Obrázky na stránke

not risk a Roman soldier's life to save a craven Greek,” and he gave the command to march back to the city.

Meanwhile, how fares it with the unhappy Iilorus ?

When the soldiers caught sight of the Christians and began their pursuit, he had no heart to join in it, and lingered in the vaulted chamber where the funeral rites had been interrupted. The first thing that caught his eye was the epitaph of the noble Adauctus. With quavering voice he read the lines we have already given: "With unfaltering faith, despising the lord of the world, having confessed Christ, thou dids't seek the celestial realms.”

“And this was he,” le soliloquised," who gave up name, and fame, and fortune, high office, and the favour of the Emperor, and embraced shame, and persecution, and a cruel death for conscience sake. How grand he was that day when I warned liim of the machinations of bis foes--so undaunted and calm. But grander he is as he lies in the majesty of death behind that slab. I felt myself a coward in his living presence then, but in the presence of this dead man, I feel a greater coward still. His memory haunts, it tortures me, I must away!” and turuing from the chamber he wand, red by the dim light of his taper down the

grave-lined corridor, pausing at times to read their humble inscriptions :

Rudely written, but each letter
Full of hope, and yet of heart-break,
Full of all the tender pathos

of the here and the hereafter.
And their calmness and peacefulness seemed to
reproach his conscience-smitten and unrestful

Listlessly he turned into another chamber, when, what was it that met his startled vision !

VALERIA DORMIT IN PACE. There slept in the sleep of death another victim of his perfidy, one whom he had longed to save, one whose beauty had fascinated his imagination, whose goodness had touched his heart. Overcome by his emotion he flung himself on the ground, and bursting into convulsive sobs that shook his frame, he passionately kissed the cold stone slab on which was written the much-loved naine.

"Would that I, too, slep: the sleep of death,” he exclaimed; “if I might also sleep in peace; if I might seek celestial realms. . . So near and yet

A great gulf fixed . . Never to see thee niore in time nor in eternity.”

IIere the drip, drip of water which had infiltrated through the roof and fell upon the floor,

so far ..

[ocr errors]

ja meú upon his excited nerves, and suddenly, with a hissing splash, fell a great drop on his taper and utterly extinguished its light. For a moment, so intense and sudden was the darkness, he was almost dazed; but instantly the greatness of his peril flashed upon his mind.

"Lost ! Lust!” he frantically shrieked. “The outer darkness, the eternal wailing—while she is in the light of life! Well I remember now the words of Frimitius, in this very vault, as he spoke of the joys of heaven, the pains of hell;" and in the darkness he tried to trace with his finger the words, “DORMIT IN PACE"_“Sleeps in peace.”

" Vale! Vale ! Eternum Vale!he solbed, as he kissed once, more the marble slab, lasting farewell! I must try to find the Christians, or the soldiers, or a way of escape from this prison-house of graves."

He groped his way to the docr of the vault and listened, oh! so eagerly-all the faculties of his body and inind seeming concentered in his sense of liearing. But the darkness gave no token and the silence was unbroken.” Nay, so awful was the stillness that brooded over this valley of death, that it seemed as if the motion of the earth on its axis must be auible, and the pulses of his temples were to his tortured ear like the roaring of the distant sea.

Venturing forth, le groped his way from grave

an ever

to grave, from vanlt to vault, from corridor to corridor, but no light, no sound, no hope! Ever denser seemed the darkness, ever deeper the silence, ever more appalling the gloom. For hours he wandered on and on till, faint with hunger, parched with thirst, the throbbings, of his heart shaking his unnerved frame, he fell into a merciful swoon from which he never awoke. Centuries after, an explorer of this vast necropolis found crouching in the corner of one of its chambers a fleshless skeleton, and on the tomb above he read the words, VALERIA DORMIT IN PACE. Was it accident or Providence, or some strange instinct of locality that had brought this poor Llighted wreck to breathie lis latest sigh at the tomb of one whom he had so loved and so wronged ?

The peasants of the Campagna teil to the present day of certain stranye sounds heard at midnight from those hollow vaults--at times like the hooting of an owl, at times like the wailing of the wind, and at times, they whisper with bated breath, like the morning of a soul in pain. And the guides to the Catacombs aver, that ever on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Valeria Callirhoë, sighs and groans echo through the hollow vaults—the sighs and groans, tradition whispers, of a wretched apostate who in the ages of persecution betrayed the early Christians to a martyr's dooin.

[graphic][merged small][merged small]

- IT remains only to trace briefly the fate of

the unfortunate Empress Valeria-less happy than her lowly namesake, the martyr of the Catacombs-and the doom of the persecuting tyrants. In the violent and bloody deaths, often more terrible than those which they inflicted on the Christians, which overtook, with scarce an exception, these enemies of the Church of God, the early believers recognized a divine retribution no less inexorable than the avenging Nemesis of the Pagan mythology.*

Diocletian, smitten by a mental malady, abandoned the throne of the world for the solitude of his palace on the Illyrian shores of the Adriatic,

* See Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum, Passim; Eusebius Hist. Ecclec. viii. 17 ; ix. 9, 10; Tertullian ad Scap., c. 3.

« PredošláPokračovať »