AMONG the many martyrs who long ago gave up their lives, rather than deny their Master, we love to remember one little maid—a child-martyr and saint. We do not know a great deal about her, for she lived so very long ago, but what we know makes us love and honour her, and speak her name with reverence.
Faith was the name of this little maiden, and her home was in France, in the pleasant country of Aquitaine. Her parents were rich and noble, and she was brought up carefully, and taught to be courteous and gentle to every one. But she did not need much teaching, for her nature was sweet and pure, and her face was fair, with the beauty that shines from within.
The town in which little Faith lived was called Agen, and lay at the foot of a high rugged hill, which seemed to keep guard over it. It was a quiet little place, and most of the people who dwelt there were Christians, living happily together with the good bishop at their head.
But one day a heavy cloud of dust was seen rolling along the highroad that led over the mountains to the city gates. And messengers came running breathlessly into the town, warning the people that a great company of soldiers was marching towards them. It was thought they had come from Spain, and the news spread like wildfire through the town that Dacian, the cruellest governor of all that country, was riding at their head.
In fear and trembling the people waited. They stood in little knots, talking under their breath of all the evil this man had done; or shutting themselves into their houses, they scarcely dared to look out at the windows. And soon the great company came sweeping in, swords clattering and armour glittering in the sunshine, rough soldiers laughing carelessly as they rode past the frightened faces. And at their head a cruel, evil-looking man who glared from side to side, as if he were a wild beast seeking his prey.
Doubtless it pleased him to see how every one trembled before him, and he smiled scornfully to think how easy a task it would be to teach these Christians to deny their God and drag their faith in the dust.
And soon the reason of his coming was known to all, for he ordered it to be proclaimed in the market-place, that every Christian who refused to sacrifice to the heathen gods should be tortured and put to death. And to make his meaning quite plain, the soldiers spread out all the terrible instruments of torture, so that men might know exactly what lay before them if they refused to deny Christ.
But in the night the terrified Christians stole silently out of the town, and climbing the high hill that overlooked the city, they hid themselves in the great caves among the rocks.
Scarcely any one was left behind: even the good bishop was afraid to stay and face the danger, and it seemed as if Christ would have no one to fight on His side against the evil company.
But when morning came, and the furious Dacian discovered that every one had fled, he sent his soldiers to search and bring any who might remain hidden in the city, that he might wreak his vengeance on them.
And among the few that were left they brought to him the little maid Faith. She was only a little child, but she did not know what fear meant.
"'You cannot hurt me," she said, looking at the cruel, angry faces around her, "because I am not yours, but God's."
And then she signed herself with the sign of the cross, and with bent head prayed:
"Lord Jesus, teach my lips to answer their questions aright, so that I may do Thee no dishonour."
Then Dacian looked in anger at the child standing there with clasped hands and steadfast eyes, and asked her roughly:
"What is thy name?"
"My name is Faith," the little maid replied with gentle courtesy.
"And what God dost thou serve?" asked the cruel governor.
"I am a Christian, and I serve the Lord Christ," replied the child.
"Deny Him, and sacrifice to our gods," thundered the governor, "else shalt thou endure every kind of torture, until there is no life left in thy young body."
But Faith stood with head erect and hands clasped tight together. Not even the ugly instruments of torture could frighten her.
"I serve the Lord Christ," she said, "and you cannot hurt me, because I am His."
Such a little maid she was, standing there among those rough, cruel men, offering her life gladly for the faith of her Master. Such a few years she had spent in this bright world, and so many stretched in front, holding pleasures and promises in store. And now she must give up all, must put aside the little white robe and golden sandals, and take instead the robe of suffering, and go barefoot to meet the pain and torture that awaited her.
And though they scourged her, and made her suffer many cruel torments, they could not bend her will, nor break her faith. Indeed it seemed as if she did not feel the pain and anguish.
And God stooped down, and gathered the little faithful soul into His bosom. And when the people looked, the child was dead.
But in the cave among the mountains that very day the bishop sat, sad and troubled.
He was gazing away across the plain to where the town lay half hidden in the mist, thinking of those faithful few who had chosen to stay behind. And suddenly the mist broke in front, and a vision stood out clear before him. He saw the child Faith being scourged and tortured; he saw the flames leaping around her, and then, as he looked again, lo! her head was encircled with a golden crown set with precious stones, each jewel sparkling with light. And from heaven a white dove came gently flying down, and rested on the child's head, while from its wings a soft dew fell that quenched the flames.
And as the vision faded, the bishop bowed his head in his hands and wept. The thought of what this child had dared to endure for her Master, while he had shrunk from suffering aught for His sake, filled his heart with shame. He could not stay there in safety while any of his people might suffer as she had done.
So that night he returned to the city to help and comfort the few remaining Christians. Before long he too was called upon to suffer death for his Lord, and many others gave themselves up, led by the example of little Faith.
Some say that even the rough soldiers were touched by the child's death, and many became Christians. They began to think that such a religion was worth living for, if it could teach even a child to die so bravely.
And so, though she lived such a short time on earth, she did a very wonderful work for God, and we call her now Saint Faith, thinking often of her as we read these words:
"A little child shall lead them."