This etext was produced by Ralph Zimmermann, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
OUT OF THE TRIANGLE.
A STORY OF THE FAR EAST.
BY MARY E. BAMFORD.
A voice rang through one of the streets of Alexandria.
“Sinners, away, or keep your eyes to the ground! Keep your eyes to the ground!”
The white-robed priestesses of Ceres, carrying a sacred basket, walked in procession through the Alexandrian street, and as they walked they cried aloud their warning.
So, for four centuries, since the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, had priestesses of Ceres walked and called aloud their admonitions through this city; though of late years men had come to know that what the sacred basket held was a live snake, supposed to be the author of sin and death.
Before the great temple of Ceres in the southeast quarter of the city, the crier stood on the steps of the portico, and proclaimed his invitation: “All ye who are clean of hands and pure of heart, come to the sacrifice! All ye who are guiltless in thought and deed, come to the sacrifice!”
Among the passing people, the lad Heraklas shrank back. When the sacred basket of Ceres had met him, he had bent his eyes downward, deeming himself unworthy of the sight. And now, as the crier’s invitation rang from the portico, “All ye who are guiltless in thought and deed, come to the sacrifice!” Heraklas trembled.
Swiftly he hurried away and passed down the broad street that led to the Gate of the Moon on the south of Alexandria.
At length he reached the gate, but swiftly yet he pushed forward a short distance along the vineyard-fringed banks of Lake Mareotis. Heraklas lifted up his eyes, and marked how the vines by the lake’s side contrasted with the burning whiteness of the desert beyond. The glaring sand shimmered in the heat of the flaming Egyptian sun. A thin, vapory mist seemed to move above the heated, barren surface of the grim sea of sand. Heraklas stretched out his hands in agony toward the desert, and cried aloud, “O my brother, my brother Timokles! How shall I live without thee?”
The soft ripple of the lake beside him seemed like mockery. The tears rolled slowly down his cheeks, as he looked toward the pitilessly unresponsive desert of the west and southwest. Then Heraklas, helpless in his misery, raised his hands with the palms outward before him, after the custom of an Egyptian in prayer, and addressed him whom the Egyptians thought the maker of the sun, the god Phthah, “the father of the beginnings,” “the first of the gods of the upper world.”
“Hail to thee, O Ptahtanen,” began Heraklas, “great god who concealeth his form, . . thou art watching when at rest; the father of all fathers and of all gods. . . Watcher, who traversest the endless ages of eternity.”
The familiar words brought no comfort. Between him and the shimmering desert came the memory of his brother’s face, and Heraklas forgot Ptahtanen, and cried out again in desperation.
His eyes strained toward the desert. Somewhere in its depths, his twin brother Timokles, the being whom of all on earth Heraklas most loved, lived,–or perhaps, in the brief week that had elapsed since he was snatched from his Alexandrian home, had died. Timokles had forsaken the gods of his own family, the gods his own dead father had adored, Egypt’s gods. The lad would not even worship the gods of Rome. Timokles had become one of the Christians, and had, in consequence, been falsely accused of having, during a former inundation, cut one of the dykes near the Nile. This offense, in the days of Roman rule, was punishable by condemnation to labor in the mines, or by branding and transportation to an oasis of the desert.
Timokles, innocent of the crime charged upon him,–having been at home in Alexandria during the time when he was accused of having been abroad on the evil errand,–was dragged away to exile, for was he not a Christian? Living or dead, the desert held him. The Roman emperor, Septimius Severus, who ruled Egypt, had lately issued an edict that no one should become a Christian. What hope was there for Timokles?
“He will never come back!” said Heraklas now, with a low sob, as the desert swam before his tear-filled eyes. “O Timokles!”
There was a rustle among the leaves not far away. Heraklas turned hastily.
But it was no person who disturbed his solitude. Heraklas saw only the head of an ibis, called “Hac” or “Hib” by the Egyptians, and the lad, mindful of the honor due the bird as sacred to the god Thoth, the Egyptian deity of letters and of the moon, made a gesture of semi-reverence. He remembered what the Egyptians were wont to say, when on the nineteenth day of the first month, they ate honey and eggs in honor of Thoth: “How sweet a thing is truth!”
Heraklas murmured with a heavy sigh, “Timokles told me he had found ‘the truth’ O Timokles, is thy ‘truth’ sweet to thee now? Oh, my brother, my brother!”
Heraklas cast himself down among the vines, and wept his unavailing tears. Little did the lad, reared in a pagan home, know of the sweetness of the Christian faith, for which Timokles had forsaken all.
Heraklas’ small sister, the child Cocce, sat on the pavement in the central court of her home in Alexandria. Above her towered three palms that shaded the court. Beside the little girl was an Egyptian toy, the figure of a man kneading dough. The man would work, if a string were pulled, but Cocce had thrown the toy aside. Lower and lower sank the small, brown head, more and more sleepily closed the large, brown eyes, till the child drooped against a stone table that was supported by the stone figure of a captive, bending beneath the weight of the table’s top.
As Heraklas entered the court his eyes fell upon his sleeping little sister, but he noted more closely the stone captive against which she leaned. Heraklas marked how the captive was represented to bend beneath the table’s weight. The boy’s eyes grew fierce. Captivity seemed a cruel thing, since Timokles had gone into it.
Heraklas flung himself on a seat covered by a leopard’s skin, and gazed moodily upward at the palm-leaves, one or two of which stirred faintly under the slight wind that came from a corridor, whither the wooden wind-sails,–sloping boards commonly fixed over the terraces of the upper portions of Egyptian houses,–had conducted the current of air.
Borne from the streets of Alexandria, there seemed to Heraklas to come certain new, half-heard noises. He listened, yet nothing definite reached his ears.
At length, seeing through a range of pillars a slave moving in the distance, Heraklas summoned the man, and asked what was the cause of the faintly-heard sounds.
“The people destroy the possessions of some of the Christians,” humbly replied the slave, whose name was Athribis; and Heraklas, stung to the quick by the answer, impatiently motioned the man away.
Left alone, Heraklas lifted his head proudly. He would ignore the pain. What had he to do with the Christians? He, who had watched his consecration-night in the temple of Isis; he, who had caught some sight of the Mysteries sacred to that goddess; he, who had worn the harsh linen robe and those symbolic robes in which a novice watches his dream-indicated night–what had he to do with Christians? Would that Timokles had observed the emperor’s command that no one should become a Christian! Heraklas groaned.
The dismissed man-slave, Athribis, looked cautiously back through the pillars, and smiled. None knew better than he how any reference to the Christians stabbed the hearts of this family. Athribis himself hated the Christians. He longed to be out in Alexandria’s streets this moment, that he, too, might be at liberty to pillage the Christians’ houses. Who knew what jewels he might find? And he must stay here, polishing a corridor’s pavement, when such things, were being done in the streets! His dark eyes glanced back again. Heraklas’ head was bowed.
Stealthily Athribis passed out of sight of the court. He threaded his way through corridors.
“Whither goest thou?” asked another slave by the threshold.
“I go to the market to get some lentiles,” glibly replied Athribis; and, passing, he quickly gained the portal and the street.
“One, may find that which is better than lentiles,” Athribis communed with himself, as he wound hither and thither through the excited crowds. “Should a Christian have jewels, and I none? I, who am faithful to the gods!”
With this the slave plunged into a company of house-breakers, and with them boldly attacked the dwelling of a Christian. It was easily taken, and Athribis rushed with the company into the interior. Stools and couches were wrenched to pieces, cushions were torn, tables were overthrown.
“Woe to the Christians of Alexandria!” fiercely muttered one man. “We will root them from our city! They shall die!”
The crude brick of the building gave way, in places, under repeated blows. The stucco of the outer walls fell off, and was tracked with the crushed brick into the halls. Some of the rude company, rushing to the flat roof of the building, discovered there, hidden by a wind-sail, a treasure-box, as was at first supposed. On being hastily opened, however, the box was found to hold nothing but some rolls of writing. Contemptuously the box was kicked aside.
“Come down! Come down!” cried voices from the court. “Here are the Christians!”
The loud clamor from below announced that the Christian family had indeed been discovered, and would be taken to prison.
The company on the roof made haste to descend, to witness the family’s humiliating exit. As Athribis passed by the box again, he looked more curiously at it. Surely the scrolls must be of some worth. He could not read, but perhaps something of value might be secretly hidden inside each of these scrolls. Who knew? It must be! It seemed incredible that even Christians would be foolish enough to fill a treasure-box with nothing but rolls of writing, and then conceal the box so carefully behind this wind-sail!
Athribis purposely lingered a little behind the other men. He snatched up the rolls, and having hidden them in his garment, hurried from the roof.
“I am a Christian,” calmly said a voice in the court. “Yea, I have striven to bring others to Christ.”
There stood the father of the household, his wife, and their two children, one a girl of thirteen, the other a boy a little younger. They had broken the emperor’s decree. The father did not deny the charge brought against them. It was his voice that Athribis had heard, and the same voice spoke on:
“My children,” continued the father, “our days on earth come to a close. Let us sing our twilight hymn, for now indeed our work is nearly done.”
