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- The Emperor, Part 2, Volume 8. - 4/10 -
In a perfectly dark spot by the wall of the widow's garden, stood the cynic philosopher who had met Antinous with so little courtesy, defending himself eagerly, but in low tones against the rebukes of another man, who, dressed, like himself in a ragged cloak and bearing a beggar's wallet, appeared to be one of the same kidney.
"Do not deny," said the latter, "that you cling much to the Christians."
"But hear me out," urged the other.
"I need hear nothing, for I have seen you for the tenth time sneaking in to one of their meetings."
"And do I deny it? Do I not honestly confess that I seek truth wherever I may, where I see even a gleam of hope of finding it?"
"Like the Egyptian who wanted to catch the miraculous fish, and at last flung his hook into the sand."
"The man acted very wisely."
"A marvel is not to be found just where everything else is. In hunting for truth you must not be afraid of a bog."
"And the Christian doctrine seems to be very much such a muddy thicket."
"Call it so for aught I care."
"Then beware lest you find yourself sticking in the morass."
"I will take care of myself."
"You said just now that there were decent folks among them."
"A few no doubt. But the others! eternal gods! mere slaves, beggars, ruined handicraftstmen, common people, untaught and unphilosophical brains, and women, for the most part."
"Avoid them then."
"You ought to be the last to give me that advice."
"What do you mean?"
The other went close up to him and asked him in a whisper:
"Why, where do you suppose I get the money with which I pay for our food and lodging?"
"So long as you do not steal it, it is all the same to me."
"If I had no more, you would ask the question fast enough."
"Certainly not, we strive after virtue and ought to do everything to render ourselves independent of nature and her cravings. But to be sure she often asserts her rights--to return then: where do you get the money?"
"Why, it burns in the purses of the people in there. It is their duty to give to the poor, and to tell the truth, their pleasure also; and so week by week they give me a few drachmae for my suffering brother."
"Bah! you are the only son of your father, and he is dead."
"'All men are brethren' say the Christians, consequently I may call you mine without lying."
"Join them then for aught I care," laughed the other. "How would it be if I followed you among the Christians? Perhaps they would give me weekly money too, for my suffering brother, and then we could have double meals."
The cynics laughed loudly and parted; one went back into the city, the other into the garden belonging to the Christian widow.
Arsinoe had entered here before the dishonest philosopher and had gone straight to Hannah's house without being detained by the gate-keeper. As she got nearer to her destination, she tried more and more earnestly to devise some way in which she might inform her sister of all the dreadful things that had happened, and which she must learn sooner or later, without giving her too great a shock. Her dread was not much less than her grief. As she reflected on the last few days and on all that had occurred, it almost seemed as though she herself had been the cause of the misfortunes of her family.
On the way to see Selene she could shed no tears, but she could not help softly moaning to herself now and then. A woman, who for some distance had kept pace with her, thought she must be suffering some severe bodily pain, and when the girl passed her, she looked after her with sincere compassion, the wailing of the desolate young creature had sounded so piteous.
True, midway, Arsinoe had suddenly stopped and had thought that instead of going to Selene for advice, she would turn round and seek Pollux and ask him to help her. The thought of her lover forced its way through all her sorrow and anxiety, through the reproaches she heaped upon herself and the vague plans floating in the air which her brain--unaccustomed to any serious thought, vainly tried to sketch for the future. He was kind, and would certainly be ready to help her; but maidenly modesty held her back from seeking him at so late an hour; besides, how could she discover him or his parents?
The place where her sister was she was now familiar with, and no one could judge of their position better or give sounder counsel than prudent Selene. So she had not turned round, but had hurried on to reach her destination as soon as possible; and now she was standing before the little house in the garden. Before opening the door she once more considered in what way she could prepare Selene and tell her terrible news, and, as all that happened stood vividly before her mind's eye, she began to weep once more.
