AN OLD STORY
 VERUS bent on the old man the same closely scrutinising look
with which he had regarded the slave. Again he failed,
it seemed, to connect the face with any recollections
in his mind. There was, as we shall see, a dark past
in his life which he was most unwilling to have dragged
into the light. But he had no reason to associate
Antistius with it, and nothing more than a vague sense
of distrust haunted him, but he felt that if the old
man had anything to say against him, he would be a far
more formidable witness than the young Phrygian slave.
"You have been in Rome?" said the knight to Verus.
"Yes," he answered; "but not for some years past."
"Nor I," went on the old man; "nor do I want ever to
see it again. She is the mother of
 harlots, drunken
with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the
martyrs of Jesus! But when I left it last, seventeen
years ago, I carried away with me a memorial of a deed
that I shall never forget, nor you either, if there is
any thing human in you."
The speaker produced from the folds of his toga a small
packet wrapped in a cover of silk. Unwrapping it with
reverent care, he brought out a handkerchief stained
nearly all over of a dull brownish red.
"Know you this?" he said to Verus.
"Why do you ask me? What have I to do with it?"
answered the man, with a certain insolence in his tone.
The majority in his favour made him confident.
"Yet you should know it, for it is a blood that was
shed by your hands, though the blow was dealt by the
axes of Cæsar. If seventeen years are enough to make
you forget the martyr Flavius, yet there are those who
It is impossible to describe the effect which these
words produced. In those days of peril, next to his
love for his God and Saviour, the strongest emotion in a
Christian's heart was his reverence for the martyrs.
They were the champions who had fought and fallen for
his faith, for all that he held dearest and most
 could not, he thought, reverence too much
their patience and their courage. Were these not the
virtues which he might at any hour be himself called on
This reverence had, of course, its meaner counterpart
in a base and cowardly nature such as Verus'. The man
had not belief enough to make him honest and pure; but
he had enough to give him many moments of agonizing
fear. It was such a fear that overpowered him now.
Any wrongdoer might tremble when thus confronted with
the visible, palpable relic of a crime which he
believed to be unknown or forgotten. But this was no
ordinary wickedness. The betrayer of a martyr was
looked upon with a horror equal to the reverence which
attached itself to his victim.
Nor was it only the scorn and hatred of his fellow-men
that he had to dread. There were awful stories on the
men's lips of informers and traitors who had been
overtaken by a vengeance more terrible than any that
human hands could inflict; and these crowded upon the
wretched creature's recollection. His face could not
have shown a more overpowering fear had the pit itself
opened before him. The staring eyes, the forehead and
cheeks turned to a ghastly paleness and dabbled with
cold drops of sweat, proved a
 terror that in itself was
almost punishment enough.
But the criminal was almost forgotten in the thrill of
admiring awe that went through the whole assembly.
With one impulse men and women surged up to the place
where the old knight was standing with the venerable
relic in his hand. To see it close, if it might be to
press their lips to it, was their one desire. The old
man was nearly swept off his feet by the rush. The
minister stepped forward, and took him within the
sanctuary at the end of the meeting-house. The habit
of reverence kept the people from pressing beyond the
line which separated it from the body of the building,
and they were partially satisfied when the handkerchief
was held up for their gaze.
When silence and quiet had been restored, Antistius
told his story.
"I went to Rome in the last year of Domitian's reign.
It was at the season of the holiday of Saturn, which as
some of you know, the heathen in Italy keep in the
month of December. But it was no holiday time in
Rome. The Emperor was mad with suspicious rage, and no
man's life was safe for an hour; and the higher the
place, the greater the danger. Yet there was one whom,
though he was near to the throne, every one thought to
be safe. This was Flavius
 Clemens. He was the
Emperor's cousin: his sons were the next heirs to the
throne. He was the gentlest, the least ambitious of
men. It is true that he was a Christian, and the
Emperor's rage at the time burned more fiercely against
the Christians than against any one else; but the
Emperor knew it, had known it for years, and had made
him Consul in spite of it.
"When I reached Rome, he was near the end of his year
of office. I dined with him on the Ides of December,
for he was an old friend, and he told me—for we were
alone—how he looked forward to being rid of his
honours. 'Only eighteen days more,' he said, 'and I
shall be free!'' Ah! he spoke the truth, but he
little thought how the freedom was to come. He told
me, I remember, what an anxious time his Consulship had
been. The Consul, you see, has to see many things, and
even do many things, which a Christian would gladly
avoid. To sit at the theatre, to look on at the horrid
butchery of the games, to be present at the public
sacrifices, these are the things which a man can hardly
do without sin.