Above the scornful tumult rose the four voices, singing the “Twilight,” or “Candle Hymn,” of the early Christians. The children’s tones trembled a little at first, but soon grew firm, as if sustained by the calmness with which the parents sang. The angry faces around the court became yet more fierce with hatred, as, through a moment’s pause, the rioters listened to the words of the hymn:
“Calm Light of the celestial glory, O Jesus Son of the Eternal Father, We come to thee now as the sun goes down, And before the evening light We seek thee, Father, Son And Holy Spirit of God. Thou art worthy to be forever praised by holy voices, O Son of God; thou givest life to us, And therefore doth the world glorify thee.”
Mocking cries arose from the mob. Not daring to linger longer, Athribis ran out of the house, and hastened homeward, full of apprehension as to what might await him.
“Where are the lentiles?” asked the slave by the threshold, as Athribis, forgetful, in his excitement, of the excuse he had made for his departure, passed swiftly and softly in.
“I found none,” quickly answered Athribis, with alarm.
He sped silently to his former place of work, and fell to polishing the pavement with a zeal unknown before. He knew well enough that the slave by the threshold would not believe in that excuse, lentiles being plentiful enough. Terror had robbed Athribis’ deceitful tongue of its usual cunning, and now he silently bewailed his startled answer. If the slave by the threshold should report to Heraklas’ mother the fact that Athribis had been away!
Athribis longed to have time to unroll the scrolls which he had hidden in his garment, but he dared not look at them till he should be alone.
A voice sounded in the court. Athribis redoubled his zeal: He recognized the tones of Heraklas’ mother.
“I was not long gone! I was not long gone!” the guilty Athribis hastily assured himself. “Surely she hath hated the Christians, even as I hate them! I was gone but a moment! Surely she cannot know! If I find treasure in my rolls, I will give some to the slave by the threshold. Surely, treasure is as dumbness to a man!”
The footsteps of the mother of Heraklas drew near. The servant bowed over his work, and dared not lift his eyes. She did not stop! And Athribis looked breathlessly after the woman, as she passed majestically on.
“Surely she hath not known what I did!” he gasped as the stately figure disappeared among the columns. “Isis preserveth me from stripes! My feet are unbeaten!”
Athribis waited till night, when the household slept. Then he crept out of the little chamber on the roof where the slaves were wont to sleep, according to the custom of Egyptian households.
A dim thread of a moon floated toward the west. Athribis crept to a far part of the roof. The wind blew somewhat, but it did not cool the fever of excitement felt by him. Within a moment he might be rich! He might find gold in these scrolls!
He drew out the scrolls. Surely there was something firm inside this one! He felt something! He narrowly scanned the Christians’ papyrus, as he hastily unrolled it. His lips were parted with eagerness, his breath panted into the heart of the scroll, as he held his face down that he might see. He unrolled the papyrus to the end. He sat up, and drew a breath. His bare feet kicked viciously at the unrolled papyrus. No treasure in that first scroll! He seized the second. With eagerness all the greater because of his former disappointment, he searched through this roll, his face bent down till his eyelashes almost swept the surface of the writing. In vain! There was nothing!
“These Christians! What cheats they are!”
He snatched the third roll. With trembling fingers he unrolled this, the last of the papyrus scrolls. There must be something hidden! It could not be possible that he would be disappointed in the last scroll! Was there no treasure? Not a thin wedge of gold at the heart of this papyrus? Not a jewel, not anything that savored of riches?
Athribis’ shaking fingers unrolled the papyrus to its very end. Nothing but the continuous writing, and the stick on which the scroll had been rolled! His limp hand let fall the end of the papyrus. It descended upon the heap at his feet. Had he dared, he would have cried aloud in his disappointment.
But it was not his voice that pierced the night. Some one had seen him!
“A robber!” cried a woman’s tones. “A thief! On the roof!”
Athribis leaped to his feet. He caught the papyri. Alas, alas! they were not rolled, now! The wind tossed the long streamers, and as Athribis in fearful haste snatched them, the breeze blew one scroll entirely free. It, swept from the roof, and, descending into the court, hung in a long strip from one of the palms.
The dismayed Athribis cast the other papyri on the roof, and fled. It was time. The house was being aroused by the cry of the woman. With his bare, silent feet, Athribis sped through the shadows of the corridors to what he thought a secret spot, and hid himself. The house resounded with outcries. Feet ran hither and thither.
Out in the court, hanging all unseen from a palm-tree, swayed the papyrus, the written copy of part of the Sacred Book of the Christians!
It was night on the Libyan desert. The stars glittered on the rocky highlands that compose so much of that desert, and lit faintly, too, the areas between, where stretches of sand waited to be shifted by the next simoon that should blow.
In one spot, at the edge of a rock, there was a movement of the sand. Out of it a form slowly rose.
The sand shook near by, and another person appeared. Another arose, and another, till five had arisen.
The man who had first appeared spoke, slowly, in a voice that told of exhaustion.
“The Emperor Septimius Severus reigneth over our land,” he said. “He hath forbidden that any one should become a Christian. But how shall we cease to tell men of Christ? How shall he cease to draw men to himself?”
“Severus hath not been always thus,” answered another voice, faint with weakness. “Proculus, the Christian, once saved the life of either Severus or his child, and the emperor took Proculus into the palace and treated him kindly, and chose a Christian nurse for Severus’ boy, Caracalla. When the Romans rose against the Christians, Severus shielded our brethren. Oh, that the priests of the false gods of Egypt had not enticed our emperor!”
“Alas for him!” responded the first voice. “The Emperor Severus worshipeth the false gods of Egypt, but we serve the Lord Christ. Farewell to Egypt’s gods! They shall pass, but Thou shalt endure!”
“Amen,” murmured the lad Timokles. “Even so! Thou art Lord of lords, and King of kings, O Christ!”
Suddenly there was a cry of other voices. Up from the rocks of the plateau behind the five there sprang a second group of persons.
The five Christians, knowing the voices of their former heathen captors, fled. The lad Timokles was closely pursued. He felt, rather than heard, close behind him, the footsteps of his enemy, and, turning sharply, Timokles sped away in another direction.
Here and there, back and forth, the two ran in the star-lit darkness. The five Christians were widely scattered now. Shouts and cries came faintly from a distance. Timokles rushed toward the rocky plateau.
“Stop, Christian, stop!” cried his enemy, leaping forward with outstretched hand.
But Timokles fled, stumbling over stones. On came his enemy’s swift leap behind. A piercing cry, as of some one in agony, rang from the desert’s distance. Timokles sped faster.
“Stop!” commanded the voice of the runner behind. “Stop!”
A swift prayer burst from Timokles’ lips. He fled on, his pursuer so near sometimes that Timokles’ heart failed him.
“Stop!” screamed his foe. “Stop!”
The fierce command pulsed through Timokles’ brain. The man behind suddenly slipped, stumbling over the stones. He fell heavily, and in that instant’s time, Timokles darted forward behind one of the rocks, and, creeping underneath it, lay breathless in the darkness.
The man struggled to his feet. Up past the other side of the rock rushed the pursuer. Timokles, quaking, expected every instant to be discovered.
“Where art thou?” savagely called the man. “Where?”
He ran hither and thither with fiercely muttered imprecations. Now his footsteps sounded farther off, and now again he ran back and came softly stealing around among the rocks. Timokles laid his branded cheek against the gravel, and waited.
The footsteps went, and came, and went again in the dark. Timokles trembled from head to foot. He did not fear death, but he dreaded capture and unknown terrors.
The dark form passed by again. A chill went over Timokles, as he thought he saw a weapon in the man’s hand.
The footsteps became inaudible once more. Timokles, waiting a long time, imagined his foe might have gone. As the lad was about to lift his head, a hand brushed along the side of his rock, and reached out into the dark, underneath. Timokles was perfectly quiet. The hand above him felt down the sides of the rock, waved in the darkness above the boy, descended and rested an instant on the gravel next him–but did not touch him. The silent menace of the groping hand was terrible. Timokles held his breath.
The hand passed on, feeling of other rocks.
“O God of thy people, thou hast hidden me!” cried Timokles in his heart, as he heard the soft rubbing of his enemy’s hand against the farther rocks.
The sound died away. Timokles lay listening for a long time. Once he thought he heard a creeping sound, but it was only the wind.
Sleep came upon him at last, and when he woke it was day. He dared not come out, but lay there through the torrid hours, moistening his lips now and then with a little water from the small, skin water- pouch he carried.
The sun plunged beneath the horizon at last, with the usual seeming suddenness observed in the desert. Night was welcome to Timokles, and he came forth. The lad’s heart was very lonely. He looked toward the northeast, and remembered his Alexandrian home–his mother, the brother with whom Timokles’ whole life had been bound up, the little sister Cocce, whom Timokles had last seen playing gleefully with a toy crocodile, and laughing at its opening mouth.
“O Severus!” whispered Timokles, “what didst thou see, when thou visitedst Egypt five years ago, that thou shouldest decree such evil against the Egyptian Christians now?”
Softly Timokles went his way in the dark. He was hungry, yet he dared eat little of the dried dates he had with him. When would he find other food?
For a time he looked warily around, but soon his sense of loneliness overcame his fear, and he watched more for some sign of his four friends than for an indication of an enemy.
“Perhaps some Christian hath escaped, even as I have,” thought Timokles.
Outstretched before him lay a figure of a man! Timokles stood motionless, till he perceived the man be to be asleep. Then the lad bent over the sleeper to scan his face. But, as Timokles stooped, he dimly saw, in the relaxed, open palm of the man’s hand, a small stone of the triangular form under which the Egyptians were wont to worship Osiris, Isis, and Horus. Such are the stones found in the tombs of the Egyptians.
This was no Christian sleeper that lay at Timokles’ feet! The lad turned and fled into the distance.
Through the desert there wailed a thin, plaintive cry. It was the voice of a night-wandering jackal.
Timokles was dizzy to faintness, and staggered as he was driven on. He had been discovered and taken. His life had been spared that he might henceforth be a slave.
“I bear this for thy sake, O Lord, dear Lord!” murmured the exhausted lad, as the blows drove him through the pathless desert.
Again came the plaintive cry of the wandering jackal.
“For thy sake!” faintly repeated Timokles.
A few minutes passed, and once more the jackal’s inarticulate voice wailed through the desert, but Timokles had fallen, helpless. A man sprang forward, and the lash fell again and again on Timokles’ prostrate body, but the boy did not stir.
“Now see how the Christian would die in the desert, and cheat us of all the work he might do!” grumbled the vexed voice of a dismounted camel-rider. “He is young. There are many years of work in him!”
“Leave him!” scornfully advised another, who held a torch. “Some beast will find him.”
Nay, but he shall go with me to Carthage,” asserted a third, from the height of his camel’s back. “Carthage knoweth what to do with Christians!”
“Who art thou that thou shouldest own the Christian?” demanded the first, angrily gazing up at the presumptuous rider. “Did I not find him?”
The mounted camel-rider laughed, and tossed something toward the irate speaker. The man caught the object, a ring of gold, containing a scarabaeus.
“Take it,” said the giver to the appeased rival. “The Christian is mine.”
The unconscious Timokles was taken up at a sign from the camel-rider to one of his servants, and the cavalcade proceeded on its way. As his camel paced forward, Pentaur, the purchaser, glanced back twice or thrice.
“Truly,” he assured himself with much complacency, as he perceived Timokles being carried, “I follow the maxim of Ptah-hotep: ‘Treat well thy people, as it behooveth thee; this is the duty of those whom the gods favor.'”
As Pentaur, for that moment, thought of the dread hour when, after death, according to Egyptian belief, he should stand before the judgment-seat of Osiris, the camel-rider felt convinced that he would have merl which might stand him in good stead in that ordeal.
Little by little, Timokles regained consciousness. He marveled to find himself carried. He had expected to be killed where he fell. The many painful welts of the lash’s stripes stung him with keen pain.
“O mother! mother!” Timokles’ heart cried silently.
Had she indeed lost all love for him, since she had told him she wished he had died rather than become a Christian?
“Lord Christ,” cried Timokles’ breaking heart now, “I have left all for thee!”
The company pushed on rapidly. At length, after morning with its heat had come, the party halted, and the slave who had carried Timokles flung him on the sand, the slave comforting himself that possibly the evil of the Christian’s touch might be warded off by a symbolic eye of Horus that the pagan wore tied to his arm by a slender string. Such eyes were often used by Egyptians as amulets and ornaments.
When the hot hours of the day were past, the caravan again made, ready to go on. The merchant, Pentaur, summoned Timokles, and with condescending good-nature, demanded his history. Timokles told it.
“Why shouldest thou be a Christian?” commented Pentaur. “See, we come to-night to Ammonium the oasis. Every camel-step doth lead thee farther toward Carthage! Thou wilt perish there! Carthage doth hate Christians!”
Timokles looked into Pentaur’s eyes.
“Yea, I know that Carthage hateth them,” the lad answered. “I heard that four years ago, when the proconsul Saturninus persecuted the Christians; and when a number were brought from the little town of Scillita to Carthage to appear before the tribunal of Saturnin, one man called Speratus spoke frankly and nobly for his brethren. When the proconsul Saturninus invited Speratus to swear by the genius of the emperor, the proconsul promising the Christians mercy if they would do this and return to the worship of the gods, Speratus answered, ‘I know of no genius of the ruler of this earth, but I serve my God who is in heaven, whom no man hath seen nor can see. I render what is due from me, for I acknowledge the emperor as my sovereign; but I can worship none but my Lord, the King of all kings and Ruler of all nations.’ So were the Christians taken to the place of execution, where they knelt and prayed, and were then beheaded.”
Timokles’ eyes. fell. His voice trembled.
“O Lord Christ,” he added, reverently, “I also would be faithful unto thee!”
The merchant’s piercing look regarded Timokles for a few minutes.
“There were women among those twelve Christians who were brought from Scillita to Carthage to die,” continued Timokles, “three women, called Donata, Secunda, and Vestina. When they were brought before the proconsul, he said to them, ‘Honor our prince, and offer sacrifice to the gods.’ Donata answered, ‘We give to Caesar the honor that is due Caesar: but we adore and offer sacrifice to God alone.’ Vestina, said, ‘I also am a Christian.’ Secunda said, ‘I also believe in my God, and will continue. faithful to him. As for thy gods, we will neither serve nor adore them.’
“O my master,” continued Timokles, with trembling voice,” thinkest thou not that the God who so strengthened three women that they did not shrink from death for his sake, could strengthen me to meet death, also?”
Pentaur looked fixedly at the lad, who stood with no air of bravado about him, but with an expression of humble trust that the merchant could not fathom.
“Why shouldest thou risk death?” questioned the merchant. “Death will defeat a Christian.”
“Nay, O master!” exclaimed Timokles eagerly. “Death may be glorious victory!”
“Oh!” broke forth Timokles earnestly, “I know a death that was a glorious victory! Carthage knew of it! Didst thou not hear what was done last year at Carthage? Didst thou not know of the Christian lady, Vivia Perpetua, and the Christian slave, Felicitas?”
A shudder ran through Pentaur, as Timokles continued:
“Thinkest thou that what they suffered was nothing? Vivia Perpetua was the best loved of a heathen father’s children. How she suffered in her heart, when her old father came to the prison and besought her to give up Christ! ‘Daughter,’ begged the old man, ‘have pity on my gray hairs. Have compassion on thy father!’ He wept at her feet. He begged her to have pity on her little child. But she could not give up Christ. Wert thou there, O Pentaur, when the governor examined the prisoners? Didst thou see Vivia Perpetua’s old father press forward, carrying her babe in his arms, and beg her to recant for the child’s sake? Didst thou hear the judge ask her, ‘Art thou then a Christian?’ and didst thou hear her answer, ‘I am’?”
Timokles paused. Pentaur had groaned. His face was hidden in his hands.
“And then,” continued Timokles, “the wretched father, hearing his daughter speak those words that doomed her to death, tried to draw her from the platform. He was struck with a stick, and the judge condemned Vivia Perpetua and Felicitas, with the other Christians, to be exposed to the wild beasts.”
Another low groan broke from Pentaur. Timokles hesitated an instant, then hurried on:
“The Christians were to die in the amphitheatre of Carthage. At the gate of the amphitheatre, the guards offered the men among the Christians the red mantle of the priests of Saturn, and offered the women the fillet worn by the priestesses of Ceres. But the Christians refused. ‘We have come here,’ they said, ‘of our own free will, that we might not be deprived of our freedom. We have forfeited our lives in order to be delivered from doing such things.’ Even the heathen could see the justice of this, and the Christians were not compelled to wear the things. In the amphitheatre, Vivia Perpetua and Felicitas were put into a net, and allowed to be attacked by a wild cow. Then the two martyrs gave each other the kiss of peace, and a gladiator killed them.”
Timokles paused once more. Still no response.
“I remember hearing one thing more concerning Vivia Perpetua,” ventured Timokles. “In prison she had had a vision. She thought she saw a golden ladder stretching up to heaven, and on either side of the ladder were swords, and spears, and knives. At the foot of the ladder lay a dragon. Perpetua thought in her vision that she was commanded to mount the ladder. She set her foot on the dragon’s head, saying, ‘He will not harm me, in the name of Jesus Christ,’ and went up the ladder. At the top she found a large garden, and the Good Shepherd met her.”
Pentaur sprang to his feet, and put out a shaking hand.
“No more!” he cried. “Oh, no more! No more! O Vivia, Vivia!”
With a groan of anguish, Pentaur looked upward, as if behind the desert’s sky he might see again that youthful face, the face of that sweet Christian with whom he had been acquainted from childhood and whom he had last seen dying in Carthage’s amphitheatre. Little did Timokles know how the memory of Vivia Perpetua’s death hour had haunted Pentaur. They had been children together in Carthage, and the martyrdom that Vivia Perpetua had suffered in her young womanhood had impressed Pentaur more than all the agony he had seen other Christians endure. When she gave up her life, he had clinched his hands, and muttered fierce words against Carthage’s gods, words he afterward trembled to recall. He served those gods now, yet he revered the memory of the Christian, Vivia Perpetua, as of one of the holiest of women.
Timokles ventured no further words.
Pentaur summoned a slave, and committed to his care the young Christian. The memory of Vivia Perpetua might pierce the merchant’s soul, but would not avail for Timokles’ release.
Bound to another slave to prevent escape, Timokles traveled with the company that night, and before morning the oasis of Ammon, “Oasis Ammonia,” was reached. It was a green and shady valley, several miles long and three broad, in the midst of sand-hills. Here, over five hundred years before, had come the founder of Alexandria, Alexander the Great, to visit the oracle of Ammon, the god figured to be like a man having the head and horns of a ram. The statue of Amun-Ra had then been loaded with jewels, through the reverence of the merchants who halted their caravans at this oasis, and who left their treasures in the strong rooms of the temple, while resting the camels under the palm trees.
