
“We ate our bread in silence. I gave her the last portion of mine. She kissed me, and devoured it most eagerly, and looked at the flesh—it was raw!
“‘Not yet, dearest!’ I said, ‘not yet.’
“She understood me, and we lay down again for the night.
“Days and nights passed. Each day saw the fresh straw, each night there was less bread. One night there was no bread, and but little flesh. That night I saw it first!
“She lay asleep, breathing quickly, with the fever-flush upon her cheek; not a sound save her breathing, the murmuring of the salt stream at our feet, and the trickling of the wine fountain. I saw it then—I could not look at her. I could not endure that she should be there so still. I woke her with kisses.
“‘What dost thou want, Glaucus?’ she said, peevishly, ‘thou hast awakened me to pain. I was dreaming of home, and had forgotten these, and thou hast put them on again. Thine are soft, thou dost not feel them; let me sleep.’
“I murmured not at her reproach, and again she slept, and again it came. I shut my eyes, it was still before them; I looked up at the stars, it hid them: I could not see for it.
“Morning came—she awoke fevered and dry. ‘Water, Glaucus, or I perish!’ I led her to the fountain. The stream had become drops!
“I held my hand, as drop by drop it fell into the palm, and then put it to her lips.
“‘More, Glaucus, more! Stay, let me come.’
“She put her lips to the aperture, while I held her fetters, and drank; then sank into my arms exhausted with the effort. The day passed in a sort of torpor.
“Evening came—no bread, and less flesh. It was nearer.
“‘Glaucus, I must eat! Christus, forgive me! but I must eat. Give me the flesh.’
“I gave it her. She tore it from my reluctant hand like a wild animal, and with her teeth and nails rent it into shreds, which she bolted whole. Ye gods! what a sight for these poor eyes it was!
“‘Eat, my Glaucus,’ she said, fiercely, ‘eat, I say.’
“‘But thou’lt not have enough, Virginia.’
“‘True: Thou, Glaucus, shalt eat to-morrow.’
“Eat tomorrow! I kissed her lips, still wet with the juicy flesh, and tasted—Oh, it was life! To-morrow! to-morrow! would it never come?
“That night I saw it more clearly than ever. I could not look at her as she slept, it was so clearly there.
“Morning again—again the fountain—the water drop, drop, drop! The wine gurgled in its plenty, we both heard it, had heard it, it always ran so.
“‘No love; not yet, not yet.’
“Evening again. With what horrible intensity we watched the mirror. It moved—it turned; there was flesh—less than before.
“She seized it, and had it to her mouth in a moment, and threw herself on the floor to take the weight of her chains off her hands.
“‘Virginia, I perish: give me to eat!’
“She tore off a morsel, and dropped it in the straw. I seized it and ate it. It was fulness of life: more I must have.
“‘Virginia, more!—more, for pity’s sake! Thine own Glaucus asks it of thee.’
“She tore off a smaller morsel than before. It was maddening. More I must have. I held her hands, and tore the remainder in halves.
“The poor wrists bled afresh with her resistance. She swallowed her portion, and then with eager tongue licked her fetters.
“I was a man again. The food was like new life: but still I saw it.
“‘Glaucus, I thirst. Let me drink.’
“Once more I led her to the fountain: there was no water! The wine ran gurgling into its full basin, and flowed away.
“‘Glaucus, I must drink, my throat is on fire!’
“I saw frenzy in her eyes. I could not deny her longer. ‘But a little, dearest Virginia! but a little.’ She put aside my hands with the wine in them, impatiently, and stooped down to the basin and drank.
“I thought she would never cease; at last she did—raised her flushed face to mine.
“‘Drink, Glaucus! drink! My fetters pain me not: I am cool now.’
“In a few minutes she looked at me again, and put her arms about me: her fetters were lighter now. I met her look.
“I have wandered at nightfall through the streets, and seen eyes that as a boy I wondered at, as a youth admired, as a man pitied. My God! my God! those eyes looked at me now! My own Virginia, pure as an angel, was looking at me, as those eyes only can look.
“‘Glaucus, dearest Glaucus!’ and her arms tightened round me, and her lips were pressed to mine. Her breath, odorous of wine, half-suffocated me. Would that I had died before I had been obliged to recognise in this fierce drunken girl my own Virginia! Yet it was so. I could not return her fierce caresses.
“‘Dost thou not love me, dearest Glaucus?”
“The old man paused, choked with his emotions.
“The horrors of that night I shall never forget. I struggled, and I conquered. She slept at last, the heavy, dead sleep of those given to wine.
“I wiped the dews from her brow again and again till morning came. She woke not; the midday came, and still she slept. I saw it all the time,—all through the lone night as she lay in my I arms, I saw it.
“As the sun was going down she woke and looked at me with a new light in her eyes; cried for water. I had not a drop. Then she sang again some hymn of childhood, then knelt in front of me.
“‘Marcus’ (she thought she was a child again, and I her brother), ‘I’ll make thee a garland,’ and she gathered the straw of the place, put the ears together, and made a garland; then put it on my head. I helped her by holding the fetters; she thought I held her.
“‘Let me go, Marcus,—let me go.’
“‘Nay, Virginia, thy Marcus loves thee too well.’
“She looked from my face to her hands. ‘See, I’ve found some poppies among the corn and squeezed them; see, the juice is running down my arm. I’ll paint thee, Marcus, as we saw the man from Britain painted in the market-place; it’s red, not blue; but never mind;’ and she took a few pieces of the straw and put them to her poor arms, and with her own dear blood streaked my face.
“‘Now I’ll kiss thee, Marcus, and we’ll go home. I must have milk.’
“I humoured her, and we walked about the room. I gave her a few drops of wine, and she was contented and slept.
“Evening again. I watched the mirror alone. The flesh came—less than ever. I feared to wake her, yet I must eat. I took her softly in my arms, and moved towards the ledge. I reached it. I must free one hand for a moment. I reached the flesh, but I felt her heavy chains slipping. They fell, jerked her arms violently, and with a loud clang reached the floor. She woke, gave one look at my face, all blood-stained as it was, and shouted ‘Glaucus, Glaucus! help! Sporus—thou demon, let me go!’ She tore my face with her nails and bit me, and shrieked again and again. I’ve heard the cry of the wild bird—I’ve heard the cry of the despairing seamen, as they struggled in the waves—I’ve heard the wildest of all sounds, the wind amongst the mountain pines, but I never heard such a sound as that before or since. I hear it now!”—and the old man put his hands to his ears, as if to keep out the sound.
“She thought it was Sporus; and struggled for life.
“‘I am thine own—thy Glaucus.’
“‘Liar that thou art,’ and again the cries for Glaucus, and the same wild scream. She tore herself from my grasp and fled round and round the cell. I could have held her by the chains but for the poor wrists; at last I caught her robe and she fell, but it was on the sharp edge of the wine basin, and the blood flowed from a great gash in her fair forehead, and then she swooned, and in the odour of that blood as I staunched it I saw it with terrible clearness. I dare not kiss her forehead whilst it flowed. I held her and lay by her side while I ate my feast. I felt strong again, and reproached myself for eating—’twas but the longer to live, and why live? Yet I could not but eat.
“The moon was shining brightly on her face, and again I saw it as she lay. What would I not have given to see it not? It wanted but a little to sunrise; the stars were growing fainter in the grey morning light when she woke. Oh, what happiness! the old look—the look she had when she sat at my feet in the wild free woods.
“‘Have I been asleep long, my Glaucus? I have had such dreams; I have been a child, and then I dreamed of the woods and Sporus again, and I have dreamed that I was thy bride, and that thou didst die upon our nuptial couch. In vain I called thee, kissed thee, pressed thee to me—thou wert dead; and I a widowed virgin.’
“‘Dearest, thou hast been sick nigh to death; it was not all a dream. Art thou in pain now?’
“‘No, no pain now.’ It was so near. I knew when she said that.
“‘Glaucus, I shall leave you soon. You will think of those things I said to thee of my god Christus? Wilt thou have anything to live for, when I am gone?’
“‘I shall go soon too, I hope—I know not how to live without thee, my Virginia.’
“‘But men die not when they will, save with guilt; thou yet mayest escape this when I am gone.’
“‘True, dearest.’ I should not have been there an hour but for her and her chains. Freedom or death was the work of a moment; the windows I could reach easily.
“‘Glaucus; wilt thou grant me a last request?’
“‘Ay, my life; anything that thou wilt ask.’
“She reached up her face to kiss me. She had no strength. She fell back. I stooped and kissed her. We could have wept, but nature had no useless moisture for tears—the eye-balls were strained and dry.
“‘Promise me that thou wilt become a preacher of those truths I have taught thee so humbly, yet so willingly—thou wilt, my Glaucus?’
“‘Thy God helping me, I will preach Christus amongst men till death summon me to thee, love. Soon, soon! O God, soon!’
“‘I am so happy.’ She looked so. I felt she was happy.
“‘Christus, bless with thy spirit this thy servant. Make his labours for thy cause, for thy glory, successful. Bless us both, O Christus!’ She paused, put up her chained arms to my neck, drew my face to hers, kissed me tenderly. ‘Bless my Glaucus, O gracious Christus!’ she murmured, and so died.”
The old preacher sobbed not alone.
“I let her lips chill mine, still I moved them not. She was dead! Sporus was well avenged: his slave, my own Virginia, was dead; I thought of the evening. It came—the mirror moved not—there was no flesh. The wine still gurgled and sparkled in its basin. I looked towards the windows, they were gone!—there was no escape. It must be. It was there with me all that night, all that long day.
“Evening came again—the mirror moved not—it was near, dreadfully near. I took my robe, twisted it into a rope, and put it round my throat—drew it tighter and tighter—I could not keep my promise—I must die now. I could not look upon it longer. Tighter and tighter—it was going, thank God! All was growing dim and indistinct. Tighter yet—it was nearly gone. Tighter yet—the earth opened. I fell down a fathomless abyss, and all was darkness. I knew no more.
“Alas! I woke again. It was night. I felt weaker—I saw I was still there;—the robe had broken and saved me. To what? There she lay so calm, so peaceful, so holy, in her sleep of death. I could hardly think she was dead, yet she was, and I saw it there.
“I must drink. I crawled to the wine fountain—I drank—deeply—but hunger was now more furious than ever, and there was no flesh.
“I carried her carefully back to the bench. I saw it coming now! A giddiness seized me—it went away—I saw it nearer. I stooped to kiss her lips. It was nearer still again. I stopped—and once again—and then—My God! It had come! at last. It was there! God forgive me! but I was mad!
“I was a king! I feasted royally, plenty was mine. I slept on a bed of softest down. I ate when I pleased, I drank—how I drank!—’twas strange, my hands were bound still.
I was a runner in the games. I saw the assembled throng. I heard their murmurs when they saw my form. I had fleetness—we started. The circus was small, very small. I found I drew after me a weight. I knew no such game—it was new, but I would run. I ran faster and faster; the pace was killing me; my eyes started from their sockets, the golden apple rolled before me—I stooped for it—I fell, and all was dark once more.
I woke. I was a gladiator. Once more the arena, and still so small. I saw my foe. He was so like myself! He must have fought just before, the fresh blood was on his face. I moved cautiously—he was gone—I watched—moved again—he came back. I lifted my hand to strike, I was not free—neither was he—it was a new game, but I would fight. He raised his fist—I struck at his face with all my force—I hit him—but we both fell—he was under. He was bound to me! I struck again and again. I had killed him now. Again and again I struck—he moved. I seized him by the throat. We rolled over and over each other—and then he was quite still. I watched and drank, and slept while I watched.
“I woke again; it was dark. I was a prisoner chained to—what?—a stone—a wet stone! Ha! ha! they had tied me with ropes, with knotted ropes! I felt for a knife—I had none—I could not see.
“They forgot the prisoner’s teeth! I gnawed and twisted the ropes all the long night—they were old and rotten—they stank in my nostrils; but I gnawed on, and I was free once more.
“I was free! I ran, I jumped, I leaped. I danced to wild music that seemed close to me. I was free! I was in the wild woods once more—the trees waved, the wind kissed my cheek as of yore. I lay down beneath a tree and slept. I dreamed of Virginia—she came to me—sat beside me—she was soon to be my bride. My heart leapt at the thought. She was my bride now—I led her from the temple. The day passed, the night came, I lay beside my bride. I pressed her to me—she answered not—she was cold!
“I awoke. I was not mad now; but where was I? It was the same place—the old square opening to the sky, the same gurgling of the wine fountain, my chains on my wrists. But the foul odour! I could not breathe. And that—what was that? No! it could not be she. It was she—shall I ever forget that sight.
“I see it now—my God! I see it now,” shrieked the old man, “that putrid mass, bruised, torn, mutilated—without a trace of humanity about it—the bones showing through the torn shreds of skin, the flesh eaten—yes, eaten away! Those ears in which I whispered words of love—those eyes in which I saw my happiness—those lips that I pressed so lovingly to mine—those tender breasts on which I’d hoped to see my children hang—gone!—gone!—all were gone; and in their place the eyes from their fleshless sockets glared on me, while the lipless teeth seemed to gnash at me from that ghastly skull. Armless too—and the arms!—I started. The bones were in the fetters still—her fetters. They still hung to mine. I was free in all but them.
“I looked round and saw the mirror; the matted beard, the blood-stained savage face showed me all!
“One window was open now. I leapt, caught the sill, and was out, running as if for life to get that sight from mine eyes. It would not go; never went—never has gone! Thirty years it—this ravening horror—has been before me. I have seen everything through that, as through a veil. It was growing indistinct. Ye have called it back again. I see it now. My God!—my God! I see it now!” and the old man would have fallen, but that his judges caught him and laid him on the couch.
A few minutes and he revived. His voice was weak and trembling.
“Fabulus, forgive me that I could not see her die. Brethren, forgive me that I could not eat your feasts of flesh.” He paused, raised himself into a sitting posture; his eyes strangely bright. “Brethren, before I depart, I would pray with ye once more.” His hands were uplifted in prayer; the voice came low and faint. “Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; thy will be done in earth, as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and—forgive us our trespasses,—as we forgive them that trespass against us——” A spasm crossed his face, his chest heaved as with a mighty effort; his voice, low before, burst out now with a violence that shook the walls. “Help me, oh God! I must,——I will,——I do forgive thee. Sporus, thou, even thou, art now forgiven——Christus have mercy, have mer——— it has gone—gone!” He struggled, knelt, leaned forward as though he saw something in the air, stretched out the old withered arms to grasp the phantom, while a smile of happiness unspeakable lighted up the pallid features.
“Virginia! I come—I come!”—then fell back into their arms—dead.
It was night; the sun had set. He was with Virginia now.
It was gone for ever.
A. Stewart Harrison.