Roman Luck

by Penrod

We have come to report, Sirs.

Report? You haven't left the tomb of the imposter unguarded already?

There is nothing to guard, Your Holinesses.

What do you mean? Where is the body of Jesus?

We don't know.

You don't know? You mean it's gone? Did some Galileans overpower you brave, strong Romans and steal the body?

No, sirs. That would never happen. We were knocked out by the earthquake and the blinding light of. . . .

Earthquake? What earthquake?

The one at dawn, Your Holinesses.

There was no earthquake.

On our honor, Sirs, there was a great shaking of the earth at the sepulcher. While the earth was shaking and the thunder cracking, a huge man, brilliant as lightning, came suddenly. He picked up the stone from the tomb — as easily as I pick up my baby daughter — and tossed it. aside.

Preposterous! Well, I suppose we should hear the rest of your lies. What happened after that?

We don't know, Sirs. We were stunned and lost consciousness.

You were stunned?

Yes, Sir.

How long were you unconscious?

We don't know, Your Holiness. When I came to, it had become much lighter. I was the first to awaken.

Awaken? That's more like it. You worthless guards fell asleep and now you are making up a fantastic story to cover your negligence.

Not so, Sirs.

What were you drinking?

Nothing, Sir.

How do you explain your story if you weren't drunk? If not last night, then you must have bee drinking the night before so that you fell asleep while the Galileans stole the body of their phony messiah.

Sirs, it was as we told you. We have never slept on duty.

When you awoke from your sleep, where was the stone?

About four meters from the entrance to the tomb.

Did you examine the scene? Did you investigate the tracks? Could you see the marks of footprints or the marks from dragging of the body?

The ground is mostly hard and stony there, but we did see a few foot prints, Women's prints I would say, your Holiness.

Women's prints? Are you trying to be difficult? Women could not have carried the body away. Anything else that you noticed with your acute perceptions?

Inside the tomb there were some linen cloths and a napkin.

This is hopeless! Joshua, go call the elders together to discuss this matter. Tell them it is urgent.

I'll take care of it right away.

How much did these Galileans pay you scoundrels to let them take away the body?

Your Holiness, we are honorable Roman soldiers. We have never taken a bribe.

Humph! Is there anything else you haven't told us? Anything else that happened before the thunder of your snoring knocked you out, or after?

Nothing, Your Holiness.

You rogues! You miserable excuses for guards! You should be flogged within a hair of your lives. You fall asleep on duty and think you can cover yourself with a fantastic story like this? But then, maybe you didn't fall asleep. How much did the Galileans pay you to let them take the body? Were you bribed or were you asleep?

Neither, by Zeus. We swear it!

Why would anybody except the simple minded who are looking for a miracle believe your phony story? Wait here while I consult with the elders. If you leave, the Governor will hear about this dereliction of your duty immediately.

We're in hot water, Petronius.

You can say that again.

Do you think we'll be flogged?

Unless these guys come to our side somehow, we' ll be flogged and discharged.

Fat chance these guys will be on our side.

Maybe not. But they've got some problems, too.

One thing is sure, They don't believe us.

You've got that right.

I wouldn't believe us either, I suppose. I wouldn't believe what happened even now, Petronius, if you didn't remember the same things I do.

I wish I could forget.

Guards! Come here!

The elders have heard your fantastic story and discussed the situation. Many of them think we should hold you up to public ridicule and see to it that you are disciplined by your superiors to the maximum. Some think we should flog the truth out of you ourselves. Do you undersold me?

Yes, but. . .

But — we have decided that we have a higher responsibility in the matter. The punishment you deserve is of no consequence when compared to the spiritual health of our people and to the peace of the community. It doesn't matter much what happens to you.

What do you mean? Remember, we are Roman soldiers. You are our subjects and we keep the peace.

Big talk for someone who can't even guard a grave. Be still and listen. Because we care for our people and for the truth which is obvious in this matter, you may be spared embarrassment and punishment. Even though it is clear that you have already made money on this fiasco, we will give you a chance to make more if you do as we say.

On our honor. . .

Never mind. Here's your money. Go, tell the people, "His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep." And, if this comes to the Governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.

But we can't. . .

If we don't begin to hear reports of this story by nightfall, be assured that we will see to it that you receive the maximum punishment. Do you understand? Go into the markets and have never taken a bribe. spread your story. Right now!

We can't. . .

(Sextus!)

(Ouch!)

Yes, your Holiness. By the names and reputations of Petronius and Sextus, we will do as you have instructed. We take our leave.

You didn't have to hit me so hard with your elbow, Petronius.

I didn't want you to blow it, Sextus. By Jove, we were lucky! The great God, Fortuna, has smiled upon us!

I suppose so, Petronius. But. . .

No buts about it. Even if word gets back to the Centurion or the Governor, the Jews will intercede for us. Meanwhile, look at this money!

I don't trust them. What could they do if this story got to the Governor?

They could say that they have no complaint against us. That we were overpowered by these fanatical Galileans. That they didn't want it reported that the guards were overpowered for fear of making the lunatics look too powerful.

They would have to lie to say that.

So what, Sextus. The important lesson in this is that it is best to tell the truth to priests. Then, with the best reasons in the world, they'll take care of everything.

I just hope the man of lightning doesn't show up again.

Come on. It's time for a drink and a little talking.

Penrod says that, in thinking about him, one should think first of Booth Tarkington's Penrod, the boy writer, and then of the mighty pen of Martin Luther with its power like unto the rod of Aaron.

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