All this Timokles remembered, as he stood beside the steaming Fountain of the Sun in the oasis, and watched the bubbles that constantly rose to the surface of that famous body of water.
“O branded-cheeked cutter of dykes, art thou in very truth a Christian?” contemptuously asked the slave that guarded Timokles.
“I am, O friend,” gently answered the lad.
“Ill shalt thou fare in this oasis, then,” threatened the slave.
Timokles’ eyes wandered over the landscape. The surface of the oasis was undulating, and on the north it rose into high, limestone hills. Date palms abounded near by Timokles. He could see the inhabitants of the village, and the wanderers from farther, more isolated homes. The oasis was composed of several disconnected tracts, and Timokles heard that in the western part of the oasis there was a lake.
Suddenly the lad became aware of a number of angrily excited voices. At a short distance stood Pentaur the merchant, surrounded by a group of men, but what he said was lost in the confusion of tongues.
At length the merchant made a careless gesture, and walked away.
“Take the Christian!” shouted fierce voices.
A man ran straight from the group to Timokles. Without a word the man seized the lad. Other hands assisted, and Timokles was hurried away from the village, past palm trees and resting camels, toward the north. Breathlessly the men dragged him a long distance over the rising ground. No word of explanation was uttered. Timokles was swept along, till at length the silent, determined company came to a solitary, ruined building.
Timokles was pulled over the fallen stones, across what had once been the court of the dwelling. Then the company reached a spot where part of the house was still standing. Here a barred door shut off further progress, but two of the men with great effort opened the entrance.
All grasping hands fell from Timokles. The company waited.
“Go in, O Christian,” commanded, a man. “Others have gone before thee!”
Timokles looked fixedly forward. Before him was a hall-way, leading into the portion of the dwelling-house yet remaining.
Timokles stepped forward. Eager hands pushed him quickly into the hall and shut the door behind him. He heard the sound of bars that fastened the door securely at his back. He was alone. What building was this?
He felt here and there in the dark hall. A peculiar odor floated in the heavy air. Timokles hesitated, fearing he knew not what. His eyes could not pierce the deep gloom.
Resolving to see whither the hall led, he groped on, wondering if this were the place in which the inhabitants of the oasis were wont to confine prisoners. He came to a door. It opened readily to his touch, and he passed into what had once been a large dwelling-room. He stepped softly forward, noting the emptiness and desolation of the place. The peculiar odor of the air was more noticeable than before, but it was not till he had reached the middle of the darkened room, and stood gazing about him, that he perceived at the farther end, in the shadows, a space of yellowish fawn color, and then saw manifold dark spots, also, that shaped themselves into a large, living form.
Timokles drew one quick breath. He softly retreated. Keeping his eyes fixed on the huge, sleeping leopard, Timokles put out his hand to take hold of the door through which he had come. His groping fingers found nothing but the blank wall!
Hastily turning with alarm, Timokles passed his hand over the wall’s surface. Surely the door had been here! There was no handle, no line in the wall to indicate the existence of a door.
How silently it had swung shut, when he had come through! He remembered that there had been no noise. He pressed his full force now against the wall. He tried it softly, cautiously, here and there, till he had passed over the entire space in which he knew the door must be, and yet the wall stood apparently blank and whole before him! The other walls seemed to be solid.
With beating heart, Timokles pushed once more at the partition. It remained firm. Trembling with the shock of his sudden entrapping, Timokles looked toward the room’s far end. It was as he thought. The beast was not chained. The sleeping leopard’s spotted hide heaved softly yet, with undisturbed breathing, and as Timokles watched across the space, he remembered the ominous words spoken to him on his entrance into this building: “Go in, O Christian! Others have gone before thee!”
For a time, overcome by the horror of his situation, Timokles leaned against the partition, the door through which had so mysteriously disappeared. His eyes, between quick glances at the sleeping leopard, searched with desperate intensity every part of the room, for some means of escape.
“Is there no place?” he questioned.
Stealthily he crossed the apartment, and felt of the opposite wall. It was immovable. Nowhere in it could he discover any opening.
The beautiful beast, the waking of which meant so much to Timokles, stirred a little. The claws of one foot were drawn up. Then the foot was relaxed again. The leopard continued to slumber.
High above Timokles were two small windows, closed by wooden shutters. The half-ruined flat roof showed holes here and there where the old palm branches of its construction, covered with mats and plastered with mud, had given way. Had it not been for these holes in the roof, Timokles would hardly have had light enough to perceive the leopard, for the wooden shutters of the two windows prevented their being of much service.
Even with the roof’s holes, the room was dark. The rents in the roof were much too far above Timokles to help him to escape; however, and he reflected that if the roof. had been lower, the place would hardly have been chosen for the confinement of a wild beast, the present height of the walls preventing the escape of the leopard, as well as that of any Christian.
The leopard stirred again!
“He wakes!” thought Timokles, summoning his courage for that waking.
But the great cat only moved his head to a somewhat more comfortable position, and continued to sleep.
Timokles repassed slowly and silently so much of the walls as was accessible to him. The wall next to the sleeping beast could not be safely examined, yet Timokles, looking through the gloom, noted from his distance no more promising signs than were exhibited by the other three sides of the room. Most of all did he linger about the spot where, it seemed to him, he had entered, and more than once as he touched the surface of the wall, seeking for some hidden spring, he thought he heard behind him the leopard’s soft footsteps, but, turning hastily, found himself mistaken.
At length, in his search, Timokles slightly stumbled over some lumps of mud that had fallen from the roof. The crunching sound partly aroused the leopard. With a long-drawn sigh, the drowsy creature stirred and rose slowly to his feet, stretching himself. He did not yet see Timokles.
How beautiful the spotted hide was! Timokles, watching with steady eyes for the instant when he should be discovered, had a fleeting memory of that leopard-skin that covered a seat at home in. Alexandria. He would never sit there again.
Even in these dread moments of suspense, there flashed across Timokles’ mind the memory of the saying of the martyr Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, who was sent to Rome to fight with wild beasts: “I am God’s wheat; the teeth of the fierce beasts will but bruise me, that I may be changed into the fine bread of my God.”
It was the moment of discovery! The leopard had been standing, looking around half sleepily. Now his great eyes spied the lad.
The beast gave a quick, purring sound of satisfaction. His tail began to sweep to and fro. His hungry eyes were eager.
Timokles stood quiet. The leopard walked slowly forward. Timokles retreated, still facing the leopard. They passed down one wall. They turned, and proceeded along another. They turned again, and passed the third. Now they turned, and this wall was the one that Timokles had not before had opportunity to examine closely, because of the leopard’s proximity to it. But now he dared not look from the leopard.
“Oh!” whispered Timokles’ pale lips, “what shall I do!”
Suddenly life seemed sweeter to him than ever before. He must not fall into the jaws of this fearful beast! To be caught in this death-trap, and be torn to pieces! It must not be! He did not regret that he had avowed his belief in Christ. He would do such a thing again, if necessary. No less, there grew within him a determination to ward off this beast as long as possible.
“Oh, Lord, help me! Deliver me!” whispered Timokles.
They turned another corner, and once more the two enemies proceeded down the treacherous wall through which Timokles had entered the room. Even as he retreated, Timokles with a last hope kept one hand pushing against this wall. But they reached the other corner, and turned, without any revelation of an opening. The leopard walked leisurely, but steadily. Softly the footsteps of Timokles and the beast sounded in the room, one footfall answering another. Backward, backward, went Timokles–now a turn of a corner–backward, backward. Another corner. This was the wall by which the leopard had slept. Backward, backward! The lad could not pause, but now, as he neared the end of the wall and looked up once beyond the leopard, Timokles saw, in the dark corner that he had passed, what he had not before noticed when near enough to see it, as he had not before lifted his eyes from the leopard. In that farther, dark corner there was a darker line that marked the wall for some distance from the roof.
Timokles dimly perceived that the line was part of one of the old palm branches, that, years ago, had been laid across the split date tree that formed the roof’s beam. At the time of the making of the roof, the palm branches had no doubt been securely fastened, and now this portion of a branch which hung down was still attached to the top of the outer wall of the building, but had ceased to be connected with the central split date tree beam, and had fallen inward, hanging near the wall. Did the palm branch hang low enough so that, if he jumped, he could grasp it?
The portion of the old palm branch was a slender thing. It would not have borne the leopard’s weight. Probably the animal had tried to clutch the branch before now. The lower end might be frayed by his claws.
“Will the branch bear my weight?” questioned Timokles.
He dared not rush across the room, and leap toward the hanging palm branch. He felt certain that if he should turn his back, the leopard would spring immediately. How quickly the beast was coming! Timokles’ head whirled. He was dizzy.
Suddenly the leopard growled. He crouched as if to spring, and Timokles, with a wild cry, fled across the room toward the palm branch. After him rushed the leopard.
Timokles jumped. He grasped the palm branch with one hand. The other brought a handful of frayed bark down. He caught hold of the branch with both hands just as the leopard sprang into the air.
Timokles swung aside as far as possible. A great mass of mud, dislodged from the roof, fell, smiting alike boy and beast, enveloping them in a cloud of blinding dust. The lad clung to the branch with desperate strength, though his support was swaying to and fro. The claws of one of the leopard’s paws raked Timokles’ arm, and then the beast dropped to the floor.
The leopard’s angry cries stunned Timokles’ ears. He clutched the palm branch tightly. From the swaying motion and the sound of a slight, though ominous, cracking, Timokles doubted if his support were reliable.
