|The Burning of Rome|
|by Alfred J. Church|
|Vivid story of Rome in the days of Nero, beginning with the burning of the city, seemingly ordered by Nero himself. The narrative revolves around a set of characters who suffer acutely in the cruel persecutions of the Christians, set in motion by Nero after the fire to deflect blame for the conflagration from himself and fasten it on the Christians. Ages 12-15 |
THE FATE OF SUBRIUS
 THE physician, whose house was in the immediate
neighbourhood, offered Subrius hospitality for the
night. The Tribune, unwilling to compromise any one by
his presence, declined it.
"There are reasons," he said, "why I should not come
under your roof; don't ask me what they are, for it is
better that you should not know. Besides, it is
necessary for me to get back to Rome as soon as may
Subrius had given up all hope for himself. Resistance
and escape were equally out of the question. Nor could
he hope to do anything for his confederates. Most of
them were already in the hands of the authorities; the
others would be infallibly named by one or other of the
informers. The only one whom he saw a chance of saving
was Pudens. Pudens was unknown to most of the
conspirators,—a simple soldier on leave who might, it
was possible, be sheltered by his obscurity. The
Tribune was inclined to reproach himself for having
involved the young man, whose frank and engaging
character had greatly attracted him, in an undertaking
which he now saw had been doomed to failure from the
 It was just possible that the mischief might be undone.
It still wanted some three or four hours of midnight.
Whatever was to be done must be done before morning,
for beyond that time the final blow could hardly be
delayed. If Pudens could be found that night, he might
The Tribune accordingly proceeded straight to the place
where the young officer was still employed in the
superintendence of public works before described.
Late as it was when he arrived, Pudens was still busy.
It was, in fact, the last day of his engagement, and he
was busy completing his final report and making up his
accounts, for he had latterly been intrusted with the
payment of the workmen. He was not alone, for the
Christian freedman, whom for some time he had employed
as his assistant, was with him, and was helping him to
wind up the affairs of his office. Curiously enough,
no tidings of the exciting events which had been going
on in Rome had reached him.
As briefly as possible Subrius put his young friend in
possession of the state of the case. "All is lost!"
he said. "By whose fault this has come about it does
not profit to inquire. For the present the fact is
enough. All but a few of our friends are already in
prison; the rest will soon be there. But there is a
chance for you. You were a stranger to most of those
who were concerned in the affair. Neither Scævinus
nor Natalis, who are the principal
in-  formers, knew you
by name. It is the greatest good luck that your
engagement here has come to an end. As it is, your
going away need excite no suspicion. My advice to you
is this: Go to-morrow morning with your report and your
accounts to your chief; but mind, don't go a moment
before the usual time. Keep as cool as you can. If he
says anything of what has happened, you, of course,
will know nothing about it. Afterwards bid good by to
any acquaintance that you may have. Mind, whatever
you do, be leisurely and calm. Let there be nothing
like hurry, for hurry is suspicious. After that I must
leave everything to your own judgment and ingenuity.
You have, I fancy from what you told me, a certain
talent for disguising yourself. You will want it. Make
your way, I should say, to the armies in the East. The
particular spot that will be safest you must judge
hereafter. The gods preserve you!"
"And you!" cried the young man. "Will not you come with
"Nay, my friend," replied Subrius, "I should spoil it
all, destroy your chance, and not profit myself."
"But Pomponia and Claudia!" said Pudens, after a pause.
"How can I leave them when I might be of some help?"
"You can do nothing," answered Subrius. "If they are to
be helped it cannot be by you. I don't even know where
they are. Lateranus, as I told you, was
 arrested and
executed. They were in his house. I did not hear of
their being taken at the same time. Anyhow it will not
profit them for you to thrust your head into the lion's
At this point the freedman interrupted the
"I think, sir," he said, "that I may be of some use,
both to the noble ladies, if they are not already
removed from Lateranus' house, and to my friend here,
if I may be permitted so to speak of him. As for him, I
do not think that it would be advisable for him to put
the plan which you suggest into execution at once. That
he should make his way some time to the army in the
East, I agree; but, I should say, not now. Now, it is
certain, all the roads, all the ports, are watched. A
little time hence this vigilance will be relaxed; then
the attempt can be made with more chance of success."
"What then do you suggest?" asked Subrius.
"We of the faith," answered the freedman, "have a
hiding-place, where we keep our most precious things,—our
books, our sacred vessels, and, in case of need,
the persons of those whom we desire to conceal from the
rage of our enemies. More I am not at liberty to say,
for I am bound to secrecy; but there is a hope, I
assure you, and I will certainly do my best to fulfil
"What say you, Pudens?" said the Tribune, turning to
the young man.
 It will readily be believed that Pudens did not
hesitate for a moment. The idea of making his own
escape, and leaving the two women to their fate, had
been extremely distasteful to him. Though he had been
compelled to confess to himself that he could give them
little or no help, he still felt a desire, perhaps an
unreasonable desire, to be near them, even, if it was
so to be, to share their fate. He caught eagerly at the
"I will stay," he said, "and take my chance here."
