"Nay! God forbid! And God once more forgive me!" Paulus seemed as distressed as he, while Valens stared at the extraordinary outbreak.
"Talking of clean and unclean," his uncle said tactfully, "there's that ugly song come up again in the City. They were singing it on the city-front yesterday, Valens. Did you notice?"
He looked at his nephew, who took the hint.
"If it was 'Pickled Fish,' sir, they were. Will it make trouble?"
"As surely as these fish" -- a jar of them stood on the table - "make one thirsty. How does it go? Oh yes." Serga hummed:
He twanged it off to the proper gutter-drawl.
That'll be something of a flood - worse than live fish in trees! Hey?"
"It will happen one day," said Paulus.
He turned from Petrus, whom he had been soothing tenderly, and resumed in his natural, hardish voice:
"Yes. We owe a good deal to that Centurion being converted when he was. It taught us that the whole world could receive the God; and it showed me my next work. I came over from Tarsus to teach here for a while. And I shan't forget how good the Prefect of Police was to us then."
"For one thing, Cornelius was an early colleague," Serga smiled largely above his strong cup." 'Prime companion' how does it go? -- 'we drank the long, long Eastern day out together,' and so on. For another, I know a good workman when I see him. That camel-kit you made for my desert-tours, Paul, is as sound as ever. And for a third -- which to a man of my habits is most important -- that Greek doctor you recommended me is the only one who understands my tumid liver."
He passed a cup of all but unmixed wine, which Paulus handed to Petrus, whose lips were flaky- white at the corners.
"But your trouble," the Prefect went on, "will come from your own people. Jerusalem never forgives. They'll get you run in on the charge of laesa majestatis soon or late."
"Who knows better than I?" said Petrus. "And the decision we all have taken about our love-feasts may unite Hebrew and Greek against us. As I told you, Prefect, we are asking Christian Greeks not to make the feasts difficult for Christian Hebrews by eating meat that has not been lawfully killed. (Our way is much more wholesome, anyhow.) Still, we may get round that. But there's one vital point. Some of our Greek Christians bring food to the love-feasts that they've bought from your priests, after your sacrifices have been offered. That we can't allow."
Paulus turned to Valens imperiously.
"You mean they buy Altar-scraps," the boy said. "But only the very poor do it; and it's chiefly block-trimmings.
The sale's a perquisite of the Altar-butchers. They wouldn't like its being stopped."
"Permit separate tables for Hebrew and Greek, as I once said," Petrus spoke suddenly.
"That would end in separate churches. There shall be but one Church," Paulus spoke over his shoulder, and the words fell like rods. "You think there may be trouble, Valens?"
"My uncle--" Valens began.
"No, no!" the Prefect laughed. "Singon Street Markets are your Syria. Let's hear what our Legate thinks of his Province."
Valens flushed and tried to pull his wits together.
"Primarily," he said, "it's pig, I suppose. Hebrews hate pork."
"Quite right, too. Catch me eating pig east the Adriatic! I don't want to die of worms. Give me a young Sabine tushripe boar! I have spoken!"
Serga mixed himself another raw cup and took some pickled Lake fish to bring out the flavour.
"But, still," Petrus leaned forward like a deaf man, "if we admitted Hebrew and Greek Christians to separate tables we should escape--"
"Nothing, except salvation," said Paulus. "We have broken with the whole Law of Moses. We live in and through and by our God only. Else we are nothing. What is the sense of harking back to the Law at meal-times? Whom do we deceive? Jerusalem? Rome? The God? You yourself have eaten with Gentiles! You yourself have said--"
"One says more than one means when one is carried away," Petrus answered, and his face worked again.
"This time you will say precisely what is meant," Paulus spoke between his teeth. "We will keep the Churches one -- in and through the Lord. You dare not deny this?"
"I dare nothing -- the God knows! But I have denied Him . . . I denied Him . . . And He said - He said I was the Rock on which His Church should stand."
"I will see that it stands, and yet not I--" Paulus's voice dropped again. "To-morrow you will speak to the one Church of the one Table the world over."
"That's your business," said the Prefect. "But I warn you again, it's your own people who will make you trouble."
Paulus rose to say farewell, but in the act he staggered, put his hand to his forehead and, as Valens steered him to a divan, collapsed in the grip of that deadly Syrian malaria which strikes like a snake. Valens, having suffered, called to his rooms for his heavy travelling-fur. His girl, whom he had bought in Constantinople a few months before, fetched it. Petrus tucked it awkwardly round the shivering little figure; the Prefect ordered lime-juice and hot water, and Paulus thanked them and apologised, while his teeth rattled on the cup.
"Better to-day than to-morrow," said the Prefect. "Drink -- sweat -- and sleep here the night. Shall I send for my doctor?"
But Paulus said that the fit would pass naturally, and as soon as he could stand he insisted on going away with Petrus, late though it was, to prepare their announcement to the Church.
"Who was that big, clumsy man?" his girl asked Valens as she took up the fur. "He made more noise than the small one, who was really suffering."
"He's a priest of the new College by the Little Circus, dear. He believes, Uncle told me, that he once denied his God, Who, he says, died for him."
She halted in the moonlight, the glossy jackal skins over her arm.
"Does he? My God bought me from the dealers like a horse. Too much, too, he paid. Didn't he? 'Fess, thou?"
"No, thee!" emphatically.
"But I wouldn't deny my God - living or dead! . . . Oh but not dead! My God's going to live - for me. Live - live thou, my heart's blood, for ever!"
It would have been better had Paulus and Petrus not left the Prefect's house so late; for the rumour in the city, as the Prefect knew, and as the long conference seemed to confirm, was that Caesar's own Secretary of State in Rome was, through Paulus, arranging for a general defilement of the Hebrew with the Greek Christians, and that after this had been effected, by promiscuous eating of unlawful foods, all Jews would be lumped together as Christians -- members, that is, of a mere free-thinking sect instead of the very particular and troublesome "Nation of Jews within the Empire." Eventually, the story went, they would lose their rights as Roman citizens, and could then be sold on any slave-stand.
"Of course," Serga explained to Valens next day, "that has been put about by the Jerusalem Synagogue. Our Antioch Jews aren't clever enough. Do you see their game? Petrus is a defiler of the Hebrew nation. If he is cut down to-night by some properly primed young zealot so much the better."
"He won't be," said Valens. "I'm looking after him."
"Hope so. But, if he isn't knifed," Serga went on, "they'll try to work up city riots on the grounds that, when all the Jews have lost their civil rights, he'll set up as a sort of King of the Christians."
"At Antioch? In the present year of Rome? That's crazy, Uncle."
"Every crowd is crazy. What else do we draw pay for? But, listen. Post a Mounted Police patrol at the back of the Little Circus. Use 'em to keep the people moving when the congregation comes out. Post two of your men in the Porch of their College itself. Tell Paulus and Petrus to wait there with them, till the streets are clear. Then fetch 'em both over here. Don't hit till you have to. Hit hard before the stones fly. Don't get my little horses knocked about more than you can help, and - look out for `Pickled Fish'!"
Knowing his own quarter, it seemed to Valens as he went on duty that evening that his uncle's precautions had been excessive. The Christian Church, of course, was full, and a large crowd waited outside for word of the decision about the feasts. Most of them seemed to be Christians of sorts, but there was an element of gesticulating Antiochene loafers, and like all crowds they amused themselves with popular songs while they waited. Things went smoothly, till a group of Christians raised a rather explosive hymn, which ran:
"Yes - and if one of their fish-stalls is bumped over by a camel - it's my fault!" said Valens. "Now they've started it!"
Sure enough, voices on the outskirts broke into "Pickled Fish," but before Valens could speak, they were suppressed by someone crying:
"Quiet there, or you'll get your pickle before your fish."
It was close on twilight when a cry rose from within the packed Church, and its congregation breasted out into the crowd. They all talked about the new orders for their love-feasts, most of them agreeing that they were sensible and easy. They agreed, too, that Petrus (Paulus did not seem to have taken much part in the debate) had spoken like one inspired, and they were all extremely proud of being Christians. Some of them began to link arms across the alley, and strike into the "Enthroned above Caesar" chorus.
"And this, I think," Valens called to the young Commandant of the Mounted Patrol, "is where we'll begin to steer 'em home. Oh! And `Let night also have her well-earned hymn,' as Uncle 'ud say."
There filed out from behind the Little Circus four blaring trumpets, a standard, and a dozen Mounted Police. Their wise little grey Arabs sidled, passaged, shouldered, and nosed softly into the mob, as though they wanted petting, while the trumpets deafened the narrow street. An open square, near by, eased the pressure before long. Here the Patrol broke into fours, and gridironed it, saluting the images of the Gods at each corner and in the centre. People stopped, as usual, to watch how cleverly the incense was cast down over the withers into the spouting cressets ; children reached up to pat horses which they said they knew; family groups re-found each other in the smoky dusk; hawkers offered cooked suppers; and soon the crowd melted into the main traffic avenues. Valens went over to the Church porch, where Petrus and Paulus waited between his lictors.
"That was well done," Paulus began.
"How's the fever?" Valens asked.
"I was spared for to-day. I think, too, that by The Blessing we have carried our point."
"Good hearing! My uncle bids me say you are welcome at his house."
"That is always a command," said Paulus, with a quick down-country gesture. "Now that this day's burden is lifted, it will be a delight."
Petrus joined up like a weary ox. Valens greeted him, but he did not answer.
"Leave him alone," Paulus whispered. "The virtue has gone out of me -- him -- for the while." His own face looked pale and drawn.
