John Joseph Kilpin Fletcher.

The sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light online

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their names were already in the hands of the
judges, and they were prepared for the worst the
council might decide. So that they gathered
regularly in companies, and they found the Word
of God precious in those days.

Meanwhile, in the queen's council, eager, and
sometimes heated, discussions were going on as
to the fate of the Christians. The priest party
continued to urge with much vehemence that an
example must at once be made which should
so convince the Christians of the hopelessness of
resisting the royal power, as that they should

But the state party in the council refused to
be drawn over to this view — some of them out of
a friendly disposition toward the Christians;
some because among the Christians were some
of their own friends; and others, because they
had more political sagacity, still refused their con-
sent to the infliction of a death penalty. At
length the queen realized that on this occasion, at
any rate, she must modify the character of the
punishments she intended to inflict. Moreover,
she felt that by exercising moderation at this

Suspense 139

time, she would the more easily gain the consent
of the council to harsher measures should the
Christians continue obstinate. At the close of
the week of suspense, it was announced that the
following day the decision of the queen regarding
the Christians would be proclaimed, and the
judgments would be carried into effect at once.



It was an eager assembly that gathered in the
courtyard next day to listen to the judgment
that the queen had pronounced against the Chris-
tians. The public had learned that there were
divided opinions as to the wisdom of inflicting
the utmost penalty upon them. And it was gen-
erally suspected the queen had been compelled
to yield to milder counsels, so that the heathen
party was not quite so jubilant as it had been
earlier in the week, or on the day of the kabary.
Neither were the Christians so alarmed as some
had expected they would be. That they stood
in a solemn position they fully recognized; but
they also knew the strength of the arm on which
they leaned. And on one thing they were de-
termined — that whether by life or by death, by
pain or by joy, they would honor the Saviour
they loved.

Again the queen invoked, in her decree, the
aid of the national gods, ascribing to them rev-
erence and worship. Her message then went on
to announce the fate of the Christians.

Claiming to herself great praise because of her
magnanimity toward her foes and the enemies

Betrayed 141

of her country, she had resolved to give the
Christians one more chance of escaping the
death penalty. Yet, according to the will of the
gods, they could not be allowed to go unpunished,
who had defied their authority and repudiated
the national worship. It was therefore her in-
tention to place the Christians in the lowest ranks
of her subjects, so that all might despise and
shun them.

Some officers in the royal army had dared to
swear allegiance to one Jesus, and each one of
them would pay a heavy fine and be dismissed
from his position. Those Christians who be-
longed to noble or wealthy families would be
subjected to public degradation. All others
would be made to pay a fine.

Scarcely could the Christians restrain a shout
of joy when the judgment was announced, and,
had they dared do so, many of the heathen party
would have murmured at the queen's leniency.
They became more reconciled to the measure of
toleration, when, at the close of her message, the
queen prescribed a prayer to the idols, which all
her subjects, heathen and Christian alike, were
to use; and announced that death would be the
punishment of any who should disobey this com-

The Christians, like their prototypes in earlier
ages, departed from the council, rejoicing that
they were accounted worthy to suffer for the
sake of Christ.

142 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

The government resolved to make use of spies
for the detection of any who should violate the
queen's instructions, or continue to join in wor-
ship or prayer to Jehovah; and as a further
means of obtaining information it was pro-
claimed that all persons who should aid the
queen's efforts by informing against such
Christians, would be rewarded with a large share
of the property forfeited by the accused.

In the minds of the Christians, there was not
a moment's hesitation as to their duty or its per-
formance. Ignoring the queen's command they
resumed their gatherings for prayer. But know-
ing that they were now watched by spies and in
danger of being caught in their speech, and so
betrayed, greater secrecy and circumspection
were necessary. For the sake of greater securi-
ty they adopted secret watchwords, and they as-
sembled in smaller companies so as not to attract
so much attention. Some, in order to escape
detection by their families, even went out into the
forests to engage in worship. There were cave
churches and forest temples in Madagascar in
those days, and for many days to come. Rafara-
vavy, finding herself so closely watched and sus-
pected, disposed of her home in the city and
secured another in the suburbs, where she her-
self could live in greater retirement, and where
better opportunities were afforded for her friends
to see her and join in Bible reading and prayer.