" 'But', he said, 'my good cousin, the Emperor, has
considered me. Happily he has been my colleague, and
he has taken a hundred duties off my hands, which would
have been a grievous burden on me.' And then he went to
tell me of some
 troubles which had arisen in the
Church. A certain Verus had the charge of the
pensions paid to the widows, and of other funds devoted
to the service of the poor, and he had embezzled a
large part of them. 'You see,' he went on, 'we are
helpless. We cannot appeal to the courts, as we have
no standing before them; in fact, our witnesses would
not dare to come forward. For a man to own himself a
Christian would be certain death; and though one is
ready for death if it comes, we must not go to meet it.
So, whether we will or no, we must deal gently with
this Verus.' And he did deal gently with him. Of
course, he had to be dismissed; but he was not even
asked to repay what he had taken—Flavius positively
paid the whole of the deficiency out of his own pocket.
And he spoke in the kindest way, I know, to the wretch,
hoped that it would be a lesson to him, begged him to
be an honest man in the future, and even offered to
lend him money to start in business with.
"And yet the fellow laid an information against him
with the Emperor! It would not have been enough to
charge him with being a Christian; he was accused of
witchcraft, and of laying plots against the Emperor's
life. He used to mention Domitian's name in his
prayers, for he was his kinsman as well as his emperor,
and they got some
 wretched slave to swear that he heard
him mutter incantations and curses. And Domitian, who
was mad with fear—as he well might be, considering
all the innocent blood that he had shed—believed it.
"I shall never forget what I saw in the senate-house
that day. It was the last day of the year,
Flavius was to resign his office. There sat Domitian
with that dreadful face, a face of the colour of blood,
with such a savage scowl as I never saw before or since.
Flavius took the oath that he had done the duties of
his office with good faith, and then came down from his
chair of office.
"In the common course of things the senate would have
been adjourned at once. But that day the Emperor stood
up. What a shudder ran through the assembly! Every
one saw that the tale of victims for that year was not
yet told. The question was, whose name was to be
added? Domitian called on Regulus, a wretch who had
grown gray in the trade of the informer. He rose in
his place. 'I accuse Flavius Clemens, ex-consul, of
treason,' he said. Why should I weary you, my brethren,
with the wretched tale? To name a man in those days
was to condemn him. I have
 heard it said by men who
have crossed the deserts of the South that if a beast
drops sick or weary on the road, in a moment the
vultures are seen flocking to it from every quarter of
the sky. Before, not one could be seen; but scarce is
the dying beast stretched on the sand, but the air is
black with their wings. So it was then. One day a
man might seem not to have an enemy; let him be
accused, and on the morrow they might be numbered by
"Flavius, as I have said, was the gentlest, kindest,
most blameless of men. But had he been the worst
criminal in Rome, witnesses could not have been found
more easily to testify against him. They brought in
that wretched slave with his story of muttered
"You will say, perhaps, 'But he could not bear witness
against his master!' Ah! my friends, they had a device
to meet that difficulty. They sold him first, and,
mark you, without his master's consent, to the State.
Then he could give evidence, and the law not be broken.
Then this villain Verus came forward. He told the same
story, and with this addition, that he had been bribed
to keep the secret, and he brought out the letter in
which Flavius had offered him the money, as I have told
you. Kind as ever, the Consul had written thus:
'We will bury this matter in
 silence. Meanwhile you
shall not want means for your future support.
Flaccus the banker shall pay you 100,000 sesterces
"Then senator after senator rose and repeated something
that they had heard him say, or had heard said of him—for
no evidence was refused in that court. At last
one Opimius stood up. 'Lord Cæsar,' he said, 'and
Conscript Fathers, of the chief of the crimes of
Flavius no mention has been made. I accuse him of the
detestable superstition of the Christians.'
" 'Answer for yourself,' said the Emperor, turning to
"He stood up. Commonly, I was told, he was a faltering
speaker, but that day his words came clear and without
hindrance. We know, my brethren, Who was speaking by
his lips. He spoke briefly and disdainfully of the
other charges, utterly breaking down the evidence, as
any other court on earth but that would have held.
Then he went on, 'But as to what Opimius has called
"the detestable superstition of the Christians," I
confess it, affirming at the same time that this same
superstition has made me more loyal to all duties,
public or private, of a citizen of Rome. I appeal to
Cæsar, who hath known me from my boyhood, as one kinsman
knows another, and who, being aware of my belief,
 me this dignity of the Consulship, which
is next only to his own majesty. I appeal to Cæsar
whether this be not so.'
"He turned to Domitian as he spoke. That unchanging
flush upon the tyrant's face fortified him, as I have
heard it said, against shame. But he kept his eyes
fixed upon the ground, and for a while he was silent.
Then he said, 'I leave the case of Flavius Clemens to
the judgment of the fathers.'
