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- Beric the Briton - 5/74 -
could rest and be content, and need no longer waste our strength in fresh conquests, or in opposing the incursions of hordes of barbarians from regions unknown to us even by report. I could wish myself, Beric, that nature had placed your island five days' sail from the coasts of Gaul, instead of placing it within sight. Then I might have been enjoying life in my villa among the Tuscan hills with my daughter, instead of being exposed at any moment to march with the Legion against the savage mountaineers of the west. Ah! here comes Berenice," he broke off, as his daughter, attended by her old nurse, entered the atrium from the vestibule. She hastened her steps as she saw Beric standing before her father in the tablinum.
"I knew you would come back, Beric, because you promised me; but you have been a long time in keeping your word."
"I am not my own master at home, any more than I was here, Berenice," he said, "and my mother would not hear before of my leaving her. I have only come now for an hour's visit, to see that all goes well in this house, and to tell you that I had not forgotten my promise; the next time I hope to pay a longer visit. At daybreak tomorrow we have a party to hunt the wolves, which have so multiplied as to become a danger in the forests of late."
"I should like to go out to see a wolf hunt, Beric."
"I fear that would not be possible," he said; "the woods are thick and tangled, and we have to force our way through to get to their lair."
"But last winter they came close to the town, and I heard that some came even into the streets."
"Yes, they will do so when driven by hunger; but they were hunting then and not being hunted. No, Berenice, I fear that your wish to see a wolf hunt cannot be gratified; they are savage beasts, and are great trouble and no loss to us. In winter they carry off many children, and sometimes devour grown up people, and in times of long snow have been known to attack large parties, and, in spite of a stout resistance by the men, to devour them. In summer they are only met singly, but in winter they go in packs and kill numbers of our cattle."
"I should like to go into the woods," the girl said earnestly, "I am tired of this town. My father says he will take me with him some day when he goes west, but so far I have seen nothing except this town and Verulamium, and the country was all just as it is here, fields and cultivation. We could see the forests in the distance, but that was all. My father says, that if we went west, we should travel for miles through the forest and should sleep in tents, but that we cannot do it till everything is quiet and peaceful. Oh, Beric! I do wish the Britons would not be always fighting."
Beric smiled. "The British girls, Berenice, say they wish the Romans would not be always fighting."
"It is very troublesome," she said pettishly. "I should like everyone to be friends, and then there would be no need to have so many soldiers in Britain, and perhaps the emperor would order our legions home. Father says that we ought to look upon this as home now, for that the legion may remain here for years and years; but he said the other day that he thought that if everything was quiet here he should, when I am sixteen years old, obtain leave from the governor, and go back to Rome for two or three years, and I think, though he has not said so outright, that he will perhaps retire and settle there."
"It would be much the best for you," Beric said earnestly. "I should be sorry, because you have been very kind to me, and I should grieve were you to leave me altogether; but there may be trouble here again some day, and I think it would be far better for you to be back in Rome, where you would have all the pleasures and delights of the great capital, and live in ease and comfort, without the risk of your father having to march away to the wars. I know that if I were your father I would take you back. He says that his villa there is exactly like this, and you have many relations there, and there must be all sorts of pleasures and grand spectacles far beyond anything there is here. I am sure it would be better for you, and happier."
"I thought that you would be quite sorry," she said gravely.
"So I shall be very sorry for myself," Beric said; "as, next to my own mother, there is no one I care for so much as you and your father. I shall miss you terribly; but yet I am so sure that it would be best for you to be at home with your own people, that I should be glad to hear that your father was going to take you back to Rome."
But Berenice did not altogether accept the explanation. She felt really hurt that Beric should view even the possibility of her going away with equanimity, and she very shortly went off to her own apartment; while a few minutes later, Beric, after bidding goodbye to Caius, started to rejoin Boduoc, whom he found waiting at the edge of the forest.
That evening Berenice said to her father, "I was angry with Beric today, father."
"Were you, child? what about?"
"I told him that perhaps in another three years, when I was sixteen, you would take me to Rome, and that I thought, perhaps, if we went there you would not come back again; and instead of being very much grieved, as I thought he would, he seemed quite pleased at the idea. Of course he said he was sorry, but he did not really seem to be, and he says he thought it would be very much better for me. I thought he was grateful, father, and liked us very much, and now I am quite disappointed in him."
