THE LAST OF THE LEGIONS
THE LAST GALLEY
THROUGH THE VEIL
THE COMING OF THE HUNS
THE FIRST CARGO
THE RED STAR
THE SILVER MIRROR
A POINT OF CONTACT
THE LAST OF THE LEGIONS
Pontus, the Roman viceroy, sat in the atrium of his palatial villa by
the Thames, and he looked with perplexity at the scroll of papyrus
which he had just unrolled. Before him stood the messenger who had
brought it, a swarthy little Italian, whose black eyes were glazed
with want of sleep, and his olive features darker still from dust and
sweat. The viceroy was looking fixedly at him, yet he saw him not, so
full was his mind of this sudden and most unexpected order. To him it
seemed as if the solid earth had given way beneath his feet. His life
and the work of his life had come to irremediable ruin.
"Very good," he said at last in a hard dry voice, "you can go."
The man saluted and staggered out of the hall. A yellow-haired British
major-domo came forward for orders.
"Is the General there?"
"He is waiting, your excellency."
"Then show him in, and leave us together."
A few minutes later Licinius Crassus, the head of the British military
establishment, had joined his chief. He was a large, bearded man in a
white civilian toga, hemmed with the Patrician purple. His rough, bold
features, burned and seamed and lined with the long African wars, were
shadowed with anxiety as he looked with questioning eyes at the drawn,
haggard face of the viceroy.
"I fear, your excellency, that you have had bad news from Rome."
"The worst, Crassus. It is all over with Britain. It is a question
whether even Gaul will be held."
"Saint Albus save us! Are the orders precise?"
"Here they are, with the Emperor's own seal."
"But why? I had heard a rumour, but it had seemed too incredible."
"So had I only last week, and had the fellow scourged for having
spread it. But here it is as clear as words can make it: 'Bring every
man of the Legions by forced marches to the help of the Empire. Leave
not a cohort in Britain.' These are my orders."
"But the cause?"
"They will let the limbs wither so that the heart be stronger. The
old German hive is about to swarm once more. There are fresh crowds of
Barbarians from Dacia and Scythia. Every sword is needed to hold the
Alpine passes. They cannot let three legions lie idle in Britain."
The soldier shrugged his shoulders.
"When the legions go no Roman would feel that his life was safe here.
For all that we have done, it is none the less the truth that it is no
country of ours, and that we hold it as we won it by the sword."
"Yes, every man, woman, and child of Latin blood must come with us to
Gaul. The galleys are already waiting at Portus Dubrish. Get the
orders out, Crassus, at once. As the Valerian legion falls back from
the Wall of Hadrian it can take the northern colonists with it. The
Jovians can bring in the people from the west, and the Batavians can
escort the easterns if they will muster at Camboricum. You will see to
it." He sank his face for a moment in his hands. "It is a fearsome
thing," said he, "to tear up the roots of so goodly a tree."
"To make more space for such a crop of weeds," said the soldier
bitterly. "My God, what will be the end of these poor Britons! From
ocean to ocean there is not a tribe which will not be at the throat of
its neighbour when the last Roman Lictor has turned his back. With
these hot-headed Silures it is hard enough now to keep the swords in
"The kennel might fight as they choose among themselves until the best
hound won," said the Roman Governor. "At least the victor would keep
the arts and the religion which we have brought them, and Britain
would be one land. No, it is the bear from the north and the wolves
from oversea, the painted savage from beyond the walls and the Saxon
pirate from over the water, who will succeed to our rule. Where we
saved, they will slay; where we built, they will burn; where we
planted, they will ravage. But the die is cast, Crassus. You will
carry out the orders."
"I will send out the messengers within an hour. This very morning
there has come news that the Barbarians are through the old gap in the
wall, and their outriders as far south as Vinovia."
The Governor shrugged his shoulders.
"These things concern us no longer," said he. Then a bitter smile
broke upon his aquiline clean-shaven face. "Whom think you that I see
in audience this morning?"
"Nay, I know not."
"Caradoc and Regnus, and Celticus the Icenian, who, like so many of
the richer Britons, have been educated at Rome, and who would lay
before me their plans as to the ruling of this country."
"And what is their plan?"
"That they themselves should do it."
The Roman soldier laughed. "Well, they will have their will," said he,
as he saluted and turned upon his heel. "Farewell, your excellency.
There are hard days coming for you and for me."
An hour later the British deputation was ushered into the presence of
the Governor. They were good, steadfast men, men who with a whole
heart, and at some risk to themselves, had taken up their country's
cause, so far as they could see it. At the same time they well knew
that under the mild and beneficent rule of Rome it was only when they
passed from words to deeds that their backs or their necks would be in
danger. They stood now, earnest and a little abashed, before the
throne of the viceroy. Celticus was a swarthy, black-bearded little
Iberian. Caradoc and Regnus were tall middle-aged men of the fair
flaxen British type. All three were dressed in the draped yellow toga
after the Latin fashion, instead of in the brace and tunic which
distinguished their more insular fellow-countrymen.
"Well?" asked the Governor.
"We are here," said Celticus boldly, "as the spokesmen of a great
number of our fellow-countrymen, for the purpose of sending our
petition through you to the Emperor and to the Roman Senate, that we
may urge upon them the policy of allowing us to govern this country
after our own ancient fashion." He paused, as if awaiting some
outburst as an answer to his own temerity; but the Governor merely
nodded his head as a sign that he should proceed. "We had laws of our
own before ever CÃ¦sar set foot in Britain, which have served their
purpose since first our forefathers came from the land of Ham. We are
not a child among the nations, but our history goes back in our own
traditions further even than that of Rome, and we are galled by this
yoke which you have laid upon us."
"Are not our laws just?" asked the Governor.
"The code of CÃ¦sar is just, but it is always the code of CÃ¦sar. Our
own laws were made for our own uses and our own circumstances, and we
would fain have them again."
"You speak Roman as if you had been bred in the Forum; you wear a
Roman toga; your hair is filleted in Roman fashion--are not these the
gifts of Rome?"
"We would take all the learning and all the arts that Rome or Greece
could give, but we would still be Britain, and ruled by Britons."
The viceroy smiled. "By the rood of Saint Helena," said he, "had you
spoken thus to some of my heathen ancestors, there would have been an
end to your politics. That you have dared to stand before my face and
say as much is a proof for ever of the gentleness of our rule. But I
would reason with you for a moment upon this your request. You know
well that this land has never been one kingdom, but was always under
many chiefs and many tribes, who have made war upon each other. Would
you in very truth have it so again?"
"Those were the evil pagan days, the days of the Druid and the
oak-grove, your excellency. But now we are held together by a gospel
The viceroy shook his head. "If all the world were of the same way of
thinking, then it would be easier," said he. "It may be that this
blessed doctrine of peace will be little help to you when you are face
to face with strong men who still worship the god of war. What would
you do against the Picts of the north?"
"Your excellency knows that many of the bravest legionaries are of
British blood. These are our defence."
"But discipline, man, the power to command, the knowledge of war, the
strength to act--it is in these things that you would fail. Too long
have you leaned upon the crutch."
"The times may be hard, but when we have gone through them, Britain
will be herself again."
"Nay, she will be under a different and a harsher master," said the
Roman. "Already the pirates swarm upon the eastern coast. Were it not
for our Roman Count of the Saxon shore they would land to-morrow. I
see the day when Britain may, indeed, be one; but that will be because
you and your fellows are either dead or are driven into the mountains
of the west. All goes into the melting pot, and if a better Albion
should come forth from it, it will be after ages of strife, and
neither you nor your people will have part or lot in it."
Regnus, the tall young Celt, smiled. "With the help of God and our own
right arms we should hope for a better end," said he. "Give us but the
chance, and we will bear the brunt."
"You are as men that are lost," said the viceroy sadly. "I see this
broad land, with its gardens and orchards, its fair villas and its
walled towns, its bridges and its roads, all the work of Rome. Surely
it will pass even as a dream, and these three hundred years of settled
order will leave no trace behind. For learn that it will indeed be as
you wish, and that this very day the orders have come to me that the
legions are to go."
The three Britons looked at each other in amazement. Their first
impulse was towards a wild exultation, but reflection and doubt
followed close upon its heels.
"This is indeed wondrous news," said Celticus. "This is a day of days
to the motherland. When do the legions go, your excellency, and what
troops will remain behind for our protection?"
"The legions will go at once," said the viceroy. "You will doubtless
rejoice to hear that within a month there will be no Roman soldier in
the island, nor, indeed, a Roman of any sort, age, or sex, if I can
take them with me."
The faces of the Britons were shadowed, and Caradoc, a grave and
thoughtful man, spoke for the first time.
"But this is over sudden, your excellency," said he. "There is much
truth in what you have said about the pirates. From my villa near the
fort of Anderida I saw eighty of their galleys only last week, and I
know well that they would be on us like ravens on a dying ox. For many
years to come it would not be possible for us to hold them off."
The viceroy shrugged his shoulders. "It is your affair now," said he.
"Rome must look to herself."
The last traces of joy had passed from the faces of the Britons.
Suddenly the future had started up clearly before them, and they
quailed at the prospect.
"There is a rumour in the market-place," said Celticus, "that the
northern Barbarians are through the gap in the wall. Who is to stop
"You and your fellows," said the Roman.
Clearer still grew the future, and there was terror in the eyes of the
spokesmen as they faced it.
"But, your excellency, if the legions should go at once, we should
have the wild Scots at York, and the Northmen in the Thames within the
month. We can build ourselves up under your shield, and in a few years
it would be easier for us; but not now, your excellency, not now."
"Tut, man; for years you have been clamouring in our ears and raising
the people. Now you have got what you asked. What more would you have?
Within the month you will be as free as were your ancestors before
CÃ¦sar set foot upon your shore."
"For God's sake, your excellency, put our words out of your head. The
matter had not been well considered. We will send to Rome. We will
ride post-haste ourselves. We will fall at the Emperor's feet. We will
kneel before the Senate and beg that the legions remain."
The Roman proconsul rose from his chair and motioned that the audience
was at an end.
"You will do what you please," said he. "I and my men are for Italy."
And even as he said, so was it, for before the spring had ripened into
summer, the troops were clanking down the via Aurelia on their way to
the Ligurian passes, whilst every road in Gaul was dotted with the
carts and the waggons which bore the Brito-Roman refugees on their
weary journey to their distant country. But ere another summer had
passed Celticus was dead, for he was flayed alive by the pirates and
his skin nailed upon the door of a church near Caistor. Regnus, too,
was dead, for he was tied to a tree and shot with arrows when the
painted men came to the sacking of Isca. Caradoc only was alive, but
he was a slave to Elda the red Caledonian and his wife was mistress to
Mordred the wild chief of the western Cymri. From the ruined wall in
the north to Vectis in the south blood and ruin and ashes covered the
fair land of Britain. And after many days it came out fairer than
ever, but, even as the Roman had said, neither the Britons nor any men
of their blood came into the heritage of that which had been their
THE LAST GALLEY
"Mutato nomine, de te, Britannia, fabula narratur."
It was a spring morning, one hundred and forty-six years before the
coming of Christ. The North African coast, with its broad hem of
golden sand, its green belt of feathery palm trees, and its background
of barren, red-scarped hills, shimmered like a dream country in the
opal light. Save for a narrow edge of snow-white surf, the
Mediterranean lay blue and serene as far as the eye could reach. In
all its vast expanse there was no break but for a single galley, which
was slowly making its way from the direction of Sicily and heading for
the distant harbour of Carthage.
Seen from afar it was a stately and beautiful vessel, deep red in
colour, double-banked with scarlet oars, its broad, flapping sail
stained with Tyrian purple, its bulwarks gleaming with brass work. A
brazen, three-pronged ram projected in front, and a high golden figure
of Baal, the God of the PhÅ“nicians, children of Canaan, shone upon the
after-deck. From the single high mast above the huge sail streamed the
tiger-striped flag of Carthage. So, like some stately scarlet bird,
with golden beak and wings of purple, she swam upon the face of the
waters--a thing of might and of beauty as seen from the distant shore.
But approach and look at her now! What are these dark streaks which
foul her white decks and dapple her brazen shields? Why do the long
red oars move out of time, irregular, convulsive? Why are some missing
from the staring portholes, some snapped with jagged, yellow edges,
some trailing inert against the side? Why are two prongs of the brazen
ram twisted and broken? See, even the high image of Baal is battered
and disfigured! By every sign this ship has passed through some
grievous trial, some day of terror, which has left its heavy marks
And now stand upon the deck itself, and see more closely the men who
man her! There are two decks forward and aft, while in the open waist
are the double banks of seats, above and below, where the rowers, two
to an oar, tug and bend at their endless task. Down the centre is a
narrow platform, along which pace a line of warders, lash in hand, who
cut cruelly at the slave who pauses, be it only for an instant, to
sweep the sweat from his dripping brow. But these slaves--look at
them! Some are captured Romans, some Sicilians, many black Libyans,
but all are in the last exhaustion, their weary eyelids drooped over
their eyes, their lips thick with black crusts, and pink with bloody
froth, their arms and backs moving mechanically to the hoarse chant of
the overseer. Their bodies of all tints from ivory to jet, are
stripped to the waist, and every glistening back shows the angry
stripes from the warders. But it is not from these that the blood
comes which reddens the seats and tints the salt water washing beneath
their manacled feet. Great gaping wounds, the marks of sword slash and
spear stab, show crimson upon their naked chests and shoulders, while
many lie huddled and senseless athwart the benches, careless for ever
of the whips which still hiss above them. Now we can understand those
empty portholes and those trailing oars.
Nor were the crew in better case than their slaves. The decks were
littered with wounded and dying men. It was but a remnant who still
remained upon their feet. The most lay exhausted upon the fore-deck,
while a few of the more zealous were mending their shattered armour,
restringing their bows, or cleaning the deck from the marks of combat.
Upon a raised platform at the base of the mast stood the
sailing-master who conned the ship, his eyes fixed upon the distant
point of Megara which screened the eastern side of the Bay of
Carthage. On the after-deck were gathered a number of officers, silent
and brooding, glancing from time to time at two of their own class who
stood apart deep in conversation. The one, tall, dark, and wiry, with
pure, Semitic features, and the limbs of a giant, was Magro, the
famous Carthaginian captain, whose name was still a terror on every
shore, from Gaul to the Euxine. The other, a white-bearded, swarthy
man, with indomitable courage and energy stamped upon every eager line
of his keen, aquiline face, was Gisco the politician, a man of the
highest Punic blood, a Suffete of the purple robe, and the leader of
that party in the state which had watched and striven amid the
selfishness and slothfulness of his fellow-countrymen to rouse the
public spirit and waken the public conscience to the ever-increasing
danger from Rome. As they talked, the two men glanced continually,
with earnest anxious faces, towards the northern skyline.
"It is certain," said the older man, with gloom in his voice and
bearing, "none have escaped save ourselves."
"I did not leave the press of the battle whilst I saw one ship which I
could succour," Magro answered. "As it was, we came away, as you saw,
like a wolf which has a hound hanging on to either haunch. The Roman
dogs can show the wolf-bites which prove it. Had any other galley won
clear, they would surely be with us by now, since they have no place
of safety save Carthage."
The younger warrior glanced keenly ahead to the distant point which
marked his native city. Already the low, leafy hill could be seen,
dotted with the white villas of the wealthy PhÅ“nician merchants. Above
them, a gleaming dot against the pale blue morning sky, shone the
brazen roof of the citadel of Byrsa, which capped the sloping town.
"Already they can see us from the watch-towers," he remarked. "Even
from afar they may know the galley of Black Magro. But which of all of
them will guess that we alone remain of all that goodly fleet which
sailed out with blare of trumpet and roll of drum but one short month
The patrician smiled bitterly. "If it were not for our great ancestors
and for our beloved country, the Queen of the Waters," said he, "I
could find it in my heart to be glad at this destruction which has
come upon this vain and feeble generation. You have spent your life
upon the seas, Magro. You do not know how it has been with us on the
land. But I have seen this canker grow upon us which now leads us to
our death. I and others have gone down into the market-place to plead
with the people, and been pelted with mud for our pains. Many a time I
have pointed to Rome, and said, 'Behold these people, who bear arms
themselves, each man for his own duty and pride. How can you who hide
behind mercenaries hope to stand against them?'--a hundred times I
have said it."
"And had they no answer?" asked the Rover.
"Rome was far off and they could not see it, so to them it was
nothing," the old man answered. "Some thought of trade, and some of
votes, and some of profits from the State, but none would see that the
State itself, the mother of all things, was sinking to her end. So
might the bees debate who should have wax or honey when the torch was
blazing which would bring to ashes the hive and all therein. 'Are we
not rulers of the sea?' 'Was not Hannibal a great man?' Such were
their cries, living ever in the past and blind to the future. Before
that sun sets there will be tearing of hair and rending of garments;
but what will that now avail us?"
"It is some sad comfort," said Magro, "to know that what Rome holds
she cannot keep."
"Why say you that? When we go down, she is supreme in all the world."
"For a time, and only for a time," Magro answered gravely. "Yet you
will smile, perchance, when I tell you how it is that I know it. There
was a wise woman who lived in that part of the Tin Islands which juts
forth into the sea, and from her lips I have heard many things, but
not one which has not come aright. Of the fall of our own country, and
even of this battle, from which we now return, she told me clearly.
There is much strange lore amongst these savage peoples in the west of
the land of Tin."
"What said she of Rome?"
"That she also would fall, even as we, weakened by her riches and her
Gisco rubbed his hands. "That at least makes our own fall less
bitter," said he. "But since we have fallen, and Rome will fall, who
in turn may hope to be Queen of the Waters?"
"That also I asked her," said Magro, "and gave her my Tyrian belt with
the golden buckle as a guerdon for her answer. But, indeed, it was too
high payment for the tale she told, which must be false if all else
she said was true. She would have it that in coming days it was her
own land, this fog-girt isle where painted savages can scarce row a
wicker coracle from point to point, which shall at last take the
trident which Carthage and Rome have dropped."
The smile which flickered upon the old Patrician's keen features died
away suddenly, and his fingers closed upon his companion's wrist. The
other had set rigid, his head advanced, his hawk eyes upon the
northern skyline. Its straight, blue horizon was broken by two low
"Galleys!" whispered Gisco.
The whole crew had seen them. They clustered along the starboard
bulwarks, pointing and chattering. For a moment the gloom of defeat
was lifted, and a buzz of joy ran from group to group at the thought
that they were not alone--that someone had escaped the great carnage
as well as themselves.
"By the spirit of Baal," said Black Magro, "I could not have believed
that any could have fought clear from such a welter. Could it be young
Hamilcar in the /Africa/, or is it Beneva in the blue Syrian ship? We
three with others may form a squadron and make head against them yet.
If we hold our course, they will join us ere we round the harbour
Slowly the injured galley toiled on her way, and more swiftly the two
new-comers swept down from the north. Only a few miles off lay the
green point and the white houses which flanked the great African city.
Already, upon the headland, could be seen a dark group of waiting
townsmen. Gisco and Magro were still watching with puckered gaze the
approaching galleys, when the brown Libyan boatswain, with flashing
teeth and gleaming eyes, rushed upon the poop, his long thin arm
stabbing to the north.
"Romans!" he cried. "Romans!"
A hush had fallen over the great vessel. Only the wash of the water
and the measured rattle and beat of the oars broke in upon the
"By the horns of God's altar, I believe the fellow is right!" cried
old Gisco. "See how they swoop upon us like falcons. They are
full-manned and full-oared."
"Plain wood, unpainted," said Magro. "See how it gleams yellow where
the sun strikes it."
"And yonder thing beneath the mast. Is it not the cursed bridge they
use for boarding?"
"So they grudge us even one," said Magro with a bitter laugh. "Not
even one galley shall return to the old sea-mother. Well, for my part,
I would as soon have it so. I am of a mind to stop the oars and await
"It is a man's thought," answered old Gisco; "but the city will need
us in the days to come. What shall it profit us to make the Roman
victory complete? Nay, Magro, let the slaves row as they never rowed
before, not for our own safety, but for the profit of the State."
So the great red ship laboured and lurched, onwards, like a weary
panting stag which seeks shelter from his pursuers, while ever swifter
and ever nearer sped the two lean fierce galleys from the north.
Already the morning sun shone upon the lines of low Roman helmets
above the bulwarks, and glistened on the silver wave where each sharp
prow shot through the still blue water. Every moment the ships drew
nearer, and the long thin scream of the Roman trumpets grew louder
upon the ear.
Upon the high bluff of Megara there stood a great concourse of the
people of Carthage who had hurried forth from the city upon the news
that the galleys were in sight. They stood now, rich and poor, effete
and plebeian, white PhÅ“nician and dark Kabyle, gazing with breathless
interest at the spectacle before them. Some hundreds of feet beneath
them the Punic galley had drawn so close that with their naked eyes
they could see those stains of battle which told their dismal tale.
The Romans, too, were heading in such a way that it was before their
very faces that their ship was about to be cut off; and yet of all
this multitude not one could raise a hand in its defence. Some wept in
impotent grief, some cursed with flashing eyes and knotted fists, some
on their knees held up appealing hands to Baal; but neither prayer,
tears, nor curses could undo the past nor mend the present. That
broken, crawling galley meant that their fleet was gone. Those two
fierce darting ships meant that the hands of Rome were already at
their throat. Behind them would come others and others, the
innumerable trained hosts of the great Republic, long mistress of the
land, now dominant also upon the waters. In a month, two months, three
at the most, their armies would be there, and what could all the
untrained multitudes of Carthage do to stop them?
"Nay!" cried one, more hopeful than the rest, "at least we are brave
men with arms in our hands."
"Fool!" said another, "is it not such talk which has brought us to our
ruin? What is the brave man untrained to the brave man trained? When
you stand before the sweep and rush of a Roman legion you may learn
"Then let us train!"
"Too late! A full year is needful to turn a man to a soldier. Where
will you--where will your city be within one year? Nay, there is but
one chance for us. If we give up our commerce and our colonies, if we
strip ourselves of all that made us great, then perchance the Roman
conqueror may hold his hand."
And already the last sea-fight of Carthage was coming swiftly to an
end before them. Under their very eyes the two Roman galleys had shot
in, one on either side of the vessel of Black Magro. They had grappled
with him, and he, desperate in his despair, had cast the crooked
flukes of his anchors over their gunwales, and bound them to him in an
iron grip, whilst with hammer and crowbar he burst great holes in his
own sheathing. The last Punic galley should never be rowed into Ostia,
a sight for the holiday-makers of Rome. She would lie in her own
waters. And the fierce, dark soul of her rover captain glowed as he
thought that not alone should she sink into the depths of the mother
Too late did the Romans understand the man with whom they had to deal.
