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The Crown of Pine by  Alfred J. Church

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BACK TO ROME

[293] WHILE the enemies of Eubulus were thus receiving their due, his friends found themselves in no small perplexity. After giving his evidence, Aquila had hurried home with all possible speed. The matter had to be talked over with Priscilla, and that without any loss of time. There was very little difference of opinion between the two as to what was to be done, though Priscilla, with her more impetuous nature, was the first to put into definite shape what was really their common judgment. "The boy," she cried—a woman always thus reduces the age of any one whom she cares about—"the boy cannot possibly be allowed to go alone."

You are right," answered Aquila, "he cannot go alone. And I see no alternative but that we must go with him. But it is a terrible risk. The decree of banishment is barely two months old, and we are going to break it openly."

[294] "Not we," said Priscilla. "I have not been banished. Why should not I go and leave you safely here?"

"That is impossible," replied Aquila. "Not that you would not manage everything as well as I could; but things being as they are, it is impossible."

Priscilla reluctantly acknowledged that it was. "We will disguise ourselves," she said; "that ought not to be very difficult."

Aquila smiled. "Not for me, perhaps. But how about you? You are not one to be hid in a crowd. Still, whatever the risk, you are right; we must go."

Nothing could be done that evening, but early the next morning Aquila was at the harbour of Cenchreae. He had business which could not be postponed to transact there, and he might find, he thought, some ship bound for Italy. Two days of the Games yet remained, and it might be a good thing to be early in the field. The Games ended, Corinth would be emptying as rapidly as it had filled.

While he was looking about him he observed a small sailing vessel rowed with sweeps up to the quay side. It was made fast to the quay, from which a gangway was pushed out, and some five or six passengers landed. Two sailors [295] carried after them a few articles of luggage. One of the passengers was obviously a person of some importance, at least in the eyes of his fellow-travellers. One of these supported his steps as he passed along the gangway, and another looked out for a seat on the quay where he might be sheltered from the sun. There was no sort of distinction about his general appearance, which was indeed insignificant. He was short of stature, and stooped, but his countenance was of an aspect so remarkable that no one who saw it could ever forget. The eyes, though to an expert's look they betrayed the signs of ophthalmia, were singularly brilliant and penetrating, and the whole expression was full of energy. While Aquila was considering who this stranger might be, he was accosted by one of the newcomers, and recognized his friend Trophimus.

"I think you will be able to help us," the man said; "our fellow-traveller whom you see is Paul of Tarsus. We had heard at Philippi, which we left about seven days ago, that you were living in Corinth, and we thought you might be able to give the master a home."

"By all means," cried Aquila. "Will you introduce me to him?"

"Well," replied Trophimus, "this will require a little management. He makes a great point [296] of earning his own livelihood, and especially in a commercial place like this, where he thinks the man who shows himself careless of gain is likely by the force of contrast to be appreciated. So, if you please, we will find a shelter for him for a day or two, and then bring in the subject of your occupation. He is a worker like you in Cilician cloth, and it would please him greatly to think that he will be earning, by his own special handiwork, his own living."

With this Aquila had, of course, to be content. The prospect of entertaining such a man was most attractive, and he did not realize for a while that it would interfere with the proposed journey to Rome. But when on reaching home, he put the whole matter to Priscilla, the truth became at once evident to both of them. The idea of accompanying Eubulus to Rome would have to be given up; it would be indeed no pleasure journey, but still it had its attraction, even in the danger which they would both incur for the sake of one whom they loved. On the other hand, the opportunity of finding a home for the great Apostle of the new faith was a manifest call of duty, and must have precedence over everything else.

They had come, not, as may be supposed, without great reluctance, to this conclusion—Eubulus [297] was very near to the hearts of both of them—when Manasseh was announced.

"You must not think that I am ungrateful," said the old man, "because I have not come sooner to express my thanks. Be sure that I shall never forget your kindness, and that if I have the chance I will show my sense of it. And that, indeed, is the reason of my coming to-day. What I have heard makes me think that this may be an opportunity for something more than words. I have heard that Eubulus is to go to Rome, and I know that he is like a son to you. What are you thinking of doing?"

Aquila explained to the old man how they were situated.

"So," he exclaimed, after a pause in which he seemed to be meditating the state of affairs, "so Paul of Tarsus is here. Well, you will not expect me to think about him as you do. I know that wherever I go he is spoken against. He seems to me to be one of the men who turn the world upside down. Perhaps it is good for the world to be so turned; but old men of my way of thinking cannot be easily brought to believe it. And you are going to make a home for him here in Corinth. That is a duty of which I cannot relieve you. I am afraid that he and I should hardly agree. But there is some- [298] thing that I can do for you, and that is looking after the interests of this young man at Rome."

"But the risk?" said Aquila.

"You thought nothing of the risk," answered Manasseh, "and I am an old man for whom there can be left but a small span of days, and you are a young one with life before you. Never mind about the risk. And I feel pretty sure that the worst of the feeling against us is over. It was always something of a plot rather than a real movement, and they are beginning to feel that things don't go very smoothly without us. In any case there would be far less risk for me than there would be for you."

