THE centurion's message was duly delivered to Rhoda, nor,
thought it failed in its immediate object, was it sent
wholly in vain. The girl herself never for one moment
entertained the idea of profiting by the warning so as
to secure her own safety. She would have been even
capable of suppressing it altogether, if she could have
been quite as sure of others as she was of herself.
There was nothing that she felt to be more desirable
that the martyr's crown, and why should she hinder
those who were dear to her from attaining the same
glory? But these high-wrought feelings had not wholly
banished common sense. She was perfectly well aware
that such aspirations were beyond the average capacity
of her fellow-creatures. She doubted whether her own
sister was equal to them. She was quite sure that some
of her fellow-believers would fail under the fiery
trial of martyrdom, and she shrank from the peril of
ex-  posing them to it. Nothing could be more dreadful
than that they should fall away and deny their Lord.
It would be a deadly sin in them, and, to say the
least, a lifelong remorse to her, if she should have
led them into such temptation. Her mind was soon made
up. Her first step was to find her father, and give
him the warning, only keeping back, as she felt bound
to do, the name of her informant. Bion, whose
practical good sense told him that dangers come quickly
enough without one's going to meet them, resolved to
keep all his family at home. Under ordinary
circumstances, knowing the temper of his elder
daughter, he would have charged her on his obedience
not to venture out. But Rhoda's action in freely
coming to him with the warning that she had received,
put him off his guard. He took it for granted that
she would attend to it herself, and, not a little to
her relief, let her go without exacting any promise
The next morning she started earlier than usual for the
place of meeting. Her hope was to see the Elders,
communicate what she knew to them, and leave the matter
in their hands. They would know what was best for
their people. If they judged it better that the
disciples should hide from the storm rather than meet
it, she would obey their decision, whatever might be
disappoint-  ment. If, as she hoped, their
counsel should be "to resist unto blood," then she
would be there to share the glorious peril.
One of the little accidents, as we call them, that so
often come in to hinder the carrying out of great
plans, hindered Rhoda from accomplishing her design.
She started at an earlier hour than usual, before there
was even a glimmer of twilight, and instead of being
more careful than was her want in picking her way along
the rough lane that led from the farmhouse into the
public road, was, in her haste, more heedless. Before
she had gone fifty yards from the house, she stumbled
on a stone, and for some moments felt as if she could
not move another step. Then her resolute spirit came
to her help. "To think of the martyr's crown, and
then be daunted by a sprained ankle!" she said to
herself; and she struggled on. But all the courage in
the world could not give her back her usual speed of
foot; so that the hour of meeting had already passed
while she was still some distance from the chapel.
She was still crawling along when another of the
worshippers, a young slave who had been detained at
home by some work which he could not finish in time,
overtook her. She at once made up her mind that he
must act as her messenger, and that the message must be
as brief and emphatic as possible.
 The young man halted when he recognised her figure,
saluted her, and asked whether he could give her any
"Leave me, Dromio", she answered, "leave me to shift for
myself; but run with all the speed you can tell the
Elder Anicetus that there is danger."
Dromio waited for no second bidding. He started off
at once at the top of his speed, and as he was vigorous
and fleet of foot, he reached the place of assembly in
a very few minutes.
The celebration of the Holy Communion was going on, and
the congregation was engaged in silent prayer previous
to the distribution of the bread and wine, when the
breathless messenger, pushing aside the door-keeper who
would have barred his entrance at what seemed so
inopportune a time, burst into the midst.
"Venerable Anicetus," cried the young man, "there is
Such alarms were not unknown in those perilous times,
and though the congregation was startled, there was
nothing like panic.
Anicetus, a veteran in the service of his Master, and a
confessor who had stood more than once in peril of his
life, kept all his presence of mind.
"Be calm, my son," he said; "tell me whence or from
whom you bring this message."
 "I bring it from Rhoda the deaconess"—for as such the
girl was known, though, as has been said before, she
had not been formally admitted to the order—"I
overtook her on my way hither. She was limping along,
in pain as it seemed, though she said nothing, and she
bade me hasten on, and deliver this message."
"It is no false alarm," said the elder, "if it came
from our sister Rhoda. Saw you or heard you any signs
of an enemy as you came?"
"I saw and heard nothing," answered Dromio.
"And you came from the town?"
"Yes, from the town."
"Then the soldiers have not yet started," said the old
man in an undertone to himself, "and we have a few
moments to think."
By common consent the whole assembly waited for his
decision. This deference was not so much paid to his
office as to the man. Ordinarily such a matter would
have been discussed by the community. But Anicetus was
one of the men to whom in a time of peril all look for
guidance. After a very brief pause for deliberation he
"All brethren and sisters that are of the servile
condition will depart at once, and do their best to
escape the soldiers."
There were doubtless one or two bolder spirits among
the male slaves who murmured inwardly at
 this command.
But they obeyed it without hesitation. Indeed, they
knew only too well the cogent force or the reasoning
which dictated it. A free man or woman was exempted
by law from torture, but it might be applied to a
slave; and it would be applied almost certainly to some
at least of those who might be arrested in the act of
attending an unlawful assembly. If, on the other
hand, they could escape for the time, their masters,
even for the mere selfish motive of saving valuable
property damage, would do their best to protect them.