Their boarders who had flooded the Punic decks felt the planking sink
and sway beneath them. They rushed to gain their own vessels; but
they, too, were being drawn downwards, held in the dying grip of the
great red galley. Over they went and ever over. Now the deck of
Magro's ship is flush with the water, and the Romans', drawn towards
it by the iron bonds which hold them, are tilted downwards, one
bulwark upon the waves, one reared high in the air. Madly they strain
to cast off the death-grip of the galley. She is under the surface
now, and ever swifter, with the greater weight, the Roman ships heel
after her. There is a rending crash. The wooden side is torn out of
one, and mutilated, dismembered, she rights herself, and lies a
helpless thing upon the water. But a last yellow gleam in the blue
water shows where her consort has been dragged to her end in the iron
death-grapple of her foeman. The tiger-striped flag of Carthage has
sunk beneath the swirling surface, never more to be seen upon the face
of the sea.
For in that year a great cloud hung for seventeen days over the
African coast, a deep black cloud which was the dark shroud of the
burning city. And when the seventeen days were over, Roman ploughs
were driven from end to end of the charred ashes, and salt was
scattered there as a sign that Carthage should be no more. And far off
a huddle of naked, starving folk stood upon the distant mountains, and
looked down upon the desolate plain which had once been the fairest
and richest upon earth. And they understood too late that it is the
law of heaven that the world is given to the hardy and to the
self-denying, whilst he who would escape the duties of manhood will
soon be stripped of the pride, the wealth, and the power, which are
the prizes which manhood brings.
THROUGH THE VEIL
He was a great shock-headed, freckle-faced Borderer, the lineal
descendant of a cattle-thieving clan in Liddesdale. In spite of his
ancestry he was as solid and sober a citizen as one would wish to see,
a town councillor of Melrose, an elder of the Church, and the chairman
of the local branch of the Young Men's Christian Association. Brown
was his name--and you saw it printed up as "Brown and Handiside" over
the great grocery stores in the High Street. His wife, Maggie Brown,
was an Armstrong before her marriage, and came from an old farming
stock in the wilds of Teviothead. She was small, swarthy, and
dark-eyed, with a strangely nervous temperament for a Scotch woman. No
greater contrast could be found than the big tawny man and the dark
little woman, but both were of the soil as far back as any memory
One day--it was the first anniversary of their wedding--they had
driven over together to see the excavations of the Roman Fort at
Newstead. It was not a particularly picturesque spot. From the
northern bank of the Tweed, just where the river forms a loop, there
extends a gentle slope of arable land. Across it run the trenches of
the excavators, with here and there an exposure of old stonework to
show the foundations of the ancient walls. It had been a huge place,
for the camp was fifty acres in extent, and the fort fifteen. However,
it was all made easy for them since Mr. Brown knew the farmer to whom
the land belonged. Under his guidance they spent a long summer evening
inspecting the trenches, the pits, the ramparts, and all the strange
variety of objects which were waiting to be transported to the
Edinburgh Museum of Antiquities. The buckle of a woman's belt had been
dug up that very day, and the farmer was discoursing upon it when his
eyes fell upon Mrs. Brown's face.
"Your good leddy's tired," said he. "Maybe you'd best rest a wee
before we gang further."
Brown looked at his wife. She was certainly very pale, and her dark
eyes were bright and wild.
"What is it, Maggie? I've wearied you. I'm thinkin' it's time we went
"No, no, John, let us go on. It's wonderful! It's like a dreamland
place. It all seems so close and so near to me. How long were the
Romans here, Mr. Cunningham?"
"A fair time, mam. If you saw the kitchen midden-pits you would guess
it took a long time to fill them."
"And why did they leave?"
"Well, mam, by all accounts they left because they had to. The folk
round could thole them no longer, so they just up and burned the fort
aboot their lugs. You can see the fire marks on the stanes."
The woman gave a quick little shudder. "A wild night--a fearsome
night," said she. "The sky must have been red that night--and these
grey stones, they may have been red also."
"Aye, I think they were red," said her husband. "It's a queer thing,
Maggie, and it may be your words that have done it; but I seem to see
that business aboot as clear as ever I saw anything in my life. The
light shone on the water."
"Aye, the light shone on the water. And the smoke gripped you by the
throat. And all the savages were yelling."
The old farmer began to laugh. "The leddy will be writin' a story
aboot the old fort," said he. "I've shown many a one over it, but I
never heard it put so clear afore. Some folk have the gift."
They had strolled along the edge of the foss, and a pit yawned upon
the right of them.
"That pit was fourteen foot deep," said the farmer. "What d'ye think
we dug oot from the bottom o't? Weel, it was just the skeleton of a
man wi' a spear by his side. I'm thinkin' he was grippin' it when he
died. Now, how cam' a man wi' a spear doon a hole fourteen foot deep.
He wasna' buried there, for they aye burned their dead. What make ye
o' that, mam?"
"He sprang doon to get clear of the savages," said the woman.
"Weel, it's likely enough, and a' the professors from Edinburgh
couldna gie a better reason. I wish you were aye here, mam, to answer
a' oor deeficulties sae readily. Now, here's the altar that we found
last week. There's an inscreeption. They tell me it's Latin, and it
means that the men o' this fort give thanks to God for their safety."
They examined the old worn stone. There was a large deeply-cut "VV"
upon the top of it.
"What does 'VV' stand for?" asked Brown.
"Naebody kens," the guide answered.
"/Valeria Victrix/," said the lady, softly. Her face was paler than
ever, her eyes far away, as one who peers down the dim aisles of
"What's that?" asked her husband sharply.
She started as one who wakes from sleep. "What were we talking about?"
"About this 'VV' upon the stone."
"No doubt it was just the name of the Legion which put the altar up."
"Aye, but you gave some special name."
"Did I? How absurd! How should I ken what the name was?"
"You said something--'/Victrix/,' I think."
"I suppose I was guessing. It gives me the queerest feeling, this
place, as if I were not myself, but someone else."
"Aye, it's an uncanny place," said her husband, looking round with an
expression almost of fear in his bold grey eyes. "I feel it mysel'. I
think we'll just be wishin' you good evenin', Mr. Cunningham, and get
back to Melrose before the dark sets in."
Neither of them could shake off the strange impression which had been
left upon them by their visit to the excavations. It was as if some
miasma had risen from those deep trenches and passed into their blood.
All the evening they were silent and thoughtful, but such remarks as
they did make showed that the same subject was in the mind of each.
Brown had a restless night, in which he dreamed a strange connected
dream, so vivid that he woke sweating and shivering like a frightened
horse. He tried to convey it all to his wife as they sat together at
breakfast in the morning.
"It was the clearest thing, Maggie," said he. "Nothing that has ever
come to me in my waking life has been more clear than that. I feel as
if these hands were sticky with blood."
"Tell me of it--tell me slow," said she.
"When it began, I was oot on a braeside. I was laying flat on the
ground. It was rough, and there were clumps of heather. All round me
was just darkness, but I could hear the rustle and the breathin' of
men. There seemed a great multitude on every side of me, but I could
see no one. There was a low chink of steel sometimes, and then a
number of voices would whisper 'Hush!' I had a ragged club in my hand,
and it had spikes o' iron near the end of it. My heart was beatin'
quickly, and I felt that a moment of great danger and excitement was
at hand. Once I dropped my club, and again from all round me the
voices in the darkness cried, 'Hush!' I put oot my hand, and it
touched the foot of another man lying in front of me. There was
someone at my very elbow on either side. But they said nothin'.
"Then we all began to move. The whole braeside seemed to be crawlin'
downwards. There was a river at the bottom and a high-arched wooden
bridge. Beyond the bridge were many lights--torches on a wall. The
creepin' men all flowed towards the bridge. There had been no sound of
any kind, just a velvet stillness. And then there was a cry in the
darkness, the cry of a man who had been stabbed suddenly to the hairt.
That one cry swelled out for a moment, and then the roar of a thoosand
furious voices. I was runnin'. Everyone was runnin'. A bright red
light shone out, and the river was a scarlet streak. I could see my
companions now. They were more like devils than men, wild figures clad
in skins, with their hair and beards streamin'. They were all mad with
rage, jumpin' as they ran, their mouths open, their arms wavin', the
red light beatin' on their faces. I ran, too, and yelled out curses
like the rest. Then I heard a great cracklin' of wood, and I knew that
the palisades were doon. There was a loud whistlin' in my ears, and I
was aware that arrows were flyin' past me. I got to the bottom of a
dyke, and I saw a hand stretched doon from above. I took it, and was
dragged to the top. We looked doon, and there were silver men beneath
us holdin' up their spears. Some of our folk sprang on to the spears.
Then we others followed, and we killed the soldiers before they could
draw the spears oot again. They shouted loud in some foreign tongue,
but no mercy was shown them. We went ower them like a wave, and
trampled them doon into the mud, for they were few, and there was no
end to our numbers.
"I found myself among buildings, and one of them was on fire. I saw
the flames spoutin' through the roof. I ran on, and then I was alone
among the buildings. Someone ran across in front o' me. It was a
woman. I caught her by the arm, and I took her chin and turned her
face so as the light of the fire would strike it. Whom think you that
it was, Maggie?"
His wife moistened her dry lips. "It was I," she said.
He looked at her in surprise. "That's a good guess," said he. "Yes, it
was just you. Not merely like you, you understand. It was you--you
yourself. I saw the same soul in your frightened eyes. You looked
white and bonnie and wonderful in the firelight. I had just one
thought in my head--to get you awa' with me; to keep you all to mysel'
in my own home somewhere beyond the hills. You clawed at my face with
your nails. I heaved you over my shoulder, and I tried to find a way
oot of the light of the burning hoose and back into the darkness.
"Then came the thing that I mind best of all. You're ill, Maggie.
Shall I stop? My God! you have the very look on your face that you had
last night in my dream. You screamed. He came runnin' in the
firelight. His head was bare; his hair was black and curled; he had a
naked sword in his hand, short and broad, little more than a dagger.
He stabbed at me, but he tripped and fell. I held you with one hand,
and with the other----"
His wife had sprung to her feet with writhing features.
"Marcus!" she cried. "My beautiful Marcus! Oh, you brute! you brute!
you brute!" There was a clatter of tea-cups as she fell forward
senseless upon the table.
They never talk about that strange isolated incident in their married
life. For an instant the curtain of the past had swung aside, and some
strange glimpse of a forgotten life had come to them. But it closed
down, never to open again. They live their narrow round--he in his
shop, she in her household--and yet new and wider horizons have
vaguely formed themselves around them since that summer evening by the
crumbling Roman fort.
THE COMING OF THE HUNS
In the middle of the fourth century the state of the Christian
religion was a scandal and a disgrace. Patient, humble, and
long-suffering in adversity, it had become positive, aggressive, and
unreasonable with success. Paganism was not yet dead, but it was
rapidly sinking, finding its most faithful supporters among the
conservative aristocrats of the best families on the one hand, and
among those benighted villagers on the other who gave their name to
the expiring creed. Between these two extremes the great majority of
reasonable men had turned from the conception of many gods to that of
one, and had rejected for ever the beliefs of their forefathers. But
with the vices of polytheism, they had also abandoned its virtues,
among which toleration and religious good humour had been conspicuous.
The strenuous earnestness of the Christians had compelled them to
examine and define every point of their own theology; but as they had
no central authority by which such definitions could be checked, it
was not long before a hundred heresies had put forward their rival
views, while the same earnestness of conviction led the stronger bands
of schismatics to endeavour, for conscience sake, to force their views
upon the weaker, and thus to cover the Eastern world with confusion
Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople were centres of theological
warfare. The whole north of Africa, too, was rent by the strife of the
Donatists, who upheld their particular schism by iron flails and the
war-cry of "Praise to the Lord!" But minor local controversies sank to
nothing when compared with the huge argument of the Catholic and the
Arian, which rent every village in twain, and divided every household
from the cottage to the palace. The rival doctrines of the Homoousian
and of the Homoiousian, containing metaphysical differences so
attenuated that they could hardly be stated, turned bishop against
bishop and congregation against congregation. The ink of the
theologians and the blood of the fanatics were spilled in floods on
either side, and gentle followers of Christ were horrified to find
that their faith was responsible for such a state of riot and
blood-shed as had never yet disgraced the religious history of the
world. Many of the more earnest among them, shocked and scandalised,
slipped away to the Libyan Desert, or to the solitude of Pontus, there
to await in self-denial and prayer that second coming which was
supposed to be at hand. Even in the deserts they could not escape the
echo of the distant strife, and the hermits themselves scowled
fiercely from their dens at passing travellers who might be
contaminated by the doctrines of Athanasius or of Arius.
Such a hermit was Simon Melas, of whom I write. A Trinitarian and a
Catholic, he was shocked by the excesses of the persecution of the
Arians, which could be only matched by the similar outrages with which
these same Arians in the day of their power avenged their treatment on
their brother Christians. Weary of the whole strife, and convinced
that the end of the world was indeed at hand, he left his home in
Constantinople and travelled as far as the Gothic settlements in
Dacia, beyond the Danube, in search of some spot where he might be
free from the never-ending disputes. Still journeying to the north and
east, he crossed the river which we now call the Dneister, and there,
finding a rocky hill rising from an immense plain, he formed a cell
near its summit, and settled himself down to end his life in
self-denial and meditation. There were fish in the stream, the country
teemed with game, and there was an abundance of wild fruits, so that
his spiritual exercises were not unduly interrupted by the search of
sustenance for his mortal frame.
In this distant retreat he expected to find absolute solitude, but the
hope was in vain. Within a week of his arrival, in an hour of worldly
curiosity, he explored the edges of the high rocky hill upon which he
lived. Making his way up to a cleft, which was hung with olives and
myrtles, he came upon a cave in the opening of which sat an aged man,
white-bearded, white-haired, and infirm--a hermit like himself. So
long had this stranger been alone that he had almost forgotten the use
of his tongue; but at last, words coming more freely, he was able to
convey the information that his name was Paul of Nicopolis, that he
was a Greek citizen, and that he also had come out into the desert for
the saving of his soul, and to escape from the contamination of
"Little I thought, brother Simon," said he, "that I should ever find
anyone else who had come so far upon the same holy errand. In all
these years, and they are so many that I have lost count of them, I
have never seen a man, save indeed one or two wandering shepherds far
out upon yonder plain."
From where they sat, the huge steppe, covered with waving grass and
gleaming with a vivid green in the sun, stretched away as level and as
unbroken as the sea, to the eastern horizon. Simon Melas stared across
it with curiosity.
"Tell me, brother Paul," said he, "you who have lived here so
long--what lies at the further side of that plain?"
The old man shook his head. "There is no further side to the plain,"
said he. "It is the earth's boundary, and stretches away to eternity.
For all these years I have sat beside it, but never once have I seen
anything come across it. It is manifest that if there had been a
further side there would certainly at some time have come some
traveller from that direction. Over the great river yonder is the
Roman post of Tyras; but that is a long day's journey from here, and
they have never disturbed my meditations."
"On what do you meditate, Brother Paul?"
"At first I meditated on many sacred mysteries; but now, for twenty
years, I have brooded continually on the nature of the Logos. What is
your view upon that vital matter, brother Simon?"
"Surely," said the younger man, "there can be no question as to that.
The Logos is assuredly but a name used by St. John to signify the
The old hermit gave a hoarse cry of fury, and his brown, withered face
was convulsed with anger. Seizing the huge cudgel which he kept to
beat off the wolves, he shook it murderously at his companion.
"Out with you! Out of my cell!" he cried. "Have I lived here so long
to have it polluted by a vile Trinitarian--a follower of the rascal
Athanasius? Wretched idolater, learn once for all, that the Logos is
in truth an emanation from the Deity, and in no sense equal or
co-eternal with Him! Out with you, I say, or I will dash out your
brains with my staff!"
It was useless to reason with the furious Arian, and Simon withdrew in
sadness and wonder, that at this extreme verge of the known earth the
spirit of religious strife should still break upon the peaceful
solitude of the wilderness. With hanging head and heavy heart he made
his way down the valley, and climbed up once more to his own cell,
which lay at the crown of the hill, with the intention of never again
exchanging visits with his Arian neighbour.
Here, for a year, dwelt Simon Melas, leading a life of solitude and
prayer. There was no reason why anyone should ever come to this
outermost point of human habitation. Once a young Roman officer--Caius
Crassus--rode out a day's journey from Tyras, and climbed the hill to
have speech with the anchorite. He was of an equestrian family, and
still held his belief in the old dispensation. He looked with interest
and surprise, but also with some disgust, at the ascetic arrangements
of that humble abode.
"Whom do you please by living in such a fashion?" he asked.
"We show that our spirit is superior to our flesh," Simon answered.
"If we fare badly in this world, we believe that we shall reap an
advantage in the world to come."
The centurion shrugged his shoulders. "There are philosophers among
our people, Stoics and others, who have the same idea. When I was in
the Herulian Cohort of the Fourth Legion we were quartered in Rome
itself, and I saw much of the Christians, but I could never learn
anything from them which I had not heard from my own father, whom you,
in your arrogance, would call a Pagan. It is true that we talk of
numerous gods; but for many years we have not taken them very
seriously. Our thoughts upon virtue and duty and a noble life are the
same as your own."
Simon Melas shook his head.
"If you have not the holy books," said he, "then what guide have you
to direct your steps?"
"If you will read our philosophers, and above all the divine Plato,
you will find that there are other guides who may take you to the same
end. Have you by chance read the book which was written by our Emperor
Marcus Aurelius? Do you not discover there every virtue which man
could have, although he knew nothing of your creed? Have you
considered, also, the words and actions of our late Emperor Julian,
with whom I served my first campaign when he went out against the
Persians? Where could you find a more perfect man than he?"
"Such talk is unprofitable, and I will have no more of it," said Simon
sternly. "Take heed while there is time, and embrace the true faith;
for the end of the world is at hand, and when it comes there will be
no mercy for those who have shut their eyes to the light." So saying,
he turned back once more to his praying-stool and to his crucifix,
while the young Roman walked in deep thought down the hill, and
mounting his horse, rode off to his distant post. Simon watched him
until his brazen helmet was but a bead of light on the western edge of
the great plain; for this was the first human face that he had seen in
all this long year, and there were times when his heart yearned for
the voices and the faces of his kind.
So another year passed, and save for the change of weather and the
slow change of the seasons, one day was as another. Every morning when
Simon opened his eyes, he saw the same grey line ripening into red in
the furthest east, until the bright rim pushed itself above that
far-off horizon across which no living creature had ever been known to
come. Slowly the sun swept across the huge arch of the heavens, and as
the shadows shifted from the black rocks which jutted upward from
above his cell, so did the hermit regulate his terms of prayer and
meditation. There was nothing on earth to draw his eye, or to distract
his mind, for the grassy plain below was as void from month to month
as the heaven above. So the long hours passed, until the red rim
slipped down on the further side, and the day ended in the same
pearl-grey shimmer with which it had begun. Once two ravens circled
for some days round the lonely hill, and once a white fish-eagle came
from the Dniester and screamed above the hermit's head. Sometimes red
dots were seen on the green plain where the antelopes grazed, and
often a wolf howled in the darkness from the base of the rocks. Such
was the uneventful life of Simon Melas the anchorite, until there came
the day of wrath.
It was in the late spring of the year 375 that Simon came out from his
cell, his gourd in his hand, to draw water from the spring. Darkness
had closed in, the sun had set, but one last glimmer of rosy light
rested upon a rocky peak, which jutted forth from the hill, on the
further side from the hermit's dwelling. As Simon came forth from
under his ledge, the gourd dropped from his hand, and he stood gazing
On the opposite peak a man was standing, his outline black in the
fading light. He was a strange, almost a deformed figure,
short-statured, round-backed, with a large head, no neck, and a long
rod jutting out from between his shoulders. He stood with his face
advanced, and his body bent, peering very intently over the plain to
the westward. In a moment he was gone, and the lonely black peak
showed up hard and naked against the faint eastern glimmer. Then the
night closed down, and all was black once more.
Simon Melas stood long in bewilderment, wondering who this stranger
could be. He had heard, as had every Christian, of those evil spirits
which were wont to haunt the hermits in the Thebaid and on the skirts
of the Ethiopian waste. The strange shape of this solitary creature,
its dark outline and prowling, intent attitude, suggestive rather of a
fierce, rapacious beast than of a man, all helped him to believe that
he had at last encountered one of those wanderers from the pit, of
whose existence, in those days of robust faith, he had no more doubt
than of his own. Much of the night he spent in prayer, his eyes
glancing continually at the low arch of his cell door, with its
curtain of deep purple wrought with stars. At any instant some
crouching monster, some horned abomination, might peer in upon him,
and he clung with frenzied appeal to his crucifix, as his human
weakness quailed at the thought. But at last his fatigue overcame his
fears, and falling upon his couch of dried grass, he slept until the
bright daylight brought him to his senses.
It was later than was his wont, and the sun was far above the horizon.
As he came forth from his cell, he looked across at the peak of rock,
but it stood there bare and silent. Already it seemed to him that that
strange dark figure which had startled him so was some dream, some
vision of the twilight. His gourd lay where it had fallen, and he
picked it up with the intention of going to the spring. But suddenly
he was aware of something new. The whole air was throbbing with sound.
From all sides it came, rumbling, indefinite, an inarticulate mutter,
low, but thick and strong, rising, falling, reverberating among the
rocks, dying away into vague whispers, but always there. He looked
round at the blue, cloudless sky in bewilderment. Then he scrambled up
the rocky pinnacle above him, and sheltering himself in its shadow, he
stared out over the plain. In his wildest dream he had never imagined
such a sight.
The whole vast expanse was covered with horsemen, hundreds and
thousands and tens of thousands, all riding slowly and in silence, out
of the unknown east. It was the multitudinous beat of their horses'
hoofs which caused that low throbbing in his ears. Some were so close
to him as he looked down upon them that he could see clearly their
thin, wiry horses, and the strange humped figures of their swarthy
riders, sitting forward on the withers, shapeless bundles, their short
legs hanging stirrupless, their bodies balanced as firmly as though
they were part of the beast. In those nearest he could see the bow and
the quiver, the long spear and the short sword, with the coiled lasso
behind the rider, which told that this was no helpless horde of
wanderers, but a formidable army upon the march. His eyes passed on
from them and swept further and further, but still to the very
horizon, which quivered with movement, there was no end to this
monstrous cavalry. Already the vanguard was far past the island of
rock upon which he dwelt, and he could now understand that in front of
this vanguard were single scouts who guided the course of the army,
and that it was one of these whom he had seen the evening before.
