Gateway to the Classics: The Crown of Pine by Alfred J. Church
The Crown of Pine by  Alfred J. Church

Under Cover of the Law

Of the three confederates, two, as has been seen, had attempted to "get at" the favourite for the Long Race, and had failed. The third was now to take his turn. His scheme was more ambitious than theirs, and as they were very soon to find out, far more costly. The abortive effort to poison Eubulus had not cost much more than the price of the drug, to the bandits nothing had been paid. They were to be remunerated by the ransom which, as a matter of fact, they never got the chance of demanding. The scheme now to be tried was to bring against the young athlete a charge so serious that the authorities would be obliged to take action upon it. This charge was the taking part in a Secret Society. There was nothing against which the Imperial Government was so jealously on its guard, of which it was so sensitively suspicious as the Secret Society. Its chiefs were perfectly well aware that under the outward order which their military power and the jealousies of the subject races combined to preserve, there was an immense mass of discontent, feelings of nationality, and recollections of lost freedom, and all the hostilities with which an Empire founded on conquest is regarded. For the Roman Empire was an Empire not of colonization but of conquest. It had colonies, certainly, but the colonies were not what we understand by the word. They were military posts set down in the midst of a conquered country. The crimes of a Secret Society were necessarily shrouded in darkness. So far they afforded a pretext for very vague charges. On the other hand these were not accusations that could be brought by the "man in the street" against any one whom he might wish to injure. They had to do with high politics, and had to come with the prestige of an assured position. It would not be fitting for a party of betting men to come forward with such a charge. They must find some grave citizen to be their mouth-piece. The rogues were not at a loss. They knew one who would serve the purpose admirably. He was reputed to be a respectable citizen; he was really an unscrupulous intriguer, who made use of a good social position to enrich himself. Such a man's help was naturally costly. No promises would satisfy him. He wanted money down, and that to a considerable amount. Money down leaves no tell-tale traces behind it, and Aristagoras—for this was the well-placed scoundrel's name—was well aware that if no such traces existed, his word would hold good against any hostile assertions. The confederates had ready to hand some prima facie  evidence of their charge. They watched all the movements of Eubulus, and of course knew that he was a frequent visitor at the house of Aquila. But they found out that there were many visitors to the house besides the young athlete, and further that the visitors were almost entirely Jews. Another discovery was that the visitors came at regular times. Then they got a little further. A silly young Jew had put himself in their power by making wagers that he could not pay. They induced him to make acquaintance with one of the visitors. This was easy enough, for these visitors had no idea of doing anything unlawful, and they were ready to believe that what interested them would interest others. The report that the young man brought back was not a little confused and perplexing. But it contained hints, or what might be construed into hints, sufficient to serve their purpose. He had certainly caught some phrases about a new kingdom. These alone would be enough to proceed upon. It must not be supposed that these meetings at Aquila's house were assemblies of Christians, of people who had a definite belief such as we should describe by that name. The men who frequented them were inquiring Jews. Such there were in every Jewish community. It was St. Paul's practice to visit the Synagogue of every city to which his travels brought him, and to set forth, as long as he was permitted to do so, the principles of his faith. Doubtless St. Paul used more definite language than Aquila would be able to do; Aquila himself would be far in advance of many who were more or less in sympathy with him. But there was movement in the air. It is easy to imagine, in view of the grave political troubles which did actually arise less than twenty years after the time of which I am now writing, troubles which were already doubtless beginning, that the Roman Government was deeply suspicious of the Jewish communities.

Aristagoras now felt that he had sufficient pretext for action. Accordingly he sought an audience of Gallio, the matter being obviously for the representative of the Imperial government, rather than for the head of the Corinthian municipality. Gallio received him in private, with no one present but his secretary, and bade him state his case. Aristagoras put it forth with no little skill, and certainly did not suffer the few facts that he had to lose any of their importance. He spoke of meetings of Jews in the house of a prominent member of the community, and of the frequent attendance of Eubulus, known to be regarded with uncommon favour by the whole population of Corinth, at the house of the same person. This might very likely mean a serious damage to the public peace.

Gallio heard the story with considerable doubt. He did not know much about Aristagoras, but he had some suspicion of his sincerity. The fine instinct of a well-born, well-read man told him that there was something not quite genuine about him. His secretary also, when appealed to, had nothing very favourable to say. Aristagoras was in a good position, he knew, but was not in the very best odour. Still the matter was not one which Gallio felt himself justified in ignoring. He knew that the Home Government regarded such accusations as very important matters. He had his private opinions, but it was not for him to act upon them in his official capacity. He consented to receive the deposition of Aristagoras. This was duly drawn up in form by the secretary, and signed by the informer.

But when Aristagoras went a step further, and sought to have Eubulus arrested, Gallio met the request with a distinct refusal. "I have consented," he said, "to receive your accusation, though it is, as you must be aware, very vague. Still, it is not for me to ignore an affair which may possibly be of more importance than it appears to me at present—for so much I do not hesitate to say—to possess. But when you ask me to arrest the young man, I feel bound to say 'No.' I do not know, sir, whether you, occupied, as you doubtless are, with graver matters, are aware how the young man is situated. Anyhow, I may tell you that he is about to take part in the Games, and that he is confidently expected to win the Long Race. It would hardly be fair to make such a victory impossible by arresting him. These charges often come to nothing, more often than not, as far as I can judge by my experience in office. If that should happen in this case, I should have inflicted a very serious injury on the young man and his friends. On the other hand there is no danger of the accused escaping. He is a public character. He is the object of universal observation, all the more so as he has been the object of two somewhat singular attacks. No, sir, I decline to arrest Eubulus; when the race is over I will make inquiry. Meanwhile, to avoid any chance of injury to the common weal I will give such instructions as will ensure his being watched. He is no more likely to try to leave Corinth than I am. Still, I will have him watched."

Aristagoras was forced to be content with this. As he turned to leave the audience chamber, Gallio regarded him with a scornful smile. "I strongly suspect, my good man," he said to himself in a low voice, "that you have a hand in these villainous plots."

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