Upon his sculptured judgment throne the Roman Ruler sate;
His glittering minions stood around in all their gorgeous state;
But proud as were the noble names that flashed upon each shield -
Names known in lofty council halls as well as tented field -
None dared approach to break the spell of deep and silent gloom
That hover'd o'er his haughty brow, like shadow of the tomb.
While still he mused the air was rent with loud and deaf'ning cry,
And angry frown and darker smile proclaimed the victim nigh.
No traitor to his native land, no outlaw fierce was there,
'Twas but a young and gentle girl, as opening rose bud fair,
Who stood alone among those men, so dark and full of guile,
And yet her cheek lost not its bloom, her lips their gentle smile.
At length he spoke, that ruthless chief, in tones both stern and dread:
"Girl! listen! mark me well, or else thy blood be on thy head!
Thou art accused of worshipping Jesus the Nazarene -
Of scorning Rome's high, mighty Gods, - speak, say if this has been?
I fain would spare thee, for thy name among our own ranks high;
Thine age, thy sex, my pity move, I would not see thee die!
"If thou hast dared at foreign shrine to rashly bend the knee,
Recant thine errors, and thy guilt cancelled at once shall be."
Undaunted spoke she, "In His steps unworthy have I trod,
And spurned the idols vain of Rome for Him, the Christian's God.
I fear not death, however dread the ghastly shape he wear,
He whom I serve will give me strength thy torments all to bear."
Darker than e'en the darkest cloud became her judge's brow,
And stern the threats he thundered forth. "What dost thou dare avow?
Retract thy words, or, by the Gods! I swear that thou shall die!"
Unmoved she met his angry frown - his fierce and flashing eye:
"Nay, I have spoken - hasten now, fulfil thy direful task,
The martyr's bright and glorious crown is the sole boon I ask."
Fierce was the struggle raging then within her judge's breast,
For she, that girl, in tones of love, he once had low addressed;
And lowly as his haughty heart at earthly shrine might bow
He'd loved the being, young and bright, who stood before him now.
With iron might he'd nerved himself to say the words of fate,
To doom to death the girl he sought - but sought in vain - to hate.
Yet now, e'en in the final hour, 'spite of his creed of crime,
His ruthless heart and fierce belief, love triumphed for a time.
"Irene! girl!" he wildly prayed, "brave not Rome's fearful power!
Mad as thou art, she'll pardon thee, e'en in the eleventh hour;
Cast but one grain of incense on yon bright and sacred fire,
And outraged as thy rulers are, 'twill calm their lawful ire!"
"Bend but thy knee before the shrine where we've so often knelt,
Joined in the same pure orisons - the same emotion felt;
Forsake a creed whose very God with scorn was crucified - ,
Irene, hear me, and thou It be again my life and pride!"
He pressed the censer in her hand, of which one single throw
Would have restored her all the state, the bliss, that earth might know;
But she, inspired by heavenly grace, the censer dashed aside:
"I've said I but believe in Him who on Mount Calvary died!"
He spoke no word, her cruel judge had hurled his glittering dart;
Barbed with relentless rage, it found his victim's dauntless heart.
She but had time to breathe a prayer that he might be forgiven,
And in that breath her spotless soul had passed from earth to heaven.