The New Catacomb





"Look here, Burger," said Kennedy, "I do wish that you would

confide in me."



The two famous students of Roman remains sat together in

Kennedy's comfortable room overlooking the Corso. The night

was cold, and they had both pulled up their chairs to the

unsatisfactory Italian stove which threw out a zone of stuffiness

rather than of warmth. Outside under the bright winter stars lay

the modern Rome, the long, double chain of the electric lamps, the

brilliantly lighted cafes, the rushing carriages, and the dense

throng upon the footpaths. But inside, in the sumptuous chamber of

the rich young English archaeologist, there was only old Rome to be

seen. Cracked and timeworn friezes hung upon the walls, grey old

busts of senators and soldiers with their fighting heads and their

hard, cruel faces peered out from the corners. On the centre

table, amidst a litter of inscriptions, fragments, and ornaments,

there stood the famous reconstruction by Kennedy of the Baths of

Caracalla, which excited such interest and admiration when it was

exhibited in Berlin. Amphorae hung from the ceiling, and a litter

of curiosities strewed the rich red Turkey carpet. And of them all

there was not one which was not of the most unimpeachable

authenticity, and of the utmost rarity and value; for Kennedy,

though little more than thirty, had a European reputation in this

particular branch of research, and was, moreover, provided with

that long purse which either proves to be a fatal handicap to the

student's energies, or, if his mind is still true to its purpose,

gives him an enormous advantage in the race for fame. Kennedy had

often been seduced by whim and pleasure from his studies, but his

mind was an incisive one, capable of long and concentrated efforts

which ended in sharp reactions of sensuous languor. His handsome

face, with its high, white forehead, its aggressive nose, and its

somewhat loose and sensual mouth, was a fair index of the

compromise between strength and weakness in his nature.



Of a very different type was his companion, Julius Burger. He

came of a curious blend, a German father and an Italian mother,

with the robust qualities of the North mingling strangely with the

softer graces of the South. Blue Teutonic eyes lightened his sun-

browned face, and above them rose a square, massive forehead, with

a fringe of close yellow curls lying round it. His strong, firm

jaw was clean-shaven, and his companion had frequently remarked how

much it suggested those old Roman busts which peered out from the

shadows in the corners of his chamber. Under its bluff German

strength there lay always a suggestion of Italian subtlety, but

the smile was so honest, and the eyes so frank, that one understood

that this was only an indication of his ancestry, with no actual

bearing upon his character. In age and in reputation, he was on

the same level as his English companion, but his life and his work

had both been far more arduous. Twelve years before, he had come

as a poor student to Rome, and had lived ever since upon some small

endowment for research which had been awarded to him by the

University of Bonn. Painfully, slowly, and doggedly, with

extraordinary tenacity and single-mindedness, he had climbed from

rung to rung of the ladder of fame, until now he was a member of

the Berlin Academy, and there was every reason to believe that he

would shortly be promoted to the Chair of the greatest of German

Universities. But the singleness of purpose which had brought him

to the same high level as the rich and brilliant Englishman, had

caused him in everything outside their work to stand infinitely

below him. He had never found a pause in his studies in which to

cultivate the social graces. It was only when he spoke of his own

subject that his face was filled with life and soul. At other

times he was silent and embarrassed, too conscious of his own

limitations in larger subjects, and impatient of that small talk

which is the conventional refuge of those who have no thoughts to

express.



And yet for some years there had been an acquaintanceship which

appeared to be slowly ripening into a friendship between these two

very different rivals. The base and origin of this lay in the fact

that in their own studies each was the only one of the younger men

who had knowledge and enthusiasm enough to properly appreciate the

other. Their common interests and pursuits had brought them

together, and each had been attracted by the other's knowledge.

And then gradually something had been added to this. Kennedy had

been amused by the frankness and simplicity of his rival, while

Burger in turn had been fascinated by the brilliancy and vivacity

which had made Kennedy such a favourite in Roman society. I say

"had," because just at the moment the young Englishman was somewhat

under a cloud. A love-affair, the details of which had never quite

come out, had indicated a heartlessness and callousness upon his

part which shocked many of his friends. But in the bachelor

circles of students and artists in which he preferred to move

there is no very rigid code of honour in such matters, and though

a head might be shaken or a pair of shoulders shrugged over the

flight of two and the return of one, the general sentiment was

probably one of curiosity and perhaps of envy rather than of

reprobation.