Here for some time she and her companions

Betrayed 143

enjoyed a large measure of safety, and in daily
gatherings were mutually strengthened in their
faith. The stories of prophets and martyrs
formed for them a source of inspiration and holy

When Ranivo ceased to attend the Christian
worship at the home of her friend, Rafaravavy,
it was learned that she had again become a de-
vout worshiper of the idols; and, as if to make
amends for her temporary parleying with the
religion of Jehovah, had vowed to render to their
cause any service in her power.

A few weeks after the kabary two of Rafar-
avavy's servants left her employ much against
her desire, for she had regarded them as among
the most faithful of those employed around her.
But as they were free, and chose to exercise their
liberty, she could not prevent their going. The
very day on which they left her they went to the
home of Ranivo. After waiting a little she came
forward to speak to them, and recognizing them
as the servants of her friend, and thinking per-
haps they bore some private message from Ra-
faravavy, she took them to her own apartments.

This was exactly what they desired. When
the dooi was closed Ranivo asked them their er-
rand, to which they replied that they had come
in the service of the gods ; that they had left
Rafaravavy's employ, and were now about to
render to the gods a signal service, from which
they expected so great a benefit that they would

144 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

not again need to be servants to any. But it
was soon made plain. They informed her that
they knew she had ceased to attend the secret
meetings of the Christians at the home of her
friend, and had avowed anew her loyalty to the
gods of the land; they reminded her of the
queen's proclamation, and of the condition an-
nounced, that any one who should assist in the
discovery of any Christians should receive a
large share of the forfeited property. They
said further they had come to ask her to take
them to Kelazapa, and introduce them to him,
as they wished to inform on Rafaravavy, who
still continued to hold secret gatherings of Chris-
tians; and then they would secure a considera-
ble portion of her property.

Ranivo was filled with surprise and indigna-
tion at the conduct of the women, and re-
monstrated fiercely with them as to their treach-
ery toward one who had always treated them
with kindness. She was the more indignant be-
cause, though loyal to the idols and quite sepa-
rated from all Christians, and, as she thought,
from all sympathy with them, she herself would
scorn thus to betray a friend. She also saw
that these women would seek to implicate her in
their mean act by informing the priests that
they had come with her authority and advice,
and Rafaravavy's doom would be laid to her
account. Finding they were unmoved by her in-

Betrayed H5

dignation, or any appeal to their sense of their
mistress' kindness toward them — that, in fact,
they were going to sell her friend and theirs
for money — she determined on one more effort to
save her. She would buy her friend's life and
give it back to her.

After long efforts she persuaded the women
to agree to this, and handed them the price of
Rafaravavy's redemption. It was morning still,
and, feeling her friend was safe, Ranivo resumed
her household duties, intending in the cool of
the evening to walk down to Rafaravavy's
house, tell her part of what had transpired, and
so place her on her guard.

But she had not realized all the meanness or
selfishness of these women for she might have
judged that they who would betray a kind and
worthy mistress, would, without hesitation, de-
ceive her. Almost immediately on leaving her
door the women had turned aside and gone di-
rect to Kelazapa, to whom they told a plausi-
ble story of Ranivo having set them to watch
Rafaravavy; how at length they had sufficient
evidence to convict her of having disobeyed the
queen's command, and that they had laid this in-
formation before Ranivo, who sent them with all
speed to him.

Kelazapa was delighted with the news, and
especially with what he considered the zeal of
Ranivo in the cause of the idols. In a short

146 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

time a queen's order for the arrest of Rafaravavy
was issued, and an officer despatched to execute

By the early evening it was known all over
the city that Rafaravavy was once more lying in
prison awaiting trial, and it was stated that she
had been entrapped by the skill and loyalty to
the idols of one who was in a position to know
of her movements — her former friend Ranivo.
When Ranivo heard the news she was over-
whelmed with grief and indignation. But her
indignation did not suffice to lift the cloud that
had passed over her friendship. There were
two servants who had affirmed that they had acted
on her request, and pointed to the money given
them to save her friend's life, as proof of her hav-
ing bribed them to betray their mistress.

