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“The ungodly seeketh counsel against the just.” – Psalm XXXVII, 12.


            THE sun was just at its height in the deep blue Italian heavens, the air had lost its morning freshness and had become drowsy and sluggish, while life seemed for a while suspended, and nature itself appeared to be taking a siesta. Nearly all the streets were silent and deserted, and, excepting a few idle strollers in the public gardens, people seemed more generally inclined to spend the noontide in their houses, than to brave the scorching heat of a July sun.


            A strange contrast to the heavy silence and sleepiness that prevailed around, was the quick lively movement of a brisk little figure that came tripping along past the Circus Maximus. It was Cyriacides returning from her charitable expedition, and singing in blithe tones to

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herself as she ran merrily along, her heart overflowing with gratitude and love to the Giver of all good.


            As she passed the Templum Vestae, her progress was arrested by the salutations of two men, who advanced hastily to meet her. The elder of the two was apparently in the prime of life, and of pleasant exterior, while his companion seemed to be several years his junior, and his handsome countenance was darkened at times by a sinister expression, like the shadow of an evil angel passing by.


            “Whither now, Cyriacides?” cried out the former, with a bright smile lighting up his brown eyes, “I am inclined to think from the appearance of the basket on your arm, that you have been distributing as is your wont, among the poor!”


            “You have guessed rightly, good Felix,” said she returning the smile, “and a very happy morning’s task I have performed, though I shall be glad to get home now, for the sunshine has become already too hot for foot passengers. And you, Lucius,” she continued addressing the younger man, “I have not met you for some time on my daily errands. Do you never come now to visit the poor? I remember you were once very indefatigable in your benevolence.”


            “Well, to speak truly,” replied Lucius

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slightly confused, “I’ve not much time for such things now, there are so many other subjects to occupy my attention.”


            “Lucius has been very reserved and gloomy lately,” said Felix looking slyly at his companion, “I begin to suspect that he is in love! Perhaps the fair face of his cousin Valeria, is the subject that so much occupies his attention!”


            “By no means,” said the other looking up with a forced smile, “I am not in love with anybody, much less with my heathen relative Valeria Fabian!”


            “Never mind!” rejoined Cyriacides laughing gaily, “he is sick I daresay, and needs some of my medicines. I will stop at your house on my way tomorrow, Lucius, and leave you some of my herbal mixtures. But,” said she, changing her bantering tone to one of so her earnestness, “provided you have not really some just cause for staying away, I would seriously advise you not to absent yourself from holy worship any longer. I have there missed seeing you repeatedly of late, and our venerable father, the good priest Dionysius, has looked in vain for you. Recollect that if you are a Christian, you must act as one. Forgive my speaking so plainly to you, Lucius, I only seek to promote your welfare.”


            “Cyriacides gives you good advice,” said

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Felix turning with grave kindness to his companion, “and I am quite sure you will profit by it, since I am persuaded you have a real desire to please GOD.”


            “Thanks for your kindness, good Cyriacides,” muttered Lucius in an affected tone of penitence, so palpably insincere as to draw an involuntary sigh from the warm-hearted girl, “assure yourself of my intention to amend for the future. Did you not tell me the other day,” he continued eluding her glance, “that the baptism of the catechumens would take place very soon?”


            “I did,” she replied, “but it has been deferred until the calends of August, on account of the admission of a new candidate for the holy sacrament, – one named Secundus.”


            “Where is the baptism to be?” demanded Lucius.


            “At the title of ––” replied Cyriacides, – “shall we see you present among the witnesses?”


            “Most probably you will,” answered Lucius, adding with a half concealed sneer, – “I shall very likely bring some of my friends with me.”


            “I dare not stay any longer with you,” said Cyriacides, “so farewell, Felix; farewell, Lucius, do not forget what I have said to you, – I shall look for you at the next assembly for holy worship.”


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            And she left them and passed gaily on, towards the Porta Carmentalis. The two men stood still awhile, and watched her till her form was lost to sight in the long winding streets beyond the gate.


            “She is a dear little girl,” said Felix breaking silence, “and is always happy and contented. And although she is so poor that sometimes she has hard work to get bread for herself yet she is always able and willing to administer to the wants of those poorer even than she is. To look at her merry face, one would fancy her a stranger to trouble and misfortune, yet the good GOD knows she has a large share of this world’s evils, for besides working for her own maintenance, she has almost entirely to support a widowed mother, who has been quite blind for many years.”


            “Has she then no brother?” asked Lucius.


            “Yes, a twin brother named Victorianus, who, by the by is to be admitted into the Church, with the other catechumens, next August.”


            “Is Cyriacides a convert?”


            “No, her mother instructed her in the faith when she was a little child, but the pagan father who was then living, discovering this, forbade his wife to teach Victorianus Christianity, and she not daring to disobey him, left the boy in ignorance of our holy doctrines; Cyriacides,

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however, secretly taught him, and soon after the father’s death a year ago, he declared his intention of uniting himself to CHRIST, and has since been preparing to receive the sacrament of holy baptism. It is said by some that the father also died a Christian, being reconciled to the faith by the pious example of his daughter, but I do not know this certainly, – I sincerely hope it may have been true. – What, are you going so soon to leave me!” he added, as Lucius bade him farewell, – “nay but come to my house and refresh yourself, we are close to it, and you have need of repose.”


            “Thanks for your hospitable offer,” said the other, “but I must at present decline accepting it, as I have some very particular business to transact today. So farewell, Felix, we shall meet again soon, I daresay.”


            With these words Lucius retired, and Felix bidding him GOD speed, returned to his house. Lucius hastened back towards the prefect’s mansion, situated not far from the Forum itself, and having speedily obtained an entrance, he crossed the atrium, or court, and passing into a marble floored apartment, seated himself idly on a couch splendidly inlaid with silver and bronze ornaments. Round the walls of the chamber were placed pedestals of variegated marble, bearing statues of the gods, and of

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other mythological personages, before some of which incense was burning in silver tripods.


            Vases containing the most rare and brilliant flowers were arranged round the apartment on tables of costly woods, some of them adorned with ivory inlay. The perfume of these splendid exotics scented the air, and contributed to the delight and refreshment of the weary guest, who tired with the toil and heat of the day, might always find a welcome and repose in the cool and fragrantly scented hall s of the Roman noble.


            Presently the prefect made his appearance, and approaching Lucius, sat down by him on the sofa, exclaiming as he did so, “Well, nephew, any success?”


            “Yes,” replied the other, exultingly, – “I have ascertained that there is to be a baptism of converts on the calends of August, when of course a number of Christians will be assembled to witness the ceremony. You have only therefore to send thither a few light conveyances, and a body of men, which if you please, I being so well acquainted with the place, will conduct, and so we shall seize the wretches in a moment, place them in the carts, and bring them to you. It won’t be at all a difficult affair, you see, but merely an amusing occupation, serving besides to give your men some employment, which I think is greatly needed.”


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            “You would do a friend of mine great service, Lucius, if you could also discover what is become of Lady Beatrice, the sister of Simplicius and Faustinus, of patrician family, whom you may recollect I had the honour of sentencing to death three or four days ago. There was a great stir about it at the time.”


            “Oh yes,” exclaimed Lucius, “that trial is fresh in my mind, nor has the agitation it caused in Rome yet quite subsided.”


            “True, but now we want the Lady Beatrice. She is fled to some place of refuge, and notwithstanding all our efforts to find her, remains still concealed. Not only my friendship is concerned in the affair, but my own character is at stake, for I should be doing wrong, did I spare myself any pains to bring so pernicious a person as a Christian to justice.


            “This very morning I had two Christian prisoners before me, one of whom, a girl, evidently knew something about Beatrice, but was so indignant at my questioning her on the matter that I was forced to desist. By the by she let out to me, unguardedly, that her foster mother or protectress, a Christian lady of the Julian family, by name Memmia, is now living in the Appian Way, with her sister, whom I suspect to be a Christian likewise. I must send officers this very afternoon to arrest them, for of

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course I should not be doing my duty as prefect, if I allowed criminals to go unpunished.


            “Beside this I have another matter as serious to investigate, for my friend Lysias tells me, that a young man of his acquaintance and of noble parentage, has been kidnapped and perhaps murdered by these horrible Christians. He has been missing two days, and if he be not soon found, his relatives will of course be plunged in the deepest affliction. Ah, how rejoiced I am, my dear nephew, that you have abandoned Christianity! What ever could have induced you to embrace its impious doctrines? Novelty, I suppose, for you always loved new ideas and inventions. Pray do your Christian companions know of your re-conversion?”


            “No, uncle, I did not tell them, lest they should avoid me, for of course while they suppose me one of them, I can easily worm myself into their secrets, and by betraying their plans and arrangements to you, serve the cause of the immortal gods the better.”


            “Well said, Nephew Lucius, I applaud your sentiments with all my heart! Had we a few more men of your mind, the empire would soon be quit of these horrible Christians! I suppose we shall secure a good many of them on the calends of August at the ceremonial you mention?”


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            “I fancy so,” replied the young man rising, “meanwhile I will do my best to find the Lady Beatrice. And now adieu, uncle, I have said my say, and must be away on my business.”


            “And I, nephew, will go at once, and send the officers up the Appian Way, after these two Christian women, instructing them at the same time to make inquiries for the poor unfortunate youth, whom your whilom companions have decoyed away.” With these words, the prefect took leave of Lucius, and they both departed on their respective errands.


            Meanwhile Cyriacides sped gaily on towards the western part of the Suburra, and entered a small house near the Forum Nervae. The appearance of the house denoted great poverty, but was withal neat and clean as a nobleman’s mansion. The room, into which Cyriacides entered contained neither pictures nor images of any description; a single wooden cross over the doorway, alone betokened the faith of the inmates. As the little girl entered, a handsome boy bounded forward to meet her, exclaiming – “O, dearest sister, I am glad you are returned, who do you think has been here today?” And without waiting for a reply, he continued exultingly, “Why no less a person than the good widow, the lady Lucina! She brought mother some money, and meat, and

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has spoken so kindly to us of you. She says that lady Beatrice is with her, having been obliged to fly there for refuge, after the martyrdom of her brothers Simplicius and Faustinus, whose relics you know are buried in the cemetery Ad Ursum Pileatum. She dares not stir out, for fear of being seized, as the prefect is said to be watching for her.”


            “I believe he is,” said Cyriacides, “from various reports I have heard. Alas!” she added sighing, “when will the heathen cease to persecute us, and to hunt us like hares from our homes and companions! but never mind,” she went on in her tone of wonted cheerfulness, “doubtless there are brighter days in store, the good GOD will not forget us nor our afflictions, ‘For as a father pitieth his children, even so the LORD pitieth those that fear Him.’ So now, Victorianus, let us go to mother, and see whether we can do somewhat for her.”


            “With all my heart,” replied the boy, “she will be pleased to see you, though not with her eyes, meanwhile leave me to perform for once the office of cook in your absence, and I will prepare some of the meat lady Lucina brought us today.” As he concluded this speech, Cyriacides left him and passed into an inner room, where lay her blind mother, reclining upon the only couch the poorly furnished house afforded.



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