All day, held spell-bound by this wonderful sight, the hermit crouched
in the shadow of the rocks, and all day the sea of horsemen rolled
onward over the plain beneath. Simon had seen the swarming quays of
Alexandria, he had watched the mob which blocked the hippodrome of
Constantinople, yet never had he imagined such a multitude as now
defiled beneath his eyes, coming from that eastern skyline which had
been the end of his world. Sometimes the dense streams of horsemen
were broken by droves of brood-mares and foals, driven along by
mounted guards; sometimes there were herds of cattle; sometimes there
were lines of waggons with skin canopies above them; but then once
more, after every break, came the horsemen, the horsemen, the hundreds
and the thousands and the tens of thousands, slowly, ceaselessly,
silently drifting from the east to the west. The long day passed, the
light waned, and the shadows fell, but still the great broad stream
was flowing by.
But the night brought a new and even stranger sight. Simon had marked
bundles of faggots upon the backs of many of the led horses, and now
he saw their use. All over the great plain, red pin-points gleamed
through the darkness, which grew and brightened into flickering
columns of flame. So far as he could see both to east and west the
fires extended, until they were but points of light in the furthest
distance. White stars shone in the vast heavens above, red ones in the
great plain below. And from every side rose the low, confused murmur
of voices, with the lowing of oxen and the neighing of horses.
Simon had been a soldier and a man of affairs before ever he forsook
the world, and the meaning of all that he had seen was clear to him.
History told him how the Roman world had ever been assailed by fresh
swarms of Barbarians, coming from the outer darkness, and that the
eastern Empire had already, in its fifty years of existence since
Constantine had moved the capital of the world to the shores of the
Bosphorus, been tormented in the same way. GepidÃ¦ and Heruli,
Ostrogoths and Sarmatians, he was familiar with them all. What the
advanced sentinel of Europe had seen from this lonely outlying hill,
was a fresh swarm breaking in upon the Empire, distinguished only from
the others by its enormous, incredible size and by the strange aspect
of the warriors who composed it. He alone of all civilised men knew of
the approach of this dreadful shadow, sweeping like a heavy
storm-cloud from the unknown depths of the east. He thought of the
little Roman posts along the Dneister, of the ruined Dacian wall of
Trajan behind them, and then of the scattered, defenceless villages
which lay with no thought of danger over all the open country which
stretched down to the Danube. Could he but give them the alarm! Was it
not, perhaps, for that very end that God had guided him to the
Then suddenly he remembered his Arian neighbour, who dwelt in the cave
beneath him. Once or twice during the year he had caught a glimpse of
his tall, bent figure hobbling round to examine the traps which he
laid for quails and partridges. On one occasion they had met at the
brook; but the old theologian waved him away as if he were a leper.
What did he think now of this strange happening? Surely their
differences might be forgotten at such a moment. He stole down the
side of the hill, and made his way to his fellow-hermit's cave.
But there was a terrible silence as he approached it. His heart sank
at that deadly stillness in the little valley. No glimmer of light
came from the cleft in the rocks. He entered and called, but no answer
came back. Then, with flint, steel, and the dry grass which he used
for tinder, he struck a spark, and blew it into a blaze. The old
hermit, his white hair dabbled with crimson, lay sprawling across the
floor. The broken crucifix, with which his head had been beaten in,
lay in splinters across him. Simon had dropped on his knees beside
him, straightening his contorted limbs, and muttering the office for
the dead, when the thud of a horse's hoofs was heard ascending the
little valley which led to the hermit's cell. The dry grass had burned
down, and Simon crouched trembling in the darkness, pattering prayers
to the Virgin that his strength might be upheld.
It may have been that the new-comer had seen the gleam of the light,
or it may have been that he had heard from his comrades of the old man
whom they had murdered, and that his curiosity had led him to the
spot. He stopped his horse outside the cave, and Simon, lurking in the
shadows within, had a fair view of him in the moonlight. He slipped
from his saddle, fastened the bridle to a root, and then stood peering
through the opening of the cell. He was a very short, thick man, with
a dark face, which was gashed with three cuts upon either side. His
small eyes were sunk deep in his head, showing like black holes in the
heavy, flat, hairless face. His legs were short and very bandy, so
that he waddled uncouthly as he walked.
Simon crouched in the darkest angle, and he gripped in his hand that
same knotted cudgel which the dead theologian had once raised against
him. As that hideous stooping head advanced into the darkness of the
cell, he brought the staff down upon it with all the strength of his
right arm, and then, as the stricken savage fell forward upon his
face, he struck madly again and again, until the shapeless figure lay
limp and still. One roof covered the first slain of Europe and of
Simon's veins were throbbing and quivering with the unwonted joy of
action. All the energy stored up in those years of repose came in a
flood at this moment of need. Standing in the darkness of the cell, he
saw, as in a map of fire, the outlines of the great Barbaric host, the
line of the river, the position of the settlements, the means by which
they might be warned. Silently he waited in the shadow until the moon
had sunk. Then he flung himself upon the dead man's horse, guided it
down the gorge, and set forth at a gallop across the plain.
There were fires on every side of him, but he kept clear of the rings
of light. Round each he could see, as he passed, the circle of
sleeping warriors, with the long lines of picketed horses. Mile after
mile and league after league stretched that huge encampment. And then,
at last, he had reached the open plain which led to the river, and the
fires of the invaders were but a dull smoulder against the black
eastern sky. Ever faster and faster he sped across the steppe, like a
single fluttered leaf which whirls before the storm. Even as the dawn
whitened the sky behind him, it gleamed also upon the broad river in
front, and he flogged his weary horse through the shallows, until he
plunged into its full yellow tide.
So it was that, as the young Roman centurion--Caius Crassus--made his
morning round in the fort of Tyras he saw a single horseman, who rode
towards him from the river. Weary and spent, drenched with water and
caked with dirt and sweat, both horse and man were at the last stage
of their endurance. With amazement the Roman watched their progress,
and recognised in the ragged, swaying figure, with flying hair and
staring eyes, the hermit of the eastern desert. He ran to meet him,
and caught him in his arms as he reeled from the saddle.
"What is it, then?" he asked. "What is your news?"
But the hermit could only point at the rising sun. "To arms!" he
croaked. "To arms! The day of wrath is come!" And as he looked, the
Roman saw--far across the river--a great dark shadow, which moved
slowly over the distant plain.
In the year of our Lord 66, the Emperor Nero, being at that time in
the twenty-ninth year of his life and the thirteenth of his reign, set
sail for Greece with the strangest company and the most singular
design that any monarch has ever entertained. With ten galleys he went
forth from Puteoli, carrying with him great stores of painted scenery
and theatrical properties, together with a number of knights and
senators, whom he feared to leave behind him at Rome, and who were all
marked for death in the course of his wanderings. In his train he took
Natus, his singing coach; Cluvius, a man with a monstrous voice, who
should bawl out his titles; and a thousand trained youths who had
learned to applaud in unison whenever their master sang or played in
public. So deftly had they been taught that each had his own rÃ´le to
play. Some did no more than give forth a low deep hum of speechless
appreciation. Some clapped with enthusiasm. Some, rising from
approbation into absolute frenzy, shrieked, stamped, and beat sticks
upon the benches. Some--and they were the most effective--had learned
from an Alexandrian a long droning musical note which they all uttered
together, so that it boomed over the assembly. With the aid of these
mercenary admirers, Nero had every hope, in spite of his indifferent
voice and clumsy execution, to return to Rome, bearing with him the
chaplets for song offered for free competition by the Greek cities. As
his great gilded galley with two tiers of oars passed down the
Mediterranean, the Emperor sat in his cabin all day, his teacher by
his side, rehearsing from morning to night those compositions which he
had selected, whilst every few hours a Nubian slave massaged the
Imperial throat with oil and balsam, that it might be ready for the
great ordeal which lay before it in the land of poetry and song. His
food, his drink, and his exercise were prescribed for him as for an
athlete who trains for a contest, and the twanging of his lyre, with
the strident notes of his voice, resounded continually from the
Now it chanced that there lived in those days a Grecian goatherd named
Policles, who tended and partly owned a great flock which grazed upon
the long flanks of the hills near HerÅ“a, which is five miles north of
the river Alpheus, and no great distance from the famous Olympia. This
person was noted over all the country-side as a man of strange gifts
and singular character. He was a poet who had twice been crowned for
his verses, and he was a musician to whom the use and sound of an
instrument were so natural that one would more easily meet him without
his staff than his harp. Even in his lonely vigils on the winter hills
he would bear it always slung over his shoulder, and would pass the
long hours by its aid, so that it had come to be part of his very
self. He was beautiful also, swarthy and eager, with a head like
Adonis, and in strength there was no one who could compete with him.
But all was ruined by his disposition, which was so masterful that he
would brook no opposition nor contradiction. For this reason he was
continually at enmity with all his neighbours, and in his fits of
temper he would spend months at a time in his stone hut among the
mountains, hearing nothing from the world, and living only for his
music and his goats.
One spring morning, in the year of 67, Policles, with the aid of his
boy Dorus, had driven his goats over to a new pasturage which
overlooked from afar the town of Olympia. Gazing down upon it from the
mountain, the shepherd was surprised to see that a portion of the
famous amphitheatre had been roofed in, as though some performance was
being enacted. Living far from the world and from all news, Policles
could not imagine what was afoot, for he was well aware that the
Grecian games were not due for two years to come. Surely some poetic
or musical contest must be proceeding of which he had heard nothing.
If so, there would perhaps be some chance of his gaining the votes of
the judges; and in any case he loved to hear the compositions and
admire the execution of the great minstrels who assembled on such an
occasion. Calling to Dorus, therefore, he left the goats to his
charge, and strode swiftly away, his harp upon his back, to see what
was going forward in the town.
When Policles came into the suburbs, he found them deserted; but he
was still more surprised when he reached the main street to see no
single human being in the place. He hastened his steps, therefore, and
as he approached the theatre he was conscious of a low sustained hum
which announced the concourse of a huge assembly. Never in all his
dreams had he imagined any musical competition upon so vast a scale as
this. There were some soldiers clustering outside the door; but
Policles pushed his way swiftly through them, and found himself upon
the outskirts of the multitude who filled the great space formed by
roofing over a portion of the national stadium. Looking around him,
Policles saw a great number of his neighbours, whom he knew by sight,
tightly packed upon the benches, all with their eyes fixed upon the
stage. He also observed that there were soldiers round the walls, and
that a considerable part of the hall was filled by a body of youths of
foreign aspect, with white gowns and long hair. All this he perceived;
but what it meant he could not imagine. He bent over to a neighbour to
ask him, but a soldier prodded him at once with the butt end of his
spear, and commanded him fiercely to hold his peace. The man whom he
had addressed, thinking that Policles had demanded a seat, pressed
closer to his neighbour, and so the shepherd found himself sitting at
the end of the bench which was nearest to the door. Thence he
concentrated himself upon the stage, on which Metas, a well-known
minstrel from Corinth and an old friend of Policles, was singing and
playing without much encouragement from the audience. To Policles it
seemed that Metas was having less than his due, so he applauded
loudly, but he was surprised to observe that the soldiers frowned at
him, and that all his neighbours regarded him with some surprise.
Being a man of strong and obstinate character, he was the more
inclined to persevere in his clapping when he perceived that the
general sentiment was against him.
But what followed filled the shepherd poet with absolute amazement.
When Metas of Corinth had made his bow and withdrawn to half-hearted
and perfunctory applause, there appeared upon the stage, amid the
wildest enthusiasm upon the part of the audience, a most extraordinary
figure. He was a short fat man, neither old nor young, with a bull
neck and a round, heavy face, which hung in creases in front like the
dewlap of an ox. He was absurdly clad in a short blue tunic, braced at
the waist with a golden belt. His neck and part of his chest were
exposed, and his short, fat legs were bare from the buskins below to
the middle of his thighs, which was as far as his tunic extended. In
his hair were two golden wings, and the same upon his heels, after the
fashion of the god Mercury. Behind him walked a negro bearing a harp,
and beside him a richly dressed officer who bore rolls of music. This
strange creature took the harp from the hands of the attendant, and
advanced to the front of the stage, whence he bowed and smiled to the
cheering audience. "This is some foppish singer from Athens," thought
Policles to himself, but at the same time he understood that only a
great master of song could receive such a reception from a Greek
audience. This was evidently some wonderful performer whose reputation
had preceded him. Policles settled down, therefore, and prepared to
give his soul up to the music.
The blue-clad player struck several chords upon his lyre, and then
burst suddenly out into the "Ode of Niobe." Policles sat straight up
on his bench and gazed at the stage in amazement. The tune demanded a
rapid transition from a low note to a high, and had been purposely
chosen for this reason. The low note was a grunting, a rumble, the
deep discordant growling of an ill-conditioned dog. Then suddenly the
singer threw up his face, straightened his tubby figure, rose upon his
tiptoes, and with a wagging head and scarlet cheeks emitted such a
howl as the same dog might have given had his growl been checked by a
kick from his master. All the while the lyre twanged and thrummed,
sometimes in front of and sometimes behind the voice of the singer.
But what amazed Policles most of all was the effect of this
performance upon the audience. Every Greek was a trained critic, and
as unsparing in his hisses as he was lavish in his applause. Many a
singer far better than this absurd fop had been driven amid execration
and abuse from the platform. But now, as the man stopped and wiped the
abundant sweat from his fat face, the whole assembly burst into a
delirium of appreciation. The shepherd held his hands to his bursting
head, and felt that his reason must be leaving him. It was surely a
dreadful musical nightmare, and he would wake soon and laugh at the
remembrance. But no; the figures were real, the faces were those of
his neighbours, the cheers which resounded in his ears were indeed
from an audience which filled the theatre of Olympia. The whole chorus
was in full blast, the hummers humming, the shouters bellowing, the
tappers hard at work upon the benches, while every now and then came a
musical cyclone of "Incomparable! Divine!" from the trained phalanx
who intoned their applause, their united voices sweeping over the
tumult as the drone of the wind dominates the roar of the sea. It was
madness--insufferable madness! If this were allowed to pass, there was
an end of all musical justice in Greece. Policles' conscience would
not permit him to be still. Standing upon his bench with waving hands
and upraised voice, he protested with all the strength of his lungs
against the mad judgment of the audience.
At first, amid the tumult, his action was hardly noticed. His voice
was drowned in the universal roar which broke out afresh at each bow
and smirk from the fatuous musician. But gradually the folk around
Policles ceased clapping, and stared at him in astonishment. The
silence grew in ever widening circles, until the whole great assembly
sat mute, staring at this wild and magnificent creature who was
storming at them from his perch near the door.
"Fools!" he cried. "What are you clapping at? What are you cheering?
Is this what you call music? Is this cat-calling to earn an Olympian
prize? The fellow has not a note in his voice. You are either deaf or
mad, and I for one cry shame upon you for your folly."
Soldiers ran to pull him down, and the whole audience was in
confusion, some of the bolder cheering the sentiments of the shepherd,
and others crying that he should be cast out of the building.
Meanwhile the successful singer, having handed his lyre to his negro
attendant, was inquiring from those around him on the stage as to the
cause of the uproar. Finally a herald with an enormously powerful
voice stepped forward to the front, and proclaimed that if the foolish
person at the back of the hall, who appeared to differ from the
opinion of the rest of the audience, would come forward upon the
platform, he might, if he dared, exhibit his own powers, and see if he
could outdo the admirable and wonderful exhibition which they had just
had the privilege of hearing.
Policles sprang readily to his feet at the challenge, and the great
company making way for him to pass, he found himself a minute later
standing in his unkempt garb, with his frayed and weather-beaten harp
in his hand, before the expectant crowd. He stood for a moment
tightening a string here and slackening another there until his chords
rang true. Then, amid a murmur of laughter and jeers from the Roman
benches immediately before him, he began to sing.
He had prepared no composition, but he had trained himself to
improvise, singing out of his heart for the joy of the music. He told
of the land of Elis, beloved of Jupiter, in which they were gathered
that day, of the great bare mountain slopes, of the swift shadows of
the clouds, of the winding blue river, of the keen air of the uplands,
of the chill of the evenings, and the beauties of earth and sky. It
was all simple and childlike, but it went to the hearts of the
Olympians, for it spoke of the land which they knew and loved. Yet
when he at last dropped his hand, few of them dared to applaud, and
their feeble voices were drowned by a storm of hisses and groans from
his opponents. He shrank back in horror from so unusual a reception,
and in an instant his blue-clad rival was in his place. If he had sung
badly before, his performance now was inconceivable. His screams, his
grunts, his discords, and harsh jarring cacophonies were an outrage to
the very name of music. And yet every time that he paused for breath
or to wipe his streaming forehead a fresh thunder of applause came
rolling back from the audience. Policles sank his face in his hands
and prayed that he might not be insane. Then, when the dreadful
performance ceased, and the uproar of admiration showed that the crown
was certainly awarded to this impostor, a horror of the audience, a
hatred of this race of fools, and a craving for the peace and silence
of the pastures mastered every feeling in his mind. He dashed through
the mass of people waiting at the wings, and emerged in the open air.
His old rival and friend Metas of Corinth was waiting there with an
"Quick, Policles, quick!" he cried. "My pony is tethered behind yonder
grove. A grey he is, with red trappings. Get you gone as hard as hoof
will bear you, for if you are taken you will have no easy death."
"No easy death! What mean you, Metas? Who is the fellow?"
"Great Jupiter! did you not know? Where have you lived? It is Nero the
Emperor! Never would he pardon what you have said about his voice.
Quick, man, quick, or the guards will be at your heels!"
An hour later the shepherd was well on his way to his mountain home,
and about the same time the Emperor, having received the Chaplet of
Olympia for the incomparable excellence of his performance, was making
inquiries with a frowning brow as to who the insolent person might be
who had dared to utter such contemptuous criticisms.
"Bring him to me here this instant," said he, "and let Marcus with his
knife and branding-iron be in attendance."
"If it please you, great CÃ¦sar," said Arsenius Platus, the officer of
attendance, "the man cannot be found, and there are some very strange
rumours flying about."
"Rumours!" cried the angry Nero. "What do you mean, Arsenius? I tell
you that the fellow was an ignorant upstart with the bearing of a boor
and the voice of a peacock. I tell you also that there are a good many
who are as guilty as he among the people, for I heard them with my own
ears raise cheers for him when he had sung his ridiculous ode. I have
half a mind to burn their town about their ears so that they may
remember my visit."
"It is not to be wondered at if he won their votes, CÃ¦sar," said the
soldier, "for from what I hear it would have been no disgrace had you,
even you, been conquered in this contest."
"I conquered! You are mad, Arsenius. What do you mean?"
"None know him, great CÃ¦sar! He came from the mountains, and he
disappeared into the mountains. You marked the wildness and strange
beauty of his face. It is whispered that for once the great god Pan
has condescended to measure himself against a mortal."
The cloud cleared from Nero's brow. "Of course, Arsenius! You are
right! No man would have dared to brave me so. What a story for Rome!
Let the messenger leave this very night, Arsenius, to tell them how
their Emperor has upheld their honour in Olympia this day."
THE FIRST CARGO
"Ex ovo omnia"
When you left Britain with your legion, my dear Crassus, I promised
that I would write to you from time to time when a messenger chanced
to be going to Rome, and keep you informed as to anything of interest
which might occur in this country. Personally, I am very glad that I
remained behind when the troops and so many of our citizens left, for
though the living is rough and the climate is infernal, still by dint
of the three voyages which I have made for amber to the Baltic, and
the excellent prices which I obtained for it here, I shall soon be in
a position to retire, and to spend my old age under my own fig tree,
or even perhaps to buy a small villa at Baiae or Posuoli, where I
could get a good sun-bath after the continued fogs of this accursed
island. I picture myself on a little farm, and I read the Georgics as
a preparation; but when I hear the rain falling and the wind howling,
Italy seems very far away.
In my previous letter I let you know how things were going in this
country. The poor folk, who had given up all soldiering during the
centuries that we guarded them, are now perfectly helpless before
these Picts and Scots, tattooed Barbarians from the north, who overrun
the whole country and do exactly what they please. So long as they
kept to the north, the people in the south, who are the most numerous,
and also the most civilised of the Britons, took no heed of them; but
now the rascals have come as far as London, and the lazy folk in these
parts have had to wake up. Vortigern, the king, is useless for
anything but drink or women, so he sent across to the Baltic to get
over some of the North Germans, in the hope that they would come and
help him. It is bad enough to have a boar in your house, but it does
not seem to me to mend matters if you call in a pack of ferocious
wolves as well. However, nothing better could be devised, so an
invitation was sent and very promptly accepted. And it is here that
your humble friend appears upon the scene. In the course of my amber
trading I had learned the Saxon speech, and so I was sent down in all
haste to the Kentish shore that I might be there when our new allies
came. I arrived there on the very day when their first vessel
appeared, and it is of my adventures that I wish to tell you. It is
perfectly clear to me that the landing of these warlike Germans in
England will prove to be an event of historical importance, and so
your inquisitive mind will not feel wearied if I treat the matter in
It was, then, upon the day of Mercury, immediately following the Feast
of Our Blessed Lord's Ascension, that I found myself upon the south
bank of the river Thames, at the point where it opens into a wide
estuary. There is an island there named Thanet, which was the spot
chosen for the landfall of our visitors. Sure enough, I had no sooner
ridden up than there was a great red ship, the first as it seems of
three, coming in under full sail. The white horse, which is the ensign
of these rovers, was hanging from her topmast, and she appeared to be
crowded with men. The sun was shining brightly, and the great scarlet
ship, with snow-white sails and a line of gleaming shields slung over
her side, made as fair a picture on that blue expanse as one would
wish to see.
I pushed off at once in a boat, because it had been arranged that none
of the Saxons should land until the king had come down to speak with
their leaders. Presently I was under the ship, which had a gilded
dragon in the bows, and a tier of oars along either side. As I looked
up, there was a row of helmeted heads looking down at me, and among
them I saw, to my great surprise and pleasure, that of Eric the Swart,
with whom I do business at Venta every year. He greeted me heartily
when I reached the deck, and became at once my guide, friend, and
counsellor. This helped me greatly with these Barbarians, for it is
their nature that they are very cold and aloof unless one of their own
number can vouch for you, after which they are very hearty and
hospitable. Try as they will, they find it hard, however, to avoid a
certain suggestion of condescension, and in the baser sort, of
contempt, when they are dealing with a foreigner.
