Read CHAPTER IX - A DIFFICULT QUEST of Valeria The Martyr of the Catacombs, free online book, by William Henry Withrow, on

The Empress Valeria had not forgotten her purpose to discover, if possible, the father of her freed-woman, Callirhoe, and at the earliest opportunity took steps to accomplish her design. It was, she knew, a task of much difficulty, and one that required an intelligent and confidential agent. It was also of the utmost importance that some sign of identity should be exhibited as a guarantee of the good faith of the agent. With this view the Empress one day, as she sat at her toilet in the apartment described in our third chapter, thus interrogated her freed-woman and namesake, Valeria Callirhoe.

“Hast thou any token, child,” she asked, “by which, should we find thy father, he would be assured of thy identity?”

“I was despoiled of everything, your Majesty,” said the girl, “by the pirates by whom we were captured; except the clothes in which I stood. All my rings and jewellery were rudely snatched away, and I never saw them again.”

“What is that little amulet I have seen thee wear?” asked the Empress; “I think thou hast it now.”

“Oh, that was so trivial and valueless,” said Callirhoe, that they either overlooked it or thought it not worth taking; and she drew from the folds of her robe, where it hung suspended by a silken cord about her neck, a cornelian stone, carved into the shape of a tiny fish, on which was inscribed the word, or “Saviour,” and on the other side the letters a contraction for “Callirhoe daughter of Demetrius.”

“Trivial as it is,” said the girl, with emotion, “it is something which I value above all price. My sainted mother, before she died, took it from her neck and put it upon mine; and I hope to wear it while I live.”

“You do not regard it as an amulet, or charm against evil spirits, I am sure, like some Christians, who have not quite shaken off their pagan superstitions.”

“Nay, your Majesty, but as a symbol of our holy faith. Yet it might well be a spell to keep my soul from sin, so sacred are its associations.”

“I want you to give it to me,” said the Empress.

“It is yours, your Majesty,” said the girl, taking it from her neck, and passionately kissing it. “To no one else on earth would I give it; but from my best benefactress I can withhold nothing.”

“I would not put thee to the pain of parting with it,” said the Empress, with a kind caress, “but I need it as a clue, to find, if possible, thy father, and when found, as an identification of his child. I do not wish to raise hopes which may be doomed to disappointment; but I am about to make a strenuous effort to discover thy sire.”

“A thousand thanks, dearest lady,” exclaimed the grateful girl, kissing her mistress’s hands and bedewing them with her tears. “I feel sure that God will reward your efforts, and answer my ceaseless prayers.”

In pursuance of her purpose, the Empress wrote upon a scroll of parchment the following letter to her faithful counsellor, Adauctus:

“Valeria, consort of the co-Emperor Galerius Caesar to Adauctus,
Treasurer of the Imperial Exchequer, greeting:

“Honoured Servant, Thy mistress hath need of a faithful and intelligent agent, to execute a delicate and difficult mission. He must be of good address, and must be a man whom I can implicitly trust. When thou hast found such, bring him with thee to the palace.” L.S.

Having bound the scroll with a silken cord, and affixed her signet in purple wax, and addressed the document to the Imperial Treasurer, she sent it by a soldier of the guard, whom we would describe in modern parlance as an orderly-in-waiting, to Adauctus.

During the latter part of the day, the chamberlain announced a visit from “His Excellency the Imperial Treasurer.” That officer was received with much honour by the Empress, who was attended only by her faithful freed woman.

“Many thanks, your Excellency, for your prompt attendance. Have you found me the paragon whom I require?”

“I cannot avouch for that, your Majesty, but he is highly commended by his master, an honest soldier, who places him at your Majesty’s service. Of his nimble wit and subtle parts, I can myself bear witness, and my own servant testifies that if not a Christian, he is at least a sincere inquirer after the truth.”

The Empress briefly explained the nature of the commission which she wished executed, and asked that the proposed agent, who waited in an ante-room, might be presented. In a moment the chamberlain announced our old friend Isidorus. With bowed head and hands folded upon his breast, he stood on the threshold, and then advancing, knelt gracefully before the Empress. He evidently made a good impression, for her Majesty smiled graciously and said:

“It is a difficult quest on which I would send thee, but thou shalt be well rewarded for thy fidelity and zeal.”

“My humble services, my life, are at your Majesty’s disposal,” said the Greek. “I shall deem myself well rewarded by your Majesty’s favour.”

“See’st thou this lady?” asked the Empress, pointing to Callirhoe. “To find her sire in this wide world that is thy task;” and she briefly explained the nature of the commission.

The youth gazed long and earnestly on the fair face of the girl, and replied, “Those features once seen can never be forgotten. If I find anywhere on earth aught resembling them, I shall not fail to recognize the likeness. In such a quest I would gladly search the wide world over.”

“My chamberlain will amply equip you for your journey, and will give you a letter, with the Emperor’s seal, to all the Roman prefects in Italy; and, by the Divine favour, I trust you will bring us good tidings.”

“So may it be,” said the youth, as he retired from the presence, giving, as he did so, a lingering look at Callirhoe, who, with dilated eyes and parted lips, gazed at him with an intensity of entreaty that would have proved an inspiration to a less susceptible nature than his.