THE LAST OF THE LEGIONS
_and Other Tales of Long Ago_
A. CONAN DOYLE
By SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
_Novels and Stories_
DANGER! _And Other Stories_
THE DOINGS OF RAFFLES HAW
HIS LAST BOW
_Some Later Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes_
THE BLACK DOCTOR
_And Other Tales of Terror and Mystery_
THE MAN FROM ARCHANGEL
_And Other Tales of Adventure_
THE CROXLEY MASTER
_And Other Tales of the Ring and Camp_
THE GREAT KEINPLATZ EXPERIMENT
_And Other Tales of Twilight and the Unseen_
THE LAST OF THE LEGIONS
_And Other Tales of Long Ago_
THE DEALINGS OF CAPTAIN SHARKEY
_And Other Tales of Pirates_
_On the Life Hereafter_
THE NEW REVELATION
THE VITAL MESSAGE
THE COMING OF THE FAIRIES
THE CASE FOR SPIRIT PHOTOGRAPHY
THE WANDERINGS OF A SPIRITUALIST
OUR AMERICAN ADVENTURE
_A History of the Great War_
THE BRITISH CAMPAIGN IN FRANCE AND FLANDERS--Six Vols.
THE GUARDS CAME THROUGH
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
OF THE LEGIONS
_and Other Tales of Long Ago_
A. CONAN DOYLE
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1905, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911,
1913, 1914, 1918, 1919, 1922
BY A. CONAN DOYLE
BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
BY ASSOCIATED SUNDAY MAGAZINES, INC.
BY THE MCCLURE COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1900, 1902,
BY THE S. S. MCCLURE COMPANY
THE LAST OF THE LEGIONS AND OTHER TALES
OF LONG AGO
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
I THE LAST OF THE LEGIONS 9
II THE LAST GALLEY 22
III THROUGH THE VEIL 37
IV THE COMING OF THE HUNS 47
V THE CONTEST 68
VI THE FIRST CARGO 83
VII AN ICONOCLAST 98
VIII GIANT MAXIMIN 112
IX THE RED STAR 141
X THE SILVER MIRROR 158
XI THE HOME-COMING 177
XII A POINT OF CONTACT 202
XIII THE CENTURION 215
THE LAST OF THE LEGIONS
THE LAST OF THE LEGIONS
_and Other Tales of Long Ago_
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 Dubris. 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 their
"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 bracæ and tunic which distinguished their more insular
"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 Cæsar
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
"Are not our laws just?" asked the Governor.
"The code of Cæsar is just, but it is always the code of Cæsar. 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
"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 in the evil pagan days, the days of the Druid and the
oak-grove, your excellency. But now we are held together by a gospel of
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 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 Cæsar
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 own.
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
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 Phœnicians, 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 sides? 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 upon her.
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 of 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
"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 Phœnician 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 ago?"
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 have I 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
"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
"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 black dots.
"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 some one had escaped the great carnage as well
"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 mole."
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 silence.
"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
"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
"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 Phœnician 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 the
"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 the 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 sea.
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 could extend.
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 ower 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,
"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 foond 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 overarching
"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 some one 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 damp 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 some one 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'. Every one 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. Some one 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
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
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 and strife.
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 bloodshed 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 Dniester, 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 heresy.
"Little I thought, brother Simon," said he, "that I should ever find any
one 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
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
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 any one 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 in amazement.
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
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
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. Gepidæ 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 Dniester, 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 wilderness?
Then suddenly he remembered his Arian neighbour, who dwelt in the cave
beneath him. Once or twice during the last 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 Asia.
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 rôle 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 Imperial quarters.
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 Herœa, 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
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
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 up-raised 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 round 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
enquiring 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
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 anxious face.
"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 enquiries
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 Cæsar," 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
"It is not to be wondered at if he won their votes, Cæsar," 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 Cæsar! 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
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 bear 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 some detail.
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
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 brought 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 Prætor, 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
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
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 any one 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 did 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
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 his thirst either, 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 major-domo 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
"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
Pentelic 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 face.
"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 Cæsar 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 mishandled."
"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 catenæ 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 prægustator, 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
amphoræ; 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 interest.
"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 the 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 Cæsar 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
"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 assembled."
