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“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the LORD hath promised to them that love Him.” – S. James I, 12.
THE next morning’s sun shone brightly in through the narrow windows of a prison, wherein were collected those new-born children
of the Church, whom the traitor Lucius had betrayed to his uncle the prefect.
In the centre of the room stood an old man, his silvery locks tinged with the golden hues of the sunshine, and his uplifted face glowing with a spiritual light scarcely less brilliant. It was the aged Sergius, whom one short day had made both Christian and confessor, and who, ere another had fled, might perchance become a martyr.
By his side knelt Alban, his hands’ clasped firmly together, and his eyes gleaming with earnest tears, as he prayed silently to His newly found SAVIOUR for grace and strength to support his soul in the torments he might be called upon to endure.
Close underneath the opposite window stood the youthful Secundus, his head resting calmly on the shoulder of the Deacon Cyriacus, who looked down on him with a loving and tender expression, such as that with which one might fancy a guardian angel to regard a little child under his care.
Many other captives were gathered together in groups round the room, among whom we may notice Cyriacides and her twin brother, Largus and Smaragdus, Felix and Flavia. The latter was evidently frightened, and although Cyriacides tried hard to comfort her, seemed almost beside herself with terror and dismay.
Gradually the morning wore away, and as the hour for the trial drew near, the confessors beguiled the time, and encouraged themselves by singing hymns, until they were summoned one by one into the presence of the Prefect and of the numerous spectators who were collected to witness their examination.
Cyriacides was the first interrogated, to whom addressing himself, Plautian asked if she were a Christian, and on receiving a cheerful reply in the affirmative, commanded her to sacrifice to the gods, assuring her that such was the only means of escaping the torments prepared for her.
Cyriacides answered, “My GOD requires no such sacrifices; He rather delights in alms-deeds and holiness of life. Your gods are unclean demons who are pleased with these offerings, while they are preparing eternal punishments for those who make them.”
Plautian surprised at her readiness of answer, said to her, “We will see whether your eloquence will be as great after you have experienced the pains which we are commanded to inflict upon such as refuse obedience to the Emperors.”
Then turning to the executioner, he ordered her to be put upon the rack, which stood close at hand and ready for use. This being done, he said, “Once more, I advise you to
renounce your folly, and to escape cruel torments.”
“Never,” answered the youthful martyr, “will I be false to my LORD, Who has done so much good to me. He has watched over and protected me ever since I was a little child, He has let me want for nothing, and shall I then, when called upon to prove my love for Him, ungratefully deny and forsake Him?”
Plautian hereupon growing angry, replied, “Since reasoning has no effect on your obstinacy, it is my duty to try what can be done by a more painful course of proceeding.”
So saying, he turned again to the executioner, and made him a signal to begin his horrid work. The latter gave a sudden whirl to the wheels of the machine, and these being connected with the ropes which had been previously fastened round the wrists and ancles of the poor girl, gave them a sudden wrench, almost sufficing to tear them from their sockets and causing the most excruciating pain.
Plautian then ordered the torture to be suspended, while he thus addressed the martyr: “You have seen that I can inflict pain, and pain of such a kind as you have not perhaps endured until now; and unless you give over your foolish nonsense at once, and obey the laws, I shall be obliged to torment you even
more. Be wise therefore, and deny your GOD, for you see that he cannot help you.”
But Cyriacides heard him not, or if she heard, she did not notice his words, for instead of replying to them, she raised her eyes to heaven and said,
“O my dear LORD, I thank Thee once more for all Thy benefits, and now most of all for this last, that Thou hast found me worthy to suffer pain for Thy sake. For now I drink with Thee of Thine own cup, now am I stretched with Thee on Thine own cross, now do I begin to taste the sweetness of death for Thy Name, and the delight of testifying to Thy glory. Finish in me, O LORD, the work Thou hast begun, and exalt me unto the honour Thou hast prepared for Thy saints who love, and who endure patiently for Thy sake.”
Astonished at the courage and fortitude which Cyriacides thus displayed, the Prefect said to her, “I admire your resolution, but I wish it were exercised in a better cause. As it is, my duty compels me to order that you be put to death.”
He then gave commandment for her execution on the Salarian Way. Cyriacides was accordingly released from the rack, and because the torture she had so recently suffered would not permit her to walk alone, the executioner
supported her back to prison, and returning again with Flavia, presented her to the Prefect.
“What is your name?” demanded the latter of the terrified girl, who calling to her aid all her fast ebbing determination, replied,
“I am a virgin of noble family, and am called Flavia.”
“You are a Christian?”
“Yes,” stammered she, growing crimson, and glancing around on the spectators with a piteous expression of fright and apprehension, as he continued,
“You must sacrifice to the gods, or be tormented after the fashion in which your companion has been treated. Euthalius, make ready again the rack.”
“O, sir,” cried Flavia, all her remaining courage now vanishing in the apprehension of torture, “spare me so horrible a punishment, and if you have no pity for my youth, at least consider my rank and condition. Order me at once to death, but let me not be torn in pieces first.”
“I will spare you even death itself,” rejoined the Prefect, “if you will offer sacrifice to the gods.” Seeing her waver, he resumed, “You have but to throw one pinch of incense upon yonder altar, and you are free.” As he spoke these words he pointed to the corner of the
room where a small pillar, whereon fire was burning, was placed before an image of Apollo. “Sacrifice,” he repeated,” and you shall be set at liberty.”
