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 ON the evening of the day when Clitus and Cleoné held
their conversation among the vines, as described in the
last chapter, another conversation, which was to have
no little influence on their fate, was going on. The
place was a wine-shop, kept by a certain Theron, in the
outskirts of Nicæa, and not far from the Christian
meeting-house. Theron's customers were, for the most
part, of the artisan class. But he kept a room
reserved for his few patrons that were of a higher
rank. In this room three persons were sitting at a
citron-wood table, one of the innkeeper's most
cherished possessions, which only favoured customers
were permitted to see uncovered. A flagon, which
could not have held less than two gallons stood in the
middle of the table. It was about half full of the
potent wine from Mount Tmolus, mixed, however, with
about half its bulk of water.
 From this flagon each
guest ladled out the liquid into his own drinking-cup.
One of the three is already known to us. This is
Verus, the unworthy member whose banishment from the
Christian community has been described. The second, to
whom, it may be observed, his companions pay a certain
respect, is an elderly man, in the ordinary dress of a
well-to-do merchant. There is a certain air of
intelligence in his face. But the keen, hungry look of
the eyes, the pinched nose, the thin, bloodless lips,
tightly closed, but sometimes parting in a smile that
never reaches the eyes, give it a sinister look.
Lucilius—for this was his name—was a man of good
birth and education, but he had given up all his
thoughts to money-making, and the tyrant passion had
set the mark of his servitude on his face.
The third is a professional soothsayer or
fortune-teller. The fortune-teller of to-day commonly
exercises his art by means of a pack of cards, while he
sometimes consults a tattered book of dreams, or even
professes to gather his knowledge of the future from
the motions of the planets. Cards were not then
invented; dream-interpreting and star-reading were not
held in very great repute. Our soothsayer practised
the curious art of discovering the future by the signs
that might be discerned in the entrails of animals.
 readers would think it tedious were I to give them
the details of this system. Let it suffice to say that
the liver was held to carry most meaning in its
appearance. If the proper top to it were wanting,
something terrible was sure to happen. There were
lines of life in it, and lines of wealth. Each of the
four "fibres" into which it was divided had its own
province. From this you could discern perils by
water, from that perils by fire; a third warned you of
losses in business, a fourth gave you hopes of a
legacy. This was the art, then, which the third of the
three guests professed. He called himself Arruns, but
this was not his real name. Arruns is Etruscan, whilst
the man was a Sicilian, who, after trying almost everything
for a livelihood, had settled down as an haruspex
in Nicæa. But the Etruscans were famous over all the
Roman world as the inventors of the soothsaying art,
and professors of it found an Etruscan name as useful
as singers sometimes find one that is borrowed from
Italy, or French teachers a supposed birthplace in
Paris. Arruns, if he had little of the Etruscan about
him in his language, which was Latin of the rudest
kind, spoken in a broad Greek accent, had at least the
corpulence for which the foretellers of the future
proverbial. His small dull eyes, sometimes lit up
with a little spark of greed or cunning, his thick
sensual lips, and heavy bloated cheeks, flushed with
habitual potations, showed how the animal predominated
He was now holding forth on his grievances in a loud,
harsh voice, which he did not forget to refresh with
frequent draughts of Tmolian wine.
"It is monstrous, this neglect of the gods! It must
bring a curse upon the country. There will be nothing
left sacred soon. Who can suppose that if men do not
care for the gods, they will go on caring for each
other? Children will not honour their parents, nor
parents love their children. The sanctity of
marriage, the rights of property, everything will
disappear, if these atheists are suffered to go
unpunished, while they spread abroad their pernicious
"Your zeal does you credit," interrupted Lucilius, with
a slight cynical smile. "But we all know that Arruns
is careful of all that concerns the sacredness of the
Arruns was a notoriously ill-conducted fellow, whose
life was a scandal to the better behaved, not to say
the more pious of the heathen. His wife had long
since left him in disgust, and was supporting herself
as a nurse. His children he had turned out of doors.
The shaft did not wound
 him very deeply, but he took
the hint and became more practical.
"Look at the temples," he went on; "the court-yards are
grass-grown. Day after day not a worshipper comes
near them. To see smoke going from the altars is as
rare as to see snow in summer. And when a man
does bring a beast, 'tis some paltry, half-starved
creature: a scabby sheep, or a worn-out bullock from
the plough, which are not good enough for the butcher's
knife, let alone the priest's hatchet. And as often as
not, when there is a decent sacrifice, they do not call
me in. They grudge me my ten drachmas—for I have
had to cut down the fee to ten. 'What should a calf or
a sheep's liver have to tell us about the future?' they
say. What monstrous impiety! What a flagrant
contradiction of all history! Did not Galba's
haruspex, on the very day of his death, warn him that
he was in danger from an intimate friend? and did not
Otho, who was such a friend, kill him within two hours
"Yes," said Lucilius, a little peremptorily, "we know
all about these examples and instances. But go on to
your own grievances."