The street was empty, and Valens took a short cut through an alley, where light ladies leaned out of windows and laughed. The three strolled easily together, the lictors behind them, and far off they heard the trumpets of the Night Horse saluting some statue of a Caesar, which marked the end of their round. Paulus was telling Valens how the whole Roman Empire would be changed by what the Christians had agreed to about their love-feasts, when an impudent little Jew boy stole up behind them, playing "Pickled Fish" on some sort of desert bag-pipe.
"Can't you stop that young pest, one of you?" Valens asked laughing. "You shan't be mocked on this great night of yours, Paulus."
The lictors turned back a few paces, and shook a torch at the brat, but he retreated and drew them on. Then they heard Paulus shout, and when they hurried back, found Valens prostrate and coughing - his blood on the fringe of the kneeling Paulus's robe. Petrus stooped, waving a helpless hand above them.
"Someone ran out from behind that well-head. He stabbed him as he ran, and ran on. Listen!" said Paulus.
But there was not even the echo of a footfall for clue, and the Jew boy had vanished like a bat. Said Valens from the ground:
"Home! Quick! I have it!"
They tore a shutter out of a shop-front, lifted and carried him, while Paulus walked beside. They set him down in the lighted inner courtyard of the Prefect's house, and a lictor hurried for the Prefect's physician.
Paulus watched the boy's face, and, as Valens shivered a little, called to the girl to fetch last night's fur rug. She brought it, laid the head on her breast, and cast herself beside Valens.
"It isn't bad. It doesn't bleed much. So it can't be bad can it?" she repeated. Valens's smile reassured her, till the Prefect came and recognised the deadly upward thrust under the ribs. He turned on the Hebrews.
"To-morrow you will look for where your Church stood," said he.
Valens lifted the hand that the girl was not kissing.
"No - no!" he gasped. "The Cilician did it! For his brother! He said it."
"The Cilician you let go to save these Christians because I -- ?" Valens signed to his uncle that it was so, while the girl begged him to steal strength from her till the doctor should come.
"Forgive me," said Serga to Paulus. "None the less I wish your God in Hades once for all . . . But what am I to write his mother? Can't either of you two talking creatures tell me what I'm to tell his mother?"
"What has she to do with him?" the slave-girl cried. "He is mine - mine! I testify before all Gods that he bought me! I am his. He is mine."
"We can deal with the Cilician and his friends later," said one of the lictors. "But what now?"
For some reason, the man, though used to butcher-work, looked at Petrus.
"Give him drink and wait," said Petrus. "I have - seen such a wound." Valens drank and a shade of colour came to him. He motioned the Prefect to stoop.
"What is it? Dearest of lives, what troubles?"
"The Cilician and his friends . . . Don't be hard on them . . . They get worked up . . . They don't know what they are doing. . . Promise!"
"This is not I, child. It is the Law."
"No odds. You're Father's brother . . . Men make laws not Gods . . . Promise! . . . It's finished with me."
Valens's head eased back on its yearning pillow.
Petrus stood like one in a trance. The tremor left his face as he repeated:
"'Forgive them, for they know not what they do.' Heard you that, Paulus? He, a heathen and an idolater, said it!"
"I heard. What hinders now that we should baptise him?" Paulus answered promptly.
Petrus stared at him as though he had come up out of the sea.
"Yes," he said at last. "It is the little maker of tents . . . And what does he now - command?"
Paulus repeated the suggestion.
Painfully, that other raised the palsied hand that he had once held up in a hall to deny a charge.
"Quiet!" said he. "Think you that one who has spoken Those Words needs such as we are to certify him to any God?"
Paulus cowered before the unknown colleague, vast and commanding, revealed after all these years.
"As you please - as you please," he stammered, overlooking the blasphemy. "Moreover there is the concubine."
The girl did not heed, for the brow beneath her lips was chilling, even as she called on her God who had bought her at a price that he should not die but live.
He that hath a Gospel,
To loose upon Mankind,
Though he serve it utterly --
Body, soul, and mind --
Though he go to Calvary
Daily for its gain --
It is His Disciple
Shall make his labour vain.
He that hath a Gospel,
For all earth to own --
Though he etch it on the steel,
Or carve it on the stone --
Not to be misdoubted
Through the after-days --
It is His Disciple
Shall read it many ways.
It is His Disciple
(Ere Those Bones are dust)
Who shall change the Charter,
Who shall split the Trust --
Rationalise the Claim,
Preaching that the Master
Would have done the same.
It is his Disciple
Who shall tell us how
Much the Master would have scrapped
Had he lived till now --
What he would have modified
Of what he said before --
It is His Disciple
Shall do this and more . . .
He that hath a Gospel
Whereby Heaven is won
(Carpenter, or Cameleer,
Or Maya's dreaming son),
Many swords shall pierce Him,
Mingling blood with gall;
But His Own Disciple
Shall wound Him worst of all!
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