"Look here, Burger," said Kennedy, looking hard at the placid

face of his companion, "I do wish that you would confide in me."



As he spoke he waved his hand in the direction of a rug which

lay upon the floor. On the rug stood a long, shallow fruit-basket

of the light wicker-work which is used in the Campagna, and this

was heaped with a litter of objects, inscribed tiles, broken

inscriptions, cracked mosaics, torn papyri, rusty metal ornaments,

which to the uninitiated might have seemed to have come straight

from a dustman's bin, but which a specialist would have speedily

recognized as unique of their kind. The pile of odds and ends in

the flat wicker-work basket supplied exactly one of those missing

links of social development which are of such interest to the

student. It was the German who had brought them in, and the

Englishman's eyes were hungry as he looked at them.



"I won't interfere with your treasure-trove, but I should very

much like to hear about it," he continued, while Burger very

deliberately lit a cigar. "It is evidently a discovery of the

first importance. These inscriptions will make a sensation

throughout Europe."



"For every one here there are a million there!" said the

German. "There are so many that a dozen savants might spend a

lifetime over them, and build up a reputation as solid as the

Castle of St. Angelo."



Kennedy sat thinking with his fine forehead wrinkled and his

fingers playing with his long, fair moustache.



"You have given yourself away, Burger!" said he at last. "Your

words can only apply to one thing. You have discovered a new

catacomb."



"I had no doubt that you had already come to that conclusion

from an examination of these objects."



"Well, they certainly appeared to indicate it, but your last

remarks make it certain. There is no place except a catacomb which

could contain so vast a store of relics as you describe."



"Quite so. There is no mystery about that. I HAVE

discovered a new catacomb."



"Where?"



"Ah, that is my secret, my dear Kennedy. Suffice it that it is

so situated that there is not one chance in a million of anyone

else coming upon it. Its date is different from that of any known

catacomb, and it has been reserved for the burial of the highest

Christians, so that the remains and the relics are quite different

from anything which has ever been seen before. If I was not aware

of your knowledge and of your energy, my friend, I would not

hesitate, under the pledge of secrecy, to tell you everything about

it. But as it is I think that I must certainly prepare my own

report of the matter before I expose myself to such formidable

competition."



Kennedy loved his subject with a love which was almost a

mania--a love which held him true to it, amidst all the

distractions which come to a wealthy and dissipated young man. He

had ambition, but his ambition was secondary to his mere abstract

joy and interest in everything which concerned the old life and

history of the city. He yearned to see this new underworld which

his companion had discovered.



"Look here, Burger," said he, earnestly, "I assure you that you

can trust me most implicitly in the matter. Nothing would induce

me to put pen to paper about anything which I see until I have your

express permission. I quite understand your feeling and I think it

is most natural, but you have really nothing whatever to fear from

me. On the other hand, if you don't tell me I shall make a

systematic search, and I shall most certainly discover it. In that

case, of course, I should make what use I liked of it, since I

should be under no obligation to you."



Burger smiled thoughtfully over his cigar.



"I have noticed, friend Kennedy," said he, "that when I want

information over any point you are not always so ready to supply

it."



"When did you ever ask me anything that I did not tell you?

You remember, for example, my giving you the material for your

paper about the temple of the Vestals."



"Ah, well, that was not a matter of much importance. If I were

to question you upon some intimate thing would you give me an answer,

I wonder! This new catacomb is a very intimate thing to me,

and I should certainly expect some sign of confidence in return."



"What you are driving at I cannot imagine," said the

Englishman, "but if you mean that you will answer my question about

the catacomb if I answer any question which you may put to me I can

assure you that I will certainly do so."



"Well, then," said Burger, leaning luxuriously back in his

settee, and puffing a blue tree of cigar-smoke into the air, "tell

me all about your relations with Miss Mary Saunderson."



Kennedy sprang up in his chair and glared angrily at his

impassive companion.



"What the devil do you mean?" he cried. "What sort of a

question is this? You may mean it as a joke, but you never made a

worse one."



"No, I don't mean it as a joke," said Burger, simply. "I am

really rather interested in the details of the matter. I don't

know much about the world and women and social life and that sort

of thing, and such an incident has the fascination of the unknown

for me. I know you, and I knew her by sight--I had even spoken to

her once or twice. I should very much like to hear from your own

lips exactly what it was which occurred between you."



"I won't tell you a word."



"That's all right. It was only my whim to see if you would

give up a secret as easily as you expected me to give up my secret

of the new catacomb. You wouldn't, and I didn't expect you to.

But why should you expect otherwise of me? There's Saint John's

clock striking ten. It is quite time that I was going home."



"No; wait a bit, Burger," said Kennedy; "this is really a

ridiculous caprice of yours to wish to know about an old love-

affair which has burned out months ago. You know we look upon a

man who kisses and tells as the greatest coward and villain

possible."



"Certainly," said the German, gathering up his basket of

curiosities, "when he tells anything about a girl which is

previously unknown he must be so. But in this case, as you must be

aware, it was a public matter which was the common talk of Rome, so

that you are not really doing Miss Mary Saunderson any injury

by discussing her case with me. But still, I respect your

scruples; and so good night!"



"Wait a bit, Burger," said Kennedy, laying his hand upon the

other's arm; "I am very keen upon this catacomb business, and I

can't let it drop quite so easily. Would you mind asking me

something else in return--something not quite so eccentric this

time?"



"No, no; you have refused, and there is an end of it," said

Burger, with his basket on his arm. "No doubt you are quite right

not to answer, and no doubt I am quite right also--and so again, my

dear Kennedy, good night!"



The Englishman watched Burger cross the room, and he had his

hand on the handle of the door before his host sprang up with the

air of a man who is making the best of that which cannot be helped.



"Hold on, old fellow," said he; "I think you are behaving in a

most ridiculous fashion; but still; if this is your condition, I

suppose that I must submit to it. I hate saying anything about a

girl, but, as you say, it is all over Rome, and I don't suppose I

can tell you anything which you do not know already. What was it

you wanted to know?"



The German came back to the stove, and, laying down his basket,

he sank into his chair once more.



"May I have another cigar?" said he. "Thank you very much! I

never smoke when I work, but I enjoy a chat much more when I am

under the influence of tobacco. Now, as regards this young lady,

with whom you had this little adventure. What in the world has

become of her?"



"She is at home with her own people."



"Oh, really--in England?"



"Yes."



"What part of England--London?"



"No, Twickenham."



"You must excuse my curiosity, my dear Kennedy, and you must

put it down to my ignorance of the world. No doubt it is quite a

simple thing to persuade a young lady to go off with you for three

weeks or so, and then to hand her over to her own family at--what

did you call the place?"



"Twickenham."



"Quite so--at Twickenham. But it is something so entirely

outside my own experience that I cannot even imagine how you set

about it. For example, if you had loved this girl your love could

hardly disappear in three weeks, so I presume that you could not

have loved her at all. But if you did not love her why should you

make this great scandal which has damaged you and ruined her?"



Kennedy looked moodily into the red eye of the stove.



"That's a logical way of looking at it, certainly," said he.

"Love is a big word, and it represents a good many different shades

of feeling. I liked her, and--well, you say you've seen her --you

know how charming she could look. But still I am willing to admit,

looking back, that I could never have really loved her."



"Then, my dear Kennedy, why did you do it?"



"The adventure of the thing had a great deal to do with it."



"What! You are so fond of adventures!"



"Where would the variety of life be without them? It was for

an adventure that I first began to pay my attentions to her. I've

chased a good deal of game in my time, but there's no chase like

that of a pretty woman. There was the piquant difficulty of it

also, for, as she was the companion of Lady Emily Rood, it was

almost impossible to see her alone. On the top of all the other

obstacles which attracted me, I learned from her own lips very

early in the proceedings that she was engaged."



"Mein Gott! To whom?"



"She mentioned no names."



"I do not think that anyone knows that. So that made the

adventure more alluring, did it?"



"Well, it did certainly give a spice to it. Don't you think

so?"



"I tell you that I am very ignorant about these things."



"My dear fellow, you can remember that the apple you stole from

your neighbour's tree was always sweeter than that which fell from

your own. And then I found that she cared for me."



"What--at once?"



"Oh, no, it took about three months of sapping and mining. But

at last I won her over. She understood that my judicial separation

from my wife made it impossible for me to do the right thing by

her--but she came all the same, and we had a delightful time, as

long as it lasted."



"But how about the other man?"



Kennedy shrugged his shoulders.



"I suppose it is the survival of the fittest," said he. "If he

had been the better man she would not have deserted him. Let's

drop the subject, for I have had enough of it!"



"Only one other thing. How did you get rid of her in three

weeks?"



"Well, we had both cooled down a bit, you understand. She

absolutely refused, under any circumstances, to come back to face

the people she had known in Rome. Now, of course, Rome is

necessary to me, and I was already pining to be back at my work--so

there was one obvious cause of separation. Then, again, her old

father turned up at the hotel in London, and there was a scene, and

the whole thing became so unpleasant that really--though I missed

her dreadfully at first--I was very glad to slip out of it. Now,

I rely upon you not to repeat anything of what I have said."



"My dear Kennedy, I should not dream of repeating it. But all

that you say interests me very much, for it gives me an insight

into your way of looking at things, which is entirely different

from mine, for I have seen so little of life. And now you want to

know about my new catacomb. There's no use my trying to describe

it, for you would never find it by that. There is only one thing,

and that is for me to take you there."



"That would be splendid."



"When would you like to come?"



"The sooner the better. I am all impatience to see it."



"Well, it is a beautiful night--though a trifle cold. Suppose

we start in an hour. We must be very careful to keep the matter to

ourselves. If anyone saw us hunting in couples they would suspect

that there was something going on."



"We can't be too cautious," said Kennedy. "Is it far?"



"Some miles."



"Not too far to walk?"



"Oh, no, we could walk there easily."



"We had better do so, then. A cabman's suspicions would be

aroused if he dropped us both at some lonely spot in the dead

of the night."



"Quite so. I think it would be best for us to meet at the Gate

of the Appian Way at midnight. I must go back to my lodgings for

the matches and candles and things."



"All right, Burger! I think it is very kind of you to let me

into this secret, and I promise you that I will write nothing about

it until you have published your report. Good-bye for the present!

You will find me at the Gate at twelve."



The cold, clear air was filled with the musical chimes from

that city of clocks as Burger, wrapped in an Italian overcoat, with

a lantern hanging from his hand, walked up to the rendezvous.

Kennedy stepped out of the shadow to meet him.



"You are ardent in work as well as in love!" said the German,

laughing.



"Yes; I have been waiting here for nearly half an hour."



"I hope you left no clue as to where we were going."



"Not such a fool! By Jove, I am chilled to the bone! Come on,

Burger, let us warm ourselves by a spurt of hard walking."



Their footsteps sounded loud and crisp upon the rough stone

paving of the disappointing road which is all that is left of the

most famous highway of the world. A peasant or two going home from

the wine-shop, and a few carts of country produce coming up to

Rome, were the only things which they met. They swung along, with

the huge tombs looming up through the darkness upon each side of

them, until they had come as far as the Catacombs of St. Calistus,

and saw against a rising moon the great circular bastion of Cecilia

Metella in front of them. Then Burger stopped with his hand to his

side.



"Your legs are longer than mine, and you are more accustomed to

walking," said he, laughing. "I think that the place where we turn

off is somewhere here. Yes, this is it, round the corner of the

trattoria. Now, it is a very narrow path, so perhaps I had better

go in front and you can follow."



He had lit his lantern, and by its light they were enabled to

follow a narrow and devious track which wound across the marshes of

the Campagna. The great Aqueduct of old Rome lay like a monstrous

caterpillar across the moonlit landscape, and their road led

them under one of its huge arches, and past the circle of crumbling

bricks which marks the old arena. At last Burger stopped at a

solitary wooden cow-house, and he drew a key from his pocket.

"Surely your catacomb is not inside a house!" cried Kennedy



"The entrance to it is. That is just the safeguard which we

have against anyone else discovering it."



"Does the proprietor know of it?"



"Not he. He had found one or two objects which made me almost

certain that his house was built on the entrance to such a place.

So I rented it from him, and did my excavations for myself. Come

in, and shut the door behind you."



It was a long, empty building, with the mangers of the cows

along one wall. Burger put his lantern down on the ground, and

shaded its light in all directions save one by draping his overcoat

round it.



"It might excite remark if anyone saw a light in this lonely

place," said he. "Just help me to move this boarding."



The flooring was loose in the corner, and plank by plank the

two savants raised it and leaned it against the wall. Below there

was a square aperture and a stair of old stone steps which led away

down into the bowels of the earth.



"Be careful!" cried Burger, as Kennedy, in his impatience,

hurried down them. "It is a perfect rabbits'-warren below, and if

you were once to lose your way there the chances would be a hundred

to one against your ever coming out again. Wait until I bring the

light."



"How do you find your own way if it is so complicated?"



"I had some very narrow escapes at first, but I have gradually

learned to go about. There is a certain system to it, but it is

one which a lost man, if he were in the dark, could not possibly

find out. Even now I always spin out a ball of string behind me

when I am going far into the catacomb. You can see for yourself

that it is difficult, but every one of these passages divides and



subdivides a dozen times before you go a hundred yards."



They had descended some twenty feet from the level of the byre,

and they were standing now in a square chamber cut out of the soft

tufa. The lantern cast a flickering light, bright below and

dim above, over the cracked brown walls. In every direction

were the black openings of passages which radiated from this common

centre.



"I want you to follow me closely, my friend," said Burger. "Do

not loiter to look at anything upon the way, for the place to which

I will take you contains all that you can see, and more. It will

save time for us to go there direct."



He led the way down one of the corridors, and the Englishman

followed closely at his heels. Every now and then the passage

bifurcated, but Burger was evidently following some secret marks of

his own, for he neither stopped nor hesitated. Everywhere along

the walls, packed like the berths upon an emigrant ship, lay the

Christians of old Rome. The yellow light flickered over the

shrivelled features of the mummies, and gleamed upon rounded skulls

and long, white armbones crossed over fleshless chests. And

everywhere as he passed Kennedy looked with wistful eyes upon

inscriptions, funeral vessels, pictures, vestments, utensils, all

lying as pious hands had placed them so many centuries ago. It was

apparent to him, even in those hurried, passing glances, that this

was the earliest and finest of the catacombs, containing such a

storehouse of Roman remains as had never before come at one time

under the observation of the student.



"What would happen if the light went out?" he asked, as they

hurried onwards.



"I have a spare candle and a box of matches in my pocket. By

the way, Kennedy, have you any matches?"



"No; you had better give me some."



"Oh, that is all right. There is no chance of our separating."



"How far are we going? It seems to me that we have walked at

least a quarter of a mile."



"More than that, I think. There is really no limit to the

tombs--at least, I have never been able to find any. This is a

very difficult place, so I think that I will use our ball of

string."



He fastened one end of it to a projecting stone and he carried

the coil in the breast of his coat, paying it out as he advanced.

Kennedy saw that it was no unnecessary precaution, for the passages

had become more complex and tortuous than ever, with a perfect

network of intersecting corridors. But these all ended in one

large circular hall with a square pedestal of tufa topped with a

slab of marble at one end of it.



"By Jove!" cried Kennedy in an ecstasy, as Burger swung his

lantern over the marble. "It is a Christian altar--probably the

first one in existence. Here is the little consecration cross cut

upon the corner of it. No doubt this circular space was used as a

church."



"Precisely," said Burger. "If I had more time I should like to

show you all the bodies which are buried in these niches upon the

walls, for they are the early popes and bishops of the Church, with

their mitres, their croziers, and full canonicals. Go over to that

one and look at it!"