"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
Cæsar. 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
I: THE COMING OF GIANT MAXIMIN
Many are the strange vicissitudes of history. Greatness has often sunk
to the dust, and has tempered itself to its new surrounding. 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
* * * * *
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 turmæ
of Gallic cavalry led the van, whilst the rear was covered by a regiment
of Batavian Horse Guards, the immediate attendants of the Emperor
Septimius 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
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 Macedonian mountains.
"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
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 the
As the two men, stripped save for their loincloths, approached the
wrestling-ring, 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 them.
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 Cæsar,
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 Cæsar's service."
The Emperor smiled. "Some post could surely be found for such a man,
were it but as janitor at 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. "Cæsar 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 Cæsar as a soldier," said he, "but I will be house-servant
to no man--not even to him. If Cæsar 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, Cæsar," 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 Cæsar, 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, Cæsar, 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 Cæsar."
Crassus had interpreted this short dialogue. He now turned to the
"If he is indeed to be always at your call, Cæsar, 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
* * * * *
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 troop. 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
II: 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
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 axe-man
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
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
Prætorians 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 of 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 his
"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 Cæsar!"
That same night Severus Alexander, the young Syrian Emperor, walked
outside his Prætorian 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, Cæsar, 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, Cæsar, fly to-morrow, and your
Prætorians 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, Cæsar! For your life be still!" he whispered. "One word and
we are lost!"
Crouching in the darkness, they saw that wild procession 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
"Who is he?" stammered the Emperor, clutching at his guardsman's sleeve.
"They call him Cæsar."
"It is surely Maximin the Thracian peasant." In the darkness the
Prætorian officer looked with strange eyes at his master.
"It is all over, Cæsar. 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 the 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
"Ave!" cried the voices. "Ave Maximinus Augustus!"
High upon their bucklers stood the giant, and looked round him at the
great floor of up-turned 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 Prætorian garb, blood upon his face, blood upon
his bared forearm, blood upon his naked sword. Licinius too had gone
with the tide.
"Hail, Cæsar, hail!" he cried, as he bowed his head before the giant. "I
come from Alexander. He will trouble you no more."
III: THE FALL OF GIANT 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 Cæsar. 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
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 paths 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 earth.
"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 triumvir 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 Bucoleon 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 Lascaris 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.
"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 Saba, 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 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
"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 it 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 of Arabia 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 Reverend 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 faith.'
"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
"'Among the faithful,' said the ferocious youth.
"'Nay, towards every one. 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 dung-heaps 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 come.'
"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
"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 some one more than mortal, some one 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 the earth.
"'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 this 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 that.
_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 slot.
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 figures.
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 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 give.
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 old mirror.
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 in 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 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 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 its presence?
One other detail: On the left side 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 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 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, they were three spear-heads, two above and one
below. I will show them to the doctor when he calls to-morrow.
_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
_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 when--where?
_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
_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 to
"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 France."
"And the inscription?"
"'Sanc. X. Pal.' You can expand it into Sanctæ Crucis Palatium. Some one
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
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
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," he
"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
"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 world."
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 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 Neorion 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
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
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 be made 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 of 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 was pointing.
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 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 instant 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 again 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 twitching
The eunuch wasted no time, for this deed, once done, he became--save for
that 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 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 mutes 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 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 Phœnicia built 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 ferocious eunuch.
"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 some one 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 pleadings 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
"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 would come readily to your
lips. You have indeed kept my secret all these years, have you not?"
"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
"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 Cæsar 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 narrated.
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 seven 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 offshoot.
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 annex 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 Phœnician 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
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 common
"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 the
"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 waggons. 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 ship-mates 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
"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 Phœnician. "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-fed 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 Mycenæ, 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 came."
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 the 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 true?"
"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, your father, 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 Phœnicia 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 Philistines."
"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 is it you purpose to do,
so that we may perchance hear of each other in the years to come. For my
part I am Odysseus, known also as Ulysses, the King of Ithaca, 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.