Flavia hesitated. She looked from the altar to the rack, and back again to the altar, and at last she replied, advancing a step towards it, “I will sacrifice to the gods.”
Euthalius then provided her with the sacred salt, which she cast tremblingly into the flames, but no sooner was the act performed than she fell down on the floor at the foot of the pillar in a swoon, and was carried away insensible by one of the Prefect’s attendants.
It is not necessary to relate severally the trials of the remaining confessors; suffice it to say that all with the single exception of the unhappy Flavia, withstood the arts and temptations used to seduce them from the faith, and showed themselves to be the true followers of JESUS.
Sentence was accordingly pronounced on them, and they were condemned to be beheaded with Donata, Crescentianus, Memmia, and Juliana, on the Salarian Way.
In the mean time the news of their arrest had reached Lucina’s house, and Beatrice had hardly time to realize the truth of it, and to recover from her surprise, before the account of their martyrdom arrived, and with it the sadder tidings of Flavia’s apostasy.
Lucina resolved by the advice of Beatrice to remove the bodies of the martyrs from the present place of their interment in the Salarian Way, to her own farm, that they might at least enjoy the privilege of Catholic burial, which pious work being, with the assistance of her Christian friends, duly performed, she turned her attention towards the recovery of the lost Flavia.
But the latter had returned to her pagan relations, and Lucina could find no opportunity of speaking to her, for she carefully avoided all her former companions, and kept herself so entirely aloof from everyone except the worshippers of the gods, that the pious widow, although she watched constantly for her, found it impossible to obtain even a single interview, and not long after the death of her companion confessors, she and her family left Rome for Alexandria, and Lucina entirely lost sight of her.
Beatrice meanwhile still laboured on in her LORD’S vineyard, ministering to the necessities of His poor, teaching the younger members of His Church, and devoting herself entirely to His service. One by one her companions had passed away, and now she was left almost alone, an orphan and a Christian, in the midst of a pagan people, the persecutors of that holy Church to which she belonged. Nevertheless,
Beatrice was not lonely, for she carried in her heart the presence of her GOD, and by cheering and comforting others, she failed not to cheer and comfort herself.
But let us see all this time what has become of Lysias, whom we left intent on the discovery of his victim. After the trial of Donata, seeing that nothing more could be expected from that quarter, he returned with melancholy steps to his house, and seating himself despairingly near the window of an upper room, began to wonder what he should do next.
While thus employed, Cornelius entered the apartment, and advancing towards him, laid his hand upon his friend’s shoulder, and thus accosted him:
“Lysias, what are you dreaming about now?”
“Pray may l ask you, Cornelius,” replied the other, sharply, “what business that is of yours? why are you always interfering with me, and meddling with my affairs? Methinks you might find something better to occupy your time than thrusting yourself continually unbidden into your neighbours’ houses!”
“I am sorry to have offended you,” rejoined Cornelius, with gracious condescension, “but the fact is, my concern for your health is so great that I am sometimes obliged to come and shake you up, now and then, lest
perpetual solitude, and the bad habit of musing, which you have lately contracted, should bring on you a disease. Let me advise you therefore, my good Lysias, to give up thinking, and to content yourself with the more sociable mode of life pursued by your fellow-citizens.”
“I am much obliged to you” answered the other, “for your unnecessary interest in my welfare, though l assure you my health is in no way affected, but is on the contrary rather improved by retirement.”
“Come, Lysias” said Cornelius, approaching him, and fixing his eyes upon his friend’s countenance, “let us leave bantering, and understand each other at once. It is my concern not for your health but for your safety, that induces me to make my visits lately so unpleasantly frequent as you appear to consider them. I know what perplexes you, and what it is that so continually occupies your mind, and am therefore come to entreat that you will give up hunting the Lady Beatrice. Nay, Lysias, do not be angry, – take my advice and forget the girl, or you will soon bitterly repent that you had anything to do with her, she is a Christian, and all Christians are evil. Besides, you will pardon my words, – it is to say the least, a mean action to deprive a fellow creature of life for the sake of obtaining her wealth, even though she be a Christian.
For my part, Lysias, though I am no friend to these dreadful people, and am in constant dread of their sorceries, yet, had I the opportunity, I could not for the sake of their possessions deliver them up to death! It is altogether a selfish idea, and entirely incompatible with the laws of justice.”
“Cornelius,” returned the miser, with a sinister expression gleaming in the depth of his serpent-like eyes, “I tell you plainly, I am determined on her destruction. Her estates adjoin mine, I desire them, and why if opportunity offers should they not be mine? Yes, I will have them, they shall be mine, all my very own! Go your way, friend Cornelius, you cannot shake my resolution, the Lady Beatrice shall die, and if she does not leave me her wealth by choice, shall do so by compulsion!”
“Lysias”, replied the other, “you have disgusted me; I did not think it possible you could entertain sentiments so base and degrading! Nay, then, a man of such a selfish, and sordid disposition is no fit companion for Cornelius Claudian! Farewell, I will not disturb you again with my presence.”
So saying, he abruptly quitted the apartment, leaving Lysias staring after him in stupid amazement.
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