The rage of the leopard was frightful. He seemed beside himself. He leaped and rushed hither and thither, as he saw Timokles climbing higher.
The boy shook with exhaustion. His right arm bled from the wounds of the leopard’s claws. He was alarmed lest the old palm branch should break or should loosen from the wall. If he once fell back into the leopard’s jaws, there would be a swift end to this skirmishing.
Timokles looked down at the eager eyes. Then he scanned the palm branch narrowly. It did not hang parallel with the wall, but stood out a little from it, and Timokles thought that the branch was partly broken, up next the roof. He hardly dared climb much higher for fear of breaking it entirely off. So he lay along the branch, clasping it with his arms, and shut his eyes. He heard the leopard walk impatiently around, stop, utter an angry cry, walk restlessly again, spring unavailingly into the air, drop heavily to the floor.
At last Timokles opened his eyes. A yellow light, turning into darkness, seemed to fill the space before him. Alarmed, he strove to overcome this faintness. He knew his arm had been bleeding a little, but he had not before this feared unconsciousness. Now he began to feel that he must reach the roof. His faintness might prevent him from clinging to the palm branch much longer.
With Timokles’ first motion the leopard was alert again. Timokles climbed cautiously. He was nearing the roof. There was a cracking sound, such as he had heard, before. The leopard moved vehemently. Suddenly the branch cracked so that it swung Timokles against the wall. The leopard’s movement sounded like a leap.
Timokles was sure that the branch was giving way. He was nearly to the roof. He clutched at it. The mud-covered, rotten mat that he grasped broke through his fingers, and the dust descended into his face. He grasped again, with the same result. The branch was momentarily growing looser. The leopard was ready.
Timokles grasped again–again–again! The rotten mats and the mud with which they had been plastered came away in great handfuls. He could hardly see, for the descending dust. He grasped blindly, desperately. He felt something firm! It was another palm branch that his fingers reached as he dug through the mud. He held on with the clutch of despair.
His head just reached a hole in the roof. He missed his grasp, and fell back on the swinging, broken palm branch. With one final, cracking sound it parted! Timokles’ one hand grasped the top of the wall; his other hand reached the outer part of the roof. He heard the old palm branch fall, and the leopard spring to meet it.
Dragging himself upward, panting with exhaustion, Timokles succeeded in mounting through the hole to the outside of the roof. His foot plunged through a mat. He recovered himself, and crawling to a little distance from the hole, he lay down on the roof. The sun was high in the heavens, but all the world became black to Timokles.
He lay there, faint, for hours. When he could look up at last, the sun was descending toward the west. Far overhead sailed the sacred hawk of Egypt, and the bird’s piercing cry, full of melancholy, reached Timokles’ ears. The shadow of a palm tree stretched outward and touched him.
“Oh, God!” whispered Timokles reverently, “Thou west Daniel’s God. Thou art mine!”
Night had fallen. Timokles, lying in the dark, heard a sound beside the building. Some one was coming!
Timokles crept to the roof’s edge farthest from the sound, and lay down.
The head of a man appeared above the roof’s level. Evidently he was not accustomed to the roof, for he was very cautious in his movements, and tested every step he took. He carefully approached one of the holes of the roof, and, kneeling, put his face down to the aperture.
The man spoke, and, by his tones, Timokles recognized Pentaur the merchant.
“Oh, Christian!” cried Pentaur into the depth of the building, “livest thou? Ill shall I fare at the judgment of Osiris for this day’s deed!”
There was silence.
Perhaps, from the darkness of the room below, Pentaur could see the shining of the brute’s eyes, or hear his uneasy stepping to and fro. Something sent a shudder of horror through the man.
“I have taken pleasure in righteousness,” he protested. “I have heretofore done no injury to men who honored their gods. Oh, Osiris, I have been righteous!”
There was an awful horror in the man’s voice. Timokles was moved with compassion for his former owner, and yet the lad kept silent.
“Shall I speak to him?” Timokles questioned himself. “If he shall be beset in some other place by those who hate Christians, will he not abandon me again to my enemies?”
The merchant waited a moment longer.
“Oh, Osiris!” then he wailed again, “I have been righteous! He was only a Christian!”
The merchant sprang up, and sped toward the edge of the roof where he had first appeared. His foot plunged to its ankle through a weak place in the mats. He shrieked aloud at the fear of falling through into the room below. Hurrying forward, he disappeared down the side of the building. Timokles heard the man running among the fallen stones. The footsteps grew faint, and ceased to be audible.
Timokles drew a breath of thankfulness. He crept and felt in the dark for a few, scattered dates that he had before noticed lying near the roof’s edge, the fruit having fallen from a date palm and having lain there till nearly as dry as shards. But there was still nutriment left in the dates, and, having eaten nothing since morning, he gnawed the fruit.
He could not descend by the date palm’s trunk, for that was too far from the roof to be reached by him. The palm’s straight trunk shot up twenty cubits above the roof’s level, and, after the manner of the date palm’s growth, bore no branches, such as the doum palm has.
“How did Pentaur climb?” thought Timokles.
The lad passed to the other edge, where the merchant had disappeared. Here, a little lower as yet than the roof, he found a group of young doum palms, the branching stems of which variety of trees he had noticed here and there in forest-like clumps throughout the oasis. Timokles found no difficulty in descending with the doum palms’ help, and he reflected that perhaps food for the leopard was often brought up this way, and thrown to the creature through the roof’s holes. No one had come to-day with food, because the Christian had been sent to keep the leopard company!
The village, some distance away, was quiet. Scarcely had he gone a score of steps before he saw a star reflected in a spring at his feet. Timokles dropped upon his knees, and with thankfulness drank of the refreshing water. How he had longed for some, as he had lain on the roof under the parching sun this day! He bathed his scratched arm, which had ceased to bleed but still felt very sore.
Carefully Timokles crept over the fallen remnants of the old building. Then he turned from the direction in which the village lay, and set his face toward the northern limestone hills.
He was concealed among them when the sun rose. It would be folly for him to venture out alone upon the desert without food, even if he had water in his small skin bottle. As the morning went by, Timokles saw a few desert hares, but otherwise he was alone. Toward evening, being compelled to find some food, he searched the district, and found, under the stones, the nest of some wild bees. With much difficulty Timokles obtained a little of the honey.
A falling stone attracted Timokles’ attention. Turning with quick affright, he saw a woman. There was a startled suspicion in her eyes, as she gazed at him. She held a young gazelle that had strayed away and had been the object of her search near these hills. Suddenly the woman disappeared without a word.
“Let me hide speedily!” Timokles warned himself.
He ran, but shouts arose behind, and before he could conceal himself, two men came running after him. The woman’s shrill cry was audible. The men came up with Timokles, and laying hold of him in a manner not wholly rough but still imperative; they brought him back with them to the spot where the woman still stood.
The three looked at him with curious yet not wholly unfriendly eyes, and Timokles felt relieved on seeing that he was not recognized as any one whom they had seen before. This spot was so far from that on which the building stood where he had been given to the leopard, that the lad concluded these people had not witnessed that scene. Pentaur’s caravan would have left the oasis before now. Probably the merchant was about to renew his journey at the time of his visit to the leopard’s den.
The woman pointed to Timokles’ branded cheek. Taking heart from the apparent lack of real hostility in the manner of his captors, Timokles asked for something to eat. He was understood, and the three, taking Timokles, turned from the hills, and proceeded eastward, till, coming to a black tent near some palms, the woman went in and brought Timokles some barley cakes.
While the boy ate, the two men, still watching him, betook themselves to work. They seemed to be makers of idols. The father was carving a small wooden statuette of the god Thoth. The son worked on a larger idol, the goddess Apet, or Thoueris, in the shape of a hippopotamus walking upright on hind feet. The idol was of green serpentine, and the mother watched with evident pride the skill with which her son worked.
Timokles moved to rise, and instantly the suspicious eyes of the young hippopotamus-sculptor flashed. The father dropped his statuette, and, fiercely springing forward, forced Timokles to the ground, bound him, and went back to the carving of the ibis-head of Thoth.
Beneath the hand of the younger idol-maker, the hippopotamus grew in hideous perfection. Helplessly Timokles watched the process. The mouth of the hippopotamus-goddess was almost shut, but the teeth of the lower jaw were visible, and it was upon their making, as well as upon that of the wide nostrils, that the young man was expending his skill. The huge ears of the goddess descended on the fore-feet, which were placed on the sides of the upright animal, as a man’s arms hang by his sides when he walks, and from each of the hippopotamus’ arms there descended to the level of her feet the Egyptian emblem of protection, called “Sa.”
As Timokles looked at those emblems of protection, a new thought grew within him.
“Women will worship that hippopotamus-goddess and think themselves safe! I worship the God of heaven, and yet I am afraid! Shall I not put as much trust in the delivering, protecting power of my God, as the idol-worshiper will put in this hippopotamus?”
There came the sound of hurried footsteps, and a young girl ran by the black tent, and spoke gayly to the woman. From the resemblance of the maiden to the worker on the hippopotamus, Timokles had no doubt she was his sister. But when the girl, turning her brilliant, laughing face toward Timokles, first saw him, her dark eyes dilated with a look of startled horror.
Timokles knew, as well as if she had spoken, that she was one of those who had seen him dragged to the leopard’s home. He looked beseechingly at her now, as she stood transfixed, the shocked expression deepening in her eyes. If she should say a word! Timokles could feel himself tremble. She had thought him dead! She knew him! If she should say so!