It was a great stroke of luck meeting Eric, for he was able to give me
some idea of how things stood before I was shown into the presence of
Kenna, the leader of this particular ship. The crew, as I learned from
him, was entirely made up of three tribes or families--those of Kenna,
of Lanc, and of Hasta. Each of these tribes gets its name by putting
the letters "ing" after the name of the chief, so that the people on
board would describe themselves as Kennings, Lancings, and Hastings. I
observed in the Baltic that the villages were named after the family
who lived in them, each keeping to itself, so that I have no doubt
that if these fellows get a footing on shore, we shall see settlements
with names like these rising up among the British towns.
The greater part of the men were sturdy fellows with red, yellow, or
brown hair, mostly the latter. To my surprise, I saw several women
among them. Eric, in answer to my question, explained that they always
take their women with them so far as they can, and that instead of
finding them an encumbrance as our Roman dames would be, they look
upon them as helpmates and advisers. Of course, I remembered
afterwards that our excellent and accurate Tacitus has remarked upon
this characteristic of the Germans. All laws in the tribes are decided
by votes, and a vote has not yet been given to the women, but many are
in favour of it, and it is thought that woman and man may soon have
the same power in the State, though many of the women themselves are
opposed to such an innovation. I observed to Eric that it was
fortunate there were several women on board, as they could keep each
other company; but he answered that the wives of chiefs had no desire
to know the wives of the inferior officers, and that both of them
combined against the more common women, so that any companionship was
out of the question. He pointed as he spoke to Editha, the wife of
Kenna, a red-faced, elderly woman, who walked among the others, her
chin in the air, taking no more notice than if they did not exist.
Whilst I was talking to my friend Eric, a sudden altercation broke out
upon the deck, and a great number of the men paused in their work, and
flocked towards the spot with faces which showed that they were deeply
interested in the matter. Eric and I pushed our way among the others,
for I was very anxious to see as much as I could of the ways and
manners of these Barbarians. A quarrel had broken out about a child, a
little blue-eyed fellow with curly yellow hair, who appeared to be
greatly amused by the hubbub of which he was the cause. On one side of
him stood a white-bearded old man, of very majestic aspect, who
signified by his gestures that he claimed the lad for himself, while
on the other was a thin, earnest, anxious person, who strongly
objected to the boy being taken from him. Eric whispered in my ear
that the old man was the tribal high priest, who was the official
sacrificer to their great god Woden, whilst the other was a man who
took somewhat different views, not upon Woden, but upon the means by
which he should be worshipped. The majority of the crew were on the
side of the old priest; but a certain number, who liked greater
liberty of worship, and to invent their own prayers instead of always
repeating the official ones, followed the lead of the younger man. The
difference was too deep and too old to be healed among the grown men,
but each had a great desire to impress his view upon the children.
This was the reason why these two were now so furious with each other,
and the argument between them ran so high that several of their
followers on either side had drawn the short saxes, or knives from
which their name of Saxon is derived, when a burly, red-headed man
pushed his way through the throng, and in a voice of thunder brough
the controversy to an end.
"You priests, who argue about the things which no man can know, are
more trouble aboard this ship than all the dangers of the sea," he
cried. "Can you not be content with worshipping Woden, over which we
are all agreed, and not make so much of those small points upon which
we may differ. If there is all this fuss about the teaching of the
children, then I shall forbid either of you to teach them, and they
must be content with as much as they can learn from their mothers."
The two angry teachers walked away with discontented faces; and
Kenna--for it was he who spoke--ordered that a whistle should be
sounded, and that the crew should assemble. I was pleased with the
free bearing of these people, for though this was their greatest
chief, they showed none of the exaggerated respect which soldiers of a
legion might show to the PrÃ¦tor, but met him on a respectful equality,
which showed how highly they rated their own manhood.
From our Roman standard, his remarks to his men would seem very
wanting in eloquence, for there were no graces nor metaphors to be
found in them, and yet they were short, strong and to the point. At
any rate it was very clear that they were to the minds of his hearers.
He began by reminding them that they had left their own country
because the land was all taken up, and that there was no use returning
there, since there was no place where they could dwell as free and
independent men. This island of Britain was but sparsely inhabited,
and there was a chance that every one of them would be able to found a
home of his own.
"You, Whitta," he said, addressing some of them by name, "you will
found a Whitting hame, and you, Bucka, we shall see you in a Bucking
hame, where your children and your children's children will bless you
for the broad acres which your valour will have gained for them."
There was no word of glory or of honour in his speech, but he said
that he was aware that they would do their duty, on which they all
struck their swords upon their shields so that the Britons on the
beach could hear the clang. Then, his eyes falling upon me, he asked
me whether I was the messenger from Vortigern, and on my answering, he
bid me follow him into his cabin, where Lanc and Hasta, the other
chiefs, were waiting for a council.
Picture me, then, my dear Crassus, in a very low-roofed cabin, with
these three huge Barbarians seated round me. Each was clad in some
sort of saffron tunic, with a chain-mail shirt over it, and a helmet
with the horns of oxen on the sides, laid upon the table before him.
Like most of the Saxon chiefs, their beards were shaved, but they wore
their hair long and their huge light-coloured moustaches drooped down
on to their shoulders. They are gentle, slow, and somewhat heavy in
their bearing, but I can well fancy that their fury is the more
terrible when it does arise.
Their minds seem to be of a very practical and positive nature, for
they at once began to ask me a series of question upon the numbers of
the Britons, the resources of the kingdom, the conditions of its
trade, and other such subjects. They then set to work arguing over the
information which I had given, and became so absorbed in their own
contention that I believe there were times when they forgot my
presence. Everything, after due discussion, was decided between them
by the vote, the one who found himself in the minority always
submitting, though sometimes with a very bad grace. Indeed, on one
occasion Lanc, who usually differed from the others, threatened to
refer the matter to the general vote of the whole crew. There was a
constant conflict in the point of view; for whereas Kenna and Hasta
were anxious to extend the Saxon power, and to make it greater in the
eyes of the world, Lanc was of opinion that they should give less
thought to conquest and more to the comfort and advancement of their
followers. At the same time it seemed to me that really Lanc was the
most combative of the three; so much so that, even in time of peace,
he could not forego this contest with his own brethren. Neither of the
others seemed very fond of him, for they were each, as was easy to
see, proud of their chieftainship, and anxious to use their authority,
referring continually to those noble ancestors from whom it was
derived; while Lanc, though he was equally well born, took the view of
the common men upon every occasion, claiming that the interests of the
many were superior to the privileges of the few. In a word, Crassus,
if you could imagine a free-booting Gracchus on one side, and two
piratical Patricians upon the other, you would understand the effect
which my companions produced upon me.
There was one peculiarity which I observed in their conversation which
soothed me very much. I am fond of these Britons, among whom I have
spent so much of my life, and I wish them well. It was very pleasing,
therefore, to notice that these men insisted upon it in their
conversation that the whole object of their visit was the good of the
Islanders. Any prospect of advantage to themselves was pushed into the
background. I was not clear that these professions could be made to
agree with the speech in which Kenna had promised a hundred hides of
land to every man on the ship; but on my making this remark, the three
chiefs seemed very surprised and hurt by my suspicions, and explained
very plausibly that, as the Britons needed them as a guard, they could
not aid them better than by settling on the soil, and so being
continually at hand in order to help them. In time, they said, they
hoped to raise and train the natives to such a point that they would
be able to look after themselves. Lanc spoke with some degree of
eloquence upon the nobleness of the mission which they had undertaken,
and the others clattered their cups of mead (a jar of that unpleasant
drink was on the table) in token of their agreement.
I observed also how much interested, and how very earnest and
intolerant these Barbarians were in the matter of religion. Of
Christianity they knew nothing, so that although they were aware that
the Britons were Christians, they had not a notion of what their creed
really was. Yet without examination they started by taking it for
granted that their own worship of Woden was absolutely right, and that
therefore this other creed must be absolutely wrong. "This vile
religion," "This sad superstition," and "This grievous error" were
among the phrases which they used towards it. Instead of expressing
pity for anyone who had been misinformed upon so serious a question,
their feelings were those of anger, and they declared most earnestly
that they would spare no pains to set the matter right, fingering the
hilts of their long broadswords as they said so.
Well, my dear Crassus, you will have had enough of me and of my
Saxons. I have given you a short sketch of these people and their
ways. Since I began this letter, I have visited the two other ships
which have come in, and as I find the same characteristics among the
people on board them, I cannot doubt that they lie deeply in the race.
For the rest, they are brave, hardy, and very pertinacious in all that
they undertake; whereas the Britons, though a great deal more
spirited, have not the same steadiness of purpose, their quicker
imaginations suggesting always some other course, and their more fiery
passions being succeeded by reaction. When I looked from the deck of
the first Saxon ship, and saw the swaying excited multitude of Britons
on the beach, contrasting them with the intent, silent men who stood
beside me, it seemed to me more than ever dangerous to call in such
allies. So strongly did I feel it that I turned to Kenna, who was also
looking towards the beach.
"You will own this island before you have finished," said I.
His eyes sparkled as he gazed. "Perhaps," he cried; and then suddenly
correcting himself and thinking that he had said too much, he added--
"A temporary occupation--nothing more."
It was daybreak of a March morning in the year of Christ 92. Outside
the long Semita Alta was already thronged with people, with buyers and
sellers, callers and strollers, for the Romans were so early-rising a
people that many a Patrician preferred to see his clients at six in
the morning. Such was the good republican tradition, still upheld by
the more conservative; but with more modern habits of luxury, a night
of pleasure and banqueting was no uncommon thing. Thus one, who had
learned the new and yet adhered to the old, might find his hours
overlap, and without so much as a pretence of sleep come straight from
his night of debauch into his day of business, turning with heavy wits
and an aching head to that round of formal duties which consumed the
life of a Roman gentleman.
So it was with Emilius Flaccus that March morning. He and his fellow
senator, Caius Balbus, had passed the night in one of those gloomy
drinking bouts to which the Emperor Domitian summoned his chosen
friends at the high palace on the Palatine. Now, having reached the
portals of the house of Flaccus, they stood together under the
pomegranate-fringed portico which fronted the peristyle and, confident
in each other's tried discretion, made up by the freedom of their
criticism for the long self-suppression of that melancholy feast.
"If he would but feed his guests," said Balbus, a little red-faced,
choleric nobleman with yellow-shot angry eyes. "What had we? Upon my
life, I have forgotten. Plovers' eggs, a mess of fish, some bird or
other, and then his eternal apples."
"Of which," said Flaccus, "he ate only the apples. Do him the justice
to confess that he takes even less than he gives. At least they cannot
say of him as of Vitellius, that his teeth beggared the empire."
"No, nor this thirst, great as it is. That fiery Sabine wine of his
could be had for a few sesterces the amphora. It is the common drink
of the carters at every wine-house on the country roads. I longed for
a glass of my own rich Falernian or the mellow Coan that was bottled
in the year that Titus took Jerusalem. Is it even now too late? Could
we not wash this rasping stuff from our palates?"
"Nay, better come in with me now and take a bitter draught ere you go
upon your way. My Greek physician Stephanos has a rare prescription
for a morning head. What! Your clients await you? Well, I will see you
later at the Senate house."
The Patrician had entered his atrium, bright with rare flowers, and
melodious with strange singing birds. At the jaws of the hall, true to
his morning duties, stood Lebs, the little Nubian slave, with
snow-white tunic and turban, a salver of glasses in one hand, whilst
in the other he held a flask of thin lemon-tinted liquid. The master
of the house filled up a bitter aromatic bumper, and was about to
drink it off, when his hand was arrested by a sudden perception that
something was much amiss in his household. It was to be read all
around him--in the frightened eyes of the black boy, in the agitated
face of the keeper of the atrium, in the gloom and silence of the
little knot of ordinarii, the procurator or majordomo at their head,
who had assembled to greet their master. Stephanos the physician,
Cleios the Alexandrine reader, Promus the steward each turned his head
away to avoid his master's questioning gaze.
"What in the name of Pluto is the matter with you all?" cried the
amazed senator, whose night of potations had left him in no mood for
patience. "Why do you stand moping there? Stephanos, Vacculus, is
anything amiss? Here, Promus, you are the head of my household. What
is it, then? Why do you turn your eyes away from me?"
The burly steward, whose fat face was haggard and mottled with
anxiety, laid his hand upon the sleeve of the domestic beside him.
"Sergius is responsible for the atrium, my lord. It is for him to tell
you the terrible thing that has befallen in your absence."
"Nay, it was Datus who did it. Bring him in, and let him explain it
himself," said Sergius in a sulky voice.
The patience of the Patrician was at an end. "Speak this instant, you
rascal!" he shouted angrily. "Another minute, and I will have you
dragged to the ergastulum, where, with your feet in the stocks and the
gyves round your wrists, you may learn quicker obedience. Speak, I
say, and without delay."
"It is the Venus," the man stammered; "the Greek Venus of Praxiteles."
The senator gave a cry of apprehension and rushed to the corner of the
atrium, where a little shrine, curtained off by silken drapery, held
the precious statue, the greatest art treasure of his
collection--perhaps of the whole world. He tore the hangings aside and
stood in speechless anger before the outraged goddess. The red,
perfumed lamp which always burned before her had been spilled and
broken; her altar fire had been quenched, her chaplet had been dashed
aside. But worst of all--insufferable sacrilege!--her own beautiful
nude body of glistening Pantelic marble, as white and fair as when the
inspired Greek had hewed it out five hundred years before, had been
most brutally mishandled. Three fingers of the gracious outstretched
hand had been struck off, and lay upon the pedestal beside her. Above
her delicate breast a dark mark showed, where a blow had disfigured
the marble. Emilius Flaccus, the most delicate and judicious
connoisseur in Rome, stood gasping and croaking, his hand to his
throat, as he gazed at his disfigured masterpiece. Then he turned upon
his slaves, his fury in his convulsed face; but, to his amazement,
they were not looking at him, but had all turned in attitudes of deep
respect towards the opening of the peristyle. As he faced round and
saw who had just entered his house, his own rage fell away from him in
an instant, and his manner became as humble as that of his servants.
The new-comer was a man forty-three years of age, clean shaven, with a
massive head, large engorged eyes, a small clear-cut nose, and the
full bull neck which was the especial mark of his breed. He had
entered through the peristyle with a swaggering, rolling gait, as one
who walks upon his own ground, and now he stood, his hands upon his
hips, looking round him at the bowing slaves, and finally at their
master, with a half-humorous expression upon his flushed and brutal
"Why, Emilius," said he, "I had understood that your household was the
best-ordered in Rome. What is amiss with you this morning?"
"Nothing could be amiss with us now that CÃ¦sar has deigned to come
under my roof," said the courtier. "This is indeed a most glad
surprise which you have prepared for me."
"It was an afterthought," said Domitian. "When you and the others had
left me, I was in no mood for sleep, and so it came into my mind that
I would have a breath of morning air by coming down to you, and seeing
this Grecian Venus of yours, about which you discoursed so eloquently
between the cups. But, indeed, by your appearance and that of your
servants, I should judge that my visit was an ill-timed one."
"Nay, dear master; say not so. But, indeed, it is truth that I was in
trouble at the moment of your welcome entrance, and this trouble was,
as the Fates have willed it, brought forth by that very statue in
which you have been graciously pleased to show your interest. There it
stands, and you can see for yourself how rudely it has been
"By Pluto and all the nether gods, if it were mine some of you should
feed the lampreys," said the Emperor, looking round with his fierce
eyes at the shrinking slaves. "You were always overmerciful, Emilius.
It is the common talk that your catenÃ¦ are rusted for want of use. But
surely this is beyond all bounds. Let me see how you handle the
matter. Whom do you hold responsible?"
"The slave Sergius is responsible, since it is his place to tend the
atrium," said Flaccus. "Stand forward, Sergius. What have you to say?"
The trembling slave advanced to his master. "If it please you, sir,
the mischief has been done by Datus the Christian."
"Datus! Who is he?"
"The matulator, the scavenger, my lord. I did not know that he
belonged to these horrible people, or I should not have admitted him.
He came with his broom to brush out the litter of the birds. His eyes
fell upon the Venus, and in an instant he had rushed upon her and
struck her two blows with his wooden besom. Then we fell upon him and
dragged him away. But alas! alas! it was too late, for already the
wretch had dashed off the fingers of the goddess."
The Emperor smiled grimly, while the Patrician's thin face grew pale
"Where is the fellow?" he asked.
"In the ergastulum, your honour, with the furca on his neck."
"Bring him hither and summon the household."
A few minutes later the whole back of the atrium was thronged by the
motley crowd who ministered to the household needs of a great Roman
nobleman. There was the arcarius, or account keeper, with his stylum
behind his ear; the sleek prÃ¦gustator, who sampled all foods, so as to
stand between his master and poison, and beside him his predecessor,
now a half-witted idiot through the interception twenty years before
of a datura draught from Canidia; the cellar-man, summoned from
amongst his amphorÃ¦; the cook, with his basting-ladle in his hand; the
pompous nomenclator, who ushered the guests; the cubicularius, who saw
to their accommodation; the silentiarius, who kept order in the house;
the structor, who set forth the tables; the carptor, who carved the
food; the cinerarius, who lit the fires--these and many more, half
curious, half-terrified, came to the judging of Datus. Behind them a
chattering, giggling swarm of Lalages, Marias, Cerusas, and
Amaryllides, from the laundries and the spinning-rooms, stood upon
their tiptoes, and extended their pretty wondering faces over the
shoulders of the men. Through this crowd came two stout varlets
leading the culprit between them. He was a small, dark, rough-headed
man, with an unkempt beard and wild eyes which shone brightly with
strong inward emotion. His hands were bound behind him, and over his
neck was the heavy wooden collar or furca which was placed upon
refractory slaves. A smear of blood across his cheek showed that he
had not come uninjured from the preceding scuffle.
"Are you Datus the scavenger?" asked the Patrician.
The man drew himself up proudly. "Yes," said he, "I am Datus."
"Did you do this injury to my statue?"
"Yes, I did."
There was an uncompromising boldness in the man's reply which
compelled respect. The wrath of his master became tinged with
"Why did you do this?" he asked.
"Because it was my duty."
"Why, then, was it your duty to destroy your master's property?"
"Because I am a Christian." His eyes blazed suddenly out of his dark
face. "Because there is no God but one eternal, and all else are
sticks and stones. What has this naked harlot to do with Him to whom
the great firmament is but a garment and the earth a footstool? It was
in His service that I have broken your statue."
Domitian looked with a smile at the Patrician. "You will make nothing
of him," said he. "They speak even so when they stand before the lions
in the arena. As to argument, not all the philosophers of Rome can
break them down. Before my very face they refuse to sacrifice in my
honour. Never were such impossible people to deal with. I should take
a short way with him if I were you."
"What would CÃ¦sar advise?"
"There are the games this afternoon. I am showing the new
hunting-leopard which King Juba has sent from Numidia. This slave may
give us some sport when he finds the hungry beast sniffing at his
The Patrician considered for a moment. He had always been a father to
his servants. It was hateful to him to think of any injury befalling
them. Perhaps even now, if this strange fanatic would show his sorrow
for what he had done, it might be possible to spare him. At least it
was worth trying.
"Your offence deserves death," he said. "What reasons can you give why
it should not befall you, since you have injured this statue, which is
worth your own price a hundred times over?"
The slave looked steadfastly at his master. "I do not fear death," he
said. "My sister Candida died in the arena, and I am ready to do the
same. It is true that I have injured your statue, but I am able to
find you something of far greater value in exchange. I will give you
the truth and the gospel in exchange for your broken idol."
The Emperor laughed. "You will do nothing with him, Emilius," he said.
"I know his breed of old. He is ready to die; he says so himself. Why
save him, then?"
But the Patrician still hesitated. He would make a last effort.
"Throw off his bonds," he said to the guards. "Now take the furca off
his neck. So! Now, Datus, I have released you to show you that I trust
you. I have no wish to do you any hurt if you will but acknowledge
your error, and so set a better example to my household here
"How then, shall I acknowledge my error?" the slave asked.
"Bow your head before the goddess, and entreat her forgiveness for the
violence you have done her. Then perhaps you may gain my pardon as
"Put me, then, before her," said the Christian.
Emilius Flaccus looked triumphantly at Domitian. By kindness and tact
he was effecting that which the Emperor had failed to do by violence.
Datus walked in front of the mutilated Venus. Then with a sudden
spring he tore the baton out of the hand of one of his guardians,
leaped upon the pedestal, and showered his blows upon the lovely
marble woman. With a crack and a dull thud her right arm dropped to
the ground. Another fierce blow and the left had followed. Flaccus
danced and screamed with horror, while his servants dragged the raving
iconoclast from his impassive victim. Domitian's brutal laughter
echoed through the hall.
"Well, friend, what think you now?" he cried. "Are you wiser than your
Emperor? Can you indeed tame your Christian with kindness?"
Emilius Flaccus wiped the sweat from his brow. "He is yours, great
CÃ¦sar. Do with him as you will."
"Let him be at the gladiators' entrance of the circus an hour before
the games begin," said the Emperor. "Now, Emilius, the night has been
a merry one. My Ligurian galley waits by the river quay. Come, cool
your head with a spin to Ostia ere the business of State calls you to
THE COMING OF MAXIMIN
Many are the strange vicissitudes of history. Greatness has often sunk
to the dust, and has tempered itself to its new surroundings.
Smallness has risen aloft, has flourished for a time, and then has
sunk once more. Rich monarchs have become poor monks, brave conquerors
have lost their manhood, eunuchs and women have overthrown armies and
kingdoms. Surely there is no situation which the mind of man could
invent which has not taken shape and been played out upon the world
stage. But of all the strange careers and of all the wondrous
happenings, stranger than Charles in his monastery, or Justin on his
throne, there stands the case of Giant Maximin, what he attained, and
how he attained it. Let me tell the sober facts of history, tinged
only by that colouring to which the more austere historians could not
condescend. It is a record as well as a story.
In the heart of Thrace some ten miles north of the Rhodope mountains,
there is a valley which is named Harpessus, after the stream which
runs down it. Through this valley lies the main road from the east to
the west, and along the road, returning from an expedition against the
Alani, there marched, upon the fifth day of the month of June in the
year 210, a small but compact Roman army. It consisted of three
legions--the Jovian, the Cappadocian, and the men of Hercules. Ten
turmÃ¦ of Gallic cavalry led the van, while the rear was covered by a
regiment of Batavian Horse Guards, the immediate attendants of the
Emperor Septimus Severus, who had conducted the campaign in person.
The peasants who lined the low hills which fringed the valley looked
with indifference upon the long files of dusty, heavily-burdened
infantry, but they broke into murmurs of delight at the gold-faced
cuirasses and high brazen horse-hair helmets of the guardsmen,
applauding their stalwart figures, their martial bearing, and the
stately black chargers which they rode. A soldier might know that it
was the little weary men with their short swords, their heavy pikes
over their shoulders, and their square shields slung upon their backs,
who were the real terror of the enemies of the Empire, but to the eyes
of the wondering Thracians it was this troop of glittering Apollos who
bore Rome's victory upon their banners, and upheld the throne of the
purple-togaed prince who rode before them.
Among the scattered groups of peasants who looked on from a respectful
distance at this military pageant, there were two men who attracted
much attention from those who stood immediately around them. The one
was commonplace enough--a little grey-headed man, with uncouth dress
and a frame which was bent and warped by a long life of arduous toil,
goat-driving and wood-chopping, among the mountains. It was the
appearance of his youthful companion which had drawn the amazed
observation of the bystanders. In stature he was such a giant as is
seen but once or twice in each generation of mankind. Eight feet and
two inches was his measure from his sandalled sole to the topmost
curls of his tangled hair. Yet for all his mighty stature there was
nothing heavy or clumsy in the man. His huge shoulders bore no
redundant flesh, and his figure was straight and hard and supple as a
young pine tree. A frayed suit of brown leather clung close to his
giant body, and a cloak of undressed sheep-skin was slung from his
shoulder. His bold blue eyes, shock of yellow hair and fair skin
showed that he was of Gothic or northern blood, and the amazed
expression upon his broad frank face as he stared at the passing
troops told of a simple and uneventful life in some back valley of the
"I fear your mother was right when she advised that we keep you at
home," said the old man anxiously. "Tree-cutting and wood-carrying
will seem but dull work after such a sight as this."
"When I see mother next it will be to put a golden torque round her
neck," said the young giant. "And you, daddy; I will fill your leather
pouch with gold pieces before I have done."
The old man looked at his son with startled eyes. "You would not leave
us, Theckla! What could we do without you?"
"My place is down among yonder men," said the young man. "I was not
born to drive goats and carry logs, but to sell this manhood of mine
in the best market. There is my market in the Emperor's own Guard. Say
nothing, daddy, for my mind is set, and if you weep now it will be to
laugh hereafter. I will to great Rome with the soldiers."
The daily march of the heavily laden Roman legionary was fixed at
twenty miles; but on this afternoon, though only half the distance had
been accomplished, the silver trumpets blared out their welcome news
that a camp was to be formed. As the men broke their ranks, the reason
of their light march was announced by the decurions. It was the
birthday of Geta, the younger son of the Emperor, and in his honour
there would be games and a double ration of wine. But the iron
discipline of the Roman army required that under all circumstances
certain duties should be performed, and foremost among them that the
camp should be made secure. Laying down their arms in the order of
their ranks, the soldiers seized their spades and axes, and worked
rapidly and joyously until sloping vallum and gaping fossa girdled
them round, and gave them safe refuge against a night attack. Then in
noisy, laughing, gesticulating crowds they gathered in their thousands
round the grassy arena where the sports were to be held. A long green
hill-side sloped down to a level plain, and on this gentle incline the
army lay watching the strife of the chosen athletes who contended
before them. They stretched themselves in the glare of the sunshine,
their heavy tunics thrown off, and their naked limbs sprawling,
wine-cups and baskets of fruit and cakes circling amongst them,
enjoying rest and peace as only those can to whom it comes so rarely.
The five-mile race was over, and had been won as usual by Decurion
Brennus, the crack long-distance champion of the Herculians. Amid the
yells of the Jovians, Capellus of the corps had carried off both the
long and the high jump. Big Brebix the Gaul had out-thrown the long
guardsman Serenus with the fifty pound stone. Now, as the sun sank
towards the western ridge, and turned the Harpessus to a riband of
gold, they had come to the final of the wrestling, where the pliant
Greek, whose name is lost in the nickname of "Python," was tried out
against the bull-necked Lictor of the military police, a hairy
Hercules, whose heavy hand had in the way of duty oppressed many of
As the two men, stripped save for their loincloths, approached the
wrestling-wring, cheers and counter-cheers burst from their adherents,
some favouring the Lictor for his Roman blood, some the Greek from
their own private grudge. And then, of a sudden, the cheering died,
heads were turned towards the slope away from the arena, men stood up
and peered and pointed, until finally, in a strange hush, the whole
great assembly had forgotten the athletes, and were watching a single
man walking swiftly towards them down the green curve of the hill.
This huge solitary figure, with the oaken club in his hand, the shaggy
fleece flapping from his great shoulders, and the setting sun gleaming
upon a halo of golden hair, might have been the tutelary god of the
fierce and barren mountains from which he had issued. Even the Emperor
rose from his chair and gazed with open-eyed amazement at the
extraordinary being who approached him.
The man, whom we already know as Theckla the Thracian, paid no heed to
the attention which he had aroused, but strode onwards, stepping as
lightly as a deer, until he reached the fringe of the soldiers. Amid
their open ranks he picked his way, sprang over the ropes which
guarded the arena, and advanced towards the Emperor, until a spear at
his breast warned him that he must go no nearer. Then he sunk upon his
right knee and called out some words in the Gothic speech.
"Great Jupiter! Whoever saw such a body of a man!" cried the Emperor.
"What says he? What is amiss with the fellow? Whence comes he, and
what is his name?"
An interpreter translated the Barbarian's answer. "He says, great
CÃ¦sar, that he is of good blood, and sprung by a Gothic father from a
woman of the Alani. He says that his name is Theckla, and that he
would fain carry a sword in CÃ¦sar's service."
The Emperor smiled. "Some post could surely be found for such a man,
were it but as janitor in the Palatine Palace," said he to one of the
Prefects. "I would fain see him walk even as he is through the forum.
He would turn the heads of half the women in Rome. Talk to him,
Crassus. You know his speech."
The Roman officer turned to the giant. "CÃ¦sar says that you are to
come with him, and he will make you the servant at his door."
The Barbarian rose, and his fair cheeks flushed with resentment.
"I will serve CÃ¦sar as a soldier," said he, "but I will be
house-servant to no man--not even to him. If CÃ¦sar would see what
manner of man I am, let him put one of his guardsmen up against me."
"By the shade of Milo this is a bold fellow!" cried the Emperor. "How
say you, Crassus? Shall he make good his words?"
"By your leave, CÃ¦sar," said the blunt soldier, "good swordsmen are
too rare in these days that we should let them slay each other for
sport. Perhaps if the Barbarian would wrestle a fall----"
"Excellent!" cried the Emperor. "Here is the Python, and here Varus
the Lictor, each stripped for the bout. Have a look at them,
Barbarian, and see which you would choose. What does he say? He would
take them both? Nay then he is either the king of wrestlers or the
king of boasters, and we shall soon see which. Let him have his way,
and he has himself to thank if he comes out with a broken neck."
There was some laughter when the peasant tossed his sheep-skin mantle
to the ground and, without troubling to remove his leathern tunic,
advanced towards the two wrestlers; but it became uproarious when with
a quick spring he seized the Greek under one arm and the Roman under
the other, holding them as in a vice. Then with a terrific effort he
tore them both from the ground, carried them writhing and kicking
round the arena, and finally walking up to the Emperor's throne, threw
his two athletes down in front of him. Then, bowing to CÃ¦sar, the huge
Barbarian withdrew, and laid his great bulk down among the ranks of
the applauding soldiers, whence he watched with stolid unconcern the
conclusion of the sports.
It was still daylight, when the last event had been decided, and the
soldiers returned to the camp. The Emperor Severus had ordered his
horse, and in the company of Crassus, his favourite prefect, rode down
the winding pathway, which skirts the Harpessus, chatting over the
future dispersal of the army. They had ridden for some miles when
Severus, glancing behind him, was surprised to see a huge figure which
trotted lightly along at the very heels of his horse.
"Surely this is Mercury as well as Hercules that we have found among
the Thracian mountains," said he with a smile. "Let us see how soon
our Syrian horses can out-distance him."
The two Romans broke into a gallop, and did not draw rein until a good
mile had been covered at the full pace of their splendid chargers.
Then they turned and looked back; but there, some distance off, still
running with a lightness and a spring which spoke of iron muscles and
inexhaustible endurance, came the great Barbarian. The Roman Emperor
waited until the athlete had come up to them.
"Why do you follow me?" he asked.
"It is my hope, CÃ¦sar, that I may always follow you." His flushed face
as he spoke was almost level with that of the mounted Roman.
"By the god of war, I do not know where in all the world I could find
such a servant!" cried the Emperor. "You shall be my own body-guard,
the one nearest to me of all."
The giant fell upon his knee. "My life and strength are yours," he
said. "I ask no more than to spend them for CÃ¦sar."
Crassus had interpreted this short dialogue. He now turned to the
"If he is indeed to be always at your call, CÃ¦sar, it would be well to
give the poor Barbarian some name which your lips can frame. Theckla
is as uncouth and craggy a word as one of his native rocks."
The Emperor pondered for a moment. "If I am to have the naming of
him," said he, "then surely I shall call him Maximus, for there is not
such a giant upon earth."
"Hark you," said the Prefect. "The Emperor has deigned to give you a
Roman name, since you have come into his service. Henceforth you are
no longer Theckla, but you are Maximus. Can you say it after me?"
"Maximin," repeated the Barbarian, trying to catch the Roman word.
The Emperor laughed at the mincing accent. "Yes, yes, Maximin let it
be. To all the world you are Maximin, the body-guard of Severus. When
we have reached Rome, we will soon see that your dress shall
correspond with your office. Meanwhile march with the guard until you
have my further orders."
So it came about that as the Roman army resumed its march next day,
and left behind it the fair valley of the Harpessus, a huge recruit,
clad in brown leather, with a rude sheep-skin floating from his
shoulders, marched beside the Imperial troops. But far away in the
wooden farmhouse of a distant Macedonian valley two old country folk
wept salt tears, and prayed to the gods for the safety of their boy
who had turned his face to Rome.
THE RISE OF GIANT MAXIMIN
Exactly twenty-five years had passed since the day that Theckla the
huge Thracian peasant had turned into Maximin the Roman guardsman.
They had not been good years for Rome. Gone for ever were the great
Imperial days of the Hadrians and the Trajans. Gone also the golden
age of the two Antonines, when the highest were for once the most
worthy and most wise. It had been an epoch of weak and cruel men.
Severus, the swarthy African, a stark grim man had died in far away
York, after fighting all the winter with the Caledonian Highlanders--a
race who have ever since worn the martial garb of the Romans. His son,
known only by his slighting nickname of Caracalla, had reigned during
six years of insane lust and cruelty, before the knife of an angry
soldier avenged the dignity of the Roman name. The nonentity Macrinus
had filled the dangerous throne for a single year before he also met a
bloody end, and made room for the most grotesque of all monarchs, the
unspeakable Heliogabalus with his foul mind and his painted face. He
in turn was cut to pieces by the soldiers; and Severus Alexander, a
gentle youth, scarce seventeen years of age, had been thrust into his
place. For thirteen years now he had ruled, striving with some success
to put some virtue and stability into the rotting Empire, but raising
many fierce enemies as he did so--enemies whom he had not the strength
nor the wit to hold in check.
And Giant Maximin--what of him? He had carried his eight feet of
manhood through the lowlands of Scotland and the passes of the
Grampians. He had seen Severus pass away, and had soldiered with his
son. He had fought in Armenia, in Dacia, and in Germany. They had made
him a centurion upon the field when with his hands he plucked out one
by one the stockades of a northern village, and so cleared a path for
the stormers. His strength had been the jest and the admiration of the
soldiers. Legends about him had spread through the army, and were the
common gossip round the camp fires--of his duel with the German axeman
on the Island of the Rhine, and of the blow with his fist that broke
the leg of a Scythian's horse. Gradually he had won his way upwards,
until now, after quarter of a century's service, he was tribune of the
fourth legion and superintendent of recruits for the whole army. The
young soldier who had come under the glare of Maximin's eyes, or had
been lifted up with one huge hand while he was cuffed by the other,
had his first lesson from him in the discipline of the service.
It was nightfall in the camp of the fourth legion upon the Gallic
shore of the Rhine. Across the moonlit water, amid the thick forests
which stretched away to the dim horizon, lay the wild untamed German
tribes. Down on the river bank the light gleamed upon the helmets of
the Roman sentinels who kept guard along the river. Far away a red
point rose and fell in the darkness--a watch-fire of the enemy upon
the further shore.
Outside his tent, beside some smouldering logs, Giant Maximin was
seated, a dozen of his officers around him. He had changed much since
the day when we first met him in the Valley of the Harpessus. His huge
frame was as erect as ever, and there was no sign of diminution of his
strength. But he had aged none the less. The yellow tangle of hair was
gone, worn down by the ever-pressing helmet. The fresh young face was
drawn and hardened, with austere lines wrought by trouble and
privation. The nose was more hawk-like, the eyes more cunning, the
expression more cynical and more sinister. In his youth, a child would
have run to his arms. Now it would shrink screaming from his gaze.
That was what twenty-five years with the eagles had done for Theckla
the Thracian peasant.
He was listening now--for he was a man of few words--to the chatter of
his centurions. One of them, Balbus the Sicilian, had been to the main
camp at Mainz, only four miles away, and had seen the Emperor
Alexander arrive that very day from Rome. The rest were eager at the
news, for it was a time of unrest, and the rumour of great changes was
in the air.
"How many had he with him?" asked Labienus, a black-browed veteran
from the south of Gaul. "I'll wager a month's pay that he was not so
trustful as to come alone among his faithful legions."
"He had no great force," replied Balbus. "Ten or twelve cohorts of the
PrÃ¦torians and a handful of horse."
"Then indeed his head is in the lion's mouth," cried Sulpicius, a
hot-headed youth from the African Pentapolis. "How was he received?"
"Coldly enough. There was scarce a shout as he came down the line."
"They are ripe for mischief," said Labienus. "And who can wonder, when
it is we soldiers who uphold the Empire upon our spears, while the
lazy citizens at Rome reap all our sowing. Why cannot a soldier have
what the soldier gains? So long as they throw us our denarius a day,
they think that they have done with us."
"Aye," croaked a grumbling old greybeard. "Our limbs, our blood, our
lives--what do they care so long as the Barbarians are held off, and
they are left in peace to their feastings and their circus? Free
bread, free wine, free games--everything for the loafer at Rome. For
us the frontier guard and a soldier's fare."
Maximin gave a deep laugh. "Old Plancus talks like that," said he;
"but we know that for all the world he would not change his steel
plate for a citizen's gown. You've earned the kennel, old hound, if
you wish it. Go and gnaw your bone and growl in peace."
"Nay, I am too old for change. I will follow the eagle till I die. And
yet I had rather die in serving a soldier master than a long-gowned
Syrian who comes of a stock where the women are men and the men are
There was a laugh from the circle of soldiers, for sedition and mutiny
were rife in the camp, and even the old centurion's outbreak could not
draw a protest. Maximin raised his great mastiff head and looked at
"Was any name in the mouths of the soldiers?" he asked in a meaning
There was a hush for the answer. The sigh of the wind among the pines
and the low lapping of the river swelled out louder in the silence.
Balbus looked hard at his commander.
"Two names were whispered from rank to rank," said he. "One was
Ascenius Pollio, the General. The other was----"
The fiery Sulpicius sprang to his feet waving a glowing brand above
"Maximinus!" he yelled, "Imperator Maximinus Augustus!"
Who could tell how it came about? No one had thought of it an hour
before. And now it sprang in an instant to full accomplishment. The
shout of the frenzied young African had scarcely rung through the
darkness when from the tents, from the watch-fires, from the sentries,
the answer came pealing back: "Ave Maximinus! Ave Maximinus Augustus!"
From all sides men came rushing, half-clad, wild-eyed, their eyes
staring, their mouths agape, flaming wisps of straw or flaring torches
above their heads. The giant was caught up by scores of hands, and sat
enthroned upon the bull-necks of the legionaries. "To the camp!" they
yelled. "To the camp! Hail, Hail to the soldier CÃ¦sar!"
That same night Severus Alexander, the young Syrian Emperor, walked
outside his PrÃ¦torian camp, accompanied by his friend Licinius Probus,
the Captain of the Guard. They were talking gravely of the gloomy
faces and seditious bearing of the soldiers. A great foreboding of
evil weighed heavily upon the Emperor's heart, and it was reflected
upon the stern bearded face of his companion.
"I like it not," said he. "It is my counsel, CÃ¦sar, that with the
first light of morning we make our way south once more."
"But surely," the Emperor answered, "I could not for shame turn my
back upon the danger. What have they against me? How have I harmed
them that they should forget their vows and rise upon me?"
"They are like children who ask always for something new. You heard
the murmur as you rode along the ranks. Nay, CÃ¦sar, fly to-morrow, and
your PrÃ¦torians will see that you are not pursued. There may be some
loyal cohorts among the legions, and if we join forces----"
A distant shout broke in upon their conversation--a low continued
roar, like the swelling tumult of a sweeping wave. Far down the road
upon which they stood there twinkled many moving lights, tossing and
sinking as they rapidly advanced, whilst the hoarse tumultuous
bellowing broke into articulate words, the same tremendous words, a
thousand-fold repeated. Licinius seized the Emperor by the wrist and
dragged him under the cover of some bushes.
"Be still, CÃ¦sar! For your life be still!" he whispered. "One word and
we are lost!"
Crouching in the darkness, they saw that wild processing pass, the
rushing, screaming figures, the tossing arms, the bearded, distorted
faces, now scarlet and now grey, as the brandished torches waxed or
waned. They heard the rush of many feet, the clamour of hoarse voices,
the clang of metal upon metal. And then suddenly, above them all, they
saw a vision of a monstrous man, a huge bowed back, a savage face,
grim hawk eyes, that looked out over the swaying shields. It was seen
for an instant in a smoke-fringed circle of fire, and then it had
swept on into the night.
"Who is he?" stammered the Emperor, clutching at his guardsman's
sleeve. "They call him CÃ¦sar."
"It is surely Maximin the Thracian peasant." In the darkness the
PrÃ¦torian officer looked with strange eyes at his master.
"It is all over, CÃ¦sar. Let us fly together to your tent."
But even as they went a second shout had broken forth tenfold louder
than the first. If the one had been the roar of an oncoming wave, the
other was the full turmoil of the tempest. Twenty thousand voices from
the camp had broken into one wild shout which echoed through the
night, until the distant Germans round their watch-fires listened in
wonder and alarm.
"Ave!" cried the voices. "Ave Maximinus Augustus!"
High upon their bucklers stood the giant, and looked round him at the
great floor of upturned faces below. His own savage soul was stirred
by the clamour, but only his gleaming eyes spoke of the fire within.
He waved his hand to the shouting soldiers as the huntsman waves to
the leaping pack. They passed him up a coronet of oak leaves, and
clashed their swords in homage as he placed it on his head. And then
there came a swirl in the crowd before him, a little space was
cleared, and there knelt an officer in the PrÃ¦torian garb, blood upon
his face, blood upon his bared forearm, blood upon his naked sword.
Licinius too had gone with the tide.
"Hail, CÃ¦sar, hail!" he cried, as he bowed his head before the giant.
"I come from Alexander. He will trouble you no more."
THE FALL OF MAXIMIN
For three years the soldier Emperor had been upon the throne. His
palace had been his tent, and his people had been the legionaries.
With them he was supreme; away from them he was nothing. He had gone
with them from one frontier to the other. He had fought against
Dacians, Sarmatians, and once again against the Germans. But Rome knew
nothing of him, and all her turbulence rose against a master who cared
so little for her or her opinion that he never deigned to set foot
within her walls. There were cabals and conspiracies against the
absent CÃ¦sar. Then his heavy hand fell upon them, and they were
cuffed, even as the young soldiers had been who passed under his
discipline. He knew nothing, and cared as much for consuls, senates,
and civil laws. His own will and the power of the sword were the only
forces which he could understand. Of commerce and the arts he was as
ignorant as when he left his Thracian home. The whole vast Empire was
to him a huge machine for producing the money by which the legions
were to be rewarded. Should he fail to get that money, his fellow
soldiers would bear him a grudge. To watch their interests they had
raised him upon their shields that night. If city funds had to be
plundered or temples desecrated, still the money must be got. Such was
the point of view of Giant Maximin.
But there came resistance, and all the fierce energy of the man, all
the hardness which had given him the leadership of hard men, sprang
forth to quell it. From his youth he had lived amidst slaughter. Life
and death were cheap things to him. He struck savagely at all who
stood up to him, and when they hit back, he struck more savagely
still. His giant shadow lay black across the Empire from Britain to
Syria. A strange subtle vindictiveness became also apparent in him.
Omnipotence ripened every fault and swelled it into crime. In the old
days he had been rebuked for his roughness. Now a sullen, dangerous
anger rose against those who had rebuked him. He sat by the hour with
his craggy chin between his hands, and his elbows resting on his
knees, while he recalled all the misadventures, all the vexations of
his early youth, when Roman wits had shot their little satires upon
his bulk and his ignorance. He could not write, but his son Verus
placed the names upon his tablets, and they were sent to the Governor
of Rome. Men who had long forgotten their offence were called suddenly
to make most bloody reparation.
A rebellion broke out in Africa, but was quelled by his lieutenant.
But the mere rumour of it set Rome in a turmoil. The Senate found
something of its ancient spirit. So did the Italian people. They would
not be for ever bullied by the legions. As Maximin approached from the
frontier with the sack of rebellious Rome in his mind, he was faced
with every sign of a national resistance. The country-side was
deserted, the farms abandoned, the fields cleared of crops and cattle.
Before him lay the walled town of Aquileia. He flung himself fiercely
upon it, but was met by as fierce a resistance. The walls could not be
forced, and yet there was no food in the country round for his
legions. The men were starving and dissatisfied. What did it matter to
them who was Emperor? Maximin was no better than themselves. Why
should they call down the curse of the whole Empire upon their heads
by upholding him? He saw their sullen faces and their averted eyes,
and he knew that the end had come.
That night he sat with his son Verus in his tent, and he spoke softly
and gently as the youth had never heard him speak before. He had
spoken thus in old days with Paullina, the boy's mother; but she had
been dead these many years, and all that was soft and gentle in the
big man had passed away with her. Now her spirit seemed very near him,
and his own was tempered by its presence.
"I would have you go back to the Thracian mountains," he said. "I have
tried both, boy, and I can tell you that there is no pleasure which
power can bring which can equal the breath of the wind and the smell
of the kine upon a summer morning. Against you they have no quarrel.
Why should they mishandle you. Keep far from Rome and the Romans. Old
Eudoxus has money, and to spare. He awaits you with two horses outside
the camp. Make for the valley of the Harpessus, lad. It was thence
that your father came, and there you will find his kin. Buy and stock
a homestead, and keep yourself far from the parts of greatness and of
danger. God keep you, Verus, and send you safe to Thrace."
When his son had kissed his hand and had left him, the Emperor drew
his robe around him and sat long in thought. In his slow brain he
revolved the past--his early peaceful days, his years with Severus,
his memories of Britain, his long campaigns, his strivings and
battlings, all leading to that mad night by the Rhine. His fellow
soldiers had loved him then. And now he had read death in their eyes.
How had he failed them? Others he might have wronged, but they at
least had no complaint against him. If he had his time again, he would
think less of them and more of his people, he would try to win love
instead of fear, he would live for peace and not for war. If he had
his time again! But there were shuffling steps, furtive whispers, and
the low rattle of arms outside his tent. A bearded face looked in at
him, a swarthy African face that he knew well. He laughed, and baring
his arm, he took his sword from the table beside him.
"It is you, Sulpicius," said he. "You have not come to cry 'Ave
Imperator Maximin!' as once by the camp fire. You are tired of me, and
by the gods I am tired of you, and glad to be at the end of it. Come
and have done with it, for I am minded to see how many of you I can
take with me when I go."
They clustered at the door of the tent, peeping over each other's
shoulders, and none wishing to be the first to close with that
laughing, mocking giant. But something was pushed forward upon a spear
point, and as he saw it, Maximin groaned and his sword sank to the
"You might have spared the boy," he sobbed. "He would not have hurt
you. Have done with it, then, for I will gladly follow him."
So they closed upon him and cut and stabbed and thrust, until his
knees gave way beneath him and he dropped upon the floor.
"The tyrant is dead!" they cried. "The tyrant is dead," and from all
the camp beneath them and from the walls of the beleaguered city the
joyous cry came echoing back, "He is dead, Maximin is dead!"
I sit in my study, and upon the table before me lies a denarius of
Maximin, as fresh as when the triumvie of the Temple of Juno Moneta
sent it from the mint. Around it are recorded his resounding
titles--Imperator Maximinus, Pontifex Maximus, Tribunitia potestate,
and the rest. In the centre is the impress of a great craggy head, a
massive jaw, a rude fighting face, a contracted forehead. For all the
pompous roll of titles it is a peasant's face, and I see him not as
the Emperor of Rome, but as the great Thracian boor who strode down
the hill-side on that far-distant summer day when first the eagles
beckoned him to Rome.
THE RED STAR
The house of Theodosius, the famous eastern merchant, was in the best
part of Constantinople at the Sea Point which is near the church of
Saint Demetrius. Here he would entertain in so princely a fashion that
even the Emperor Maurice had been known to come privately from the
neighbouring Bucolean palace in order to join in the revelry. On the
night in question, however, which was the fourth of November in the
year of our Lord 630, his numerous guests had retired early, and there
remained only two intimates, both of them successful merchants like
himself, who sat with him over their wine on the marble verandah of
his house, whence on the one side they could see the lights of the
shipping in the Sea of Marmora, and on the other the beacons which
marked out the course of the Bosphorus. Immediately at their feet lay
a narrow strait of water, with the low, dark loom of the Asiatic hills
beyond. A thin haze hid the heavens, but away to the south a single
great red star burned sullenly in the darkness.
The night was cool, the light was soothing, and the three men talked
freely, letting their minds drift back into the earlier days when they
had staked their capital, and often their lives, on the ventures which
had built up their present fortunes. The host spoke of his long
journeys in North Africa, the land of the Moors; how he had travelled,
keeping the blue sea ever upon his right, until he had passed the
ruins of Carthage, and so on and ever on until a great tidal ocean
beat upon a yellow strand before him, while on the right he could see
the high rock across the waves which marked the Pillars of Hercules.
His talk was of dark-skinned bearded men, of lions, and of monstrous
serpents. Then Demetrius, the Cilician, an austere man of sixty, told
how he also had built up his mighty wealth. He spoke of a journey over
the Danube and through the country of the fierce Huns, until he and
his friends had found themselves in the mighty forest of Germany, on
the shores of the great river which is called the Elbe. His stories
were of huge men, sluggish of mind, but murderous in their cups, of
sudden midnight broils and nocturnal flights, of villages buried in
dense woods, of bloody heathen sacrifices, and of the bears and wolves
who haunted the forest paths. So the two elder men capped each other's
stories and awoke each other's memories, while Manuel Ducas, the young
merchant of gold and ostrich feathers, whose name was already known
all over the Levant, sat in silence and listened to their talk. At
last, however, they called upon him also for an anecdote, and leaning
his cheek upon his elbow, with his eyes fixed upon the great red star
which burned in the south, the younger man began to speak.
"It is the sight of that star which brings a story into my mind," said
he. "I do not know its name. Old Lascarius the astronomer would tell
me if I asked, but I have no desire to know. Yet at this time of the
year I always look out for it, and I never fail to see it burning in
the same place. But it seems to me that it is redder and larger than
"It was some ten years ago that I made an expedition into Abyssinia,
where I traded to such good effect that I set forth on my return with
more than a hundred camel-loads of skins, ivory, gold, spices, and
other African produce. I brought them to the sea-coast at Arsinoe, and
carried them up the Arabian Gulf in five of the small boats of the
country. Finally, I landed near Sava, which is a starting-point for
caravans, and, having assembled my camels and hired a guard of forty
men from the wandering Arabs, I set forth for Macoraba. From this
point, which is the sacred city of the idolaters of those parts, one
can always join the large caravans which go north twice a year to
Jerusalem and the sea-coast of Syria.
"Our route was a long and weary one. On our left hand was the Arabian
Gulf, lying like a pool of molten metal under the glare of day, but
changing to blood-red as the sun sank each evening behind the distant
African coast. On our right was a monstrous desert which extends, so
far as I know, across the whole of Arabia and away to the distant
kingdom of the Persians. For many days we saw no sign of life save our
own long, straggling line of laden camels with their tattered, swarthy
guardians. In these deserts the soft sand deadens the footfall of the
animals, so that their silent progress day after day through a scene
which never changes, and which is itself noiseless, becomes at last
like a strange dream. Often as I rode behind my caravan, and gazed at
the grotesque figures which bore my wares in front of me, I found it
hard to believe that it was indeed reality, and that it was I, I,
Manuel Ducas, who lived near the Theodosian Gate of Constantinople,
and shouted for the Green at the hippodrome every Sunday afternoon,
who was there in so strange a land and with such singular comrades.
"Now and then, far out at sea, we caught sight of the white
triangular sails of the boats which these people use, but as they are
all pirates, we were very glad to be safely upon shore. Once or twice,
too, by the water's edge we saw dwarfish creatures--one could scarcely
say if they were men or monkeys--who burrow for homes among the
seaweed, drink the pools of brackish water, and eat what they can
catch. These are the fish-eaters, the Ichthyophagi, of whom old
Herodotus talks--surely the lowest of all the human race. Our Arabs
shrank from them with horror, for it is well known that, should you
die in the desert, these little people will settle on you like carrion
crows, and leave not a bone unpicked. They gibbered and croaked and
waved their skinny arms at us as we passed, knowing well that they
could swim far out to sea if we attempted to pursue them; for it is
said that even the sharks turn with disgust from their foul bodies.
"We had travelled in this way for ten days, camping every evening at
the vile wells which offered a small quantity of abominable water. It
was our habit to rise very early and to travel very late, but to halt
during the intolerable heat of the afternoon, when, for want of trees,
we would crouch in the shadow of a sandhill, or, if that were wanting,
behind our own camels and merchandise, in order to escape from the
insufferable glare of the sun. On the seventh day we were near the
point where one leaves the coast in order to strike inland to
Macoraba. We had concluded our midday halt, and were just starting
once more, the sun still being so hot that we could hardly bear it,
when, looking up, I saw a remarkable sight. Standing on a hillock to
our right there was a man about forty feet high, holding in his hand a
spear which was the size of the mast of a large ship. You look
surprised, my friends, and you can therefore imagine my feelings when
I saw such a sight. But my reason soon told me that the object in
front of me was really a wandering Arab, whose form had been
enormously magnified by the strange distorting effects which the hot
air of the desert is able to cause.
"However, the actual apparition caused more alarm to my companions
than the imagined one had to me, for with a howl of dismay they shrank
together into a frightened group, all pointing and gesticulating as
they gazed at the distant figure. I then observed that the man was not
alone, but that from all the sandhills a line of turbaned heads was
gazing down upon us. The chief of the escort came running to me, and
informed me of the cause of their terror, which was that they
recognised, by some peculiarity in their headgear, that these men
belonged to the tribe of the Dilwas, the most ferocious and
unscrupulous of the Bedouin, who had evidently laid an ambuscade for
us at this point with the intention of seizing our caravan. When I
thought of all my efforts in Abyssinia, of the length of my journey
and of the dangers and fatigues which I had endured, I could not bear
to think of this total disaster coming upon me at the last instant and
robbing me not only of my profits, but also of my original outlay. It
was evident, however, that the robbers were too numerous for us to
attempt to defend ourselves, and that we should be very fortunate
indeed if we escaped with our lives. Sitting upon a packet, therefore,
I commended my soul to our blessed Saint Helena, while I watched with
despairing eyes the stealthy and menacing approach of the Arab
"It may have been our own good fortune, or it may have been the
handsome offering of beeswax candles--four to the pound--which I had
mentally vowed to the Blessed Helena, but at that instant I heard a
great outcry of joy from among my own followers. Standing up on the
packet that I might have a better view, I was overjoyed to see a long
caravan--five hundred camels at least--with a numerous armed guard,
coming along the route from Macoraba. It is, I need not tell you, the
custom of all caravans to combine their forces against the robbers of
the desert, and with the aid of these new-comers we had become the
stronger party. The marauders recognised at at once, for they vanished
as if their native sands had swallowed them. Running up to the summit
of a sandhill, I was just able to catch a glimpse of a dust-cloud
whirling away across the yellow plain, with the long necks of their
camels, the flutter of their loose garments, and the gleam of their
spears breaking out from the heart of it. So vanished the marauders.
"Presently I found, however, that I had only exchanged one danger for
another. At first I had hoped that this new caravan might belong to
some Roman citizen, or at least to some Syrian Christian, but I found
that it was entirely Arab. The trading Arabs who are settled in the
numerous towns are, of course, very much more peaceable than the
Bedouin of the wilderness, those sons of Ishmael of whom we read in
Holy Writ. But the Arab blood is covetous and lawless, so that when I
saw several hundred of them formed in a semi-circle round our camels,
looking with greedy eyes at my boxes of precious metals and my packets
of ostrich feathers, I feared the worst.
"The leader of the new caravan was a man of dignified bearing and
remarkable appearance. His age I would judge to be about forty. He had
aquiline features, a noble black beard, and eyes so luminous, so
searching, and so intense that I cannot remember in all my wanderings
to have seen any which could be compared with them. To my thanks and
salutations he returned a formal bow, and stood stroking his beard and
looking in silence at the wealth which had suddenly fallen into his
power. A murmur from his followers showed the eagerness with which
they awaited the order to fall upon the plunder, and a young ruffian,
who seemed to be on intimate terms with the leader, came to his elbow
and put the desires of his companions into words.
"'Surely, oh Revered One,' said he, 'these people and their treasure
have been delivered into our hands. When we return with it to the holy
place, who of all the Koraish will fail to see the finger of God which
has led us?'
"But the leader shook his head. 'Nay, Ali, it may not be,' he
answered. 'This man is, as I judge, a citizen of Rome, and we may not
treat him as though he were an idolater.'
"'But he is an unbeliever,' cried the youth, fingering a great knife
which hung in his belt. 'Were I to be the judge, he would lose not
only his merchandise, but his life also, if he did not accept the
"The older man smiled and shook his head. 'Nay, Ali; you are too
hot-headed,' said he, 'seeing that there are not as yet three hundred
faithful in the world, our hands would indeed be full if we were to
take the lives and property of all who are not with us. Forget not,
dear lad, that charity and honesty are the very nose-ring and halter
of the true faith.'
"'Among the faithful,' said the ferocious youth.
"'Nay, towards everyone. It is the law of Allah. And yet'--here his
countenance darkened, and his eyes shone with a most sinister
light--'the day may soon come when the hour of grace is past, and woe,
then, to those who have not hearkened! Then shall the sword of Allah
be drawn, and it shall not be sheathed until the harvest is reaped.
First it shall strike the idolaters on the day when my own people and
kinsmen, the unbelieving Koraish, shall be scattered, and the three
hundred and sixty idols of the Caaba thrust out upon the dungheaps of
the town. Then shall the Caaba be the home and temple of one God only
who brooks no rival on earth or in heaven.'
"The man's followers had gathered round him, their spears in their
hands, their ardent eyes fixed upon his face, and their dark features
convulsed with such fanatic enthusiasm as showed the hold which he had
upon their love and respect.
"'We shall be patient,' said he; 'but some time next year, the year
after, the day may come when the great angel Gabriel shall bear me the
message that the time of words has gone by, and that the hour of the
sword has come. We are few and weak, but if it is His will, who can
stand against us? Are you of Jewish faith, stranger?' he asked.
"I answered that I was not.
"'The better for you,' he answered, with the same furious anger in his
swarthy face. 'First shall the idolaters fall, and then the Jews, in
that they have not known those very prophets whom they had themselves
foretold. Then last will come the turn of the Christians, who follow
indeed a true Prophet, greater than Moses or Abraham, but who have
sinned in that they have confounded a creature with the Creator. To
each in turn--idolater, Jew, and Christian--the day of reckoning will
"The ragamuffins behind him all shook their spears as he spoke. There
was no doubt about their earnestness, but when I looked at their
tattered dresses and simple arms, I could not help smiling to think of
their ambitious threats, and to picture what their fate would be upon
the day of battle before the battle-axes of our Imperial Guards, or
the spears of the heavy cavalry of the Armenian Themes. However, I
need not say that I was discreet enough to keep my thoughts to myself,
as I had no desire to be the first martyr in this fresh attack upon
our blessed faith.
"It was now evening, and it was decided that the two caravans should
camp together--an arrangement which was the more welcome as we were by
no means sure that we had seen the last of the marauders. I had
invited the leader of the Arabs to have supper with me, and after a
long exercise of prayer with his followers, he came to join me, but my
attempt at hospitality was thrown away, for he would not touch the
excellent wine which I had unpacked for him, nor would he eat any of
my dainties, contenting himself with stale bread, dried dates, and
water. After this meal we sat alone by the smouldering fire, the
magnificent arch of the heavens above us of that deep, rich blue with
those gleaming, clear-cut stars which can only be seen in that dry
desert air. Our camp lay before us, and no sound reached our ears save
the dull murmur of the voices of our companions and the occasional
shrill cry of a jackal among the sandhills around us. Face to face I
sat with this strange man, the glow of the fire beating upon his eager
and imperious features and reflecting from his passionate eyes. It was
the strangest vigil, and one which will never pass from my
recollection. I have spoken with many wise and famous men upon my
travels, but never with one who left the impression of this one.
"And yet much of his talk was unintelligible to me, though, as you are
aware, I speak Arabian like an Arab. It rose and fell in the strangest
way. Sometimes it was the babble of a child, sometimes the incoherent
raving of a fanatic, sometimes the lofty dreams of a prophet and
philosopher. There were times when his stories of demons, of miracles,
of dreams, and of omens, were such as an old woman might tell to
please the children of an evening. There were others when, as he
talked with shining face of his converse with angels, of the
intentions of the Creator, and the end of the universe, I felt as if I
were in the company of someone more than mortal, someone who was
indeed the direct messenger of the Most High.
"There were good reasons why he should treat me with such confidence.
He saw in me a messenger to Constantinople and to the Roman Empire.
Even as Saint Paul had brought Christianity to Europe, so he hoped
that I might carry his doctrines to my native city. Alas! be the
doctrines what they may, I fear that I am not the stuff of which Pauls
are made. Yet he strove with all his heart during that long Arabian
night to bring me over to his belief. He had with him a holy book,
written, as he said, from the dictation of an angel, which he carried
in tablets of bone in the nose-bag of a camel. Some chapters of this
he read me; but, though the precepts were usually good, the language
seemed wild and fanciful. There were times when I could scarce keep my
countenance as I listened to him. He planned out his future movements,
and indeed, as he spoke, it was hard to remember that he was only the
wandering leader of an Arab caravan, and not one of the great ones of
"'When God has given me sufficient power, which will be within a few
years,' said he, 'I will unite all Arabia under my banner. Then I will
spread my doctrine over Syria and Egypt. When this has been done, I
will turn to Persia, and give them the choice of the true faith or the
sword. Having taken Persia, it will be easy then to overrun Asia
Minor, and so to make our way to Constantinople.'
"I bit my lip to keep from laughing. 'And how long will it be before
your victorious troops have reached the Bosphorus?' I asked.
"'Such things are in the hands of God, whose servants we are,' said
he. 'It may be that I shall myself have passed away before these
things are accomplished, but before the days of our children are
completed, all that I have now told you will come to pass. Look at
that star,' he added, pointing to a beautiful clear planet above our
heads. 'That is the symbol of Christ. See how serene and peaceful it
shines, like His own teaching and the memory of His life. Now,' he
added, turning his outstretched hand to a dusky red star upon the
horizon--the very one on which we are gazing now--'that is my star,
which tells of wrath, of war, of a scourge upon sinners. And yet both
are indeed stars, and each does as Allah may ordain.'
"Well, that was the experience which was called to my mind by the
sight of the star to-night. Red and angry, it still broods over the
south, even as I saw it that night in the desert. Somewhere down
yonder that man is working and striving. He may be stabbed by some
brother fanatic or slain in a tribal skirmish. If so, that is the end.
But if he lives, there was that in his eyes and in his presence which
tells me that Mahomet the son of Abdallah--for that was his name--will
testify in some noteworthy fashion to the faith that is in him."
THE SILVER MIRROR
Jan. 3.--This affair of White and Wotherspoon's accounts proves to be
a gigantic task. There are twenty thick ledgers to be examined and
checked. Who would be a junior partner? However, it is the first big
bit of business which has been left entirely in my hands. I must
justify it. But it has to be finished so that the lawyers may have the
result in time for the trial. Johnson said this morning that I should
have to get the last figure out before the twentieth of the month.
Good Lord! Well, have at it, and if human brain and nerve can stand
the strain, I'll win out at the other side. It means office-work from
ten to five, and then a second sitting from about eight to one in the
morning. There's drama in an accountant's life. When I find myself in
the still early hours, while all the world sleeps, hunting through
column after column for those missing figures which will turn a
respected alderman into a felon, I understand that it is not such a
prosaic profession after all.
On Monday I came on the first trace of defalcation. No heavy game
hunter ever got a finer thrill when first he caught sight of the trail
of his quarry. But I look at the twenty ledgers and think of the
jungle through which I have to follow him before I get my kill. Hard
work--but rare sport, too, in a way! I saw the fat fellow once at a
City dinner, his red face glowing above a white napkin. He looked at
the little pale man at the end of the table. He would have been pale
too if he could have seen the task that would be mine.
Jan. 6.--What perfect nonsense it is for doctors to prescribe rest
when rest is out of the question! Asses! They might as well shout to a
man who has a pack of wolves at his heels that what he wants is
absolute quiet. My figures must be out by a certain date; unless they
are so, I shall lose the chance of my lifetime, so how on earth am I
to rest? I'll take a week or so after the trial.
Perhaps I was myself a fool to go to the doctor at all. But I get
nervous and highly-strung when I sit alone at my work at night. It's
not a pain--only a sort of fullness of the head with an occasional
mist over the eyes. I thought perhaps some bromide, or chloral, or
something of the kind might do me good. But stop work? It's absurd to
ask such a thing. It's like a long distance race. You feel queer at
first and your heart thumps and your lungs pant, but if you have only
the pluck to keep on, you get your second wind. I'll stick to my work
and wait for my second wind. If it never comes--all the same, I'll
stick to my work. Two ledgers are done, and I am well on in the third.
The rascal has covered his tracks well, but I pick them up for all
Jan. 9.--I had not meant to go to the doctor again. And yet I have had
to. "Straining my nerves, risking a complete breakdown, even
endangering my sanity." That's a nice sentence to have fired off at
one. Well, I'll stand the strain and I'll take the risk, and so long
as I can sit in my chair and move a pen I'll follow the old sinner's
By the way, I may as well set down here the queer experience which
drove me this second time to the doctor. I'll keep an exact record of
my symptoms and sensations, because they are interesting in
themselves--"a curious psycho-physiological study," says the
doctor--and also because I am perfectly certain that when I am through
with them they will all seem blurred and unreal, like some queer dream
betwixt sleeping and waking. So now, while they are fresh, I will just
make a note of them, if only as a change of thought after the endless
There's an old silver-framed mirror in my room. It was given me by a
friend who had a taste for antiquities, and he, as I happen to know,
picked it up at a sale and had no notion of where it came from. It's a
large thing--three feet across and two feet high--and it leans at the
back of a side-table on my left as I write. The frame is flat, about
three inches across, and very old; far too old for hall-marks or other
methods of determining its age. The glass part projects, with a
bevelled edge, and has the magnificent reflecting power which is only,
as it seems to me, to be found in very old mirrors. There's a feeling
of perspective when you look into it such as no modern glass can ever
The mirror is so situated that as I sit at the table I can usually see
nothing in it but the reflection of the red window curtains. But a
queer thing happened last night. I had been working for some hours,
very much against the grain, with continual bouts of that mistiness of
which I had complained. Again and again I had to stop and clear my
eyes. Well, on one of these occasions I chanced to look at the mirror.
It had the oddest appearance. The red curtains which should have been
reflected in it were no longer there, but the glass seemed to be
clouded and steamy, not on the surface, which glittered like steel,
but deep down in the very grain of it. This opacity, when I stared
hard at it, appeared to slowly rotate this way and that, until it was
a thick white cloud swirling in heavy wreaths. So real and solid was
it, and so reasonable was I, that I remember turning, with the idea
that the curtains were on fire. But everything was deadly still in the
room--no sound save the ticking of the clock, no movement save the
slow gyration of that strange woolly cloud deep in the heart of the
Then, as I looked, the mist, or smoke, or cloud, or whatever one may
call it, seemed to coalesce and solidify at two points quite close
together, and I was aware, with a thrill of interest rather than of
fear, that these were two eyes looking out into the room. A vague
outline of a head I could see--a woman's by the hair, but this was
very shadowy. Only the eyes were quite distinct; such eyes--dark,
luminous, filled with some passionate emotion, fury or horror, I could
not say which. Never have I seen eyes which were so full of intense,
vivid life. They were not fixed upon me, but stared out into the room.