"Well, to put the matter plainly, it is simple
starvation to me. Twice, thrice last week I had to
live on beans and bread. Ten years ago there did not
a day pass without two or three sacrifices.
 I had my
pick of good things—beef, mutton, lamb, veal, pork,
every day; and now I am positively thankful for a rank
piece of goat's flesh, that once I would not have given
to my slave. Oh! it is awful; there must be a
judgment from the gods on such impiety."
"One would hardly think, from your looks, my Arruns,"
said Lucilius, "that things were quite so bad as you
say. But, tell me, what do you suppose to be the cause
of this impious neglect of the gods, and this
indifference to the future?"
"The Christians, of course," said Arruns; "the
"But," interrupted Lucilius, "they can be scarcely
numerous enough to make much difference, and I am told
that they are mostly poor people, and even slaves; so
that they could hardly, in any case, be clients of
"My good lord," said Arruns, "it is not so much the
Christians themselves; it is the example they set.
People say to themselves: 'These seem to be very
decent, honest sort of fellows; they never murder or
rob; they are very kind to the sick and poor; we can
always be safe in having dealings with them; and they
seem to be tolerably prosperous too. And yet they
never go inside a temple, nor offer so much as a lamb
to the gods.' What could be worse than that? They do
 times more harm than if they were so many murderers
and thieves. A good citizen who neglects the gods is a
most mischievous person. There is sure to be a number
of people who imitate him so far. It is the Christians
who are at the bottom of all this trouble."
"But what do you want me to do?" said Lucilius.
"Grant that what you say is true, still I see no reason
for interfering. I have two or three tenants who are
said to be Christians, and they are honest and
industrious fellows who always pay me my rent to the
day. Why should I trouble them?"
"Pardon me, sir," interrupted Verus, who had as yet
taken no part in the conversation. "Pardon me if I
remind you that there is something more to be said.
The association of the Christians is an unlawful
"Of course it is," cried Lucilius; "we all know that;
though you, my dear Verus, seem to have been a long
time finding it out, if, as I understand, you have been
acting as their treasurer."
"I have but lately discovered their true character,"
said Verus. "When I did, I hastened to leave them."
"Ah!" said Lucilius, with a sneer, "that must have been
at the very time when they examined your accounts. Do
you know that people have
 been saying that they, too,
made some discoveries?"
Verus, who would have given a great deal to be able to
stab the speaker, forced his features into a sickly
smile. "You are pleased to jest, honourable sir," he
said. "But these Christians are not quite so
insignificant or so poor as you think. There is the
old knight, Antistius. No one would suppose that he
was a rich man. He drinks wine that cannot cost more
than a denarius
a gallon, and very little of that; but we know what he
gives away in alms. It is not only here that he
gives. His money goes to Smyrna, to Ephesus, and
positively to Rome. You may rely upon this, because
it used to pass through my hands."
"And stick there sometimes, I have heard," retorted
the other, whose passion for saying bitter things was
sometimes too strong for his prudence, and even for his
avarice. "But what does that matter to me? What do I
care for the way in which an old fool and his money are
parted? It does not concern me if he feeds all the
beggars and cripples in the Empire."
"You forget sir," returned Verus, "that if Antistius is
convicted of belonging to an unlawful society—and
there can be no doubt that the community of Christians
is such a society—his goods
 are confiscated to the
Emperor's purse, and that those who assist the cause of
justice will have their share."
There was a sudden change in Lucilius's careless,
supercilious manner, though he did his best not to seem
"Ah!" he said, "there may be something in that,
though I should not particularly like a business of
"Don't suppose, sir," went on Verus, "that there are
not others besides Antistius. There are plenty who
are worth looking after. Bion the farmer is wealthy,
though one would hardly think it. And there are
others who are entangled in this business. You would
hardly believe me, if I were to tell you their names.
And then it is not only here, it is all through the
province that you may find them. I have all the
threads in my hand, and I could make a very pretty
unravelling if I chose."
"What, then, do you propose?" asked Lucilius.
"That we should lay information to the Governor."
"Will he act? He is all for being philosophic and
"He cannot choose but act. The Emperor's orders are
stringent. He is very strict about these secret
societies. Did you not hear about the
that the people of Nicomedia wanted to have? They were
nearly ruined by the fire last December. Nothing was
ready: not a bucket nor a yard of hose; and when some
things were got together, then there was nobody to
work. The consequence was that more than half the
city, and all the finest buildings in it, were burnt.
