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Marius the epicurean %E2.., p.12

Marius the Epicurean — Volume 2, page 12

 part  #2 of  Marius the Epicurean Series

 

Marius the Epicurean — Volume 2
 


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  CHAPTER XXVI: THE MARTYRS

  "Ah! voila les ames qu'il falloit a la mienne!" Rousseau.

  [186] THE charm of its poetry, a poetry of the affections, wonderfullyfresh in the midst of a threadbare world, would have led Marius, ifnothing else had done so, again and again, to Cecilia's house. Hefound a range of intellectual pleasures, altogether new to him, in thesympathy of that pure and elevated soul. Elevation of soul,generosity, humanity--little by little it came to seem to him as ifthese existed nowhere else. The sentiment of maternity, above all, asit might be understood there,--its claims, with the claims of allnatural feeling everywhere, down to the sheep bleating on the hills,nay! even to the mother-wolf, in her hungry cave--seemed to have beenvindicated, to have been enforced anew, by the sanction of some divinepattern thereof. He saw its legitimate place in the world given atlast to the bare capacity for [187] suffering in any creature, howeverfeeble or apparently useless. In this chivalry, seeming to leave theworld's heroism a mere property of the stage, in this so scrupulousfidelity to what could not help itself, could scarcely claim not to beforgotten, what a contrast to the hard contempt of one's own or other'spain, of death, of glory even, in those discourses of Aurelius!

  But if Marius thought at times that some long-cherished desires werenow about to blossom for him, in the sort of home he had sometimespictured to himself, the very charm of which would lie in its contrastto any random affections: that in this woman, to whom childreninstinctively clung, he might find such a sister, at least, as he hadalways longed for; there were also circumstances which reminded himthat a certain rule forbidding second marriages, was among these peoplestill in force; ominous incidents, moreover, warning a susceptibleconscience not to mix together the spirit and the flesh, nor make thematter of a heavenly banquet serve for earthly meat and drink.

  One day he found Cecilia occupied with the burial of one of thechildren of her household. It was from the tiny brow of such a child,as he now heard, that the new light had first shone forth uponthem--through the light of mere physical life, glowing there again,when the child was dead, or supposed to be dead. The [188] agedservant of Christ had arrived in the midst of their noisy grief; andmounting to the little chamber where it lay, had returned, not longafterwards, with the child stirring in his arms as he descended thestair rapidly; bursting open the closely-wound folds of the shroud andscattering the funeral flowers from them, as the soul kindled once morethrough its limbs.

  Old Roman common-sense had taught people to occupy their thoughts aslittle as might be with children who died young. Here, to-day,however, in this curious house, all thoughts were tenderly bent on thelittle waxen figure, yet with a kind of exultation and joy,notwithstanding the loud weeping of the mother. The other children,its late companions, broke with it, suddenly, into the place where thedeep black bed lay open to receive it. Pushing away the grim fossores,the grave-diggers, they ranged themselves around it in order, andchanted that old psalm of theirs--Laudate pueri dominum! Dead children,children's graves--Marius had been always half aware of an oldsuperstitious fancy in his mind concerning them; as if in coming nearthem he came near the failure of some lately-born hope or purpose ofhis own. And now, perusing intently the expression with which Ceciliaassisted, directed, returned afterwards to her house, he felt that hetoo had had to-day his funeral of a little child. But it had alwaysbeen his policy, through all his pursuit [189] of "experience," to takeflight in time from any too disturbing passion, from any sort ofaffection likely to quicken his pulses beyond the point at which thequiet work of life was practicable. Had he, after all, been takenunawares, so that it was no longer possible for him to fly? At least,during the journey he took, by way of testing the existence of anychain about him, he found a certain disappointment at his heart,greater than he could have anticipated; and as he passed over the crispleaves, nipped off in multitudes by the first sudden cold of winter, hefelt that the mental atmosphere within himself was perceptibly colder.