"Then," cried Subrius, "if that is settled, I will go."
He took an affectionate farewell of his friend, and
Some time had been occupied in the discussion, more
than would be supposed from the brief summary that has
here been given of it. It was now nearly dawn, and
broad daylight before the camp was reached.
Here, somewhat, perhaps, to his surprise, the Tribune
found everything quiet. The sentinel at the gate
saluted as usual. His soldier servant, who had been
waiting for him, showed him all the customary respect,
and roused him, after two or three hours of slumber,
with the message that the Prefect wished to have his
attendance at the Emperor's Court.
He obeyed the summons, impressed with the profound
conviction that that day was to see the end of the
desperate game which the Prefect had been playing.
 The first intelligence that he received on reaching the
Court was that Epicharis was beyond the reach of her
enemies. While on her way to the Court, where she was
to be again subjected to the torture, she had contrived
to put an end to her life.
"Thank the gods for that!" muttered the Tribune to
himself. "She, at all events, is at peace. And now for
The turn came soon enough. The Prefect had been bearing
himself all the morning, as prisoner after prisoner was
being examined, with more than his usual confidence. At
last Scævinus, who was again being questioned, when
taunted with keeping back much of what he knew, turned
upon his persecutor.
"No one knows more of these things," he said with a
meaning smile, "than yourself, Fænius Rufus. You are
very jealous for your Emperor; don't you think that you
can show your gratitude to him by making a confession
of your own?"
One would think that the man must have foreseen that,
sooner or later, one of the accused would thus attack
him. Yet he seemed as utterly unprepared for it as if
such a contingency had never occurred to him. He might
have flatly denied it; he might have passed over it
with a pretence of silent contempt. He did neither. He
hesitated, stammered, corrected and contradicted
himself, in so manifest a condition of panic that his
very appearance was equivalent to a confession.
 The example once set, Scævinus did not want for
followers. Prisoner after prisoner stood up, and gave
details so numerous, so minute, so consistent, as to
put the fact of the Prefect's complicity beyond a
"Seize him," cried Nero. "To think that this villain
has been sitting unsuspected by my side for days!"
A soldier, Cassius by name, a man of gigantic frame and
vast strength, stepped forward, seized and bound him.
"And then," cried one of the prisoners, "Cæsar, there
is another conspirator among your guards. I charge
Subrius Flavius, Tribune of the Prætorians, with
Nero started up in terror from his chair. His emotion
was not mere terror. He knew the Tribune, knew him as a
man of singular courage, and as he had always believed
one who had always entertained a strong affection for
"Say, Subrius, I implore you," he cried, "say that this
is not true. I cannot believe that you, too, are among
"Is it likely, Cæsar," replied the Tribune, "that I
should league myself with cowards and traitors such as
The defence may have been serious; more probably it was
ironical. Anyhow it was soon thrown aside. The
witnesses heaped up evidence on evidence, and
Tribune, standing calmly and contemptuously silent,
tacitly admitted its truth.
"Tell me, Subrius," said the Emperor, and there was
even a touch of pathos in his voice, "tell me why you
have forgotten your oath. You swore to be faithful to
me. How is it, brave soldier as you are, that you have
leagued yourself with traitors?"
"Listen, Cæsar," cried the Tribune, "and hear the truth
if for once only in your life. I conspired against you
because I hated you. You had not a more faithful
soldier while you deserved to be loved. But when you
murdered your mother and your wife, when you became a
charioteer, an actor, and an incendiary, then I began
to hate you."
These bold words struck the tyrant like a blow. He grew
pale and shook with terror, and could not have been
more utterly panic-stricken had the speaker been
standing over him with a dagger.
"Away with him!" he cried, when he had recovered his
voice; and he was immediately pinioned and dragged
His daring had at least one result that a brave man
would have desired. Possibly he had calculated upon it.
He was not kept in suspense about his fate. A
fellow-tribune was ordered to lead him off to instant
execution. A pit was dug in the field where he was to
suffer. Subrius looked on with unmoved countenance
while the work was being done. When the Centurion in
charge saluted and reported it
 as finished Subrius
looked at it with a critical eye.
"Too narrow, too shallow!" he said. "You can't even dig
a grave according to regulations."
"Hold out your head, and don't flinch," said the
Tribune, who had been charged to administer the fatal
blow with his own hand.
"Flinch you as little when you strike," said Subrius,
eying with scorn his pale face and trembling hand.
And indeed it needed a second blow before the head was
severed from the body.
"Ah, the villain felt that he was dying!" said Nero,
when the Tribune reported and even made a boast of what
It would be tedious to tell in detail the story of how
Nero, his rage redoubled by his fear, pursued the
conspirators with an unrelenting severity. Scarcely one
escaped, and, strangely enough, some whom by some
capricious indulgence he either acquitted or pardoned,
put an end to their own lives, unable it would seem, to
endure existence under such a master.
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