Sections: General Index   Present Section: Index   Present Work: Index   Previous: Ill - Listeners by the River    Next: V - Lost and Saved







            “They wandered . . . . in dens and caves of the earth.” Heb. XI, 38.


THE dawn of the next morning found Lysias and Secundus again in conversation on the same subject as before.


(p. 32)

            “And what good did you get, pray,” said Secundus, almost angrily, “by dragging yourself and me down to the river last night?”


            “Why,” said Lysias, “I’ve satisfied myself that she is a Christian:”


            “Well, and if you have; you’ve no proof to convince others.”


            “My own conviction is sufficient proof.”


            “How do you mean?”


            “Why, I know enough of Christians to tell you this, – that no visible proof is needed to criminate them, for they never deny their religion, and are no sooner accused by others, than they immediately accuse themselves. Thus, as I am certain in my own mind of Beatrice’s Christianity, I have but to arraign her in court, and she will instantly confess: I want no farther proof, she will be condemned on her own testimony.”


            “Are you sure of this, Lysias?” “As sure as I am of my own existence: real Christians never deny their Christianity.”


            “But you don’t know where she lives now, nor whither to direct those who are to arrest her.”


            “No, that we must find out; I fancy she lies hidden somewhere in their caves.”


            “Caves! what, and where are they?” asked Secundus, in great surprise.


            “Why, they are underground hiding-places,

(p. 33)

whither the Christians resort for refuge, and wherein, I understand, they bury their dead. I fancy it is to one of these places that Simplicius and Faustinus, (or at least their bodies,) were carried last night, and whither also Beatrice followed them.”


            “If you thought so, why didn’t you go after them, and see where they went and what they did?”


            “Because they would have observed me, as soon as I left the shade and came into the moonlight, – led me to some out-of-the-way place, in order to deceive me, and had I the next day led the prefect’s men there, I should have found them gone somewhere else, and have got nothing for my pains but a good rating from the prefect for misinforming him.”


            “Then why didn’t you seize them in the act of removing the bodies?”


            “Supposing that with your assistance I could have done so, – a thing in itself impossible, – where should I have taken them to? What should I have done with them all night? I could not have taken them to the prefect’s court, for it was shut, nor to the prefect himself, for he was probably in bed, – so that proceeding would have brought me no better luck than the other you suggested. I had trusted to gather from their conversation last night some Information as to the place of their

(p. 34)

concealment, but you know I was disappointed. However, the few words that Beatrice uttered were sufficient to convince me of her Christianity, and it now remains only – to catch her. For this purpose, I mean to visit their caves.”


            “Well, and where are they?” asked Secundus, biting his lips.


            “In the fields surrounding the city, I am told, where are large masses of rock and sandstone, through which excavations are made. Cornelius told me of them some time ago, but he never dreamt of my going there. Ha, ha!” continued Lysias, laughing, he would not look into one to save his life; he’s always afraid of witchcraft and sorcery, – a regular staunch believer in the gods, and a Christian hater he is!”


            “I should not think,” said Secundus, in a tone of disgust, “that he can well hate them more than yourself, or,” he added, ironically, “serve the gods better than you do.”


            “Who says I hate the Christians?” said Lysias, drily.


            “Why, of course you hate them, or why do you persecute them?”


            “I don’t persecute them, as you call it, generally, I’m only looking out the lady Beatrice, – not out of zeal to the gods, nor from hatred of her religion, but from regard to myself, –

(p. 35)

because she has land and money, and I am her heir. I always tell you the truth, Secundus, – this in my reason, and you know it!”


            He paused, and grinned horribly at the young man, his small serpent eyes gleaming like a fiend’s, out of their yellow shrivelled sockets.


            Secundus could not endure the look. He rose and turned towards the window, through which the rays of the rising sun streamed in, and flooded the room with golden light. He thought of Beatrice, how he had seen her the morning before, standing by the Flavian amphitheatre in the bright radiance of that same sun, and how, perhaps, before it rose again he might behold her lifeless form floating on the sleepy waters of the Tiber, – and know himself to be her murderer!


            The voice of his companion aroused him from this dreadful reflection, calling on him to take his cloak, and to follow him out into the fields, where they would search for the caves he had mentioned. Secundus obeyed silently, as though he were under an enchantment, and had no power to refuse, nor did he utter a word until they had passed out of the city, and gained the open plains beyond.