"But your health?" said Priscilla. "Are you equal to the fatigues of the journey?"

"Perfectly so," replied Manasseh, "thanks in the first place to you, dear lady. Yes; there is nothing on that score to give you any hesitation. So you can stop here and take care of your master, as you call him. He may be all you think him. I, as you may guess, have had my thoughts fixed upon other things. Perhaps it would have been better if they had not, but I am too old to change."

"Dear sir——" began Priscilla.

But Manasseh held up his hand. "You must let me go my own way."

[299] And so it was settled. Manasseh, accompanied by Raphael and Eleazar, who would, however, leave him before he reached his journey's end, was to go to Rome, timing his arrival some day or two before that of Eubulus, who would travel slowly as became a State prisoner. This would give him a chance of making arrangements in advance, and favourably prepossessing, in one or more of the many ways of which he was master, those who would have to judge the young man's case.

And to Rome accordingly he went. Things there did not go quite as smoothly as he had hoped, and the difficulties arose in a quarter which the influences which he wielded could not reach. Claudius himself seemed obstinately hostile to the young man whom Manasseh was doing his best to protect. The Emperor, dimly conscious that he was unequal to the position which he held, that his was an undignified personality to represent the State that ruled the world, was furiously jealous of possible rivals. He had but lately ordered to execution the last representative of the house of Pompey, a young man, whose only fault was that he had inherited in too large a degree the personal fascinations of his great ancestor. In such a case he was not amenable to the influences which were commonly [300] all powerful with him. He estimated his freedmen at what was their true value, men of a certain aptitude for affairs, but wholly incapable of appreciating the great interests of the Empire. The persuasions of his wife availed nothing. He knew that she was not unused to conspiracy, and she might be conspiring against him.

Manasseh was almost paralysed with dismay when he found that the influences on which he had hitherto relied for the accomplishment of his object, and never relied in vain, were failing. "All things at Rome are for sale" was a maxim which had ever been in his mouth, and which he had made the guiding principle of his dealings with the outer world. Deep in his heart were things which he prized above all his wealth. His pride of race, his obedience to the law which separated his nation from the world, his personal integrity were things which no conceivable bribe could have induced him to palter with for a moment. Still, as far as regarded the practical conduct of life, he believed in the omnipotence of wealth. And now his idol—he felt in his heart that the thing was an idol—failed him. And what had overthrown it? the will of a dotard! He began to reconsider his scheme of life, to feel himself less self-sufficient, to recognize the potency of what he had been always ready to despise. Ever [301] practical, he turned his thoughts to the question—who will prevail where I have failed? The name of Priscilla occurred to him. "She must come," he said to himself, "if the boy is to be saved. They will listen to her when they shut their ears to me." And not a moment was to be lost. In an hour or so the speediest messenger that could be found in Rome was ready to start with an urgent message that should bring a more powerful advocate on the scene. Yet, after all the man had no occasion to start.

Eubulus had been as much impressed with the seriousness of the situation as was his veteran companion, but in a very different way. The revelation of the casket had greatly impressed him. He had been simply an athlete, with something indeed of the old simplicity and honesty which had almost disappeared from a degenerate age, but with a necessarily narrow view of life. Then he had learnt the secret of his descent. It roused in him no secular ambitions. He was far too sensible and too conscientious to become a pretender. Yet he felt that it was not for nothing that he could claim a share in the glories of Achilles and Alexander. There was no vanity or self-seeking in these new emotions. It was the working of the old motive of noblesse oblige  in a nature singularly pure and unselfish. And then [302] in the tedious solitude to which he was consigned—he was in the custody of an opportunist senator, who left him severely alone when he knew that the Emperor was hostile—other thoughts, linked somehow with those which I have described, began to visit him. Face to face with death, he began to recall some of the teaching which he had received from Aquila and Priscilla. They had spoken of a kingdom which was not of the earth, to which all earthly powers were subject. They had said that he could claim citizenship in that, that this was superior to all the changes and chances of mortal life. Everything was very dim and vague, yet hour by hour and day by day this faith gathered strength. He had begun with the thought of appealing from the tyranny of the present to the glories of the past; a Claudius, he had thought to himself, cannot harm the descendant of Achilles. Then there grew up into strength the thought of allegiance to a higher potentate. Loyal to Him he need not fear even the Master of the World.

But the prospect was at its gloomiest when an unexpected interference changed the situation. The young Nero, a boy scarcely thirteen, but beyond his age in an intelligent knowledge of affairs, heard, almost by accident, the story of Eubulus. The young man's adventures, the [303] dangers he had encountered and escaped, and the victory achieved in spite of so many enemies, interested him as they would have interested any boy of intelligence. But when he heard of the secret of his birth, when he was told that the young man was the descendant of Achilles and a kinsman of Alexander, all the romance in him was moved. The generous instincts, which in after years the corrupting influences of power so sadly overlaid, were roused to activity. This young man was the very ideal of which he had dreamed—the descendant of heroes, himself a hero! He flew to his stepfather, the Emperor, and overwhelmed him with entreaties and reproaches. How could he think of harming so noble a being? It would be sheer profanity, he cried, to shed blood so sacred! And how splendid the revenge if a descendant of Aeneas were to extend mercy and protection to the descendant of Achilles! That would be indeed to add a crowning glory to the triumphs of the Second Troy.

Claudius could not resist these appeals. It would have been hard to refuse anything to the brilliant lad whom he had already put over the head of his own somewhat stolid son, Britannicus. And the sentiment of the ancestral glories of his house touched him at a tender point. And after [304] all, when he came to reflect on it, the sympathy which the world might feel for the descendant of Achilles could not be other than remote, whereas a Pompey might have a real party behind him. Eubulus, he promised his young champion, should go unharmed.

The next day he sent for the young man, was pleased to find that he had a sufficient knowledge of the distinctions of his house, both legendary and heroic, and not ill content to discover that there was also much in which he could himself instruct him. The young Corinthian had to listen to a long and erudite lecture on the history of the House of Aeacus, a small price, however, he felt, at which to purchase the favour of the Master of the World.

When he had done sufficient homage to the past, Claudius condescended to deal with the affairs of the present. Had Eubulus any plans for the future? where did he think of making his home? "I should not advise Rome," the Emperor went on, not waiting for an answer to his question. "There is too much faction, there are too many private interests. What do you say to Massilia? I would give the Empire to be of your age, and about to settle at the town that rivals, nay surpasses, Athens itself in cul- [305] ture and refinement. You are fond of books? Yes, of course you are," he went on, again not waiting for an answer. "There you will find them in plenty, and men too, who love them for their own sake. Are you married?"

Eubulus answered, not without a blush, that he was not, but hoped to be. Claudius thought, not without bitterness and self-reproach, of his own experiences of marriage. But he was not lost to better feelings, and it touched him to see this youth still full of the innocent hopes of a first love.

"The gods prosper you," he cried.

And to Massilia Eubulus went, and found there, in company, it need hardly be said, with Cleonicé, a happy home. He became a true lover of books, but never a bookworm; and it was his delight to exchange now and then the pleasures of his library for the sports which the rivers and forests of Gaul still supplied in abundance to the angler and the hunter. One charm of Massilia he never failed to appreciate, the succession of promising lads from Italy and the Roman provinces, who came to this University of the North. Of one such he made the acquaintance in the early days of his residence. This was Cnaeus Julius Agricola, the future conqueror of Britain, and Agricola was the first of a long line of studious youths, who [306] found in the friendship of Eubulus and Cleonicé all the pleasures and safeguards of home.

On one memorable occasion, however, Eubulus left his beloved retirement to fulfil what he could not but regard as a sacred duty. His old friends Aquila and Priscilla had given up their residence at Corinth, after giving the great teacher, Paul of Tarsus, shelter and companionship during his stay in that city. They had accompanied their guest to Ephesus, and there, it would seem, they had fixed their abode, though we know that they had paid one visit to Rome. Meanwhile they had kept up a correspondence with their adopted son, never failing to keep him acquainted with all that was going on in the sphere of their activity, and also with what was of still deeper interest both to him and to them, with the career of Paul. It was about fourteen years after the time at which this story opens when a letter from Aquila was put into the hands of Eubulus. A special messenger had brought it from Ephesus. It ran thus:

"Aquila and Priscilla to Eubulus, their brother in the Lord, greeting.

"Know that our beloved master is again in prison at Rome. From one cause or another he is alone. Some have left him by compulsion, some he has sent away on work that he deemed [307] too urgent to be neglected, one at least, whom he would have kept with him, has basely deserted him. It is, so far as we can see, between us and you who shall go to him. We fear that he would be ill-pleased if either of us were to leave this place where we have a special commission from him for the work of the Lord. Yet even this we will risk if you cannot fill our place. Consult, as you know how, Him who is the true Guide in all doubts and perplexities, and having received such answer as you may, send word by the bearer of this epistle. Farewell."

Eubulus did as his teacher bade him, and had no doubt about the answer which was vouchsafed to him. In the course of a few hours the messenger was on his way back to Ephesus with a few words of assent. The next day he started for Rome.

What he saw and heard there it is not for me to tell. It is enough to say that his name stands first among the faithful few who had gathered round the great apostle when his pilgrimage was drawing to its close. He did not share the prisoner's fate. He was kept to do more work for the Heavenly Master on earth. It may be that Nero remembered the romantic story of an earlier time, and when he sent the Apostle to suffer death on the Ostian road by the headsman's [308] axe, sent back his companion to his home at Massilia. Here he disappears from our ken, but all his distinctions may well seem insignificant in comparison with this, that he was permitted to associate himself with the last messages of greeting sent by the Apostle of the Gentiles to his brethren in the faith.


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