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- Beric the Briton - 70/74 -


never thought for a moment that your pupil, who used to pore with you over those parchments, till I often wished I could throw them in the fire when I wanted him to play with me, was to go through such adventures--to match himself first against Suetonius, and then against my father, both times with honour; to be Nero's bodyguard; to say nothing of fighting in the arena, and getting up a revolt in the palace of Caesar."

"I expected great things of him," Nepo said; "but not like these. I fancied he would become a great chief among the British, and that he might perhaps induce them to adopt something of our civilization. I had fancied him as a wise ruler; and, seeing how fond he was of the exercise of arms, I had thought long before the insurrection broke out that some day he might lead his countrymen to battle against us, and that, benefiting by his study of Caesar and other military writers, he would give far more trouble to the Romans than even Caractacus had done. But assuredly I never dreamt of him as fighting a lion barehanded in a Roman arena in defence of a Roman girl. As to marriages, I own that the thought crossed my mind that the union of a great British chief with the daughter of a Roman of rank like your father would be an augury of peace, and might lead to better relations between the two countries."

"That dream must be given up," Berenice said seriously, "there are two obstacles. But I have no doubt Aemilia would make quite as good a chieftainess as I should have done. Some day, Aemilia, if you return to Britain with Beric, as I hope you will do, and Pollio becomes a commander of a legion, I will get him to apply for service there. It is cold and foggy; but wood is a good deal more plentiful and cheaper than it is at Rome, and with good fires one can exist anywhere. And now it is time for us to be going. We will take another path in returning down the hills, so that any one who noticed us coming up will not see us as we descend. Nepo's toga and my stola are hidden in a grove just outside the town, and it will be dusk by the time we arrive there. Kiss me, Aemilia; I am glad that I know you, for I have heard much of you from Pollio. I am glad that Beric has chosen so well. Goodbye, Beric; I hope we may meet again before long, and that without danger to any of us. You may salute me if Aemilia does not object--I told Pollio I should permit it;" and she laughingly lifted up her face to him. "He never used to kiss me when I was a child," she said to Aemilia. "I always thought it very unkind, and was greatly discontented at it. Now, Nepo, let us be going."

Beric and his wife stood watching them until they were far down the hill. "She makes light of it," Beric said; "but it is no common risk she has run. Nero can punish women as well as men, and were it to come to his ears that she has enabled me to escape his vengeance, even the influence of her father might not avail to save her."

"I shall remember her always in my prayers," Aemilia said earnestly, "and pray that she too may some day come to know the truth."

Beric did not answer. Aemilia had explained to him all that she knew of her religion, but while admitting the beauty of its teaching, and the loftiness of its morals, he had not yet been able to bring himself to believe the great facts upon which it was based.

"We must be moving," he said, and summoned Philo, who had been much surprised at Beric's being so long in conversation with strangers.

"Send Porus to me," he said, "and bid Cornelius also come here."

The two men came round to the verandah together. "We are betrayed, Porus," he said, "and the Romans will be here this evening."

Porus grasped the handle of his dagger and looked menacingly at the farmer. "Our good friend has nought to do with it, Porus; it is some one from one of the other farms who has taken down the news to Rhegium. Do you order the others to be in readiness to start for the camp. But first strip down the hangings of our room, roll them and the mats and all else in seven bundles, with all my wife's clothing and belongings."

"We need leave little behind. We can take everything," Porus said. "The six of us can carry well nigh as much as the same number of horses, and Philo can take something. I will see about it immediately."

"Now, Cornelius," Beric went on when Porus had left, "you must prepare your story, and see that your men and the rest of the household stick to it. You will be sharply questioned. You have only the truth to say, namely, that some of my band came down here and threatened to burn your house and slay all in it unless you agreed to sell us what things we required; that, seeing no other way of preserving your lives, you agreed to do so. After a time a young woman--do not say lady--came with two attendants, and you were forced to provide her with a room; and as five men were placed here constantly, you still dared give no information to the authorities, because a watch was also set on you, and your family would have been slain long before any troops could arrive here. What you will be most closely questioned about is as to why we all left you today. They will ask you if any one has been here. You saw no one, did you?"

"No, my lord. I heard voices in your room, but it was no business of mine who was with you."