"You will ask, 'Did no one rise to speak for him?' I
did see one half-rise from his seat. They told me
afterwards that it was one Cornelius Tacitus, a famous
writer, but his friends that were sitting by caught his
gown and dragged him back, and he was silent. And
indeed, speech would have served no purpose but to
involve him in the ruin of the accused.
"Then the Emperor spoke again, 'We postpone this matter
till to-morrow.' Then turning to the lictors—
" 'Lictors,' he said, 'conduct Flavius Clemens to his
home. See that you have him ready to produce when he
shall be required of you.'
"This, you will understand, was what was counted mercy
in those days. A man not condemned was allowed the
opportunity of putting an end to his own life. That
saved his property for
 his family. In the evening I
went to Flavius's house. He was surrounded by kinsfolk
and friends. With one voice they were urging him to
kill himself. Even his wife—she was not a Christian,
you should know—joined her entreaties to theirs.
Perhaps she thought of the money, and it was hard to
choose beggary instead of wealth; certainly she thought
of the disgrace. Were she and her children to be the
widow and orphans of a criminal or an ex-consul?
"He never wavered for an instant. 'When my Lord offers
me the crown of martyrdom,' he said, 'shall I put it
from me?' That was his one answer; and though before
he had been always yielding and weak of will, he did
not flinch a hair's-breadth from this purpose.
"That night, I was told, he slept as calmly as a child.
The next day he was taken again to the Senate, and
condemned. But I heard that at least half of the
senators had the grace to absent themselves. One favour
the Emperor granted to him, as a kinsman; he might
choose the manner and place of his death. He chose
death by beheading, and the third milestone on the road
to Ostia. It was then and there that the holy Apostle
Paul had suffered; and Paul, whom he had heard in his
youth, was his father in the faith. I saw him die; and
besides his memory, that
 handkerchief, stained with his
blood, is all that remains to me of him."
"What answer you to these charges?" said the minister
He said nothing; and his silence itself was a
Still it would have ill become the Church to act in
haste. Antistius was asked to give proofs of the
identity of the Verus who was present that day with the
Verus who had brought about the death of Clemens. The
old man told how his suspicions had been first aroused;
how a number of circumstances, trifling in themselves
had turned this suspicion into certainly. And he then
indicated, though only in outline, his discoveries—that
Verus had been following again the same dishonest
practices that had brought him into disgrace at Rome.
He promised that he would bring the evidence in detail
before the Church at some future time.
The accused was still silent.
Then the minister addressed him:—"Verus, you have
heard what has been witnessed against you. We do not
repent that you were acquitted of the first charges.
Be they true or no—and what we have since heard
inclines us to believe them—they were not rightly
proved. God forbid that the Church should be less
 justice than the tribunals of the
unbeliever; but to the accusations of Antistius you
yourself oppose no denial. Therefore hear the sentence
of the Church.
"I have thought whether, after the
example of the holy Apostle Paul, I should deliver you
over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. I do
not doubt either of my power or of your guilt; yet I
shrink from such severity. Therefore I simply sever
you from the Communion of the Church. Repent of your
sin, for God gives you, in His mercy, a place for
repentance. Make restitution for aught in which you
have wronged your brethren, or them that are without.
And now depart!"
The congregation left a wide space, as if to avoid even
the chance of touching the garment of the guilty man,
as he hurried, with his head bent downwards to the
When he had gone, the minister addressed the
"Brothers and sisters," he said, "I cannot doubt but
that we shall be soon called to resist unto blood.
There are signs that grow plainer every day, that the
rulers of this world are gathering themselves together
against Christ and His Church. It was but yesterday
that I received certain news of that of which we had
before heard rumours, to
 wit, that the holy Ignatius of
Antioch suffered at Rome, being thrown to the wild
beasts by command of the Emperor. But the fury that
begins at Rome spreads ever into the provinces, and it
cannot be hoped that we shall escape. We have this day
made an enemy, for assuredly Caius Verus will not
forget the disgrace that he has suffered, but will
betray us, even as Judas betrayed his Lord. Therefore
it becomes us to be ready. Provoke not the danger,
lest your pride go before a fall. Many a time have
they that were over-bold and presumptuous failed in the
time of peril, and so have sinned against their own
souls and done dishonour to the name of Christ. So far,
therefore, as lieth in you, study to be quiet; and
assuredly, when the time of need shall come, you will
not be the less bold to confess Him who died for you.
More I will say, if the Lord permit, when the occasion
comes. Should it seem dangerous to meet in this place,
I will summon those with whom I would speak to my own
Some words of advice about smaller matters connected
with the management of the Church affairs followed this
address. He then pronounced a blessing, and the
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics