A Story of Duty and Peril.



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Excerpt :

Go back into the third century after Christ, travel east into the famous Mediterranean Sea, survey the beautiful south-west coast of Asia Minor, and let your eyes rest on the city of Patara. Look at it well. Full of life then, dead and desolate now, the city has wonderful associations in sacred and legendary lore—it saw the great reformer of the Gentiles, and gave birth to the white-haired man of Christmas joy.

Persecution had beforetime visited Patara, in common with other parts of the Roman Empire; and there were ominous signs, like the first mutterings of an earthquake, that a similar calamity might come again. The prejudice and malice of the common people were dangerously stirred up to fight the quiet, persistent inroads of aggressive Christianity.

The authorities, perplexed and exasperated, were disposed to wink at assault upon individual Christians, to try them on any plausible pretext, and to shew them little quarter. If they could arrest the ringleaders, especially people of rank or wealth, whether men or women, in anything wrong or strongly suspicious, that they might apply exemplary punishment, then the irritated majority might be satisfied, and peace in the city restored.

In a recess at the corner of a busy street, leading towards the market place, two men stood, waiting and watching for some particular person to pass by. They were Demonicus and Timon, whose office or duty was something like that of a modern detective.

Demonicus, clad in a brown chiton or tunic reaching down to the knees, was a powerfully built, dark man, with great bison-like shoulders and thick neck, bristling eyebrows, and fierce, covetous eyes. To him nothing was too perilous or too mean where there was strife or the chance of gold. He was a wrestler and mighty swordsman, he had often fought in the stadium or circus, and his fame had travelled as far as Rome, to which he went at last, and greatly distinguished himself for a time.

Timon, similarly clad, was only a man of ordinary strength; but he was lithe, self-willed and shrewd, with a streak of courtesy and sympathy.

Camels, bullocks, horses, mules and wagons were passing by—a picturesque train of noisy, dusty movement on an unpaved street—while now and again a carriage or a litter appeared, whose occupants were considered either arrogant, or effeminate.

“Her carriage must have passed,” said Demonicus savagely.

“It cannot be,” replied Timon civilly; “the lady, though unfettered by custom, rarely takes her carriage; she usually passes on foot shortly after the morning meal, and I came here to watch in ample time.”


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