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LUCINA AND BEATRICE
“If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, this man’s religion is vain.” – S. James I, 26.
IN the time of Diocletian, there stood on the Ostian Way a little farm, occupied by the devout Christian lady Lucina, who appears from various accounts to have been the same Lucina, whose husband died for the faith in the previous persecution, and whose son, the boy-martyr S. Pancras, suffered at the age of fourteen in the year following that in which the incidents of our story occurred. However this may be, it was to her house that lady Beatrice fled for refuge after the death of the blessed Simplicius and Faustinus, and there lay concealed seven months, assisting the widow Lucina in her charitable offices, giving her soul to pious exercises and prayer, and otherwise preparing herself for the martyrdom which she knew would ere long reunite her with her glorified brothers.
One calm beautiful evening, three days after the trial of Donata and her companion confessor, the good Lucina was returning homeward with Beatrice from one of her benevolent expeditions.
The last rays of the declining sunlight flickered through the clustering leaves of the tress, and shone in broken fragments upon the path, as the two women passed quickly along down the Ostian Way, beguiling their journey meanwhile with pleasant conversation.
“Listen,” exclaimed Beatrice pausing, as the evening breeze gently stirred the foliage above their head. – “Does not that sound like the rustle of angels’ wings upon the quiet air? I almost fancy I can discern the fluttering of their white garments, and catch the glowing colours of their rainbow pinions, as they hover over us! Such a scene as this,” she continued, casting her eyes on the widespread landscape around her, “always fills my soul with such a rapturous passion of love and ecstacy, that I know not how to contain myself, and I feel as though I could no longer remain to grovel like a dull insect upon this earth, but must needs rise above it, and soar far away into the glorious radiance of the distant blue! Look around” she cried in glowing tones, rather to herself than to her wondering companion, “see how everything in nature speaks of Christian love. Look how eagerly the old tress bend forward across the pathway to embrace each other, how lovingly they meet together, and entwine their branches, – a true emblem of Christian brotherhood! And O, see!” she
cried, as a break in the tress afforded a view of the splendid sunset, “look yonder at the glorious sun, sinking, sinking slowly beyond the misty hills! See how he draws to himself the tiny crimson clouds, and see too how obediently they all gather round him, as he reluctantly departs, till by lingering near him they catch something of his own radiance, and reflect in themselves the shadow of his glory! Even so a father before starting on a journey, calls to his arms his loving children, that he may bid them farewell before he goes; and, as yonder clouds cluster around the setting sun, so they too, fly to his embrace, while he smilingly bids them anticipate a happy reunion. And they listen, till they catch his own cheerfulness, and so witness his departure with hopeful smiles.
“O heavenly FATHER!” she cried in tones of passionate tenderness, – “would that we Thy children were as eager to run to Thine embrace! Did we only linger as near to Thee, our souls would be filled with far brighter light than the light of yonder sun, and we should receive in ourselves the reflection of Thy glorious Image! Call us unto Thyself, O LORD, draw us unto Thee by the chains of divine love, so shall Thy smile continue to cheer us, while we remain on earth, until we meet Thee again in the far-off brightness of heaven!”
Lucina turned her eyes towards her companion as she ceased speaking, and looking up at her like those who looked on S. Stephen, beheld her face as it had been the “face of an angel.”
“Surely,” she thought, “here is one who reflects in herself, the Image of GOD, one who from lingering near her LORD, has in truth caught some part of His glorious Nature!”
And while they two stood there silently, Beatrice wrapt in ecstatic contemplation, and Lucina gazing wonderingly upon her, there came a rustling in the tall grass beside them, and a young woman approached the spot with hasty steps.
She was evidently some years older than Beatrice, and of equal rank with her, but her countenance was entirely devoid of the sweet expression which distinguished the latter, and there was a self-assertion and haughtiness in her manner which contrasted strangely with the other’s simple and queen-like dignity.
“Well!” she exclaimed in shriII tones, to the two women, “did I startle you? Pray, what are you about now? O, I suppose Beatrice is in one of her reveries again, in the clouds this time, perhaps! eh? Then I have some news to tell you, that may serve to awaken her to a sense of what’s going on in this dull world!”
“And what is that, Flavia?” asked Lucina,
in a voice of quiet reproof, “not bad news I hope?”
“O, of that you must judge for yourself, when you have heard it, Lucina,” – replied Flavia advancing nearer to her. “First of all the ladies Memmia and Juliana have both been arrested and taken before the prefect Plautian, on the charge of disobedience to the emperor and the gods of Rome.”
“On whose information?” asked Lucina calmly.
“On Donata’s,” replied the other with a bitter laugh directed at Beatrice, who turning towards her said decidedly, – “Then it was extorted from her, Flavia, – Donata is not so ungrateful as to betray her benefactor and friend.”
“l know nothing about that,” answered Flavia scornfully, “I know only that they were taken on Donata’s information. And I am not at all surprised at it, for I never thought much of your friend, Beatrice. She was always very passionate you know, and I dare say, Memmia having offended her in some way, she has accused her to Plautian, and this affair is the result. Her impetuosity would lead her into anything, I have no doubt, for she acts entirely upon impulse, and has not much Christian meekness to sustain her under temptation.”
Flavia spoke with affected concern and with
a pious expression, that was totally at variance with the ill-natured leer of her eyes, which Lucina observing answered gravely, “Believe me, Flavia, you do her wrong; I think for my part that many who fancy themselves a vast deal better than Donata, are in reality in a worse case than she, and would do well to take a lesson from her conduct. For the revengeful spirit you attribute to her, is in truth only a keen sense of justice, and a clear perception of good and evil, which is however tempered by many of the sublimer Christian virtues. You are mistaken if you imagine her character to be any other than that of a true disciple of JESUS, and though she has Peter’s impetuosity, she yet mingles with it, the loving disposition of the blessed John. Beware, Flavia, of transgressing the admonition of the Apostle, ‘speak not evil one of another, brethren.’ “
Flavia bit her lips sulkily and muttered, “I’m sure, Lucina, I don’t know what I’ve said to deserve such a lecture. I merely said what I thought, and what I still think. For my part, I fancy you are prejudiced in Donata’s favour, and consequently blind to her faults. However time will show of what stuff she is made, for I hear she is taken, and condemned to death. We shall see whether she holds out or not.”
“What?” said Beatrice, “you did not tell us she was taken! If that is the case, it is
very plain, that the information concerning Memmia was drawn from her by the prefect, and not voluntarily offered, as you suggested. You did wrong not to speak of this, Flavia, for when you hinted to us that she might have gone of her own accord to Plautian, for the sole purpose of accusing her guardian, you must have known that such was not the truth.”
“It is you who are too ready to find fault, and not I,” cried Flavia growing crimson, “I suppose next you will declare I tell lies! I advise you to take care, lady Beatrice, for with all your sanctity, l am as good as yourself. How do you know but that Donata went to the prefect to accuse Memmia, and was taken herself, as well as her guardian?”
“Certainly,” replied Beatrice calmly in reply to this angry outbreak, “there is nothing in Donata’s disposition, or in the appearance of the matter to warrant such a belief. It is better therefore, to think well of her, until we find reason to think evil, for this is but just and Christian-like.”
“Well I hope with all my heart she has behaved properly, but I have my doubts of it, for she is a wild, giddy girl. Ah! if it were only my happy lot to be apprehended for the faith, I would suffer every kind of torment with patience, and would exert my courage to the utmost in the cause of religion, though I
doubt whether poor Donata will be able to do the same, for she seemed hardly able to bear anything without your help, Beatrice. I remember she was always running to you, in her troubles, and seemed to fancy you a kind of goddess, while she received all your words like oracles. So now you are not there to support her, it will be a marvel if she takes her fate patiently, at least to my mind.”
“The sun has set, Beatrice,” said Lucina, hoping to turn the conversation which she saw was not likely to become a profitable one, “and I think we had better be on our way, or we shall be late at home.”
Beatrice assented, and Flavia bidding them a hasty farewell passed from them up the road, while Lucina and Beatrice proceeded on their way.
“Donata,” said the latter when Flavia was gone, “will then obtain her crown, before I shall win mine; yet even so, FATHER, for so it seemeth good in Thy sight! And yet it is a pleasant thought,” she continued with her usual sweet smile, “that there will be one friend more in Paradise to welcome me, when it shall be my turn to be called thither. O my sweet LORD JESUS, grant that time may not be far off, but take quickly unto Thyself, the soul that longeth to be with Thee, its loving Spouse and Redeemer!”
Perhaps the reader might think it strange, that since Beatrice had so ardent a desire for martyrdom, she should yet have purposely avoided it, by fleeing for refuge to Lucina’s house; but this apparently inconsistent behaviour proceeded from her fear of offending GOD, by voluntary sacrifice, for Beatrice believed that He would be better pleased by her patient submission to His will, than by a rash and uncalled for display of her own courage, at a time when He had provided for her safety. She thought too, that at Lucina’s house she might find many opportunities of doing good, and that if in this way, her stay on earth might conduce to the benefit of others, it became her duty to prolong it. And so, by Lucina’s advice, she retired to the house of the latter, and while awaiting her Master’s own time, she spent the remaining days of her life in ministering to the wants of the sick and needy. And there is to me, but little doubt of her wisdom in so doing, for we are taught in GOD’S word, that obedience is more acceptable to Him than sacrifice, and are bidden to possess our souls in patience.
So day after day passed away rapidly, while Beatrice thus employed her time in charitable works until July was nearly past, and summer began to droop into autumn.
Meanwhile let us see what has become of
the deacon Cyriacus and his catechumen. Secundus had several companion candidates for baptism, most of whom had been admitted to preparatory instruction before himself, – two more however were added to the number towards the latter part of July, – Sergius and Alban.
Cyriacides on hearing of her aged friend’s conversion, was as may be supposed exalted to the pinnacle of delight, so that her blind mother almost wondered at her increased happiness of disposition, until the merry little girl imparted to her the cause of her satisfaction. Then her mother wondered no longer, but folding her thin hands, thanked her LORD that another disciple had been called into His vineyard, even at the eleventh hour. And now the calends of August was close at hand, and the catechumens had passed through the different grades or divisions, preparatory to baptism, hearers, kneelers and competents, and were now ready to receive the holy Sacrament itself.
The administration of baptism in August was an irregularity, as it generally took place at Easter and Whitsuntide, but in times of very bitter persecution, persons were admitted to the Church at other seasons, and the period of preparatory training was also abridged.
Tertullian after giving the reasons for preferring Easter and Pentecost for the performance
of baptismal rites, says, “Every day is the LORD’S, every hour, every time is fitting for baptism; if there be a difference as to solemnity, there is none as to grace.”
And so the time wore gradually away till July’s last sun was set, and the long anticipated day arose, which was to join Secundus and his companions to the Church of CHRIST.
Early on that eventful morning, the doubly pagan traitor Lucius arrived at the prefect’s house, and after being provided by the latter, with the carriages and men which he required, set out on his impious expedition, like another Saul, to bring his victims hound, not to Jerusalem, but to Rome.
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