[_Being the fragment of a letter from Sulpicius Balbus, Legate of the
Tenth Legion, to his uncle, Lucius Piso, in his villa near Baiae, dated
The Kalends of the month of Augustus in the year 824 of Rome._]
I promised you, my dear uncle, that I would tell you anything of
interest concerning the siege of Jerusalem; but, indeed, these people
whom we imagined to be unwarlike have kept us so busy that there has
been little time for letter-writing. We came to Judæa thinking that a
mere blowing of trumpets and a shout would finish the affair, and
picturing a splendid triumph in the _via sacra_ to follow, with all the
girls in Rome throwing flowers and kisses to us. Well, we may get our
triumph, and possibly the kisses also, but I can assure you that not
even you who have seen such hard service on the Rhine can ever have
experienced a more severe campaign than this has been. We have now won
the town, and to-day their temple is burning, and the smoke sets me
coughing as I sit writing in my tent. But it has been a terrible
business, and I am sure none of us wish to see Judæa again.
In fighting the Gauls, or the Germans, you are against brave men,
animated by the love of their country. This passion acts more, however,
upon some than others, so that the whole army is not equally inflamed by
it. These Jews, however, besides their love of country, which is very
strong, have a desperate religious fervour, which gives them a fury in
battle such as none of us have ever seen. They throw themselves with a
shriek of joy upon our swords and lances, as if death were all that they
If one gets past your guard may Jove protect you, for their knives are
deadly, and if it comes to a hand-to-hand grapple they are as dangerous
as wild beasts, who would claw out your eyes or your throat. You know
that our fellows of the Tenth Legion have been, ever since Cæsar's time,
as rough soldiers as any with the Eagles, but I can assure you that I
have seen them positively cowed by the fury of these fanatics. As a
matter of fact we have had least to bear, for it has been our task from
the beginning to guard the base of the peninsula upon which this
extraordinary town is built. It has steep precipices upon all the other
sides, so that it is only on this one northern base that fugitives could
escape or a rescue come. Meanwhile, the fifth, fifteenth, and the
twelfth or Syrian legions have done the work, together with the
auxiliaries. Poor devils! we have often pitied them, and there have been
times when it was difficult to say whether we were attacking the town or
the town was attacking us. They broke down our tortoises with their
stones, burned our turrets with their fire, and dashed right through our
whole camp to destroy the supplies in the rear. If any man says a Jew is
not a good soldier, you may be sure that he has never been in Judæa.
However, all this has nothing to do with what I took up my stylus to
tell you. No doubt it is the common gossip of the forum and of the baths
how our army, excellently handled by the princely Titus, carried one
line of wall after the other until we had only the temple before us.
This, however, is--or was, for I see it burning even as I write--a very
strong fortress. Romans have no idea of the magnificence of this place.
The temple of which I speak is a far finer building than any we have in
Rome, and so is the Palace, built by Herod or Agrippa, I really forget
which. This temple is two hundred paces each way, with stones so fitted
that the blade of a knife will not go between, and the soldiers say
there is gold enough within to fill the pockets of the whole army. This
idea puts some fury into the attack, as you can believe, but with these
flames I fear a great deal of the plunder will be lost.
There was a great fight at the temple, and it was rumoured that it would
be carried by storm to-night, so I went out on to the rising ground
whence one sees the city best. I wonder, uncle, if in your many
campaigns you have ever smelt the smell of a large beleaguered town. The
wind was south to-night, and this terrible smell of death came straight
to our nostrils. There were half a million people there, and every form
of disease, starvation, decomposition, filth and horror, all pent in
within a narrow compass. You know how the lion sheds smell behind the
Circus Maximus, acid and foul. It is like that, but there is a low,
deadly, subtle odour which lies beneath it and makes your very heart
sink within you. Such was the smell which came up from the city
As I stood in the darkness, wrapped in my scarlet chlamys--for the
evenings here are chill--I was suddenly aware that I was not alone. A
tall, silent figure was near me, looking down at the town even as I was.
I could see in the moonlight that he was clad as an officer, and as I
approached him I recognized that it was Longinus, third tribune of my
own legion, and a soldier of great age and experience. He is a strange,
silent man, who is respected by all, but understood by none, for he
keeps his own council and thinks rather than talks. As I approached him
the first flames burst from the temple, a high column of fire, which
cast a glow upon our faces and gleamed upon our armour. In this red
light I saw that the gaunt face of my companion was set like iron.
"At last!" said he. "At last!"
He was speaking to himself rather than to me, for he started and seemed
confused when I asked him what he meant.