The silent appeal of Timokles’ beseeching face seemed to find its answer for the moment. The girl turned toward the work of the idol- makers. No one beside Timokles had noticed her frightened gaze. Now, with assumed carelessness, she watched her brother’s busy fingers, yet Timokles felt that her thoughts were of him. She had only to speak; to say, “This is the Christian who was thrown to the leopard,” and father and son would drop their work, spring upon him, drag him back all the way to the building from which he had escaped, and toss him, bound and helpless, to the leopard.
It was not till nearly dark that the idol-makers ceased their work. Having eaten dried dates and barley bread, the father and the son, first tightening Timokles’ thongs, went away in the direction of the far distant village. During their absence, the girl came to Timokles, bringing him water and dried dates.
“Tell me, O Christian,” she whispered in the tongue of Egypt, “art thou not he?”
She needed not to make the question more explicit.
“I am, O maiden,” answered Timokles. The girl’s awe-struck eyes searched his face.
“Did thy God deliver thee?” she questioned, whispering still.
“Yea,” replied Timokles reverently and truly. “Yea, O maiden, my God delivered me from the leopard.”
The girl looked alarmed. She drew back.
“Did he come to thee?” she asked in a terrified whisper. “O Christian, no one ever before came back from the House of the Leopard! O Christian; I am afraid of thy God!”
There was real terror in her voice. Timokles was moved with compassion. He leaned forward, eager to explain to her the truth. What should he say?
“He is a great God, the only God!” whispered Timokles, reverently. “O maiden, he is not like an idol! He is the only God. Thou canst not see him, yet he seeth and loveth thee. Speak to him, and he will hear. He loveth us. He sent his Son to die for our sins. For that Son’s sake, O maiden, he will blot out our sins, if we entreat him. O maiden, pray no more to idols! Lo, I tell you of the true God!”
He hardly knew whether she understood or not. She gazed at him as if half comprehending his words, and then the fact of his having returned from the House of the Leopard seemed to overwhelm every other thought, and she murmured, “O Christian, I am afraid of thy God and thee!”
She fled back to the black tent. Timokles’ bound hands made but awkward work of eating. He could hear the voices of the mother and the daughter talking in the mother’s tongue, but what they said he knew not. Would the father or the son learn something about their captive?
The voices hushed within the tent. The hours of sleep came on.
The night had grown black. There were footsteps audible.
“They have come back!” thought Timokles.
The father and the son had returned, and with them came another man. Timokles heard and understood something of what was said at the tent’s door in the dark.
“If I may but see his face, I shall know whether he hath been here before,” declared the new voice eagerly. “I have seen all who have come to our village.”
“Thou shalt see him in the morning,” impatiently answered the maker of the hippopotamus. “Knowest thou not that on this day I cannot make a flame by which thou shouldest see? It is the eleventh day of Tybi, concerning which it is commanded by the priests of Egypt, ‘Approach not any flame on this day; Ra is there for the purpose of destroying the wicked.'”
“I fear no flame!” muttered the new voice discontentedly. “Let me but see the stranger!”
“There shall no flame be kindled!” burst out in wrath the superstitious father. “Bide thou till morning! Then shalt thou see the branded one.”
Silence followed. The discontented villager did not dare say more. After a short time, the quietness of slumber seemed to envelop the black tent.
Concealed by the dark, Timokles endeavored with his teeth to loosen the bonds of his wrists. After prolonged attempts, he undid one knot, and by successive wearisome trials he at length entirely released his left hand.
Timokles was near the black tent. It seemed to him that he heard the faintest stir within. But a long silence followed, and he thought he had been mistaken.
Timokles tugged at the thongs of his right hand. His arm was lame from the leopard’s claws, and he could not reach the knots that held him. He struggled mightily, till at last he lay exhausted, no nearer free than before.
“I cannot do it!” he despaired.
He must wait for dawn, for recognition, and for death, such death as was thought meet for a Christian. Timokles shut his eyes, and prayed.
“Be with me, be with me, O Lord!” besought Timokles.
Again within the tent he conjectured there might be a faint stir.
“My enemy cometh!” he thought.
But there was silence. Timokles waited, yet there came no sound.
Remembrances of what he had heard concerning former martyrs crowded upon him. He thought of Pothinus, the ninety-years-old bishop of Lyons, who, in answer to the legate’s question, “Who is the God of the Christians?” boldly answered, “If thou art worthy, thou shalt know,” and was tortured so severely that he died in prison. Timokles remembered hearing of Ponticus, the boy who, in the same persecution, bore all the tortures unflinchingly, though he was but fifteen years old. And Blandina, the maiden, who, tortured, bleeding, mangled, still persisted in her declaration, “I am a Christian! Among us no wickedness is committed,” came to Timokles’ mind. His thoughts turned to the martyr Christians of four years ago at Carthage, and he remembered the words of one of those Christians: “We will die joyfully for Christ our Lord.”
Timokles prayed long and fervently. His heart went back to his beloved Alexandrian home. Heaven would be sweet, but would his dear ones ever know the only way there? Would they ever accept Jesus Christ as their Savior?
“O Lord, help Heraklas to know thee!” prayed Timokles with dropping tears.
Nothing did Timokles know of the roll of the Book of the Christians, the papyrus that had swung from the palm tree in the court at home!
Something made him turn his head. He started, for he saw, stretched out toward him from beneath the black tent, an arm. No more was visible. The black tent descended to the very ground. Looking more closely, he discerned in the hand a knife. For an instant, Timokles thought his enemy was upon him. But it was a small hand, and it was the handle of the knife, not its blade, that was offered to him!
Timokles stretched out his one free hand, and took the knife. The arm disappeared beneath the black tent so swiftly and so noiselessly that Timokles would almost have thought that the sight of the arm had been an illusion had he not held the knife in his left hand. He remembered the girl’s words, “O Christian, I am afraid of thy God and thee!”
“Would that I might have told her more of Him!” wished the young Egyptian, as he awkwardly cut at his bonds with the knife.
He was free again! He crept softly away after pushing the knife’s handle back under the edge of the black tent. He felt that in the secrecy of the tent one listened who knew he was free.
“Thou didst put it into her heart to save me!” whispered Timokles with a reverent look at the sky.
He knew that as soon as his escape should be discovered there would be instant pursuit, therefore he sought to travel as swiftly as possible.
Athribis the slave bent lower–lower yet. What was this that he saw? He was on the roof of the house in Alexandria. Through an open space beside the wind-sail next to him, he could look into a small room below.
In that room, his master Heraklas knelt and carefully drew a brick from its place in the wall. Putting his hand into some hole that seemed to be behind the bricks, Heraklas produced a roll of papyrus. He glanced stealthily around, and, kneeling still, unrolled the writing, and read in eager haste, one hand on the brick, ready at the sound of any coming footsteps to thrust the papyrus quickly into the wall again. It was a thing well pleasing to the treacherous soul of Athribis. that he should have discovered some secret of his master.
“What is the writing, that he hideth it there?” the slave questioned himself.
Heraklas continued to read. Stretched on his perch, and straining his neck to look, Athribis deemed the time long. His prying eyes noted carefully the distance of the loose brick from the floor. Athribis did not recognize the papyrus as one that he had seen before. The sight of any papyrus, however, had been distasteful to him since the night of his adventure on the roof, but be thought the papyri of that escapade safely burned long ago. He knew that Heraklas’ mother had ordered those destroyed that were found on the roof. Athribis supposed the one also burnt that had fallen into the court. What else should have become of it? No suspicion concerning it had crossed his mind till now.
“Oh, that I could see what he readeth!” wished Athribis vainly. “What meaneth that large sign? Is it the ‘tau’?”
Heraklas farther unrolled the papyrus, and the mark of the cross that had caught Athribis’ eye and had interested him, vanished. The mark seemed to the slave like the Egyptian “tau” or sign of life; used afterwards, curiously enough, by the Christians of Europe as a prefix to inscriptions. Numbers of inscriptions headed by the tau have remained even to the present time, in early Christian sepulchres in the Great Oasis.
“If that were the tau, there may be no harm in the writing,” thought Athribis sullenly. “Yet why hideth he here?”
The supposed sign of the tau rolled in sight again, as Heraklas shifted the papyrus.
Heraklas had discovered the papyrus when it hung from the palm in the court. Seeing the character of the writing, he had kept the roll for secret perusal. He conjectured that the thief, supposed to have been on the roof, might have dropped the roll. During the three months that had elapsed since Heraklas found the papyrus hanging from the palm, he had come often to this secret hiding-place. He knew his mother would destroy the Christians’ Book, if she saw it. He knew the servants were not to be trusted in the matter.
Frequently, during the first month, he had thought that he would destroy the papyrus, and, as often, he had deferred doing so, so much was he always drawn back to reading it. At the end of the second month, Heraklas read with even more eagerness than at first. Here was something that even the maxims of Ptah-hotep had not attained. Never had Heraklas seen such a book as this Gospel of John. Its words followed him when he was not reading. Why should the words of Jesus of Nazareth cling to one’s memory with so persistent a force? Was it true that “never man spake as this man”?
Even when Heraklas passed outside the city streets, and walked the northern cliffs beside the sea, he was constrained to remember that it was along these craggy places that, men said, a century and a half ago, Mark, the first Christian apostle to Alexandria, had been dragged by cords, at the time of the feast of the god Serapis. Then, tradition said, there had arisen a dreadful tempest of hail and lightning, that destroyed the murderous heathen.