The people wanted to have a fire-brigade, and the
Governor wrote to the Emperor, recommending that the
request should be granted. But no. Trajan would not
have anything of the kind. If it was not a secret
society, it might be turned into one, he said in his
letter. No; if we once set the thing going, the
Governor must act, whether he like it or no. We must
send in as many informations as we can. There will be
one from you, and another from Arruns here, who can
back it up if he likes with his complaint about the
sacrifices. Then there is Theron, our host here, who
complains that the Christians are so sober that they
are taking the bread out of the tavern-keepers' mouths.
As for myself, perhaps my name had better not appear.
I should not like to be seen acting against old friends
and employers. But it does not much matter who signs
them, or, indeed, whether they are signed or not. As
long as there are plenty of them, it will be enough;
and your secretary can see to that."
 At Verus's suggestion, Theron, the innkeeper, was called
into the council. He, of course, had a very bad
opinion of the Christians. "They are a very poor,
mean-spirited lot," he said; "if they had their way
there would not be a tavern open in the Empire. I
never see one of them inside my doors. Sometimes,
when I have a late company here, I have seen them on
their way to their meeting-place, one of the
guildhouses in the cemetery here. They are a shabby
lot, for the most part—half of them slaves, I should
think. I suspect an out-door man of my own of being
one of them. He never drinks, or gambles, or fights.
I always suspect there is something wrong with a young
fellow when he goes on like that. Yes, I should very
much like to see the whole business put a stop to. If
it is not, the world will soon be no place for an
honest man to live in."
A plan of action was agreed upon. A number of
memorials were to be presented to the Governor, praying
him to interfere with a certain unlawful society,
bearing the name of Christians, or followers of Jesus,
that was accustomed to meet in the neighborhood of
Nicæa. Lucilius, Verus, and Arruns were each to send
in such a document, and were to get others sent in by
their friends. A number of anonymous memorials in
hand-  writings were also to be prepared. The
more there were, the more likely was the Governor to be
When the party was separating, Arruns tried to do a
little stroke of business on his own account. "This
is an important undertaking," he said, in his most
professional tone, to Lucilius. "Don't you think that
it would be well to consult the gods?"
"My Arruns," said Lucilius, who had no idea of spending
his money in any such way, "when I make an offering, I
prefer that it should be a thank-offering. When we
have done something, I shall not be ungrateful."
The soothsayer was not going to let himself be baffled.
If he could get nothing out of the cupidity of
Lucilius, he might be more successful in working on the
fears of Verus.
"It would have an excellent effect, my dear Verus," he
said, "if people could see some proof of your piety.
They know that you have been mixed up with these
Christians, and they don't all know that you have come
out from among them. If there should be anything like
a rising of the people—there was one in Galatia the
other day, and half a dozen of these impious
creatures were torn to pieces before the Governor's
guard could interfere—there might be some awkward
 We should have plenty of people protesting
that they had never been Christians at all, or had left
off being so, and you might not be believed,
particularly if you had anything to lose. Now, if
you were to offer a sacrifice, you would be perfectly
safe. No one would dare to wag his tongue against
Verus, who, if he had not learnt to believe
Christianity, must have at least learned thoroughly to
disbelieve the whole Pagan system, heard the suggestion
with very little fervour, but felt too uneasy about his
position to reject it. He knew that he had
compromised himself, and that the danger which Arruns
had pictured was not completely imaginary.
"There may be something in what you suggest," he said,
after a pause. "Perhaps a lamb to Jupiter or Apollo——"
"A lamb!" interrupted Arruns, who was not disposed to
be satisfied with so paltry an offering. "A lamb! The
whole country would cry shame upon you. It ought to
be nothing less than a hecatomb."
"A hecatomb!" cried Verus, "what are you talking about?
Am I the Emperor, that you should suggest such a
"Well," returned the other, "a hecatomb
 might, perhaps,
be a little ostentatious for a man in your position.
But I assure you that nothing less than a 'swine,
sheep, and bull' sacrifice would be acceptable. It
must be something a little out of the common, for yours
is not a common case."
"Well, let it be so," said Verus, "only it must be done
cheaply. No gilding of the bulls horns or expensive
flowers; I really cannot afford it."
"Leave it to me," answered Arruns. "I will spare your
With this they separated, the soothsayer chuckling over
his success, and the prospect of a plenty which he had
not enjoyed for some months, Verus ruefully calculating
how many gold pieces the three animals, with the
ornaments and the temple fees, would cost him.