Chapter 2 THE MARTYR'S BOYIT is a youth full of grace, and sprightliness, and candour, that comes forward with light and buoyant steps across the atrium, towards the inner-hall; and we shall hardly find time to sketch him before he reaches it. He is about fourteen years old, but tall for that age, with elegance of form and manliness of bearing. His bare neck and limbs are well developed by healthy exercise; his features display an open and warm heart, while his lofty forehead, round which his brown hair naturally curls, beams with a bright intelligence. He wears the usual youth's garment, the short praetexta, reaching below the knee, and a golden bulla, or hollow spheroid of gold suspended round his neck. A bundle of papers and vellum rolls fastened together, and carried by an old servant behind him, shows us that he is just returning home from school.1
While we have been thus noting him he has received his mother’s embrace, and has sat himself low by her feet. She gazes upon him for some time in silence, as if to discover in his countenance the cause of his unusual delay, for he is an hour late in his return. But he meets her glance with so frank a look, and with such a smile of innocence, that every cloud of doubt is in a moment dispelled, and she addresses him as follows:
``What has detained you to-day, my dearest boy? No accident, I trust, has happened to you on the way?"
``Oh, none, I assure you, sweetest2 mother; on the contrary, all has been delightful-so much so, that I can scarcely venture to tell you."
A look of smiling expostulation drew from the open-hearted boy a delicious laugh, as he continued,
``Well, I suppose I must. You know I am never happy, and cannot sleep, if I have failed to tell you all the bad and the good of the day about myself." (The mother smiled again, wondering what the bad was.) ``I was reading the other day that the Scythians each evening cast into an urn a white or a black stone, according as the day had been happy or unhappy; if 1 had to do so, it would serve to mark, in white or black, the days on which 1 have, or have not, an opportunity of relating to you all that I have done. But to-day, for the first time, I have a doubt, a fear of conscience, whether 1 ought to tell you all."
Did the mother's heart flutter more than usual, as from a first anxiety, or was there a softer solicitude dimming her eye, that the youth should seize her hand and put it tenderly to his lips, while he thus replied?
``Fear nothing, mother most beloved, your son has done nothing that may give you pain. Only say, do you wish to hear all that has befallen me to-day, or only the cause of my late return home?"
``Tell me all, dear Pancratius," she answered; ``nothing that concerns you can be indifferent to me."
``Well, then," he began, ``this last day of my frequenting school appears to me to have been singularly blessed, and yet full of strange occurrences. First, I was crowned as the successful competitor in a declamation, which our good master Cassianus set us for our work during the morning hours; and this led, as you will hear, to some singular discoveries. The subject was, ‘That the real philosopher should be ever ready to die for truth.' I never heard any thing so cold or insipid (I hope it is not wrong to say so), as the compositions read by my companions. It was not their fault, poor fellows! what truth can they possess, and what inducements can they have, to die for any of their vain opinions? But to a Christian, what charming suggestions such a theme naturally makes! And so I felt it. My heart glowed, and all my thoughts seemed to burn, as I wrote my essay, full of the lessons you have taught me, and of the domestic examples that are before me. The son of a martyr could not feel otherwise. But when my turn came to read my declamation, I found that my feelings had nearly fatally betrayed me. In the warmth of my recitation, the word `Christian' escaped my lips instead of `philosopher,' and `faith' instead of `truth.' At the first mistake, I saw Cassianus start; at the second, I saw a tear glisten in his eye, as bending affectionately towards me, he said, in a whisper, `Beware, my child; there are sharp ears listening.'"
``What, then," interrupted the mother, ``is Cassianus a Christian? I chose his school for you because it was in the highest repute for learning and for morality; and now indeed I thank God that I did so. But in these days of danger and apprehension we are obliged to live as strangers in our own land, scarcely knowing the faces of our brethren. Certainly, had Cassianus proclaimed his faith, his school would soon have been deserted. But go on, my dear boy. Were his apprehensions well grounded?"
``I fear so; for while the great body of my school-fellows, not noticing these slips, vehemently applauded my hearty declamation, I saw the dark eyes of Coryinus bent scowlingly upon me, as he bit his lip in
``And who is he, my child, that was so displeased, and wherefore?'
``He is the oldest and strongest, but, unfortunately, the dullest boy in the school. But this, you know, is not his fault. Only, I know not why, he seems ever to have had an ill-will and grudge against me, the cause of which I cannot understand."
``Did he say aught to you, or do?"