Was the Christian God greater than Serapis, the great deity of Egypt?
Such thinking sent Heraklas back again to study the papyrus of John’s Gospel. And now Athribis wearied, waiting for Heraklas’ reading to end.
Suddenly Heraklas, attracted perhaps by the silent force that lies in a human gaze; lifted his head from his reading, and glanced upward. Athribis had not time to start aside. The eyes of the two met in a long, piercing gaze! Heraklas sprang to his feet. The papyrus fell, on the loose brick beside him.
Athribis’ head vanished instantly, and Heraklas, snatching the papyrus, wound it closely, and thrust it into his garments.
He hastily replaced the loose brick. No safe place for the papyrus would the hole be, hereafter.
When he met Athribis afterwards in a corridor, Heraklas felt his heart beat more quickly against the hidden roll. But the lad was stern in outward semblance.
“Athribis!” he said.
The slave bent before the lad.
“How wast thou where I saw thee?” demanded Heraklas.
“I was attending to the salted quail. Thou knowest they are drying on the roof,” explained Athribis, meekly.
Heraklas felt compelled to accept the excuse. There were quail drying, according to the custom of lower Egypt.
“But what was it that I read in his face, as he looked down at me?” Heraklas asked himself.
Thenceforward, unspoken, yet felt as surely as though expressed, there existed in Heraklas’ mind a constant suspicion of Athribis.
Heraklas carried the papyrus roll with him, day and night. Well did he know the danger, but he said to himself that he would not be dictated to by a servant. That was the ostensible reason he gave himself for not immediately burning the roll. In reality, he knew that the words of the Christians’ Book had pierced his soul. He dared not burn the book. He stood before its searching words a convicted sinner.
The suspicion of veiled surveillance that haunted Heraklas made him cautious of reading his, papyrus at home. He sought places, to read it abroad. Hidden among the crags beside the sea, or in the vines on the banks of Lake Mareotis, Heraklas read, and waged the soul- struggle that had risen within him.
One day Heraklas had hidden himself among the northern crags beside the great sea. His eyes were bent upon his roll. He had been reading John’s record of the conversation between Christ and the man who was born blind.
“Jesus said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?”
The man whose eyes Christ had opened, answered and said, “Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?”
“Dost thou believe on the Son of God?”
It seemed to Heraklas that there came to him, also, Christ’s solemn question. With awe-struck lips, Heraklas whispered, out of a heart that craved its answer, “Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?”
Heraklas bent above his roll. The answer of the Lord was there. “It is He that talketh with thee.”
The lad dropped his papyrus, and covered his face. He bowed in awe. For a long time he knelt there, pouring out his soul in prayer–but not to Egypt’s gods. And that which is written of the blind man was fulfilled in Heraklas, also–“And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshiped him.”
When Heraklas rose from his knees, the sun was high in mid-heaven. It was the time at home when his mother would burn myrrh to the sun. But no prayer to Re or hymn to Horus escaped Heraklas’ lips. How should he, who rejoiced in the knowledge of sins forgiven, pray more to false gods?
A holy awe and a great joy wrapped his soul. The burden of sin that had oppressed him, the hopeless burden which had not ceased to cause Heraklas misery even when he made offerings to Isis and poured forth prayers to Serapis, was gone, gone at the touch of Jesus.
Plucking from his girdle his carnelian buckle, that signified to an Egyptian the blood of Isis, said to wash away the sins of the wearer, Heraklas leaned forward, and flung the rosy ornament far into the white foam of the waves below. He could not wear that heathen sign, even though his mother had given the ornament to him.
“O Isis,” murmured Heraklas, as he lost sight of the carnelian buckle within the waves, “I care not for thy blood! I know whose blood hath washed away my stain.”
With reverent rejoicing, he concealed his papyrus and turned homeward.
He passed into the great city. A woman was worshiping before a statue of the god Chonsu, the moon. Heraklas went by quickly, making no sign of reverence. Glancing back, he saw the woman gazing after him.
A little farther on stood a statue of Anubis. Other men, as they passed, gave homage, but Heraklas did not turn his head toward the idol. He noted, in the stalls and in the shops, the altars and little idols. When he next went to purchase anything, must he do reverence? Heraklas met a beggar and dropped a coin into his hand.
“Isis and Osiris bless thee!” wished the suppliant.
Heraklas’ lips parted to answer. Should he, who had been blessed of the Lord, seem to accept the blessing of idols? But the beggar turned to another giver, and Heraklas hurried on his way.
Before he could reach home, a sacred procession came in sight. Already Heraklas could plainly see the leopard-skin that fitted over the linen robes of the Egyptian high priest who was coming. Twelve or sixteen inferior priests walked beside the superior one. The high priest’s lock of hair, pendant on one side of his head, became more and more plain to Heraklas with every step of the procession.
“They carry the shrine of the sacred beetle of the sun,” suspected Heraklas. “I cannot meet them!”
He turned, and dashed down the first opening that presented itself. The passage led him utterly out of his way.
“But better so,” meditated Heraklas, “than that I should have met that skin-dressed priest!”
He stopped an instant. His circuitous way had led him in sight of a spot where he had once seen the Christian woman, Marcella, and her daughter Potamiaena, passing on their way to martyrdom. How awful a form of martyrdom was it that Alexandria visited upon that beautiful Christian daughter! Gradually, hot, scalding pitch was poured over her body, in order that she might endure the utmost torture possible.
Heraklas looked around him at the proud, beautiful city.
“O Alexandria, Alexandria!” he whispered, “in thee is found the blood of the saints!”
For a moment the thought of such a death, as a Christian’s punishment, overcame him. Yet he remembered that it was through Potamiaena’s martyrdom that the soldier, Basilides, was led to become a Christian also. He refused to take a pagan oath, and was brought to martyrdom.
When Heraklas reached home, he was trembling. His short journey had been freighted with silent meaning.
Two men passed out of the Gate of the Sun, the northern gate of Alexandria, and came to the docks that bordered the Great Port. The gaze of one man wandered from the promontory of Locrias on the east to the isle of Pharos on the north, and followed back the dyke that connected that island with the docks and marked the division between the Great Port and Alexandria’s other harbor, the Port of Eunostus.
“When that ship saileth,” remarked the man, indicating a large vessel moored in the Great Port, “some Christians go as ballast!”
“How knowest thou?” asked the other.
The former speaker smiled.
“Thou didst not see a little procession that came through the Gate of Necropolis last evening,” he conjectured. “Some Christians brought in from the desert. This ship carrieth them to Rome, to the lions of the arena.”
An unbelieving spirit looked from the other man’s eyes.
“When the Christians see that ship waiting for them, they will recant,” he prophesied. “A man doth not readily take shipping for the port of a lion’s mouth!”
“Thou dost not know the Christians,” asserted the other. “They are an obstinate people. Our Lord Severus knoweth that right well. See! He hath forbidden all public worship for the Christians. Their great school here bath been scattered. And yet, Christians remain Christians still! It is incredible! Thou didst speak without knowing what hath happened. The Christians have already seen the ship. They are on it! Not one bath recanted. But the ship saileth not for two days yet, and now, the men on board make merry. Hearest thou not their voices?”
A slave passed so near as almost to brush the speaker’s apparel, yet the man paid no heed.
But Athribis had heard. For what else but to hear had he this morning stolen down to the docks? He knew of the little company of Christians that had been brought captive to Alexandria, for a slave belonging to another household had told Athribis secretly, “He who was once thy young master–the Christian, Timokles–hath been brought in from the desert and goeth on the ship!”
In his heart Athribis made answer, “The ship needeth another passenger–my young master, the Christian, Heraklas!”
But, as yet, Athribis hardly dared say so, for he had no certain proof to bring of Heraklas’ Christianity. If only he could find decisive proof, and bring it before the authorities, what a reward he might hope to have given him!
Yet never, from the day when Heraklas spied Athribis watching the reading of the roll, had the slave, with all his contriving, been able again to catch sight of the papyrus. It was no longer kept in its secret hole behind the bricks. Athribis had looked.
Where else had he not looked? He had hunted the house through as thoroughly as he had been able, snatching a hasty opportunity here and there. If only he could lay hands on that very papyrus! If he could have time to show it to somebody who could read! Deeply had Athribis regretted that he had not been more cautious in his first spying. But now, what hope was there? Athribis had set some of the other slaves of the house to watch, but they had discovered nothing save the old papyri that bad been in the house for years. Some of the slaves could read, and they were sure this was so.
Out on the docks, Athribis stared now at the large mast of the ship, and at the ship’s painted eye, and at the sculptured figure of the goddess Isis on the visible side of the ship’s bow, both eye and figure, as Athribis knew, being duplicated on the bow’s other side. A small boat belonging to the large ship lay floating in the water, but connected with the ship by a rope.
Athribis dared not tarry longer. He hastened home again.
Closer than ever, as he went his morning round of duties, did Athribis watch, but Heraklas was invisible.
“He is not at home. He went away three hours ago,” cautiously signaled the slave of the threshold to Athribis.
The slave of the threshold, like Athribis, hated Christians. There was a secret agreement between the two men that if Athribis ever should gain any reward for betraying Heraklas to the authorities, the reward should be evenly divided. Half should belong to the slave of the threshold, in consideration of his having been apparently asleep at times when Athribis went out without permission.