In front of her, and following her, men and veiled women, singly or in couples or in larger groups, passed into Paulina's garden. They came from workshops and writing-rooms, from humble houses in narrow lanes, and from the handsomest and largest in the main street. Each and all, from the wealthy merchant down to the slave who could not call the coarse tunic or scanty apron that he wore, his own, walked gravely and with a certain dignified reserve. All who met within that gate greeted each other as friends; the master gave a brotherly kiss to the servant, the slave to his owner; for the congregation to which they all belonged was as one body, animated and dwelt in by Christ, so that each member was esteemed as equal to the others however different their gifts of body or mind might be, or the worldly possessions with which they were endowed. Before God and his Saviour the rich ship-owner or the grey-haired sage stood no higher than the defenceless widow and the ignorant slave crippled with blows. Still, the members of the community submitted to those more implicitly than to these, for the special talents which graced certain superior Christians were gifts of grace from the Lord, readily acknowledged as such and, so far as they concerned the inner man, deemed worthy of honor.
On Sunday, the day of the Resurrection of the Lord, all Christians, without exception, visited their place of assembly for divine worship. To-day, being the middle of the week, all who could or chose came to the love-feast at Paulina's suburban house. She herself dwelt in the city and she had placed the banqueting hall of her villa, which would hold more than a hundred souls, at the disposal of her fellow Christians in that quarter of the town. The regular service was held in the morning, but after the day's labor was ended the Christians met at one table to have an evening meal in common, or--on other occasions to partake of the sacramental supper. After sunset the elders, deacons, and deaconesses-- most of whom, so long as it was light, had secular work to attend to--met to take counsel together.
Paulina, the widow of Pudeus and sister of Pontius the architect, was a woman of considerable property and at the same time a prudent steward, who did not consider herself justified in seriously impairing her son's inheritance. This son was residing at Smyrna as a partner in an uncle's business, and always avoided Alexandria, as he did not like his mother's intercourse with the Christians. Paulina took the most anxious care not to make any inroads on the capital intended for him, and never allowed her hospitality to her fellow-believers to cost her any more than it did the other wealthy members of the circle that met at her house. There the rich brought more than they needed for themselves and the poor were always welcome; not feeling themselves oppressed by the benevolence they profited by, for they were often told that their entertainer was not a mortal, but the Saviour, who invited each one who followed him faithfully to be his guest.
The hour was approaching which would summon dame Hannah to join the assembly of her fellow Christians. She could not fail to appear, for she was one of the deaconesses entrusted with the distribution of alms and the care of the sick. She noiselessly made her preparations for going, carefully setting the lamp behind the water-pitcher so that it should not dazzle Selene, and she desired Mary to be exact in administering the medicine to her patient. She knew that the girl had yesterday attempted to make away with herself, and guessed the cause; but she asked no questions and disturbed the poor child, who slept a good deal or lay dreaming with open eyes, as little as possible. The old physician wondered at her sound constitution, for since her plunge into the water the fever had left her and even the injured foot was not much the worse. Hannah might now hope the best for Selene if no unforeseen contingency checked her recovery. To prevent this the unfortunate girl was never to be left alone, and Mary had gladly agreed with her friend to fill her place whenever she was obliged to leave the house.
The meeting of the elders and guardians had already begun when Hannah took her tablets in her hand, on which was noted the distribution she had made of the money entrusted to her during the last week. She greeted the sick girl and Mary with a kindly look and whispered to the deformed girl:
"I will think of thee in my prayers thou faithful soul. There is some food in the little cupboard--not much, for we must be sparing, the last medicine was so dear."
In the little anteroom a lamp was burning which Mary had lighted as it began to grow dark, and the widow paused for a moment, considering whether she should not extinguish it to save the oil. She had taken up the tongs that hung by it, and was about to put it out, when she heard a gentle tap at the house-door. Before she could enquire who it was that asked admission at so late an hour, the door was opened and Arsinoe
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