  Yet it was, finally, a quite successful resignation which he achieved,on a review, after his manner, during that absence, of loss or gain.The image of Cecilia, it would seem, was already become for him likesome matter of poetry, or of another man's story, or a picture on thewall. And on his return to Rome there had been a rumour in thatsingular company, of things which spoke certainly not of any merelytranquil loving: hinted rather that he had come across a world, thelightest contact with which might make appropriate to himself also theprecept that "They which have wives be as they that have none."

  This was brought home to him, when, in early spring, he ventured oncemore to listen to the sweet singing of the Eucharist. It breathed[190] more than ever the spirit of a wonderful hope--of hopes moredaring than poor, labouring humanity had ever seriously entertainedbefore, though it was plain that a great calamity was befallen. Amidstifled sobbing, even as the pathetic words of the psalter relieved thetension of their hearts, the people around him still wore upon theirfaces their habitual gleam of joy, of placid satisfaction. They werestill under the influence of an immense gratitude in thinking, evenamid their present distress, of the hour of a great deliverance. As hefollowed again that mystical dialogue, he felt also again, like amighty spirit about him, the potency, the half-realised presence, of agreat multitude, as if thronging along those awful passages, to hearthe sentence of its release from prison; a company which representednothing less than--orbis terrarum--the whole company of mankind. Andthe special note of the day expressed that relief--a sound new to him,drawn deep from some old Hebrew source, as he conjectured, Alleluia!repeated over and over again, Alleluia! Alleluia! at every pause andmovement of the long Easter ceremonies.

  And then, in its place, by way of sacred lection, although in shockingcontrast with the peaceful dignity of all around, came the Epistle ofthe churches of Lyons and Vienne, to "their sister," the church ofRome. For the "Peace" of the church had been broken--broken, as [191]Marius could not but acknowledge, on the responsibility of the emperorAurelius himself, following tamely, and as a matter of course, thetraces of his predecessors, gratuitously enlisting, against the good aswell as the evil of that great pagan world, the strange new heroism ofwhich this singular message was full. The greatness of it certainlylifted away all merely private regret, inclining one, at last, actuallyto draw sword for the oppressed, as if in some new order of knighthood--

  "The pains which our brethren have endured we have no power fully totell, for the enemy came upon us with his whole strength. But thegrace of God fought for us, set free the weak, and made ready thosewho, like pillars, were able to bear the weight. These, coming nowinto close strife with the foe, bore every kind of pang and shame. Atthe time of the fair which is held here with a great crowd, thegovernor led forth the Martyrs as a show. Holding what was thoughtgreat but little, and that the pains of to-day are not deserving to bemeasured against the glory that shall be made known, these worthywrestlers went joyfully on their way; their delight and the sweetfavour of God mingling in their faces, so that their bonds seemed but agoodly array, or like the golden bracelets of a bride. Filled with thefragrance of Christ, to some they seemed to have been touched withearthly perfumes.

  [192] "Vettius Epagathus, though he was very young, because he wouldnot endure to see unjust judgment given against us, vented his anger,and sought to be heard for the brethren, for he was a youth of highplace. Whereupon the governor asked him whether he also were aChristian. He confessed in a clear voice, and was added to the numberof the Martyrs. But he had the Paraclete within him; as, in truth, heshowed by the fulness of his love; glorying in the defence of hisbrethren, and to give his life for theirs.

  "Then was fulfilled the saying of the Lord that the day should come,When he that slayeth you will think that he doeth God service. Mostmadly did the mob, the governor and the soldiers, rage against thehandmaiden Blandina, in whom Christ showed that what seems mean amongmen is of price with Him. For whilst we all, and
her earthly mistress,who was herself one of the contending Martyrs, were fearful lestthrough the weakness of the flesh she should be unable to profess thefaith, Blandina was filled with such power that her tormentors,following upon each other from morning until night, owned that theywere overcome, and had no more that they could do to her; admiring thatshe still breathed after her whole body was torn asunder.