The hours went by and Heraklas did not come, to be spied upon.
That morning, Heraklas had gone out to seek some Christians whom he knew. Two weeks ago he had sought them for the first time to tell them that he wished to join their number. Greatly had he and they rejoiced together.
“Witness a good confession, as did thy brother Timokles,” an old man admonished Heraklas.
Almost daily, since then, Heraklas had sought some Christian who taught him more perfectly the way of the Lord.
Today, as Heraklas sat in a house, secretly studying another portion of the Book than was written on his own papyrus, a Christian woman came hastily to him, and told him the tidings concerning his brother.
“He hath assuredly come!” affirmed the woman. “Vitruvius saw him carried to the ship with other Christians!”
The before eagerly-read papyrus dropped from Heraklas’ hand. He grew weak and faint. The woman looked at him pityingly.
A wild impulse seized Heraklas. He rushed from the house to the street. His brother, his Timokles, back again! Back from the desert! Back in his city-home of Alexandria! And not to be allowed to draw one free breath, to come back to the house, to see Cocce, to see him, Heraklas! What could be done! What could be done! To be taken to Rome to meet the lions!
Heraklas ran toward the northern gate. He bethought himself of caution, and tried to go with his usual step. He passed through the Gate of the Sun, and by discreet inquiries discovered which ship the Christians were on. Then he hid himself near one of the docks, and watched the ship.
Two days! One of the days partly gone already! Timokles would go away never to return, surely, this time.
“I also am a Christian!” cried Heraklas aloud.
Only the swaying of the water against the dock answered him. He sprang up and walked out on the dyke that stretched toward the isle of Pharos. Opposite him, the ship showed still more plainly than from the docks. Heraklas made out the prayer inscribed on the vessel: “Do thou, O Isis, preserve in safety this ship over the blue waves”
“O Timokles! Timokles!” cried Heraklas, as he stretched his hands toward the ship.
Heraklas walked the dyke till the burning sun of noon forced him to find shelter. He went back to his hiding place at the docks. He watched and waited through the long hours.
At length the day departed. When the darkness covered the surface of the harbor, Heraklas rose and girt about him the ample dress he wore, of fine linen, that descended to his feet.
He slipped softly into the water, and swam toward the ship. Reaching the small boat that floated by the ship, Heraklas drew himself up into the little craft.
He listened to the lap of water on the side of the ship. A sudden joy shot through Heraklas that they were so near together, Timokles and, himself. It was for this he had stayed outside Alexandria till the gates were shut. It were better to be a homeless Christian on this water than to linger in godless Alexandria!
He heard sounds of revelry on shipboard. Heraklas pulled on the rope that fastened the small boat to the ship. The rope was stout and well-fastened.
In the dark, he began to climb the rope with trembling fingers. Now he hung by the side of the ship, and now, one hand above another, he drew himself higher, higher, till he grasped the ship’s side. He struggled over it, and dropped down on board in the darkness. He waited. No one came. He heard sounds of men that laughed and talked loudly.
He crept a little distance. A rope dangled in his face. He found himself under the aperture where the buckets for bailing were worked. After long and careful groping, Heraklas concealed himself in the vessel’s hold, and waited. He suspected that the Christians were in the hold, but he was afraid to search far.
He had not been long hidden before he heard near him the sound of a great sigh and the rattling of a chain, as of some animal half- wakened from sleep.
“It is some wild animal that is to be taken to Rome,” suspected Heraklas, not without a little uneasiness at his own proximity to the beast.
It was likely that the creature was well secured, yet the lad crept farther away. He could hear the sound of feet above him and the laughter of men who, no doubt, were drinking on this almost their last night in port.
A sound came from another portion of the hold, and Heraklas listened, trying to discover whether the living being in that direction were a beast or a person. While he listened, a faint light began to shine in the hold. There descended softly into the hold two men, one bearing a light. Heraklas drew back farther into the darkness. The men passed on, their light held so that Heraklas did not see their faces. But the hasty glimpse that the lad had of his surroundings told him that the beast he had crept away from was a lion that was securely caged in one portion of the hold.
Softly the two men proceeded toward the direction from which Heraklas had heard sounds. Stealthily Heraklas rose. He surmised where the two men were going. He wished, yet hardly dared, to follow.
The light swung one side. One man turned to speak to the other, and the light fell full on the speaker’s face.
Heraklas leaped softly forward, and followed without hesitation. For the face he had seen was the face of Athribis!
There were eight of the Christians. Heraklas, peering from a distance behind, saw the light held high, as the men paused beside the Christians. Absolutely exhausted, most of them, by the forced march of the desert, and by the lack of enough food, they were asleep, and Heraklas noted with a great pity their gaunt faces.
Athribis bent eagerly forward, scanning one worn contenance after another.
“Hold the light this way–more this side–here!” he said.
Athribis laid his hand on one sleeper’s shoulder, and turned him, slightly.
“This is he!” joyfully exclaimed Athribis. “This is he! I had feared he was not among these, after all. This is he! I would know him anywhere! I never saw that brand, though. That is what made him look differently to me at first. But this is he! This is he!”
“Cease thy prating!” warned his companion, fearfully. “If the men of this ship were not so drunk, thou wouldest have little time to talk! Thinkest thou I care nothing for my head? Hasten! Wake him, if thou wilt, but hasten! Thinkest thou the petty coin thou gavest me will pay me for my head? Hasten! They think I am guarding these prisoners safely.”
“Small time wilt thou spend guarding them, if thou knowest where aught is to drink!” responded Athribis sarcastically. “How much hast thou drank today?”
The wearied Timokles slumbered on, regardless of the light and talking.
Back in the dark, Heraklas clasped his hands. A mighty sob rose in his throat. The Christian was indeed Timokles! How worn he was! And that brand upon his cheek!
Athribis bent forward. Timokles’ eyes were opening.
“Athribis!” exclaimed Timokles faintly, as, after a prolonged gaze, he recognized the slave.
“Ah, my Christian master! My Christian master!” jeered Athribis, “I see you once again. My Christian master!”
The hands of the unseen Heraklas clinched at that tone.
Timokles looked around, bewildered. A quiver passed over his lips. Athribis reminded him of home.
“Is my mother here?” asked Timokles. A sorrow deeper than tears looked from his eyes.
Athribis smiled. “Thy mother!” he said.
The tone was a sufficient answer. Timokles’ eyes fell.
“Thou wilt never see her again,” went on Athribis. “Thy mother hateth thee! She is faithful to Egypt’s gods, if thou art not! I came here only to be certain thou wert on the ship.”
“Camest thou from her to me on that errand?” asked Timokles calmly.
Athribis laughed, and turned to go.
“Farewell, my Christian master! Farewell!” said the slave, mockingly.
There was an instant’s silence. The great lion sighed from his cage.
Then answered Timokles’ low voice, “O Athribis, may my God become thine, also!”
A laugh came, as the slave’s reply. Athribis and his conductor went away. The light faded from the hold.
Heraklas crept near the Christians.
“Timokles!” he whispered. “Timokles! O Timokles, my brother!”
From the bound Christians came no answer to Heraklas’ cry, though there was a startled movement among them.
“O my brother! my brother!” murmured Heraklas, the tears running down his face in the dark, “I am Heraklas! I, too, am a Christian!”
“Heraklas!” cried Timokles, “Heraklas! How camest thou hither?”
“Peace!” whispered Heraklas in terror. “Thou wilt be heard!”
Heraklas cast his arms about his brother and clung to him.
“How art thou bound, my Timokles?” asked Heraklas, when they had embraced and wept together.
“My feet are bound with naught but cords, but a chain about my body fasteneth me to a hook in the wall,” answered Timokles. “Thou canst not release me, my brother! Flee, while thou canst!”
“Nay, but I will try,” whispered Heraklas resolutely.
He drew his knife from his girdle, and feeling of the cords that bound his brother’s ankles, cut the knots. Timokles sighed with relief, as he moved his cramped feet. The feet of two of the other Christians were bound with thongs, and these Heraklas cut also, but the other five Christians were bound hand and foot with chains, and for them Heraklas’ knife could not avail. Timokles and the other two had been considered weaker in body, or else the persons who secured the Christians had been in haste to join the reveling of the mariners, and had thought cords strong enough. Yet what availed it that the feet of any of the Christians were free, if their bodies were securely bound?
“Thou hast done all thou canst, Heraklas,” whispered Timokles. “Go now, my brother. O my Heraklas, I rejoice thou art a Christian! Go! We shall meet again in the kingdom of our God!”
“I will never leave thee,” answered Heraklas, firmly. “The men are drinking themselves senseless. I will try what I can do.”
He felt the wall till he found that Timokles’ chain was held, not by a hook, but a staple. It was only after long labor with his knife around this staple that it shook a little in its hold on the wall. Then Heraklas seized the staple, and swung his whole weight upon it, and dug his knife into the wall like a madman. He worked with perspiration standing on his forehead, his breath coming in pants. Furiously, with all his strength, he dug and pulled till the staple yielded, and he fell down among the prisoners. But the drunken men on deck did not hear.
Heraklas labored on, till at last he threw his arms about his brother.
“Stand up, my Timokles,” he begged. “See if thou art not free!”
Timokles arose. Nothing hindered him.
“O Heraklas!” he whispered, trembling with excitement.
“Sit down again and rest, till I help our brethren, also,” whispered his brother.