Caius was silent for a minute or two.
"I do not think Beric is ungrateful," he said, "and I am sure that he likes us, Berenice."
"He said he did, father, that he cared for us more than anyone except his mother; but if he cared for us, surely he would be very, very sorry for us to go away."
"Beric is a Briton, my dear, and we are Romans. By this time he must have thoroughly learned his people's feelings towards us. I have never believed, as some do, that Britain is as yet completely conquered, and that when we have finished with the Silures in the west our work will be completely done.
"Beric, who knows his countrymen, may feel this even more strongly than I do, and may know that, sooner or later, there will be another great effort on the part of the Britons to drive us out. It may be a year, and it may be twenty, but I believe myself that some day we shall have a fierce struggle to maintain our hold here, and Beric, who may see this also, and who knows the feeling of his countrymen, may wish that we should be away before the storm comes.
"There is but little doubt, Berenice, that we despise these people too much, still less that we treat them harshly and cruelly. Were I propraetor of Britain, I would rule them differently. I am but the commander of a legion, and my duty is but to rule my men. I would punish, and punish sternly, all attempts at rising; but I would give them no causes for discontent. We treat them as if their spirit were altogether broken, as if they and their possessions were but our chattels, as if they possessed no rights, not even the right to live. Some day we shall find our mistake, and when the time comes the awakening will be a rude one. It is partly because I see dimly the storm gathering in the distance that I long to be home again. As long as your mother lived this seemed a home to me, now I desire rest and quiet. I have done my share of fighting, I have won honour enough, and I may look before long to be a general; but I have had enough of it, and long for my quiet villa in the Alban hills, with an occasional visit to Rome, where you can take part in its gaieties, and I can have the use of the libraries stored with the learning of the world. So do not think harshly of Beric, my child; he may see the distant storm more plainly than I do. I am sure that he cares for us, and if he is glad at the news that we are going, it is because he wishes us away and in safety before the trouble comes.
"Nero has come to the imperial throne, and the men he is sending hither are of a widely different stamp from the lieutenants of Claudius. The latter knew that the Britons can fight, and that, wild and untutored as they are, it needed all the skill and courage of Ostorius and Vespasian to reduce them to order. The newcomers regard them as slaves to be trampled upon, robbed, and ill used as they choose. I am sure they will find their mistake. As long as they deal only with the tribes thoroughly subdued, the Trinobantes, the Cantii, the Be1gae, and the Dumnonii, all may be quiet; they dare not move. But the Iceni and Brigantes, although they both have felt the weight of our swords, are still partly independent, and if pressed too severely will assuredly revolt, and if they give the signal all Britain may be up in arms again. I am scoffed at if I venture to hint to these newcomers that there is life yet in Britain. Dwelling here in a Roman city, it seems to them absurd that there can be danger from the savages who roam in the forests that stretch away from beyond the river at our very feet to the far distant north, to regions of which we are absolutely ignorant. I regard what Beric has said as another warning."
"But I thought that Beric was our friend, father, and you told me you had heard that he was teaching his countrymen how great is our history."
"Beric is a Briton in the midst of Britons, child. He is a partially tamed wolf cub, and had he been sent to Rome and remained there he would have done credit to our teaching. He is fond of study, and at the same time fond of arms; he might have turned out a wise citizen or a valiant soldier. But this was not done. He has gone back again among the wolves, and whatever his feelings towards us personally may be, he must side with his own people. Did they suspect him of being Roman at heart they would tear him in pieces. I believe that as he knows our strength, and that in the end we must conquer, his influence will always be on the side of peace; but if arms are taken up he will have no choice but to side with his countrymen, and should it be another ten years before the cloud bursts, he may be one of our most formidable opponents. Don't blame him, child; he only shows his regard for you, by wishing you back safely in Rome before trouble arises."
"You are just in time, Beric," Boduoc said as the young chief joined him. "The sun is but a hand's breadth above that hill. Here are your spear and sword where you hid them, though why you should have done it I know not, seeing that they have not yet ventured to order us to disarm."
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