``Yes, and was the cause of my delay. For when we went forth from school into the field by the river, he addressed me insultingly in the presence of our companions, and said, ‘Come, Pancratius, this, I understand, is the last time we meet here (he laid a particular emphasis on this word); but I have a long score, to demand payment of from you. You have loved to show your superiority in school over me and others older and better than yourself; I saw your supercilious looks at me as you spouted your high-flown declamation to-day; ay, and I caught expressions in it which you may live to rue, and that very soon; for my father, you well know, is Prefect of the city" (the mother slightly started); "and something is preparing which may nearly concern you. Before you leave us, I must have my revenge. If you are worthy of your name, and it be not an empty word,3 let us fairly contend in more manly strife than that of the style and tables.4 Wrestle with me, or try the cestus5 against me. I burn to humble you as you deserve, before these witnesses of your insolent triumphs.' "
The anxious mother bent eagerly forward as she listened, and scarcely breathed. ``And what," she exclaimed, ``did you answer, my dear son?"
``I told him gently that he was quite mistaken; for never had I consciously done any thing that could give pain to him or any of my schoolfellows; nor did I ever dream of claiming superiority over them. `And as to what you propose,' I added, `you know, Corvinus, that I have always refused to indulge in personal combats, which, beginning in a cool trial of skill, end in an angry strife, hatred, and wish for revenge. How much less could I think of entering on them now, when you avow that you are anxious to begin them with those evil feelings which are usually their bad end?' Our schoolmates had now formed a circle round us; and I clearly saw that they were all against me, for they had hoped to enjoy some of the delights of their cruel games; I therefore cheerfully added, `And now, my comrades, good-bye, and may all happiness attend you. I part from you, as I have lived with you, in peace.' `Not so,' replied Corvinus, now purple in the face with fury; `but----'"
The boy's countenance became crimsoned, his voice quivered, his body trembled, and, half choked, he sobbed out, ``I cannot go on; I dare not tell the rest!"
``I entreat you, for God's sake, and for the love you bear your father's memory," said the mother, placing her hand upon her son's head, ``conceal nothing from me. I shall never again have rest if you tell me not all. What further said or did Coryinus?"
The boy recovered himself by a moment's pause and a silent prayer, and then proceeded:
```Not so!' exclaimed Corvinus, ``not so do you depart, cowardly worshipper of an ass's head!6 You have concealed your abode from us, but I will find you out; till then bear this token of my determined purpose to be revenged!' So saying he dealt me a furious blow upon the face, which made me reel and stagger, while a shout of savage delight broke forth from the boys around us."
He burst into tears, which relieved him, and then went on.
``Oh, how I felt my blood boil at that moment l how my heart seemed bursting within me; and a voice appeared to whisper in my ear scornfully the name of `coward I' It surely was an evil spirit. I felt that I was strong enough-my rising anger made me so-to seize my unjust assailant by the throat, and cast him gasping on the ground. I heard already the shout of applause that would have hailed my victory and turned the tables against him. It was the hardest struggle of my life; never were flesh and blood so strong within me. O God! may they never be again so tremendously powerful!"
``And what did you do, then, my darling boy?" gasped forth the trembling matron.
He replied, ``My good angel conquered the demon at my side. I thought of My blessed Lord ' in the house of Caiaphas, surrounded by scoffing enemies, and struck ignominiously on the cheek, yet meek and forgiving. Could I wish to be otherwise? 7 I stretched forth my hand to Corvinus, and said, 'May God forgive you, as I freely and fully do; and may He bless you abundantly.' Cassianus came up at that moment, having seen all from a distance, and the youthful crowd quickly dispersed. I entreated him, by our common faith, now acknowledged between us, not to pursue Coryinus for what he had done; and I obtained his promise. And now, sweet mother," murmured the boy, in soft, gentle accents, into his parent's bosom, "do you not think I may call this a happy day?"
- This custom suggests to St Augustine the beautiful idea, that the Jews were the paedagogi of Christianity--carrying for it the books which they themselves could not understand.
- The peculiar epithet of the Catacombs.
- The pancratium was the exercise which combined all other personal contests-wrestling, boxing, etc.
- The implements of writing in schools, the tablets being covered with wax, on which the letters wore traced by the sharp point, and effaced by the flat top, of the style.
- The hand-bandages worn in pugilistic combats.
- One of the many calumnies popular among the heathens.
- This scene is taken from a real occurrence.