Ranivo would probably have gone to the prison
to see Rafaravavy and explain the matter, but to
have done so might have involved her in serious
trouble with the queen and Kelazapa.

Not being a Christian she felt she could not
afford to be suspected of sympathy with them.
She could only lament alone the shame she felt
had fallen upon her, and the terrible fate await-
ing her friend, whom she had sought to save.
Next day Rafaravavy was brought before the
court, and, in her answers to her accusers, ad-
mitted frankly that she still worshiped Jehovah,
and confessed Christ as her Saviour. Asked for
the names of her companions, she firmly refused

Betrayed M7

to mention one of them. All efforts to induce her
to do so were unavailing.

The judge was a friend of her family, and
wished to spare her. He therefore sent her back
to her cell, and advised her father to see her and
try to influence her to yield to the queen's de-
mand. But even a father's pleadings were
equallv unsuccessful. She would not deny
Christ, neither would she betray her friends.
The queen was informed of her firm refusal, and,
in a fit of passion, ordered her to be executed
the next morning.

Rafaravavy received the news of her sentence
calmly and peacefully. She laid her down to sleep
that night in full expectation of next day seeing
her Lord. That night the Christians gathered
in fear and trembling; another storm had burst
upon them, and they cried for deliverance for
their friend.

They were destined the same night to receive
another surprise. Ranivo's sleep went from her.
She wept over the events of these two days. She
recalled the words and looks of the women who
had betrayed her friend, and suddenly a sense
of deep disgust with her own heathen customs,
and with the baseness of a system that could
only exist by such foul means filled her heart.

Rising from her couch, and quietly letting her-
self out of the house, she made her way to a
house where she knew some of the Christians
were accustomed to meet. As her low tap at the
door was heard, the voices inside were hushed,

148 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

and no one opened to her. Again she tapped
at the door, and presently one of the company
drew it ajar, asking who was there.

As Ranivo answered she stepped inside, and the
Christians were face to face with the woman
who was stated to have betrayed them. Alarm
and suspicion were manifest in the glances they
cast at her, and some of them covering their faces,
rose to leave.

Ranivo knew their feelings toward her, but in a
moment she bid them not to fear, and, while they
paused, she told them the truth concerning the
arrest of Rafaravavy. She also told them of the
intense revulsion of her feelings toward the idols,
and begged them to pray for her. And as they
knelt, she knelt, and her sobs and prayers
mingled with theirs.

While the little companies of Christians had
been praying for Rafaravavy's deliverance the
answers had been vouchsafed in raising up helpers
for her. During the night many of her friends
came to the palace to intercede for her life, and
those nobles who were known to be favorable to
the Christians exerted all their influence. When
the morning broke the queen had so far changed
her purpose as to spare Rafaravavy's life — but
for this time only. She might still be set at
liberty by paying a heavy fine ; the next time noth-
ing could induce Ranavalona to spare her life.
Tears of thankfulness and joy filled the eyes of
the Christians when the glad news reached them,

Betrayed 149

although they dared not meet their sister and
welcome her with songs.

But no heart was so glad that day, and no eyes
shed so many tears of gratitude, as those of
Ranivo, the reputed accuser, though really the
earnest saviour of her friend.



Ranivo lost no time in repairing to Rafara-
vavy's home. She could not even permit the
Christians to explain what they knew of her con-
duct toward her friend. When she entered the
gate of the compound Rafaravavy was seated
on the verandah, quietly reading a portion of the
Gospels. On seeing her friend, she at once rose
and advanced to meet her. And as Ranivo ap-
proached with outstretched hands, her voice
trembling as she greeted her friend, and her eyes
giving evidence of a tearful night, she hushed
every feeling of resentment; and, in a tone of
love and compassion Rafaravavy only said : " Oh,
Ranivo ! why did you treat me so ? Why should
you persecute our Christ ? "

For answer Ranivo burst into a flood of tears.
When she had recovered sufficient self-control to
speak, it was to say : " Then, my dear friend, you
believe I acted the part of a traitor."