"I have long thought that evil would come to the place," said he. "Now
I see that it has come, and so I said 'At last!'"
"For that matter," I answered, "we have all seen that evil would come to
the place, since it has again and again defied the authority of the
He looked keenly at me with a question in his eyes. Then he said:
"I have heard, sir, that you are one who has a full sympathy in the
matter of the gods, believing that every man should worship according to
his own conscience and belief."
I answered that I was a Stoic of the school of Seneca, who held that
this world is a small matter and that we should care little for its
fortunes, but develop within ourselves a contempt for all but the
He smiled in grim fashion at this.
"I have heard," said he, "that Seneca died the richest man in all Nero's
Empire, so he made the best of this world in spite of his philosophy."
"What are your own beliefs?" I asked. "Are you, perhaps, one who has
fathomed the mysteries of Isis, or been admitted to the Society of
"Have you ever heard," he asked, "of the Christians?"
"Yes," said I. "There were some slaves and wandering men in Rome who
called themselves such. They worshipped, so far as I could gather, some
man who died over here in Judæa. He was put to death, I believe, in the
time of Tiberius."
"That is so," he answered. "It was at the time when Pilate was
procurator--Pontius Pilate, the brother of old Lucius Pilate, who had
Egypt in the time of Augustus. Pilate was of two minds in the matter,
but the mob was as wild and savage as these very men that we have been
contending with. Pilate tried to put them off with a criminal, hoping
that so long as they had blood they would be satisfied. But they chose
the other, and he was not strong enough to withstand them. Ah! it was a
pity--a sad pity!"
"You seem to know a good deal about it," said I.
"I was there," said the man simply, and became silent, while we both
looked down at the huge column of flame from the burning temple. As it
flared up we could see the white tents of the army and all the country
round. There was a low hill just outside the city, and my companion
pointed to it.
"That was where it happened," said he. "I forget the name of the place,
but in those days--it was more than thirty years ago--they put their
criminals to death there. But He was no criminal. It is always His eyes
that I think of--the look in His eyes."
"What about the eyes, then?"
"They have haunted me ever since. I see them now. All the sorrow of
earth seemed mirrored in them. Sad, sad, and yet such a deep, tender
pity! One would have said that it was He who needed pity had you seen
His poor battered, disfigured face. But He had no thought for
Himself--it was the great world pity that looked out of His gentle eyes.
There was a noble maniple of the legion there, and not a man among them
who did not wish to charge the howling crowd who were dragging such a
man to His death."
"What were you doing there?"
"I was Junior Centurion, with the gold vine-rod fresh on my shoulders. I
was on duty on the hill, and never had a job that I liked less. But
discipline has to be observed, and Pilate had given the order. But I
thought at the time--and I was not the only one--that this man's name
and work would not be forgotten, and that there would be a curse on the
place that had done such a deed. There was an old woman there, His
mother, with her grey hair down her back. I remember how she shrieked
when one of our fellows with his lance put Him out of his pain. And a
few others, women and men, poor and ragged, stood by Him. But, you see,
it has turned out as I thought. Even in Rome, as you have observed, His
followers have appeared."
"I rather fancy," said I, "that I am speaking to one of them."
"At least, I have not forgotten," said he. "I have been in the wars ever
since with little time for study. But my pension is overdue, and when I
have changed the sagum for the toga, and the tent for some little farm
up Como way, then I shall look more deeply into these things, if,
perchance, I can find some one to instruct me."
And so I left him. I only tell you all this because I remember that you
took an interest in the man, Paulus, who was put to death for preaching
this religion. You told me that it had reached Cæsar's palace, and I can
tell you now that it has reached Cæsar's soldiers as well. But apart
from this matter I wish to tell you some of the adventures which we have
had recently in raiding for food among the hills, which stretch as far
south as the river Jordan. The other day ...
[_Here the fragment is ended._]
Dialect spellings remain as printed. Minor typographical errors have
been corrected without note, whilst significant amendments have been
p. 79, 'cacophanies' amended to _cacophonies_;
p. 102, 'Pantelic' amended to _Pentelic_;
p. 113, 'Septimus' amended to _Septimius_;
p. 144, 'Sava' amended to _Saba_;
p. 206, 'wagons' amended to _waggons_.