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A MORNING VISIT
“The wicked plotteth against the just.” – Ps. XXXVII, 12.
IT was a dull unpromising morning, and dark rainy clouds drifted in heavy masses across the heavens, obscuring the bright hues of the distant sunrise, and overshadowing the surrounding landscape.
Below the city of the seven hills lay sleeping in majestic grandeur, her streets silent and desolate, and her temples and palaces yet dipped in the dusky shadows of twilight, now gradually vanishing before the awakening dawn.
Now and then the faint rays of the ascending orb struggled determinately through the thickening clouds, and shone in broken and fitful gleams into the rooms of the houses facing the east.
In one of these Lysias was seated, not as
before accompanied by Secundus, but alone, with only his own reflections to bear him company. And that these were not of a pleasant nature was very evident from his dissatisfied countenance, and the moody vacant expression with which be regarded everything around him.
It was the third day after the occurrences related in the last chapter, and the thoughts of Lysias very naturally reverted to them, and the ill success which had attended his expedition to the caves.
Presently the curtain at the doorway of the apartment was pushed slowly aside, and Cornelius with his usual theatrical stateliness entered, and crossing the room, seated himself condescendingly opposite Lysias, the latter taking no notice whatever of his arrival. So they sat some minutes, Cornelius contemplating with the air of a superior being the dejected features of his silent companion, who in return stared vacantly at him without moving.
“Well,” said the former at last, “you seem to be in bad spirits this morning, what is the matter with you?”
“What, are you here?” said Lysias, coolly, without changing his position, “I didn’t see you.”
“In that case your sight must be as bad as your spirits, for you have been looking at me
for the last five minutes’ replied the other, smiling incredulously.
“Well then” said Lysias abruptly, “and what brings you here at this time of the morning?”
“Why,” replied the other, “having risen earlier than usual today I took a stroll through the streets to enjoy the fresh air, and lighting on your house, I came in to rest myself. Pray, are you not glad to see me?”
“No,” returned the other, gruffly, “I wish, with all my heart, you bad stayed at home. If you’ve come here for refreshment I’ve none to give you; if you’ve come for news, I’ve none of that either; if you’ve come for rest, you’ll find the benches very hard.”
The speaker folded his arms, and looked steadily at Cornelius, who with a slight smile replied, “You are very abrupt this morning, Lysias, what ails you? You’ve not had your sleep out last night, or perhaps you have met with ill luck; that’s it, eh?”
“It’s nothing that concerns you,” said Lysias sharply.
“Now come, don’t be angry, my good friend,” said the other graciously, “I can guess what vexes you. Something has gone wrong in your search after the lady Beatrice, eh, Lysias? What is it, my dear friend?”
“I thought you didn’t interest yourself in
such matters,” said the other shortly, and without looking at Cornelius.
“Come now, Lysias, don’t be so sharp, I want to know what perplexes you.”
Lysias was silent some minutes, and at last answered, still carefully avoiding his companion’s glance, “If I tell you, Cornelius, you must promise to abstain from informing your confidential friends of my adventures, my words must not be repeated. You understand me?”
Cornelius answered by an acquiescent nod, which the other observing, thus continued, “Secundus and I went the other day to search for the lady Beatrice in the caves you told me of.”
“What!” exclaimed Cornelius in astonishment, “you two alone, and in those caves among those dreadful Christians?”
“Well,” said the other rather impatiently, “we found out the place, and went in, and as soon as we discovered the lady Beatrice, Secundus set off to the prefect’s, and brought back thence four men. These went with him into the cave to arrest the girl, while I kept watch outside. But,” said Lysias, looking slyly out of the corner of his eyes at Cornelius, and speaking with malicious distinctness, “though I saw Secundus safely inside the cave, he never came out of it again!”
“Great gods” cried Cornelius, starting up
from his seat, and forgetting his dignity in his horror, “and what became of him then?”
“I don’t know’ replied Lysias coolly, “I’ve not seen him since.”
“And the men who went with him?” asked Cornelius in hasty tones, “what of them?”
“Patience, my friend, I was about to tell you. They returned to me safely, bringing with them a prisoner, though not the one I wished to see.”
“A prisoner, a Christian!” exclaimed the other, “and what has been done with him?”
“The captive is a woman, my friend” said Lysias, “and a very young one too; hardly eighteen I should say. She seems poor, if one may judge from her dress, and is a frightened timid creature, without a word to say for herself. I didn’t question her, for to speak the truth I was too much disgusted with the miserable result of the morning’s work. Only fancy my plodding down there for nothing, and worse than nothing, for I lost Secundus and my time as well in the transaction. I tried to persuade the men to let the terrified girl go again, since she was not the object of their search, but they said,’ that so far as they were concerned one Christian was as good as another therefore I let them take her away with them. And now’ continued he with an oath, “I suppose l had better attend the court
today, for the poor girl is to be tried there on a charge of Christianity, and I may perhaps bear from her where the lady Beatrice is at present concealed, for I have already had an interview with the prefect, and have begged him to question her as much on the subject as possible; so that after all she may prove of service to me although her actual arrest brings me nothing.”
“Lysias,” said Cornelius, leaning forward, and speaking with grave importance, “have I not repeatedly told you that whoever meddled with these Christians, was sure to get the worst of it? You have now proved the truth of my words. You had the madness to visit their caves, and from your own account, Secundus had hardly entered them, before he mysteriously disappeared. For my part, I make no doubt that be, being obnoxious to the Christians, was either transformed by them into some reptile or insect, or else deprived of his senses by their horrible sorceries, and suddenly transported to the end of the earth, or perhaps underneath it. That his strange disappearance is owing to their machinations, I have not the slightest doubt, and I seriously advise you to give up all further search after this woman, or you will come to some great misfortune. And now,” he added rising majestically from his seat, “I must return home,
and leave you to reflect on what I have just said. Best assured that I shall repeat to no one what you have communicated to me’
Cornelius then bade Lysias farewell with his usual condescension and quitted the room. Lysias watched his departure with a contemptuous grin, and after sitting a few minutes in silence, rose with an oath, and walked to the window.