" That was the statement made, and sworn to,
before the judges," Rafaravavy replied.

" Yes," answered Ranivo, " it was. But many
a false statement has been sworn to in these recent


Divine Interposition 151

days, and many an effort is being made to set
friend against friend.

" Rafaravavy, I have often been urged by the
priests to betray you, for they hate and suspect

" Then was the statement of the servants false ?
Were not you my accuser?" asked Rafaravavy.

" Listen, while I tell you all," replied the girl.
She then told the story right through, and with
such genuine emotion that the heart of the elder
woman thrilled with joy at the thought of her
friend's loyalty. But a yet deeper joy filled her
heart when Ranivo went on to tell of her visit to
the meeting of the Christians, and their prayers
for her, and ended by saying, earnestly, " Rafara-
vavy, I, too, want to be a Christian."

It was with a glad spirit Rafaravavy set her-
self to lead her young friend to Christ Himself,
that she might find in Him her Saviour. Hour
after hour, they remained in fellowship and
prayer, and before the day closed it was told to
the little band of Christians that Ranivo had taken
her place on the Lord's side.

For a few months comparative calm reigned in
the city. The Christians were almost free from
any molestation, and some of them began to hope
that this was indeed the dawn of better days. It
was during this time of toleration that another
conversion took place, which added considerable
vigor and hope to the Christian Church. Ra-
faralahy, who had for long been halting between

152 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

two opinions, came to a full and intelligent de-
cision to renounce the heathen religion of the
country and to adopt the Christian faith. It was
not long before he lost his position under the
government at the instigation of Kelazapa.

But, aside from this, he had a comfortable
home, with large lands and fertile rice fields.
Thus it was no small gain to the spiritual force,
and, indeed, to the material comfort, of the Chris-
tians, to have Rafaralahy profess himself one of
their number. While for a time there was thus a
lull in the storm, the Christians still maintained
their secret gatherings for prayer and study of the
Scripture, and scarcely ventured to relax their
watchfulness. They knew well that a cunning
foe was seeking their destruction, and they would
not needlessly expose themselves. If they
doubted this, they were apprised of the relentless-
ness of the priest party by the following inci-

One night, when the Christians were secretly
assembled for worship, one of their number came,
trembling with excitement; and when he had
looked around and had seen that Rafaravavy was
not there, he began to mourn aloud. When the
others sought to know the reason he alarmed them
by the question, " Do you not know what has hap-
pened? Rafaravavy is slain. She has been exe-
cuted secretly by the queen's orders." At first
they were, all of them, incredulous. But when
he told them that he had heard two of the court

Divine Interposition 153

officers speaking about her death while he was
passing the palace gate, their hearts sank within
them, and their praises were turned to lamenta-

However, their feelings were destined to un-
dergo another revulsion that night, for about half
an hour later Rafaravavy herself entered the
room, and when they saw her, they thanked God
and took courage. She had not been slain, or
even arrested. But she knew that the question of
her arrest had been again discussed at court, and
so there was need for greater circumspection than
ever on her part and theirs. The wrath of the
enemy was brewing, and dark days were once
more threatening the little band. Only a few
more weeks had passed, when a body of officers
set forth from the palace yard with warrants, is-
sued on the information of a woman who had for
some time been watching the Christians. That
day ten members of the young church— including
Rafaravavy — were arrested and placed in cells.
When these Christians were brought into court,
the first efforts of the judges were directed to-
ward obtaining from them the names of other
members of the church, that they also might be ar-
rested. And so anxious were they to accomplish
this purpose, that several days were spent in the

Yet, all the while, it was plain enough the
special anger of the queen rested upon Rafara-
vavy, and if any one should suffer, certainly it

154 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

would be she. Some two weeks passed, with but
scant success in discovering the Christians.

