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join in psalms and hymns, and strive who best can praise God. Christ rejoices at the sight, and sends His peace upon them. Where two are in His name He also is; and where He is, there evil cannot come.”

CIIAPTER XXI.

A CRIME PREVENTED.

HE

towards the Empress Valeria, foiled in its attempt to invoke upon her the penalties of the edict against the Christians, sought, by secret means, to procure her death. Juba, the black slave, was heavily bribed to prepare some of her most subtle poisons and procure their administration. But here a difficulty presented itself, and it is a striking illustration of the corruption of the Empire and of the daily peril in which the inliabitants of the Imperial palace dwelt-a state of peril which finds its modern analogue only in the continual menace under which the Czar of all the Russias lives, with a sword of Damocles suspended by a single hair above his head. Such was the atmosphere of suspicion which pervaded the whole palace, such the dread of assassination or of poisoning, that trusty guards and

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TIIE MARTYR OF THE CATACOMES.

officers swammed in the ante-chambers and prevented access to the members of the Imperial family except under the most rigid precautions of safety; and a special officer was appointed, whose duty, as his title of Pragustulor implies, was to taste every kind of froil or vlriuk provided for the Imperial talle. Regard for his personal safety was, of course, a guarantee that the utmost precautions were observed in preparing the daily food of the Imperial household. Juba in vain attempted to bribe some of the kitchen scullions and cooks to mix with the savoury viands designed for the use of Valeria, who generally lunchell in lier private apartments, a potent poison. They accepted, indeed, her bribes, but prudently declined to carry out their part of the agreement, well knowing that she dare not venture to criminate herself by an open rupture with them.

At length she resolved on attempting a more subtle but less certain mode of administering a deadly drug. While in the service of a priest of Isis in Egypt, she had extorted or cujoled from an Abyssinian slave in his service certain dark secrets, learned it was said by the Queen of Sheba froin Solomon, and handed down from age to age as the esoteric lore of the realm. One of these was the preparation of a volatile poison so subtle and powerful that its were inhalation was of

deadly potency. As a means of conveying this to her victim, and at the same time of disguising the pungent aromatic odour, a basket of flowers which she had plentifully sprinkled with the deadly poison was sent to the Empress. To make assurance doubly sure, she concealed among the flowers one of those beautiful but deadly asps, such as that from the bite of which the dusky Queen of Egypt, the wanton Cleopatra, died. This, for purposes connected with her nefarious arts, she had procured—as what evil thing could not be procured ?-- from the dealers in deadly drugs, philtres, and potions in the crowded Ghetto of Rome.

To ensure the conveyance of the deadly gist to the hands of Valeria herself, Juba invented the fiction that they were a thankoffering from the young Greek, Isidorus, to his Imperial patroness for favours received. With her characteristic cunning Juba had possessed herself of the secret of his services rendered to the Empress, and of the interest felt in him by her august mistress.

Valeria was in her boudoir with her favourite and now inseparable Callirhoë, as her tire woman, dressing her hair, when the fatal missive arrived. As Callirloë received the basket from the hands of Juba, the eyes of the slave gleamed with the deadly hate of a basilisk, and she mutiered as she turned away

May the curse of Isis rest on them both. My fine lady has driven black Juba from the tiring room of the Express. May she now share her fate," and, like a sable Atropos, she glided from the chamber with stealthy and cat-like tread.

« Oh! what fresh and fragrant flowers," exclaimed the Empress Valeria, as she bent over them, "sce how the dew is yet fresh upon thicir petals.” Here she raised the basket so as more fully to inhale their fragrance. At that moment the concealed and deadly asp whose dark green and glossy skin had prevented its detection among the acanthus and lily lcaves, siczed, with his envenomed fang, the damask chcek of the fair Valeria, and for a moment clung firmly there.

"O God, save her!” exclaimed Callirloë, who in a moment recognized the cruel aspic, of which, as a child, she had been often warned in her native Antioch, and with an eager gesture she flug the venomous reptile to the ground and crushed its head beneath her sandal's heel. On the quick instinct of the moment and without stopping to think of the consequences to herself, she threw her arms about her Imperial mistress' neck, and pressing her lips to her check, sucked the venom from the yet bleeding wound.

The cry of the Einpress as the little serpent stung her cheek brought a swarm of attendants and slaves into the room, among them black Juba

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