            The caves Lysias had spoken of, were the catacombs, – underground halls or chambers,

(p. 36)

whither the Christians repaired to escape persecution. In these places too, they buried their dead, and celebrated their worship, without fear of interruption from the heathens. The rooms of these subterranean cemeteries were connected by numerous passages crossing each other, so that to one unacquainted with their various turnings, a catacomb presented the appearance of a labyrinth. The entrances were hollowed out in beds of sandstone, with which the soil round Rome abounded, and were concealed as much as possible by rude blocks of stone, &c.


            It was very seldom that any of the pagans discovered the site of these caves, but when they did, it was generally through the information of some traitor or Christian who had been reconverted to paganism.


            It was by the last of these means that Cornelius had heard the secret: a friend of his, who through fear of persecution had forsaken the faith, having revealed to him the affair. Cornelius, horrorstricken in his turn, informed Lysias, who lost no time in turning the knowledge thus gained to his own advantage.


            After much tedious search, therefore, Lysias discovered a low arched entrance, evidently the mouth of a cave, but it was so covered with bushes and stones that no casual observer would have noticed it. After clearing

(p. 37)

away the rubbish, the two men crept inside, where all was perfect darkness, and where no opening or passage was visible.


            Secundus tried to dissuade his companion from farther search, but to no purpose, for Lysias was determined on the undertaking. Inside the arch, there was scarcely room; to stand upright, while a solid mound of earth rose opposite to them, and on the right and left were huge blocks of stone, apparently immoveable.


            Here, then, the two remained some time, in uncertainty how to proceed, until the sun, rising higher in the heavens, shot a gleam of bright light into the archway, through the tangled heap of rubbish surrounding it, and showed to them a narrow outlet between the mound of earth and the stone on the left side. Here, too, the same ray of sunlight revealed footprints in the soil, evidently recently made, and all leading towards the same little outlet.


            Lysias approached the stone, and leaning upon it forcibly, it turned aside the a hinged door, and disclosed beyond a narrow passage which would have been perfectly dark but for the single gleam of sunshine which burst through the aperture, and shone down it like a line of fire.


            Lysias and Secundus crept stealthily along this passage or corridor, until they came to a

(p. 38)

flight of steps, cut rudely in the sandstone. Descending these, they entered a low vaulted chamber, lighted dimly by a lamp suspended from the centre, whose struggling rays served to show them on all sides long shelves arranged one above the other, and extending the entire length of the room. On each of these shelves were placed, as the inscriptions over them indicated, the bodies of the dead, numbers of which were those of martyrs, as was plainly recorded on the slab covering them, as well as by the phial of blood suspended from their tombs.


            Passing through this chamber, they came to a dark and narrow passage, crossed in all directions by others, and ending in a flight of steps. In this passage they stood, unwilling to advance farther, and appalled by the deadly stillness around them. Suddenly a light appeared in the distance, evidently borne by some person, for it moved slowly along one of the corridors, and finally disappeared down a turning opposite to them. This light was followed by others, and voices were heard chanting, – among which, that of Beatrice was easily distinguishable. And presently the combined gleam of the lanterns revealed her, standing erect in front of a little group of Christians, among whom Secundus noticed Donata, Largus, and Smaragdus.


(p. 39)

            While the two pagans were yet watching them, they turned down the same alley into which the first lantern-bearer had gone, and were soon lost in the darkness. Lysias drew his companion towards him, and led the way back through the same chamber by which they came, up the flight of steps, and so again into the daylight.


            “Now,” said Lysias, decidedly, “you see she is there; now I will watch this door that no one passes out while you? go to the prefect, get half-a-dozen men, bring them back, take them down into the cave, and catch her.”


“I? must I go?” stammered Secundus.


“Of course, that’s what I wanted you for, – remember our bargain. Go, and be quick about it!”


The young man raised his eyes half supplicatingly to his companion’s face, but seeing nothing there but inflexible determination, he obeyed, and slowly left the spot, the other exhorting him to quicken his pace.



Sections: General Index   Present Section: Index   Present Work: Index   Previous: Ill - Listeners by the River    Next: V - Lost and Saved