Rafaravavy was visited by her father in the
effort to turn her from her profession, but in
vain. Rasalama also visited her in her cell, but
to comfort and encourage her. So eager were
the heathen party to discover the Christians that
one of the officers was instructed to conceal him-
self in a position where he could overhear the con-
versation between Rafaravavy and Rasalama.
The consequence was that as Rasalama was leav-
ing her friend's cell she was placed under arrest
and confined in a cell. At length, wearied of
fruitless efforts to change her purpose or compel
her to accuse her friends, the queen once more
condemned Rafaravavy to death. Again her
friends and the friends of the Christians at court
put forth strenuous efforts to get the sentence re-
duced. But their efforts were unavailing. The
queen was determined Rafaravavy should die, and,
as she would now have no further use for her
home and property, they were made a public
spoil, and in a few hours all she had possessed
was seized by the heathen and carried away. On
the evening of that day Rafaravavy was made
to walk behind her executioner to the place at
which she was to die. There she was placed in
irons, and ordered to be ready for death at cock-
crow next morning. All hope was past, unless,
indeed, the God of Daniel still lived, and could

Divine Interposition 155

save not only from fire and the lion's den, but also
from chains and the spear of the executioner.

Hour after hour Rafaravavy spent in human
loneliness; yet her heart was glad and peaceful.
He who walked with His servants in the fiery fur-
nace was near to her, and she feared not the short
struggle that lay before her on the morrow. But
the hour of midnight brought a strange commo-
tion in the city. Suddenly there rang out upon
the stillness of the night the awful cry of " Fire !
Fire ! " People rushed from their homes to find
that already the flames had laid hold upon several
buildings. Immediately all who could help were
busily engaged in seeking to quench the flames.
But, as if to mock their efforts, the wind began to
rise, and, while the flames roared the wind
howled ; and the city was turned into a Babel.

Above the heads of the alarmed heathen, the
flames leaped and danced, and the wind bore
showers of sparks across the city. The thatched
roof of house after house was caught by the fire,
in spite of all the efforts to stay its progress.
Over the court house, where, a few hours before,
the Christians had stood in jeopardy of their lives,
and whence one had been led out to await death,
the sparks fell, thus threatening its destruction.
Something must be done. The people began to
whisper, and soon it was spoken openly that the
God of the Christians was avenging himself.
Even Ranavalona began to wonder if the very

156 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

idols were fighting for the Christians. She issued
orders to suspend ah government service, and to
call out all soldiers and officers to help save the
city from the flames.

The night wore away; the hour of cock-crow-
ing came, and Rafaravavy roused and began to
prepare herself for death. But no executioner
approached her ; no sound of preparation for her
execution could be heard, and she wondered.
In the city the struggle with the flames still went
on, and even Rafaravavy and the Christians were
for the moment forgotten. When at last the
fire was subdued, the time for the execution was
several hours past.

What was now to happen? For never before
had such a thing occurred as for the execu-
tioner to fail to carry out a sentence at the fixed
hour. After such a visitation even the queen and
the heathen party hesitated to strike the fatal
blow; and so hours passed into days, while Ra-
faravavy expected any moment to be summoned
forth to die. During these days Fantaka came
frequently to see her. She, too, seemed to be
affected by the events which had happened, and
still more by the calm faith and courage of Ra-
faravavy. She listened with evident interest
while spoken to of the love and power of Christ ;
and as gradually it became clear to Rafaravavy
that Fantaka was not far from the kingdom, she
strove the more earnestly to lead her to a speedy

Divine Interposition 157

decision, if so she might have that joy before she

But that moment of decision was not yet. After
several days of terrible suspense the death sen-
tence on Rafaravavy was once more remitted;
but a punishment of a degrading nature was im-
posed. Her heavy irons having been removed,
she was led back into the city, and into the market
place, and there Rafaravavy, the gentle and re-
fined Christian woman, was publicly offered for
sale as a slave. There were some of her friends,
however, who were not ashamed of her even in
this position. Indeed, so many were they who

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Online LibraryJohn Joseph Kilpin FletcherThe sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light → online text (page 8 of 17)