  "But this blessed one, in the very midst of her 'witness,' renewed herstrength; and to [193] repeat, I am Christ's! was to her rest,refreshment, and relief from pain. As for Alexander, he neitheruttered a groan nor any sound at all, but in his heart talked with God.Sanctus, the deacon, also, having borne beyond all measure painsdevised by them, hoping that they would get something from him, did notso much as tell his name; but to all questions answered only, I amChrist's! For this he confessed instead of his name, his race, andeverything beside. Whence also a strife in torturing him arose betweenthe governor and those tormentors, so that when they had nothing elsethey could do they set red-hot plates of brass to the most tender partsof his body. But he stood firm in his profession, cooled and fortifiedby that stream of living water which flows from Christ. His corpse, asingle wound, having wholly lost the form of man, was the measure ofhis pain. But Christ, paining in him, set forth an ensample to therest--that there is nothing fearful, nothing painful, where the love ofthe Father overcomes. And as all those cruelties were made nullthrough the patience of the Martyrs, they bethought them of otherthings; among which was their imprisonment in a dark and most sorrowfulplace, where many were privily strangled. But destitute of man's aid,they were filled with power from the Lord, both in body and mind, andstrengthened their brethren. Also, much joy was in our virgin mother,the [194] Church; for, by means of these, such as were fallen awayretraced their steps--were again conceived, were filled again withlively heat, and hastened to make the profession of their faith.

  "The holy bishop Pothinus, who was now past ninety years old and weakin body, yet in his heat of soul and longing for martyrdom, roused whatstrength he had, and was also cruelly dragged to judgment, and gavewitness. Thereupon he suffered many stripes, all thinking it would bea wickedness if they fell short in cruelty towards him, for that thustheir own gods would be avenged. Hardly drawing breath, he was throwninto prison, and after two days there died.

  "After these things their martyrdom was parted into divers manners.Plaiting as it were one crown of many colours and every sort offlowers, they offered it to God. Maturus, therefore, Sanctus andBlandina, were led to the wild beasts. And Maturus and Sanctus passedthrough all the pains of the amphitheatre, as if they had sufferednothing before: or rather, as having in many trials overcome, and nowcontending for the prize itself, were at last dismissed.

  "But Blandina was bound and hung upon a stake, and set forth as foodfor the assault of the wild beasts. And as she thus seemed to be hungupon the Cross, by her fiery prayers she imparted much alacrity tothose contending Witnesses. For as they looked upon her with the eyeof [195] flesh, through her, they saw Him that was crucified. But asnone of the beasts would then touch her, she was taken down from theCross, and sent back to prison for another day: that, though weak andmean, yet clothed with the mighty wrestler, Christ Jesus, she might bymany conquests give heart to her brethren.

  "On the last day, therefore, of the shows, she was brought forth again,together with Ponticus, a lad of about fifteen years old. They werebrought in day by day to behold the pains of the rest. And when theywavered not, the mob was full of rage; pitying neither the youth of thelad, nor the sex of the maiden. Hence, they drave them through thewhole round of pain. And Ponticus, taking heart from Blandina, havingborne well the whole of those torments, gave up his life. Last of all,the blessed Blandina herself, as a mother that had given life to herchildren, and sent them like conquerors to the great King, hastened tothem, with joy at the end, as to a marriage-feast; the enemy himselfconfessing that no woman had ever borne pain so manifold and great ashers.

  "Nor even so was their anger appeased; some among them seeking for uspains, if it might be, yet greater; that the saying might be fulfilled,He that is unjust, let him be unjust still. And their rage against theMartyrs took a new form, insomuch that we were in great sorrow for lackof freedom to entrust their bodies to the earth.

  [196] "Neither did the night-time, nor the offer of money, avail us forthis matter; but they set watch with much carefulness, as though itwere a great gain to hinder their burial. Therefore, after the bodieshad been displayed to view for many days, they were at last burned toashes, and cast into the river Rhone, which flows by this place, thatnot a vestige of them might be left upon the earth. For they said, Nowshall we see whether they will rise again, and whether their God cansave them out of our hands."

 
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