It was well, therefore, to get them out of the way,
both for their own sake and for the sake of the
community. The Church had found many times what a
horribly effective instrument her persecutors had in
this power of torturing the slaves. It was not that
she dreaded the truth that they might be thus compelled
to speak, it was the falsehoods that might be forced
out of them that were so much to be feared. Again and
again, miserable creatures, whose courage had broken
down under this pitiless infliction, had purchased
relief from their sufferings by inventing hideous
charges against their brethren. The mere truth had not
satisfied the persecutor, who often really believed
that there must be something more behind; and so they
had been driven, as it were, to lie.
 When the slaves were gone, Anicetus spoke again:
"Brethren and sisters, you must be brave; that, I do
not doubt, you will be. And you must be prudent;
that, to some of you, will be less easy. Therefore I
warn you. Court no danger. You shall have strength
for your day, but not beyond it. When you are
accused, be silent—as far as you may. The law does
not compel you to bring peril upon yourselves, and they
cannot force you to speak. Acts unlawful to a
Christian you will, of course, refuse. There you will
not yield so much as a hair's breadth. But see that
these acts be such as may lawfully be demanded of you.
This is the counsel that I give you, so far as things
of this life are concerned. Spiritual help you will
not lack, if, indeed, you have not believed in vain.
And now, while there is yet time, let us strengthen
ourselves with the Communion of the Body and Blood of
our Lord. It shall be provision for a way that may
lie through rough places."
Just as the Elder had finished speaking, Rhoda entered
the chapel. The strength that had supported her
through her painful journey failed when she reached its
end, and she sank, almost fainting, on the floor.
Two of the women helped her into a little ante-chamber,
and gave her such comfort and relief as was possible.
inter-  rupted rite went on. The little
congregation again offered up their hearts in silent
prayer—not less earnest, we may be sure, than that
which had been broken into by the arrival of the
messenger of danger. This ended, the sacred Bread and
Wine were administered: with what depth of feeling in
ministers and people it is impossible for us to
realize, whether (as will be the case with most who
read these lines) we are living quiet and peaceful
lives, or even are brought face to face with great
perils, such as the perils of the sea and the
battle-field. To "resist unto blood," as these weak
men and women were called to do, wanted an enthusiasm
of courage far greater than is needed for the lifeboat
or the forlorn hope.
The Communion was almost ended when a loud knocking on
the door of the meeting-house showed that the soldiers
had come. The Centurion Fabius had not ventured to
evade the duty of executing in person the order of the
Governor; but to make the actual arrest was more than
he could bring himself to endure. To enter the chapel
on such an errand would have been an intolerable
profanation. Happily, military etiquette permitted
him to delegate this duty to his deputy. It was this
officer, who had been duly cautioned to perform his
office as gently as he could, who now presented himself
at the chapel door. It was
 thrown open at once. One
point that the Christians were always careful to insist
upon was that, though they might find it prudent to
meet in secret, they had nothing to conceal. Anicetus
was just about to administer the Bread and Wine to
Rhoda—who was now partially recovered—when the
deputy centurion entered the building. With a gesture
of command, which the rough soldier felt himself
strangely constrained to obey, he motioned the man
back, and then, without a change of look or voice,
performed his sacred office.
The rite finished, he turned to the soldier, and
courteously asked him his errand. The man produced
the Governor's order to arrest all the persons who
should be found assembled in the guild-house of the
wool-combers. Anicetus perused the document
deliberately, and then returned it to the officer, with
the words, "It seems to be in order. We are ready to
The number of prisoners who had been thus taken was a
few less than forty, of whom six, including Rhoda, were
women. The men were lightly bound—that is, the
right arm of one was attached to the left arm of
another. The old knight Antistius, and the Elder
Anicetus, both of whom were Roman citizens, were not
subjected to this indignity; nor was it thought
necessary to secure the women.
 The question then arose, What was to be done with
Rhoda, who was clearly unable to walk? The deputy
consulted his chief.
"There is a woman among the arrested," he said, "whom
it will be necessary to carry, if she is to accompany
the others. Will you be pleased to give your
No sooner had Fabius heard these words than an
agonizing suspicion of the truth crossed his mind.
Something, he knew not what, told him that this
disabled woman could be no other than Rhoda herself.
The wild idea of making this a pretext for releasing
her occurred to him, only to be dismissed the next
moment. She could not be left; and if she was to be
taken, she must go with the rest. With a sinking heart
he entered the chapel, and a single glance at her
figure, though her face was turned from him, convinced
him that his fears had not been vain. It was Rhoda.
His warning had been fruitless, although a hasty glance
showed him that neither Bion nor Cleoné was among the
prisoners. She had been more careful for others than
It was agony to Fabius to feel that he was the man to
put her into the hands of her enemies, and he was glad
to leave the chapel before she could recognize him.
Meanwhile the practical difficulty had been
 solved by
an ingenious soldier who had fetched a bier from the
mortuary of the burial ground. A little contrivance
converted this into a litter. It was convenient
enough, and was made comfortable with the cloaks of the
party; but Fabius shuddered at the sight of the living
borne on the vehicle of the dead.
The departure of the soldiers from the town had not
been unnoticed, and a crowd was assembled to witness
their return. The principal street was indeed thronged
with the spectators as the prisoners were marched along
it to the Governor's quarters. A few groans and
hisses were heard at one point, where Arruns with some
of his friends had stationed himself; but on the whole
the feeling was friendly rather than hostile. Few knew
much about these Christians, but men had already begun
to find out that they were friends of the sick, the
poor, the unhappy.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics