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“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” – I Cor. XV, 55.
MONTHS rolled quickly away, autumn merged into winter, and the cold frosts of January set in, but still Beatrice remained an inmate of the good Lucina’s house, occupying her time in almsdeeds, and meditation, while she awaited with patience her LORD’S calling.
Lysias all this time was actively employed in his search after his victim, and the prefect and his nephew did their utmost to assist him, in the undertaking. At length Lucius happening to hear accidentally from a poor woman living in the suburbs of Rome, that Beatrice was in the habit of paying her charitable visits, he acquainted Lysias with the matter, and the two men kept a close watch round the spot.
Beatrice, unapprised of their design, still continued to frequent the woman’s house, and on her way thither one morning was surprised by her pagan persecutors, and hurried to the prefects court, where the latter having seated himself on his tribunal chair, ordered her to be brought before him.
Beatrice was accordingly led forth, and interrogated by Plautian, who perceiving that all his arguments failed to weaken her resolution, gave orders that she should be privately strangled.
On hearing the sentence, an expression of rapturous joy appeared in the martyr’s countenance, as she raised her hand to her forehead and making there the sign of the cross, replied cheerfully, “Thanks be to GOD.” She then surrendered herself to the gaoler, and was led calmly away to her dungeon, there to await the execution of the prefect’s commands.
Lysias stood at the doorway, and saw her pass majestically by him, her bright golden hair falling in rich waves over her white dress, and her full sublime eyes gazing fixedly upwards, as though in the contemplation of some heavenly vision. And as a fiend crouches and trembles in the presence of a good angel, so the miser recoiled and shrunk into himself, as her garments rustled by him, and he felt as though he would fain have hidden from her view, so glorious and holy she appeared. For one moment he thought like Judas, “I have betrayed the innocent blood,” but the next, he cast the remorseful reflection from his heart, and pictured to himself instead the vast amount of wealth and land that would soon
be his. Yet he felt withal that Plautian and his nephew despised him, and to avoid their glance he crept silently out of the court, and sneaked home to his house in the Suburra. There he spent the remainder of the day, gloating over the thought of his newly acquired wealth, and contriving means of laying out the estates of his murdered relative to the best advantage. Anon he fancied he heard on the stairs the footstep of Cornelius, whose reproaches he continually dreaded, nor could he be content till he had provided against this new cause of alarm by giving orders to his servant to admit no one into the house, and after having dragged out the rest of the day in alternate fear and exultation, he retired to his sleeping apartment. But the night brought him no repose, for though he slumbered, his mind was distracted with horrible visions and dreadful reflections, so that he awoke in agony and lay watching anxiously for the dawn. But all was still and silent as the grave, except the bleak winter wind, which went sighing and moaning along past the windows of his chamber, now and then rattling in the casement like the derisive laughter of demons, and anon dying away into a melancholy wail. Presently the dark clouds which had hitherto obscured the moonlight rolled away, and the cold rays glimmered in through the lattice, and shone
full upon the white drapery of the window curtain.
Lysias sat up in a paroxysm of horror, and looked at it. It seemed to him like the figure of Beatrice in her white garments, standing immoveably before him, and gazing full in his face with bright piercing eyes, the whole outline of her form defined with fearful distinctness. He looked stedfastly at the terrible image, until it faded gradually away again, for the moon had dipped into a cloud, and soon all was darkness. Then came the rushing of the wind in the crevices of the chamber, and Lysias trembled as he heard it, for he fancied he could distinguish in its mournful intonations the voice of the martyred virgin calling on him by name.
It would be difficult to relate all the thoughts and sensations of Lysias through that horrible night. Suffice it to say, that he suffered all the terrors attendant on an evil conscience, seeing and hearing in everything some cause of dread, and anticipating with almost breathless anxiety the dawning of day.
As soon as it appeared, he rose hastily from his couch, and putting on his cloak, sauntered through the by-lanes of the city down to the banks of the Tiber, for he feared to go elsewhere lest he might meet Cornelius. So he stood on the margin of the river, and watched
its cold icy waves ripple at his feet, and the dark waters heave and sink beneath the grey morning light. The chilly air blew full upon him, and murmured its ghostly song in his ears, but yet he moved not, only looked down on the still deep river, flowing calmly and silently along like the River of Death.
Presently he saw something floating slowly towards him on its surface, anon rising and sinking as it came, the cold bleak waters rippling around it, and bearing it gradually nearer and nearer to the shore. Lysias fixed his eyes upon it, and watched it earnestly.
It was the corpse of a young girl, her pale hands crossed upon her motionless breast, and her loose white robes floating heavily round her upon the dark, black river. Her head was thrown back upon the water, and the fair golden tresses of her hair streamed around her neck, and fell here and there in damp clusters upon it, while her countenance wore a sweet expression of perfect and unbroken peace, and her eyes seemed closed rather in slumber than in death. So quietly and calmly she lay pillowed on her watery couch, that had it not been for the marble paleness of her face, and the dark lines round her eyelids, one might have fancied her asleep, so little was there in the expression of her features to denote the presence of the King of Terrors.
Lysias stood like a statue, and watched the figure as it rose and fell with the undulation of the waters. Nearer it came, and nearer still – then seemed retreating from him, – then again approached, until at last the waves washed it ashore, and flung at the feet of the miser the corpse of the martyred Beatrice. With a shriek of horror that echoed with frightful distinctness on the silent morning air, Lysias turned and fled, – fled as “the wicked flee when no man pursueth.”
Scarcely had he disappeared, when the tall dark figure of a man emerged from the shadow of a neighbouring building, and approaching the river side, tenderly raised the lifeless form of the maiden from the water, and supporting it carefully in his arms, threw over it a thick covering or pall , and carried it silently away.
He stole quickly along the bank of the river, and presently came in sight of a small boat moored close to the shore, and occupied by two men, who were evidently awaiting some one. Into this boat he stepped, still bearing in his arms his precious burden, which he deposited reverently upon a rough wooden couch fixed in the vessel, and after whispering awhile in subdued tones with the boatmen, they stealthily unmoored the boat, and taking up their oars rowed away in silence.
It will be scarcely necessary to apprise the
reader that the corpse of the martyred virgin was in Christian hands, and had been rescued from the river, that it might be honoured with the last rites which the Church bestows on her faithful children.
Before noon that day the sacred body was restored to the house of the pious Christian widow Lucina, who with weeping eyes reverently received it, and ere long caused it to be deposited by the side of the relics of the martyrs Simplicius and Faustinus in the cemetery called Ad Ursum Pileatum, on the highway to Porto.
Many and sincere were the tears shed at the burial of this holy maiden by the Christians who were assembled to witness the ceremony, and many were the blessings showered upon her memory, for of all the little group gathered within the precincts of the cemetery there was not one who had not been in some measure benefited by her pious example or ministration.
Reverently they bore her to her last earthly home, and with sorrowing hearts laid her silently to rest beneath the Feet of GOD, until the brightness of the Resurrection Day should break on her slumbering eyelids, and the trump of the archangel summon her to the presence of her LORD. Then will she arise from her narrow tomb to receive that glorious Crown of immortality which CHRIST will bestow
upon those who have cheerfully borne their Cross after Him upon earth, that when He who is our life shall appear, she may also appear with Him in glory.
Meanwhile, she sleeps patiently in her quiet cell among the blessed dead, her pale white hands resting peacefully on her breast, and her dark blue eyes closed for ever upon the pains and sorrows of this troublesome world. There she rests from her labours, and her works do follow her.
JOSEPH MASTERS AND SON, PRINTERS, ALDERSGATE STREET.
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