Then as I sat erect, passed my hand over my brow, and made a strong
conscious effort to pull myself together, the dim head faded into the
general opacity, the mirror slowly cleared, and there were the red
curtains once again.
A sceptic would say, no doubt, that I had dropped asleep over my
figures, and that my experience was a dream. As a matter of fact, I
was never more vividly awake in my life. I was able to argue about it
even as I looked at it, and to tell myself that it was a subjective
impression--a chimera of the nerves--begotten by worry and insomnia.
But why this particular shape? And who is the woman, and what is the
dreadful emotion which I read in those wonderful brown eyes? They come
between me and my work. For the first time I have done less than the
daily tally which I had marked out. Perhaps that is why I have had no
abnormal sensations to-night. To-morrow I must wake up, come what may.
Jan. 11.--All well, and good progress with my work. I wind the net,
coil after coil, round that bulky body. But the last smile may remain
with him if my own nerves break over it. The mirror would seem to be a
sort of barometer which marks my brain pressure. Each night I have
observed that it had clouded before I reached the end of my task.
Dr. Sinclair (who is, it seems, a bit of a psychologist) was so
interested in my account that he came round this evening to have a
look at the mirror. I had observed that something was scribbled in
crabbed old characters upon the metal work at the back. He examined
this with a lens, but could make nothing of it. "Sanc. X. Pal." was
his final reading of it, but that did not bring us any further. He
advised me to put it away into another room; but, after all, whatever
I may see in it is, by his own account, only a symptom. It is in the
cause that the danger lies. The twenty ledgers--not the silver
mirror--should be packed away if I could only do it. I'm at the eighth
now, so I progress.
Jan. 13.--Perhaps it would have been wiser after all if I had packed
away the mirror. I had an extraordinary experience with it last night.
And yet I find it so interesting, so fascinating, that even now I will
keep it in its place. What on earth is the meaning of it all?
I suppose it was about one in the morning, and I was closing my books
preparatory to staggering off to bed, when I saw her there in front of
me. The stage of mistiness and development must have passed
unobserved, and there she was in all her beauty and passion and
distress, as clear-cut as if she were really in the flesh before me.
The figure was small, but very distinct--so much so that every
feature, and every detail of dress, are stamped in my memory. She is
seated on the extreme left of the mirror. A sort of shadowy figure
crouches down beside her--I can dimly discern that it is a man--and
then behind them is a cloud, in which I see figures--figures which
move. It is not a mere picture upon which I look. It is a scene in
life, an actual episode. She crouches and quivers. The man beside her
cowers down. The vague figures make abrupt movements and gestures. All
my fears were swallowed up in my interest. It was maddening to me to
see so much and not to see more.
But I can at least describe the woman to the smallest point. She is
very beautiful and quite young--not more than five-and-twenty, I
should judge. Her hair is of a very rich brown, with a warm chestnut
shade fining into gold at the edges. A little flat-pointed cap comes
to an angle in front and is made of lace edged with pearls. The
forehead is high, too high perhaps for perfect beauty; but one would
not have it otherwise, as it gives a touch of power and strength to
what would otherwise be a softly feminine face. The brows are most
delicately curved over heavy eyelids, and then come those wonderful
eyes--so large, so dark, so full of overmastering emotion, of rage and
horror, contending with a pride of self-control which holds her from
sheer frenzy! The cheeks are pale, the lips white with agony, the chin
and throat most exquisitely rounded. The figure sits and leans forward
in the chair, straining and rigid, cataleptic with horror. The dress
is black velvet, a jewel gleams like a flame in the breast, and a
golden crucifix smoulders in the shadow of a fold. This is the lady
whose image still lives in the old silver mirror. What dire deed could
it be which has left its impress there, so that now, in another age,
if the spirit of a man be but worn down to it, he may be conscious of
One other detail: On the left of the skirt of the black dress was, as
I thought at first, a shapeless bunch of white ribbon. Then, as I
looked more intently or as the vision defined itself more clearly, I
perceived what it was. It was the hand of a man, clenched and knotted
in agony, which held on with a convulsive grasp to the fold of the
dress. The rest of the crouching figure was a mere vague outline, but
that strenuous hand alone shone clear on the dark background, with a
sinister suggestion of tragedy in its frantic clutch. The man is
frightened--horribly frightened. That I can clearly discern. What has
terrified him so? Why does he grip the woman's dress? The answer lies
amongst those moving figures in the background. They have brought
danger both to him and to her. The interest of the thing fascinated
me. I thought no more of its relation to my own nerves. I stared and
stared as if in a theatre. But I could get no further. The mist
thinned. There were tumultuous movements in which all the figures were
vaguely concerned. Then the mirror was clear once more.
The doctor says I must drop work for a day, and I can afford to do so,
for I have made good progress lately. It is quite evident that the
visions depend entirely upon my own nervous state, for I sat in front
of the mirror for over an hour to-night, with no result whatever. My
soothing day has chased them away. I wonder whether I shall ever
penetrate what they all mean? I examined the mirror this evening under
a good light, and besides the mysterious inscription "Sanc. X. Pal.,"
I was able to discern some signs of heraldic marks, very faintly
visible upon the silver. They must be very ancient, as they are almost
obliterated. So far as I could make out, there were three spear-heads,
two above and one below. I will show them to the doctor when he calls
Jan. 14.--Feel perfectly well again, and I intend that nothing else
shall stop me until my task is finished. The doctor was shown the
marks on the mirror and agreed that they were armorial bearings. He is
deeply interested in all that I have told him, and cross-questioned me
closely on the details. It amuses me to notice how he is torn in two
by conflicting desires--the one that his patient should lose his
symptoms, the other that the medium--for so he regards me--should
solve this mystery of the past. He advised continued rest, but did not
oppose me too violently when I declared that such a thing was out of
the question until the ten remaining ledgers have been checked.
Jan. 17.--For three nights I have had no experiences--my day of rest
has borne fruit. Only a quarter of my task is left, but I must make a
forced march, for the lawyers are clamouring for their material. I
will give them enough and to spare. I have him fast on a hundred
counts. When they realise what a slippery, cunning rascal he is, I
should gain some credit from the case. False trading accounts, false
balance-sheets, dividends drawn from capital, losses written down as
profits, suppression of working expenses, manipulation of petty
cash--it is a fine record!
Jan. 18.--Headaches, nervous twitches, mistiness, fullness of the
temples--all the premonitions of trouble, and the trouble came sure
enough. And yet my real sorrow is not so much that the vision should
come as that it should cease before all is revealed.
But I saw more to-night. The crouching man was as visible as the lady
whose gown he clutched. He is a little swarthy fellow, with a black
pointed beard. He has a loose gown of damask trimmed with fur. The
prevailing tints of his dress are red. What a fright the fellow is in,
to be sure! He cowers and shivers and glares back over his shoulder.
There is a small knife in his other hand, but he is far too tremulous
and cowed to use it. Dimly now I begin to see the figures in the
background. Fierce faces, bearded and dark, shape themselves out of
the mist. There is one terrible creature, a skeleton of a man, with
hollow cheeks and eyes sunk in his head. He also has a knife in his
hand. On the right of the woman stands a tall man, very young, with
flaxen hair, his face sullen and dour. The beautiful woman looks up at
him in appeal. So does the man on the ground. This youth seems to be
the arbiter of their fate. The crouching man draws closer and hides
himself in the woman's skirts. The tall youth bends and tries to drag
her away from him. So much I saw last night before the mirror cleared.
Shall I never know what it leads to and whence it comes? It is not a
mere imagination, of that I am very sure. Somewhere, some time, this
scene has been acted, and this old mirror has reflected it. But
Jan. 20.--My work draws to a close, and it is time. I feel a tenseness
within my brain, a sense of intolerable strain, which warns me that
something must give. I have worked myself to the limit. But to-night
should be the last night. With a supreme effort I should finish the
final ledger and complete the case before I rise from my chair. I will
do it. I will.
Feb. 7.--I did. My God, what an experience! I hardly know if I am
strong enough yet to set it down.
Let me explain in the first instance that I am writing this in Dr.
Sinclair's private hospital some three weeks after the last entry in
my diary. On the night of January 20 my nervous system finally gave
way, and I remembered nothing afterwards until I found myself three
days ago in this home of rest. And I can rest with a good conscience.
My work was done before I went under. My figures are in the solicitors
hands. The hunt is over.
And now I must describe that last night. I had sworn to finish my
work, and so intently did I stick to it, though my head was bursting,
that I would never look up until the last column had been added. And
yet it was fine self-restraint, for all the time I knew that wonderful
things were happening in the mirror. Every nerve in my body told me
so. If I looked up there was an end of my work. So I did not look up
till all was finished. Then, when at last with throbbing temples I
threw down my pen and raised my eyes, what a sight was there!
The mirror in its silver frame was like a stage, brilliantly lit, in
which a drama was in progress. There was no mist now. The oppression
of my nerves had wrought this amazing clarity. Every feature, every
movement, was as clear-cut as in life. To think that I, a tired
accountant, the most prosaic of mankind, with the account-books of a
swindling bankrupt before me, should be chosen of all the human race
to look upon such a scene!
It was the same scene and the same figures, but the drama had advanced
a stage. The tall young man was holding the woman in his arms. She
strained away from him and looked up at him with loathing in her face.
They had torn the crouching man away from his hold upon the skirt of
her dress. A dozen of them were round him--savage men, bearded men.
They hacked at him with knives. All seemed to strike him together.
Their arms rose and fell. The blood did not flow from him--it
squirted. His red dress was dabbled in it. He threw himself this way
and that, purple upon crimson, like an over-ripe plum. Still they
hacked, and still the jets shot from him. It was horrible--horrible!
They dragged him kicking to the door. The woman looked over her
shoulder at him and her mouth gaped. I heard nothing, but I knew that
she was screaming. And then, whether it was this nerve-racking vision
before me, or whether, my task finished, all the overwork of the past
weeks came in one crushing weight upon me, the room danced round me,
the floor seemed to sink away beneath my feet, and I remembered no
more. In the early morning my landlady found me stretched senseless
before the silver mirror, but I knew nothing myself until three days
ago I awoke in the deep peace of the doctor's nursing home.
Feb. 9.--Only to-day have I told Dr. Sinclair my full experience. He
had not allowed me to speak of such matters before. He listened with
an absorbed interest. "You don't identify this with any well-known
scene in history?" he asked, with suspicion in his eyes. I assured him
that I knew nothing of history. "Have you no idea whence that mirror
came and to whom it once belonged?" he continued. "Have you?" I asked,
for he spoke with meaning. "It's incredible," said he, "and yet how
else can one explain it? The scenes which you described before
suggested it, but now it has gone beyond all range of coincidence. I
will bring you some notes in the evening."
Later.--He has just left me. Let me set down his words as closely as I
can recall them. He began by laying several musty volumes upon my bed.
"These you can consult at your leisure," said he. "I have some notes
here which you can confirm. There is not a doubt that what you have
seen is the murder of Rizzio by the Scottish nobles in the presence of
Mary, which occurred in March 1566. Your description of the woman is
accurate. The high forehead and heavy eyelids combined with great
beauty could hardly apply to two women. The tall young man was her
husband, Darnley. Rizzio, says the chronicle, 'was dressed in a loose
dressing-gown of furred damask, with hose of russet velvet.' With one
hand he clutched Mary's gown, with the other he held a dagger. Your
fierce, hollow-eyed man was Ruthven, who was new-risen from a bed of
sickness. Every detail is exact."
"But why to me?" I asked, in bewilderment. "Why of all the human race
"Because you were in the fit mental state to receive the impression.
Because you chanced to own the mirror which gave the impression."
"The mirror! You think, then, that it was Mary's mirror--that it stood
in the room where the deed was done?"
"I am convinced that it was Mary's mirror. She had been Queen of
France. Her personal property would be stamped with the Royal arms.
What you took to be three spear-heads were really the lilies of
"And the inscription?"
"'Sanc. X. Pal.' You can expand it into SanctÃ¦ Crucis Palatium.
Someone has made a note upon the mirror as to whence it came. It was
the Palace of the Holy Cross."
"Holyrood!" I cried.
"Exactly. Your mirror came from Holyrood. You have had one very
singular experience, and have escaped. I trust that you will never put
yourself into the way of having such another."
In the spring of the year 528, a small brig used to run as a passenger
boat between Chalcedon on the Asiatic shore and Constantinople. On the
morning in question, which was that of the feast of Saint George, the
vessel was crowded with excursionists who were bound for the great
city in order to take part in the religious and festive celebrations
which marked the festival of the Megalo-martyr, one of the most choice
occasions in the whole vast hagiology of the Eastern Church. The day
was fine and the breeze light, so that the passengers in their holiday
mood were able to enjoy without a qualm the many objects of interest
which marked the approach to the greatest and most beautiful capital
in the world.
On the right, as they sped up the narrow strait, there stretched the
Asiatic shore, sprinkled with white villages and with numerous villas
peeping out from the woods which adorned it. In front of them, the
Prince's Islands, rising as green as emeralds out of the deep sapphire
blue of the Sea of Marmora, obscured for the moment the view of the
capital. As the brig rounded these, the great city burst suddenly upon
their sight, and a murmur of admiration and wonder rose from the
crowded deck. Tier above tier it rose, white and glittering, a hundred
brazen roofs and gilded statues gleaming in the sun, with high over
all the magnificent shining cupola of Saint Sophia. Seen against a
cloudless sky, it was the city of a dream--too delicate, too airily
lovely for earth.
In the prow of the small vessel were two travellers of singular
appearance. The one was a very beautiful boy, ten or twelve years of
age, swarthy, clear-cut, with dark, curling hair and vivacious black
eyes, full of intelligence and of the joy of living. The other was an
elderly man, gaunt-faced and grey-bearded, whose stern features were
lit up by a smile as he observed the excitement and interest with
which his young companion viewed the beautiful distant city and the
many vessels which thronged the narrow strait.
"See! see!" cried the lad. "Look at the great red ships which sail out
from yonder harbour. Surely, your holiness, they are the greatest of
all ships in the world."
The old man, who was the abbot of the monastery of Saint Nicephorus in
Antioch, laid his hand upon the boy's shoulder.
"Be wary, Leon, and speak less loudly, for until we have seen your
mother we should keep ourselves secret. As to the red galleys they are
indeed as large as any, for they are the Imperial ships of war, which
come forth from the harbour of Theodosius. Round yonder green point is
the Golden Horn, where the merchant ships are moored. But now, Leon,
if you follow the line of buildings past the great church, you will
see a long row of pillars fronting the sea. It marks the Palace of the
The boy looked at it with fixed attention. "And my mother is there,"
"Yes, Leon, your mother the Empress Theodora and her husband the great
Justinian dwell in yonder palace."
The boy looked wistfully up into the old man's face.
"Are you sure, Father Luke, that my mother will indeed be glad to see
The abbot turned away his face to avoid those questioning eyes.
"We cannot tell, Leon. We can only try. If it should prove that there
is no place for you, then there is always a welcome among the brethren
of Saint Nicephorus."
"Why did you not tell my mother that we were coming, Father Luke? Why
did you not wait until you had her command?"
"At a distance, Leon, it would be easy to refuse you. An Imperial
messenger would have stopped us. But when she sees you, Leon--your
eyes, so like her own, your face, which carries memories of one whom
she loved--then, if there be a woman's heart within her bosom, she
will take you into it. They say that the Emperor can refuse her
nothing. They have no child of their own. There is a great future
before you, Leon. When it comes, do not forget the poor brethren of
Saint Nicephorus, who took you in when you had no friend in the
The old abbot spoke cheerily, but it was easy to see from his anxious
countenance that the nearer he came to the capital the more doubtful
did his errand appear. What had seemed easy and natural from the quiet
cloisters of Antioch became dubious and dark now that the golden domes
of Constantinople glittered so close at hand. Ten years before, a
wretched woman, whose very name was an offence throughout the eastern
world, where she was as infamous for her dishonour as famous for her
beauty, had come to the monastery gate, and had persuaded the monks to
take charge of her infant son, the child of her shame. There he had
been ever since. But she, Theodora, the harlot, returning to the
capital, had by the strangest turn of Fortune's wheel caught the fancy
and finally the enduring love of Justinian the heir to the throne.
Then on the death of his uncle Justin, the young man had become the
greatest monarch upon the earth, and had raised Theodora to be not
only his wife and Empress, but to be absolute ruler with powers equal
to and independent of his own. And she, the polluted one, had risen to
the dignity, had cut herself sternly away from all that related to her
past life, and had shown signs already of being a great Queen,
stronger and wiser than her husband, but fierce, vindictive, and
unbending, a firm support to her friends, but a terror to her foes.
This was the woman to whom the Abbot Luke of Antioch was bringing
Leon, her forgotten son. If ever her mind strayed back to the days
when, abandoned by her lover Ecebolus, the Governor of the African
Pentapolis, she had made her way on foot through Asia Minor, and left
her infant with the monks, it was only to persuade herself that the
brethren cloistered far from the world would never identify Theodora
the Empress with Theodora the dissolute wanderer, and that the fruits
of her sin would be for ever concealed from her Imperial husband.
The little brig had now rounded the point of the Acropolis, and the
long blue stretch of the Golden Horn lay before it. The high wall of
Theodosius lined the whole harbour, but a narrow verge of land had
been left between it and the water's edge to serve as a quay. The
vessel ran alongside near the Neorian Gate, and the passengers, after
a short scrutiny from the group of helmeted guards who lounged beside
it, were allowed to pass through into the great city.
The abbot, who had made several visits to Constantinople upon the
business of his monastery, walked with the assured step of one who
knows his ground; while the boy, alarmed and yet pleased by the rush
of people, the roar and clatter of passing chariots, and the vista of
magnificent buildings, held tightly to the loose gown of his guide,
while staring eagerly about him in every direction. Passing through
the steep and narrow streets which led up from the water, they emerged
into the open space which surrounds the magnificent pile of Saint
Sophia, the great church begun by Constantine, hallowed by Saint
Chrysostom, and now the seat of the Patriarch, and the very centre of
the Eastern Church. Only with many crossings and genuflections did the
pious abbot succeed in passing the revered shrine of his religion, and
hurried on to his difficult task.
Having passed Saint Sophia, the two travellers crossed the
marble-paved Augusteum, and saw upon their right the gilded gates of
the hippodrome through which a vast crowd of people was pressing, for
though the morning had been devoted to the religious ceremony, the
afternoon was given over to secular festivities. So great was the rush
of the populace that the two strangers had some difficulty in
disengaging themselves from the stream and reaching the huge arch of
black marble which formed the outer gate of the palace. Within they
were fiercely ordered to halt by a gold-crested and magnificent
sentinel who laid his shining spear across their breasts until his
superior officer should give them permission to pass. The abbot had
been warned, however, that all obstacles would give way if he
mentioned the name of Basil the eunuch, who acted as chamberlain of
the palace and also as Parakimomen--a high office which meant that he
slept at the door of the Imperial bed-chamber. The charm worked
wonderfully, for at the mention of that potent name the
Protosphathaire, or Head of the Palace Guards, who chanced to be upon
the spot, immediately detached one of his soldiers with instructions
to convoy the two strangers into the presence of the chamberlain.
Passing in succession a middle guard and an inner guard, the
travellers came at last into the palace proper, and followed their
majestic guide from chamber to chamber, each more wonderful than the
last. Marbles and gold, velvet and silver, glittering mosaics,
wonderful carvings, ivory screens, curtains of Armenian tissue and of
Indian silk, damask from Arabia, and amber from the Baltic--all these
things merged themselves in the minds of the two simple provincials,
until their eyes ached and their senses reeled before the blaze and
the glory of this, the most magnificent of the dwellings of man.
Finally, a pair of curtains, crusted with gold, were parted, and their
guide handed them over to a negro eunuch who stood within. A heavy,
fat, brown-skinned man, with a large, flabby, hairless face, was
pacing up and down the small apartment, and he turned upon them as
they entered with an abominable and threatening smile. His loose lips
and pendulous cheeks were those of a gross old woman, but above them
there shone a pair of dark malignant eyes, full of fierce intensity of
observation and judgment.
"You have entered the palace by using my name," he said. "It is one of
my boasts that any of the populace can approach me in this way. But it
is not fortunate for those who take advantage of it without due
cause." Again he smiled a smile which made the frightened boy cling
tightly to the loose serge skirts of the abbot.
But the ecclesiastic was a man of courage. Undaunted by the sinister
appearance of the great chamberlain, or by the threat which lay in his
words, he laid his hand upon his young companion's shoulder and faced
the eunuch with a confident smile.
"I have no doubt, your excellency," said he, "that the importance of
my mission has given me the right to enter the palace. The only thing
which troubles me is whether it may not be so important as to forbid
me from broaching it to you, or indeed, to anybody save the Empress
Theodora, since it is she only whom it concerns."
The eunuch's thick eyebrows bunched together over his vicious eyes.
"You must make good those words," he said. "If my gracious master--the
ever-glorious Emperor Justinian--does not disdain to take me into his
most intimate confidence in all things, it would be strange if there
were any subject within your knowledge which I might not hear. You
are, as I gather from your garb and bearing, the abbot of some Asiatic
"You are right, your excellency, I am the Abbot of the Monastery of
St. Nicephorus in Antioch. But I repeat that I am assured that what I
have to say is for the ear of the Empress Theodora only."
The eunuch was evidently puzzled, and his curiosity aroused by the old
man's persistence. He came nearer, his heavy face thrust forward, his
flabby brown hands, like two sponges, resting upon the table of yellow
jasper before him.
"Old man," said he, "there is no secret which concerns the Empress
which may not be told to me. But if you refuse to speak, it is certain
that you will never see her. Why should I admit you, unless I know
your errand? How should I know that you are not a Manichean heretic
with a poniard in your bosom, longing for the blood of the mother of
The abbot hesitated no longer. "If there be a mistake in the matter,
then on your head be it," said he. "Know then that this lad Leon is
the son of Theodora the Empress, left by her in our monastery within a
month of his birth ten years ago. This papyrus which I hand you will
show you that what I say is beyond all question or doubt."
The eunuch Basil took the paper, but his eyes were fixed upon the boy,
and his features showed a mixture of amazement at the news that he had
received, and of cunning speculation as to how he could turn it to
"Indeed, he is the very image of the Empress," he muttered; and then,
with sudden suspicion, "Is it not the chance of this likeness which
has put the scheme into your head, old man?"
"There is but one way to answer that," said the abbot. "It is to ask
the Empress herself whether what I say is not true, and to give her
the glad tidings that her boy is alive and well."