Kennedy went across, and stared at the ghastly head which lay

loosely on the shredded and mouldering mitre.



"This is most interesting," said he, and his voice seemed to

boom against the concave vault. "As far as my experience goes, it

is unique. Bring the lantern over, Burger, for I want to see them

all."



But the German had strolled away, and was standing in the

middle of a yellow circle of light at the other side of the hall.



"Do you know how many wrong turnings there are between this and

the stairs?" he asked. "There are over two thousand. No doubt it

was one of the means of protection which the Christians adopted.

The odds are two thousand to one against a man getting out, even if

he had a light; but if he were in the dark it would, of course, be

far more difficult."



"So I should think."



"And the darkness is something dreadful. I tried it once for

an experiment. Let us try it again!" He stooped to the lantern,

and in an instant it was as if an invisible hand was squeezed

tightly over each of Kennedy's eyes. Never had he known what such

darkness was. It seemed to press upon him and to smother him. It

was a solid obstacle against which the body shrank from advancing.

He put his hands out to push it back from him.



"That will do, Burger," said he, "let's have the light again."



But his companion began to laugh, and in that circular room the

sound seemed to come from every side at once.



"You seem uneasy, friend Kennedy," said he.



"Go on, man, light the candle!" said Kennedy impatiently.



"It's very strange, Kennedy, but I could not in the least tell

by the sound in which direction you stand. Could you tell where I

am?"



"No; you seem to be on every side of me."



"If it were not for this string which I hold in my hand I

should not have a notion which way to go."



"I dare say not. Strike a light, man, and have an end of this

nonsense."



"Well, Kennedy, there are two things which I understand that

you are very fond of. The one is an adventure, and the other is an

obstacle to surmount. The adventure must be the finding of your

way out of this catacomb. The obstacle will be the darkness and

the two thousand wrong turns which make the way a little difficult

to find. But you need not hurry, for you have plenty of time, and

when you halt for a rest now and then, I should like you just to

think of Miss Mary Saunderson, and whether you treated her quite

fairly."



"You devil, what do you mean?" roared Kennedy. He was running

about in little circles and clasping at the solid blackness with

both hands.



"Good-bye," said the mocking voice, and it was already at some

distance. "I really do not think, Kennedy, even by your own

showing that you did the right thing by that girl. There was only

one little thing which you appeared not to know, and I can supply

it. Miss Saunderson was engaged to a poor ungainly devil of a

student, and his name was Julius Burger."



There was a rustle somewhere, the vague sound of a foot

striking a stone, and then there fell silence upon that old

Christian church--a stagnant, heavy silence which closed round

Kennedy and shut him in like water round a drowning man.





Some two months afterwards the following paragraph made the

round of the European Press:





"One of the most interesting discoveries of recent years is

that of the new catacomb in Rome, which lies some distance to the

east of the well-known vaults of St. Calixtus. The finding of this

important burial-place, which is exceeding rich in most

interesting early Christian remains, is due to the energy and

sagacity of Dr. Julius Burger, the young German specialist, who is

rapidly taking the first place as an authority upon ancient Rome.

Although the first to publish his discovery, it appears that a less

fortunate adventurer had anticipated Dr. Burger. Some months ago

Mr. Kennedy, the well-known English student, disappeared suddenly

from his rooms in the Corso, and it was conjectured that his

association with a recent scandal had driven him to leave Rome. It

appears now that he had in reality fallen a victim to that fervid

love of archaeology which had raised him to a distinguished place

among living scholars. His body was discovered in the heart of the

new catacomb, and it was evident from the condition of his feet and

boots that he had tramped for days through the tortuous corridors

which make these subterranean tombs so dangerous to explorers. The

deceased gentleman had, with inexplicable rashness, made his way

into this labyrinth without, as far as can be discovered, taking

with him either candles or matches, so that his sad fate was the

natural result of his own temerity. What makes the matter more

painful is that Dr. Julius Burger was an intimate friend of the

deceased. His joy at the extraordinary find which he has been so

fortunate as to make has been greatly marred by the terrible fate

of his comrade and fellow-worker."





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