"That is good," Beric said. "That is what you must say. You know someone did come because you heard voices; but you saw nobody either coming or going, and know not how many of them there were, nor what was their age. You only know that I summoned you suddenly, and told you I had been betrayed, and that the Romans would soon be coming in search of me, and therefore I was obliged to take to the mountains. But go first and inquire among the household, and see if any of them noticed persons coming here."

"One of the men says that he saw an old peasant with a girl who asked which was my farm."

"Then that man must go with us to the mountains. He shall return safe and unharmed in a few days. The Romans must not know of this. This is the one point on which you must be silent; on all others speak freely. It is important to me that it should not be known whether it was man or woman, old or young, who warned me.

"I do not threaten you. I know that you are true and honest; but, to ensure silence among your household, tell them that I shall certainly find out if the Roman soldiers learn here that it was an old man and a girl who visited me, and that I will take dire vengeance on whomsoever tells this to the Romans. Discharge your man before we leave with him, so that you may say truly that those the Romans find here are your whole household, and maintain that not one of them saw who it was who came to me today."

"I can promise that, my lord. You and the Lady Aemilia have been kind and good to us, and my wife, the female slave, and the hired men would do anything for you. As for the children, they were not present when Balbus said that he had been questioned by the old man, and can tell nought, however closely they may be questioned, save that Balbus was here and has gone."

"I had not thought of that," Beric said. "Better, then, tell the soldiers the truth: you had two serving men, but we have carried one away with us."

In half an hour all was ready for a start. The two female slaves, although attached to their mistress, were terrified at the thoughts of going away among the mountains, although Aemilia assured them that no harm could happen to them there. Then, with a hearty adieu to the farmer and his wife, Beric and his companions shouldered the loads, and with Balbus, Philo, Aemilia, and the two female slaves made their way up the mountain. As soon as they started, Beric gave orders to Philo to go on with all speed to the camp, and to tell Boduoc of the coming of Aemilia, and bid him order the men at once to prepare a bower at some short distance from their camp. Accordingly when the party arrived great fires were blazing, and the outlaws received Aemilia with shouts of welcome.

"I thank you all," Beric said, "for my wife and myself. She knows that in no place could she be so safe as here, guarded by the brave men who have so faithfully followed her husband."

So heartily had the men laboured that in the hour and a half that had elapsed since Philo had arrived a large hut had been erected a hundred yards from the camp, with a small bower beside it for the use of the female slaves. A great bonfire burnt in front, and the interior was lighted by torches of resinous wood.

"Thanks, my friends," Beric said. "You have indeed built us a leafy palace. I need not exhort the guards to be watchful tonight, for it may be that the traitor who will guide the Romans to the house where we have been stopping may know something of the mountains, and guessing the direction of our camp may attempt to lead them to it. Therefore, Boduoc, let the outposts be thrown out farther than usual, and let some be placed fully three miles from here, in all the ravines by which it is likely the enemy might make their way hither."

Three days later Philo went down to learn what had passed. He was ordered not to approach the house, as some soldiers might have been left there to seize upon any one who came down, but to remain at a distance until he saw the farmer or one of his household at work in the fields. He brought back news that the Romans had arrived on the night they had left, had searched the house and country round, had closely questioned all there, even to the children, and had carried off the farmer and his man. These had returned the next evening. They had been questioned by the general, who had admonished the farmer severely on his failure to report the presence of the outlaws at whatever risk to his family and property; but on their taking an oath that they were unable to give any information whatever, either as to the outlaws' retreat or the persons who had brought up the news of the intended attack by the Romans, they were released.

Balbus was then sent back to the farm with presents for all there, and it was agreed that the camp should be broken up. The general would, in compliance with the orders of Nero, make fresh efforts to hunt down the band; and as he knew now the neighbourhood in which they were, and treachery might again betray the spot, it was better to choose some other locality; there was, too, no longer any occasion for them to keep together. They had the mountains to themselves now, and although the wild animals had been considerably diminished, there were still goats in the upper ranges, and swine and wild boar in the thickest parts of the forests. It was also advisable to know what was passing elsewhere, and to have warning of the approach of any body of troops from the camps round it. Accordingly, while the Britons remained with Beric, who took up his quarters in the forest at the foot of one of the loftiest crags, whence a view could be obtained of the hills from Rhegium to Cosenza, the rest were broken up into parties of five. Signals were arranged by


Beric the Briton - 70/74

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