The tone of confidence, together with the testimony of the papyrus,
and the boy's beautiful face, removed the last shadow of doubt from
the eunuch's mind. Here was a great fact; but what use could he make
of it? Above all, what advantage could he draw from it? He stood with
his fat chin in his hand, turning it over in his cunning brain.
"Old man," said he at last, "to how many have you told this secret?"
"To no one in the whole world," the other answered. "There is Deacon
Bardas at the monastery and myself. No one else knows anything."
"You are sure of this?"
The eunuch had made up his mind. If he alone of all men in the palace
knew of this event, he would have a powerful hold over his masterful
mistress. He was certain that Justinian the Emperor knew nothing of
this. It would be a shock to him. It might even alienate his
affections from his wife. She might care to take precautions to
prevent him from knowing. And if he, Basil the eunuch, was her
confederate in those precautions, then how very close it must draw him
to her. All this flashed through his mind as he stood, the papyrus in
his hand, looking at the old man and the boy.
"Stay here," said he. "I will be with you again." With a swift rustle
of his silken robes he swept from the chamber.
A few minutes had elapsed when a curtain at the end of the room was
pushed aside, and the eunuch, reappearing, held it back, doubling his
unwieldy body into a profound obeisance as he did so. Through the gap
came a small alert woman, clad in golden tissue, with a loose outer
mantle and shoes of the Imperial purple. That colour alone showed that
she could be none other than the Empress; but the dignity of her
carriage, the fierce authority of her magnificent dark eyes, and the
perfect beauty of her haughty face, all proclaimed that it could only
be that Theodora who, in spite of her lowly origin, was the most
majestic as well as the most maturely lovely of all the women in her
kingdom. Gone now were the buffoon tricks which the daughter of
Acacius the bearward had learned in the amphitheatre; gone too was the
light charm of the wanton, and what was left was the worthy mate of a
great king, the measured dignity of one who was every inch an empress.
Disregarding the two men, Theodora walked up to the boy, placed her
two white hands upon his shoulders, and looked with a long questioning
gaze, a gaze which began with hard suspicion and ended with tender
recognition, into those large lustrous eyes which were the very
reflection of her own. At first the sensitive lad was chilled by the
cold intent question of the look; but as it softened, his own spirit
responded, until suddenly, with a cry of "Mother! Mother!" he cast
himself into her arms, his hands locked round her neck, his face
buried in her bosom. Carried away by the sudden natural outburst of
emotion, her own arms tightened round the lad's figure, and she
strained him for an instant to her heart. Then, the strength of the
Empress gaining instant command over the temporary weakness of the
mother, she pushed him back from her, and waved that they should leave
her to herself. The slaves in attendance hurried the two visitors from
the room. Basil the eunuch lingered, looking down at his mistress, who
had thrown herself upon a damask couch, her lips white and her bosom
heaving with the tumult of her emotion. She glanced up and met the
chancellor's crafty gaze, her woman's instinct reading the threat that
lurked within it.
"I am in your power," she said. "The Emperor must never know of this."
"I am your slave," said the eunuch, with his ambiguous smile. "I am an
instrument in your hand. If it is your will that the Emperor should
know nothing, then who is to tell him?"
"But the monk, the boy? What are we to do?"
"There is only one way for safety," said the eunuch.
She looked at him with horrified eyes. His spongy hands were pointing
down to the floor. There was an underground world to this beautiful
palace, a shadow that was ever close to the light, a region of
dimly-lit passages, of shadowed corners, of noiseless, tongueless
slaves, of sudden sharp screams in the darkness. To this the eunuch
A terrible struggle rent her breast. The beautiful boy was hers, flesh
of her flesh, bone of her bone. She knew it beyond all question or
doubt. It was her one child, and her whole heart went out to him. But
Justinian! She knew the Emperor's strange limitations. Her career in
the past was forgotten. He had swept it all aside by special Imperial
decree published throughout the Empire, as if she were new-born
through the power of his will, and her association with his person.
But they were childless, and this sight of one which was not his own
would cut him to the quick. He could dismiss her infamous past from
his mind, but if it took the concrete shape of this beautiful child,
then how could he wave it aside as if it had never been? All her
instincts and her intimate knowledge of the man told her that even her
charm and her influence might fail under such circumstances to save
her from ruin. Her divorce would be as easy to him as her elevation
had been. She was balanced upon a giddy pinnacle, the highest in the
world, and yet the higher the deeper the fall. Everything that earth
could give her was now at her feet. Was she to risk the losing of it
all--for what? For a weakness which was unworthy of an Empress, for a
foolish new-born spasm of love, for that which had no existence within
her in the morning? How could she be so foolish as to risk losing such
a substance for such a shadow?
"Leave it to me," said the brown watchful face above her.
"Must it be--death?"
"There is no real safety outside. But if your heart is too merciful,
then by the loss of sight and speech----"
She saw in her mind the white-hot iron approaching those glorious
eyes, and she shuddered at the thought.
"No, no! Better death than that!"
"Let it be death then. You are wise, great Empress, for there only is
real safety and assurance of silence."
"And the monk?"
"But the Holy Synod! He is a tonsured priest? What would the Patriarch
"Silence his babbling tongue. Then let them do what they will. How are
we of the palace to know that this conspirator, taken with a dagger in
his sleeve, is really what he says?"
Again she shuddered and shrank down among the cushions.
"Speak not of it, think not of it," said the eunuch. "Say only that
you leave it in my hands. Nay, then, if you cannot say it, do but nod
your head, and I take it as your signal."
In that moment there flashed before Theodora's mind a vision of all
her enemies, of all those who envied her rise, of all whose hatred and
contempt would rise into a clamour of delight could they see the
daughter of the bearward hurled down into that abyss from which she
had been dragged. Her face hardened, her lips tightened, her little
hands clenched in the agony of her thought.
"Do it!" she said.
In an instant, with a terrible smile, the messenger of death hurried
from the room. She groaned aloud, and buried herself yet deeper amid
the silken cushions, clutching them frantically with convulsed and
The eunuch wasted no time, for this deed, once done, he became--save
for some insignificant monk in Asia Minor, whose fate would soon be
sealed--the only sharer of Theodora's secret, and therefore the only
person who could curb and bend that most imperious nature. Hurrying
into the chamber where the visitors were waiting, he gave a sinister
signal, only too well known in those iron days. In an instant the
black brutes in attendance seized the old man and the boy, pushing
them swiftly down a passage and into a meaner portion of the palace,
where the heavy smell of luscious cooking proclaimed the neighbourhood
of the kitchens. A side corridor led to a heavily-barred iron door,
and this in turn opened upon a steep flight of stone steps, feebly
illuminated by the glimmer of wall lamps. At the head and foot stood a
mute sentinel like an ebony statue, and below, along the dusky and
forbidding passages from which the cells opened, a succession of
niches in the wall were each occupied by a similar guardian. The
unfortunate visitors were dragged brutally down a number of
stone-flagged and dismal corridors until they descended another long
stair which led so deeply into the earth that the damp feeling in the
heavy air and the drip of water all round showed that they had come
down to the level of the sea. Groans and cries, like those of sick
animals, from the various grated doors which they passed showed how
many there were who spent their whole lives in this humid and
At the end of this lowest passage was a door which opened into a
single large vaulted room. It was devoid of furniture, but in the
centre was a large and heavy wooden board clamped with iron. This lay
upon a rude stone parapet, engraved with inscriptions beyond the wit
of the eastern scholars, for this old well dated from a time before
the Greeks founded Byzantium, when men of Chaldea and PhÅ“nicia build
with huge unmortared blocks, far below the level of the town of
Constantine. The door was closed, and the eunuch beckoned to the
slaves that they should remove the slab which covered the well of
death. The frightened boy screamed and clung to the abbot, who,
ashy-pale and trembling, was pleading hard to melt the heart of the
"Surely, surely, you would not slay the innocent boy!" he cried. "What
has he done? Was it his fault that he came here? I alone--I and Deacon
Bardas--are to blame. Punish us, if someone must indeed be punished.
We are old. It is to-day or to-morrow with us. But he is so young and
so beautiful, with all his life before him. Oh, sir! oh, your
excellency, you would not have the heart to hurt him!"
He threw himself down and clutched at the eunuch's knees, while the
boy sobbed piteously and cast horror-stricken eyes at the black slaves
who were tearing the wooden slab from the ancient parapet beneath. The
only answer which the chamberlain gave to the frantic pleading of the
abbot was to take a stone which lay on the coping of the well and toss
it in. It could be heard clattering against the old, damp, mildewed
walls, until it fell with a hollow boom into some far distant
subterranean pool. Then he again motioned with his hands, and the
black slaves threw themselves upon the boy and dragged him away from
his guardian. So shrill was his clamour that no one heard the approach
of the Empress. With a swift rush she had entered the room, and her
arms were round her son.
"It shall not be! It cannot be!" she cried. "No, no, my darling! my
darling! they shall do you no hurt. I was mad to think of it--mad and
wicked to dream of it. Oh, my sweet boy! to think that your mother
might have had your blood upon her head!"
The eunuch's brows were gathered together at this failure of his
plans, at this fresh example of feminine caprice.
"Why kill them, great lady, if it pains your gracious heart?" said he.
"With a knife and a branding-iron they can be disarmed for ever."
She paid no attention to his words. "Kiss me, Leon!" she cried. "Just
once let me feel my own child's soft lips rest upon mine. Now again!
No, no more, or I shall weaken for what I have still to say and still
to do. Old man, you are very near a natural grave, and I cannot think
from your venerable aspect that words of falsehood come readily to
your lips. You have indeed kept my secret all these years, have you
"I have in very truth, great Empress. I swear to you by Saint
Nicephorus, patron of our house, that save old Deacon Bardas, there is
none who knows."
"Then let your lips still be sealed. If you have kept faith in the
past, I see no reason why you should be a babbler in the future. And
you, Leon"--she bent her wonderful eyes with a strange mixture of
sternness and of love upon the boy, "can I trust you? Will you keep a
secret which could never help you, but would be the ruin and downfall
of your mother?"
"Oh, mother, I would not hurt you! I swear that I will be silent."
"Then I trust you both. Such provision will be made for your monastery
and for your own personal comforts as will make you bless the day you
came to my palace. Now you may go. I wish never to see you again. If I
did, you might find me in a softer mood, or in a harder, and the one
would lead to my undoing, the other to yours. But if by whisper or
rumour I have reason to think that you have failed me, then you and
your monks and your monastery will have such an end as will be a
lesson for ever to those who would break faith with their Empress."
"I will never speak," said the old abbot; "neither will Deacon Bardas;
neither will Leon. For all three I can answer. But there are
others--these slaves, the chancellor. We may be punished for another's
"Not so," said the Empress, and her eyes were like flints. "These
slaves are voiceless; nor have they any means to tell those secrets
which they know. As to you, Basil----" She raised her white hand with
the same deadly gesture which he had himself used so short a time
before. The black slaves were on him like hounds on a stag.
"Oh, my gracious mistress, dear lady, what is this? What is this? You
cannot mean it!" he screamed, in his high, cracked voice. "Oh, what
have I done? Why should I die?"
"You have turned me against my own. You have goaded me to slay my own
son. You have intended to use my secret against me. I read it in your
eyes from the first. Cruel, murderous villain, taste the fate which
you have yourself given to so many others. This is your doom. I have
The old man and the boy hurried in horror from the vault. As they
glanced back they saw the erect inflexible, shimmering, gold-clad
figure of the Empress. Beyond they had a glimpse of the green-scummed
lining of the well, and of the great red open mouth of the eunuch, as
he screamed and prayed while every tug of the straining slaves brought
him one step nearer to the brink. With their hands over their ears
they rushed away, but even so they heard that last woman-like shriek,
and then the heavy plunge far down in the dark abysses of the earth.
A POINT OF CONTACT
A curious train of thought is started when one reflects upon those
great figures who have trod the stage of this earth, and actually
played their parts in the same act, without ever coming face to face,
or even knowing of each other's existence. Baber, the Great Mogul,
was, for example, overrunning India at the very moment when Hernando
Cortez was overrunning Mexico, and yet the two could never have heard
of each other. Or, to take a more supreme example, what could the
Emperor Augustus CÃ¦sar know of a certain Carpenter's shop wherein
there worked a dreamy-eyed boy who was destined to change the whole
face of the world? It may be, however, that sometimes these great
contemporary forces did approach, touch, and separate--each unaware of
the true meaning of the other. So it was in the instance which is now
It was evening in the port of Tyre, some eleven hundred years before
the coming of Christ. The city held, at that time, about a quarter of
a million of inhabitants, the majority of whom dwelt upon the
mainland, where the buildings of the wealthy merchants, each in its
own tree-girt garden, extended for several miles along the coast. The
great island, however, from which the town got its name, lay out some
distance from the shore, and contained within its narrow borders the
more famous of the temples and public buildings. Of these temples the
chief was that of Melmoth, which covered with its long colonnades the
greater part of that side of the island which looked down upon the
Sidonian port, so called because only twenty miles away the older city
of Sidon maintained a constant stream of traffic with its rising
Inns were not yet in vogue, but the poorer traveller found his
quarters with hospitable citizens, while men of distinction were
frequently housed in the annexe of the temples, where the servants of
the priests attended to their wants. On that particular evening there
stood in the portico of the temple of Melmoth two remarkable figures
who were the centre of observation for a considerable fringe of
PhÅ“nician idlers. One of these men was clearly by his face and
demeanour a great chieftain. His strongly-marked features were those
of a man who had led an adventurous life, and were suggestive of every
virile quality from brave resolve to desperate execution. His broad,
high brow and contemplative eyes showed that he was a man of wisdom as
well as of valour. He was clad, as became a Greek nobleman of the
period, with a pure white linen tunic, a gold-studded belt supporting
a short sword, and a purple cloak. The lower legs were bare, and the
feet covered by sandals of red leather, while a cap of white cloth was
pushed back upon his brown curls, for the heat of the day was past and
the evening breeze most welcome.
His companion was a short, thick-set man, bull-necked and swarthy,
clad in some dusky cloth which gave him a sombre appearance relieved
only by the vivid scarlet of his woollen cap. His manner towards his
comrade was one of deference, and yet there was in it also something
of that freshness and frankness which go with common dangers and a
"Be not impatient, sire," he was saying. "Give me two days, or three
at the most, and we shall make as brave a show at the muster as any.
But, indeed, they would smile if they saw us crawl up to Tenedos with
ten missing oars and the mainsail blown into rags."
The other frowned and stamped his foot with anger.
"We should have been there now had it not been for this cursed
mischance," said he. "Aeolus played us a pretty trick when he sent
such a blast out of a cloudless sky."
"Well, sire, two of the Cretan galleys foundered, and Trophimes, the
pilot, swears that one of the Argos ships was in trouble. Pray Zeus
that it was not the galley of Menelaus. We shall not be the last at
"It is well that Troy stands a good ten miles from the sea, for if
they came out at us with a fleet they might have us at a disadvantage.
We had no choice but to come here and refit, yet I shall have no happy
hour until I see the white foam from the lash of our oars once more.
Go, Seleucas, and speed them all you may."
The officer bowed and departed, while the chieftain stood with his
eyes fixed upon his great dismantled galley over which the riggers and
carpenters were swarming. Further out in the roadstead lay eleven
other smaller galleys, waiting until their wounded flagship should be
ready for them. The sun, as it shone upon them, gleamed upon hundreds
of bronze helmets and breastplates, telling of the warlike nature of
the errand upon which they were engaged. Save for them the port was
filled with bustling merchant ships taking in cargoes or disgorging
them upon the quays. At the very feet of the Greek chieftain three
broad barges were moored, and gangs of labourers with wooden shovels
were heaving out the mussels brought from Dor, destined to supply the
famous Tyrian dye-works which adorn the most noble of all garments.
Beside them was a tin ship from Britain, and the square boxes of that
precious metal, so needful for the making of bronze, were being passed
from hand to hand to the waiting wagons. The Greek found himself
smiling at the uncouth wonder of a Cornishman who had come with his
tin, and who was now lost in amazement as he stared at the long
colonnades of the Temple of Melmoth and the high front of the Shrine
of Ashtaroth behind it. Even as he gazed some of his shipmates passed
their hands through his arms and led him along the quay to a
wine-shop, as being a building much more within his comprehension. The
Greek, still smiling, was turning on his heels to return to the
Temple, when one of the clean-shaven priests of Baal came towards him.
"It is rumoured, sire," said he, "that you are on a very distant and
dangerous venture. Indeed, it is well known from the talk of your
soldiers what it is that you have on hand."
"It is true," said the Greek, "that we have a hard task before us. But
it would have been harder to bide at home and to feel that the honour
of a leader of the Argives had been soiled by this dog from Asia."
"I hear that all Greece has taken up the quarrel."
"Yes, there is not a chief from Thessaly to the Malea who has not
called out his men, and there were twelve hundred galleys in the
harbour of Aulis."
"It is a great host," said the priest. "But have ye any seers or
prophets among ye who can tell what will come to pass?"
"Yes, we had one such, Calchas his name. He has said that for nine
years we shall strive, and only on the tenth will the victory come."
"That is but cold comfort," said the priest. "It is, indeed, a great
prize which can be worth ten years of a man's life."
"I would give," the Greek answered, "not ten years but all my life if
I could but lay proud Ilium in ashes and carry back Helen to her
palace on the hill of Argos."
"I pray Baal, whose priest I am, that you may have good fortune," said
the PhÅ“nician. "I have heard that these Trojans are stout soldiers,
and that Hector, the son of Priam, is a mighty leader."
The Greek smiled proudly.
"They must be stout and well-led also," said he, "if they can stand
the brunt against the long-haired Argives with such captains as
Agamemnon, the son of Atreus from golden MycenÃ¦, or Achilles, son of
Peleus, with his myrmidons. But these things are on the knees of the
Fates. In the meantime, my friend, I would fain know who these strange
people are who come down the street, for their chieftain has the air
of one who is made for great deeds."
A tall man clad in a long white robe, with a golden fillet running
through his flowing auburn hair, was striding down the street with the
free elastic gait of one who has lived an active life in the open. His
face was ruddy and noble, with a short, crisp beard covering a strong,
square jaw. In his clear blue eyes as he looked at the evening sky and
the busy waters beneath him there was something of the exaltation of
the poet, while a youth walking beside him and carrying a harp hinted
at the graces of music. On the other side of him, however, a second
squire bore a brazen shield and a heavy spear, so that his master
might never be caught unawares by his enemies. In his train there came
a tumultuous rabble of dark hawk-like men, armed to the teeth, and
peering about with covetous eyes at the signs of wealth which lay in
profusion around them. They were swarthy as Arabs, and yet they were
better clad and better armed than the wild children of the desert.
"They are but barbarians," said the priest. "He is a small king from
the mountain parts opposite Philistia, and he comes here because he is
building up the town of Jebus, which he means to be his chief city. It
is only here that he can find the wood, and stone, and craftsmanship
that he desires. The youth with the harp is his son. But I pray you,
chief, if you would know what is before you at Troy, to come now into
the outer hall of the Temple with me, for we have there a famous seer,
the prophetess Alaga who is also the priestess of Ashtaroth. It may be
that she can do for you what she has done for many others, and send
you forth from Tyre in your hollow ships with a better heart than you
To the Greeks, who by oracles, omens, and auguries were for ever
prying into the future, such a suggestion was always welcome. The
Greek followed the priest to the inner sanctuary, where sat the famous
Pythoness--a tall, fair woman of middle age, who sat at a stone table
upon which was an abacus or tray filled with sand. She held a style of
chalcedony, and with this she traced strange lines and curves upon the
smooth surface, her chin leaning upon her other hand and her eyes cast
down. As the chief and the priest approached her she did not look up,
but she quickened the movements of her pencil, so that curve followed
curve in quick succession. Then, still with downcast eyes, she spoke
in a strange, high, sighing voice like wind amid trees.
"Who, then, is this who comes to Alaga of Tyre, the handmaiden of
great Ashtaroth? Behold I see an island to the west, and an old man
who is the father, and the great chief, and his wife, and his son who
now waits him at home, being too young for the wars. Is this not
"Yes, maiden, you have said truth," the Greek answered.
"I have had many great ones before me, but none greater than you, for
three thousand years from now people will still talk of your bravery
and of your wisdom. They will remember also the faithful wife at home,
and the name of the old man, and of the boy your son--all will be
remembered when the very stones of noble Sidon and royal Tyre are no
"Nay, say not so, Alaga!" cried the priest.
"I speak not what I desire but what it is given to me to say. For ten
years you will strive, and then you will win, and victory will bring
rest to others, but only new troubles to you. Ah!" The prophetess
suddenly started in violent surprise, and her hand made ever faster
markings on the sand.
"What is it that ails you, Alaga?" asked the priest.
The woman had looked up with wild inquiring eyes. Her gaze was neither
for the priest nor for the chief, but shot past them to the further
door. Looking round the Greek was aware that two new figures had
entered the room. They were the ruddy barbarian whom he had marked in
the street, together with the youth who bore his harp.
"It is a marvel upon marvels that two such should enter my chamber on
the same day," cried the priestess. "Have I not said that you were the
greatest that ever came, and yet behold here is already one who is
greater. For he and his son--even this youth whom I see before
me--will also be in the minds of all men when lands beyond the Pillars
of Hercules shall have taken the place of PhÅ“nicia and of Greece. Hail
to you, stranger, hail! Pass on to your work for it awaits you, and it
is great beyond words of mine." Rising from her stool the woman
dropped her pencil upon the sand and passed swiftly from the room.
"It is over," said the priest. "Never have I heard her speak such
The Greek chief looked with interest at the barbarian. "You speak
Greek?" he asked.
"Indifferently well," said the other. "Yet I should understand it
seeing that I spent a long year at Ziklag in the land of the
"It would seem," said the Greek, "that the gods have chosen us both to
play a part in the world."
"Stranger," the barbarian answered, "there is but one God."
"Say you so? Well, it is a matter to be argued at some better time.
But I would fain have your name and style and what it is you purpose
to do, so that we may perchance hear of each other in years to come.
For my part I am Odysseus, known also as Ulysses, the King of Ithica,
with the good Laertes as my father and young Telemachus as my son. For
my work, it is the taking of Troy."
"And my work," said the barbarian, "is the building of Jebus, which
now we call Jerusalem. Our ways lie separate, but it may come back to
your memory that you have crossed the path of David, second King of
the Hebrews, together with his young son Solomon, who may follow him
upon the throne of Israel."
So he turned and went forth into the darkened streets where his
spearmen were awaiting him, while the Greek passed down to his boat
that he might see what was still to be done ere he could set forth
upon his voyage.
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