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the gods, as from their lofty station it is their duty to do."
“Yes, and I have reason to believe that there is plotting and conniving between the Empress and the accursed Christian sect."
“Hast any proof of this ?” asked the archpriest, eagerly. “This is a crime against the State.”
*The black slave Juba,” replied Fausta, "is, as thou knowest, a faithful worshipper of Cybele, and she told me even now, that Adauctus, the Imperial Treasurer, had been only yesterday closeted with the Empress, and plotting to restore to the favour of the Emperor a certain Demetrius, a Christian renegade, who is in hiding for his crimes.”
“Oh, ho!” chuckled the priest, with a wicked grin, my fine lady need not think herself so high and mighty as to be above the reach of the law, or beyond the anger of the insulted gods.”
“I would almost give my eyes,” lissed through her teeth the revengeful Fausta, “if I could only see that painted doll, Valeria, abased and degraded. She has too long held a sway, of which I, the mother of the Emperur, have been deprived.”
“ I trust you may not only see it,” said Furca, gloating in anticipation over the prospect, “ but also see her pale, proud mother, the Einpress Prisca, humbled at your feet."
Accomplish this,” good Furca,” exclaimed Fausta, with exultation, “and the goddess Cybele shall have such an offering as she never had before.”
“We must be wary,” said the priest, “or we may ourselves be crushed. They are too powersul to be attacked openly. We must plot against them secretly. I'll be a furca to them indeed,” he added, punning upon his own name, which had also the signification of an instrument of punishment, something like a cross; and the conspirators parted with this pledge of mutual hate against their destined victims.
THE SLAVE MARKET.
the meantime Isidorus, witir well-filled
purse, and armed with credentials under the Imperial seal, had set off upon his difficult and doubtful quest.'
“ However it turn out,” he said to himself, “it will be strange if I do not climb a few steps higher on the ladder on which my feet are now placed. Being the confidential agent of the Empress is better than being the secretary of the rude soldier, Sertorius, and being snubbed by him every day, too."
Mounted on one of the best horses in the Imperial stables, he rode forth upon the famous Salarian Way, which led straight as an arrow over the wide Campagna, and over the rugged Appenines to the distant city of Ravenna, among the marshes of the Adriatic. Now a decayed and grass-grown city, six miles from the sea, it was then a great and busy port, and had been for two centuries and a half an important see of the Christian Church. Not to the prefect of the city, but to the bishop of Ravenna, Isidorus, with his natural tact and shrewdness, betnok himself. The sign manual of the Emperor, which he confidently exhibited, did not command that regard which he had anticipated; but a private letter from Adauctus, commending Isidorus to all Christian bishops and presbyters, procured for him a much more cordial reception. He was hospitably entertained, and every possible assistance given him in his quest. The bishop called together the deacons who had the care of the
poor of the Church, but none of them knew anything of Demetrius.
The bishop bad ransomed many Christian slaves—prisoners taken in war, or captured by pirates. A few years before, when the resources of the Church had been completely exhausted by the exercise of this charity,* a company of captives had been sold by pirates to a Jewish slave-dealer named Ezra, and conveyed by him to the city of Mediolanum, or
we now call it, Milan, as offering, next to
* This might easily happen, for after successful raids or slave hunts, the victims were sold by their pirate captors by the thousand. The fact is on record, that at Delos, a famous slave market, 60,000 were sold by Celician pirates in a single day.
Rome, the best market for his wares.
And one of the deacons remembered among this slave-gang an old man who resembled the description given of Demetrius.
To Milan, therefore, crossing again the Appenines, and riding up the broad, rich valley of the Po, went Isidorus. He was surprised to find a city, almost rivalling in extent Rome itself, and with a history reaching back to the times of the Etruscans, well-nigh a thousand years. First he sought the Jewish slave-dealer, who kept a regular mart for the sale or hire of human beings, just as one now-a-days keeps a livery-stable for the sale or hire of horses. There was as much fraud, too, in selling slaves then, as has been proverbially connected with horsedealing and jockeying in every age. The ergastulum, or slave-pen of Ezra, was a large prison-like structure, surrounding the four sides of a hollow square.
There were no windows to the street, and only very small iron-grated ones to the inner court; with heavy, iron-studded doors to the stable-like stalls, where the slaves were chained to a stout beam running along the wall.
A slave-auction was in progress when Isidorus arrived, so he had to wait till it was over before plying his quest. A gang of slaves, unchained, but guarded by keepers, armed with whips and spears, awaited their fate. Stripped nearly naked,