During the preceding conversation, the and had risen higher and higher in the heavens, his bright beams gradually dispersing the thick clouds, and driving them before like a vanquished army. The morning fogs, rolled heavily up from the surrounding plains and valleys, rose into the fresh air like tall columns of smoke, and floated majestically away into the hazy distance.
Life had begun everywhere around; the busy hum
“Of moving wheels and multitudes astir,
And all that in a city murmur swells,”
fell confusedly on the ears of Lysias, as he lounged lazily out at the open window of his ill furnished apartment. His thoughts were divided between disappointment at the ill success of his late expedition, and perplexity at the unaccountable disappearance of Secundus. His vexation at this last misfortune was owing,
not to his solicitude for the young man’s safety, but from consideration of his own interest, for Lysias worked and cared only for himself.
Ah, how much sin, how much iniquity would be avoided, did we only strive to remember others and to forget ourselves. The love of self has caused the ruin of thousands, for those who yield to this despicable sin sacrifice others to effect their own aggrandisement, their own exaltation! How foolish are they who seek to promote their own comfort by making it their sole study! They lose the very object of their desires, and invariably render themselves restless and unhappy.
Lysias was not wantonly cruel, he was only selfish; yet his crimes were as great and as awful as those of a professed murderer, for he hesitated not to ruin or destroy others if by so doing he could enrich himself. Had Beatrice been poor she would have been free from his molestations, but because she was wealthy and he her nearest relative this avaricious man sought in every way to work her destruction, and fearing in the search to expose himself to danger, meanly employed Secundus to be, as the good deacon Cyriacus observed, “his tool” and drudge in the difficult undertaking, intending that the young man should accomplish the perilous task of which himself was to reap the gain.
Happily, Secundus was saved, as we have
seen, alike from the dangers of the scheme and the crimes in which it would have involved him; the very project which but for the mercy of GOD might have led his soul into torments becoming the means of his salvation.
Perhaps much of the selfish spirit of Lysias was owing to his paganism, for although he paid little attention to any religion, yet the prevailing creed of the empire was not calculated either to restrain his iniquitous avarice or to purify his motives, since it sanctioned the persecution of the Christians, and applauded the murderous zeal of its professors in the work of destruction; seldom inquiring into the reasons which prompted them to it, or questioning the character either of the persecutor or his victim.
Christianity is especially opposed to selfishness, its sublime teaching is all directed to the abasement of self, and the love of others. How little did our Divine Master consider Himself! His whole life was one of humility and self sacrifice! He gave Himself for us, suffering the most bitter pains of body and soul to redeem and to save us!
There is nowhere to be found in the character of JESUS one particle of selfishness. He lived, taught, suffered out of pure love to others, an example to all His followers hereafter. Alas, and who can hope to obtain such
a perfect victory over self as did the LORD of glory? Who can hope for such a spirit as His? Who will lead such another life as His? Yet we are told that “if any man have not the Spirit of CHRIST he is none of His” (Rom. VIII, 9).
Selfishness is peculiarly the sin of man, perhaps because he is accustomed to supremacy and sway over the weaker sex, and is taught to expect from them submission and obedience, while woman on the contrary is usually prone to consider others before herself; a merciful arrangement of character, since GOD has allotted to her greater trials and keener sufferings than to man, constituting her his protector and helpmate. It is her’s to soothe him in trouble and sorrow, forgetful of her own share of grief, her’s to nurse and attend him in sickness, and her’s to lead him aright, and to cheer him when the unexpected blow of misfortune suddenly prostrates his spirit. She must also be ready and willing to give up to him in everything, to resign her will to his, and not unfrequently to make very bitter sacrifices for his sake.
Of such trials as these man knows nothing; not that he is free from vexations and sorrows, but that his are of a different kind. He suffers from more formidable and overwhelming afflictions, and is ignorant of the daily annoyances
incident to a woman. Thus it happens that we so seldom find the female character properly appreciated by the opposite sex. Because men cannot understand a woman’s trials, they cannot understand the amount of courage required to meet them, and are therefore apt to imagine that she leads an easier life than they do. But this is a mistaken idea, for Providence has measured out to both sexes an equal share of this world’s evils; and if Adam was sentenced to earn his bread in the sweat of his face, Eve was also condemned to suffer many sorrows and greater bodily pain than her husband, besides being required to yield entire obedience to his will, a commandment by no means easy to observe.
Meanwhile the day has rapidly advanced, and Lysias, having partaken of a scanty breakfast, is preparing with no very smiling countenance to attend the trial of his unfortunate victim.
Slowly and thoughtfully he arranges his cloak on his shoulders, and draws back the curtain from the doorway; slowly and thoughtfully he enters the street and takes his way to the prefect’s court, still musing on his former subject of perplexity – the strange disappearance of Secundus. He wonders to himself whom he shall employ in the young man’s place if he be again obliged to visit the caves
in his hunt after Beatrice, or whom he can now find to work out for him the perilous undertaking. He wonders too what will be said by the relatives of Secundus, how he shall be able to meet their reproaches, and what he shall say to exculpate himself. But then again he considers that if he can only secure Beatrice, some part of her wealth might easily serve to compensate them for the young man’s loss, and with this last reflection he quickens his pace, and hastens more eagerly to the prefect’s court of justice.
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