Beric the Briton
G. A. Henty
Part 5 out of 8
"That is one of the public granaries. Corn is brought here in vast
quantities from Sardinia and Sicily, from Spain and Africa, and
since Nero came to the throne it is distributed gratis to all who
choose to apply for it. No wonder Nero is popular among the people;
he feeds them and gives them shows--they want nothing more. It
is nothing to them, the cruelties he exercises upon the rich."
"But it must encourage the people in lazy habits," Beric said.
Pollio shrugged his shoulders. "They think because they are citizens
of the capital of the world they have a right to live in idleness,
and that others should work for them. At any rate it keeps them in
a good temper. There have been great tumults in Rome in past times,
but by drawing the tribute in corn and distributing it freely here
Nero keeps them in a high state of contentment."
"You don't like Nero, Pollio?"
"I hate him," Pollio said. "He is a tyrant--greedy, cruel, and
licentious. He had his own mother murdered because she opposed
his plans, and some of our best and noblest citizens have been put
to death, either because Nero was jealous of their popularity, or
because he desired to grasp their possessions. It is horrible that
Rome, which has conquered the world, should lie prostrate at the
feet of a creature like this. It was because my father feared that
some spy among the slaves might report what I said about Nero that
caused him to send me out to Suetonius, who is a connection of our
family, and he will ere long obtain for me some other employment
away from the capital. I shall be glad to be gone, the atmosphere
here seems to stifle one. Nero's spies are everywhere, and a man
is afraid of speaking his thoughts even in his own house. I like to
take life easily, but I would rather be battling with your people
in the swamps than living in idleness in Rome."
"I thought you were glad to return, Pollio?"
"I thought I should be, Beric, but I suppose the active life in
Britain has spoilt me. I used to scent my hair and lounge in the
baths, and frequent the shows, and lead just such a life as the
young men we have spoken to this afternoon, and I was contented
with it. I wonder at myself now, but I cannot take up the old life
where I left it. I have been back for twenty-four hours, and I am
restless already and am longing to be doing something."
"I should think," Beric said with a smile, "that you might well
put up with Rome for a few weeks. It seems to me that it will take
years to know all its wonders. There are the great libraries, too,
filled with the manuscripts, and as you understand Greek you could
study the writings of the sages and philosophers."
"I would rather row in the galleys," Pollio said. "I don't mind an
hour or two now and then with the historians, but the philosophers
are too deep for my shallow brain. Would you like to look into a
Beric assented eagerly, and they entered one of these buildings.
It consisted of a great hall with innumerable couches and benches
for readers. Round the walls were pigeonholes, in which the
manuscripts were deposited, and numerous attendants moved to and
fro among the readers, supplying them with such manuscripts as they
desired, and taking away those they had done with. Leaving the hall
they passed through a series of large apartments, in which hundreds
of men were at work copying manuscripts.
"These are scribes," Pollio said. "Very many of them are slaves whom
the owners allow to work here, sharing with them their earnings;
others are freedmen who have either purchased their liberty from
their savings, or have been manumitted by their owners. You see
many of the most popular writings, such as those of Caesar, Tacitus,
Livy, or the poets Horace, Virgil, and Ovid, are constantly in
demand, and scores of copies must be kept on hand. Then again many
of the Greek authors are greatly in request. The manuscripts wear
out and must be replaced, so that at the various libraries there
are some thousands of scribes always kept employed. You see among
the scribes men of many nationalities. Those men, for instance,
are Egyptians. You see the rolls they are copying, they are made of
papyrus, which is got, as I have heard my uncle say, from the leaf
of a sort of water plant. Some of them are copying these writings
on to vellum for the use of those who understand the Egyptian
language, others are translating them into Latin. Those men are
Persians, and those at the tables near them are Jews. They are
making translations of their sacred books, which are much read at
present, partly owing to the fact that the people are troublesome,
and probably an army will have to be sent against them, partly
because of the Christian sect, whose doctrines are founded upon the
Jewish sacred books, and are supported, as they claim, by various
prognostications of their augurs, or, as they call them, prophets.
The books, therefore, are of interest to the learned, and it may
be that some who come here to read them are secretly disciples of
"Can I come here and read?" Beric asked eagerly.
"Certainly you can, these libraries are open to all. So are the
baths, at least the greater portion of them; everything is free
here. But it is nearly time for us now to be going home."
Beric availed himself at once of the advantages offered by the
public libraries. It was only thus that men of moderate means could
in those days obtain access to books, for the cost of manuscripts
was considerable, and libraries were only to be found in the houses
of the wealthy. His taste for reading was a matter of astonishment
among the gladiators, and was the subject of a good deal of jesting.
This, however, was for the most part of a good natured kind, but
upon the part of one named Lupus it was sneering and offensive.
This man, who was a professional gladiator, that is one of those
who had taken to it as a trade, was a Roman of unusual stature and
strength. He had been a worker in iron, and from making arms took
to their use. He had won many victories in the arena, and was
considered the champion of the school of Scopus, the only man who
approached him in the number of victories being Porus, the Scythian,
whose strong point, however, lay in his activity and his dexterity
in throwing the net rather than in strength. Lupus had, from the
first day of the Britons' arrival at the ludus, viewed them with
aversion, his hostility to Beric being especially marked, and he
particularly objected to the slight deference shown to him by his
companions, in spite of the protests of Beric himself, who in vain
pointed out to them that he was now no longer their chief, and that
they were in all respects comrades and equals.
Lupus had carefully abstained from any remarks that would bring him
into collision with the other Britons. Mortified as he was that his
strength and stature, of which he was very proud, had been thrown
into the shade by that of the newcomers, he felt that in a quarrel
their rough strength might render them more than his match.
Beric, however, he considered as but a youth, and though doubtless
powerful, deemed that his muscles would be no match for his own
seasoned strength. As yet he had not seen Beric tried with any
arms, and thought that the young barbarian could know nothing of the
management of weapons. At first his annoyance only took the form of
addressing him with an affected deference as "my lord Beric;" but
the discovery that, while he himself was unable to read or write,
the young Briton was fond of study, and spent his spare time in the
public libraries, afforded him opportunities for constant sneers.
These Beric took in good part, but Boduoc, who had now picked
up enough Latin to understand the gist of his remarks, one day
intervened, and seizing Lupus by the shoulder dashed him to the
ground. The Roman sprang to his feet, caught up a knife from the
table, and rushed at Boduoc. Scopus, however, who was present, with
an angry growl sprang upon him, seizing him by the throat with so
vigorous a grasp that his face became purple, his eyes stared, and
he in vain gasped for breath. Then he flung him down into a corner
of the room with such force that he lay half stunned.
"You dog," he exclaimed, "how dare you take a knife? I will
have no quarrels here, as you know; and if you again venture on a
disturbance I will bid your comrades tie you up, and will flay the
skin off your back with the lash. The Briton was perfectly right.
Why can't you leave his friend alone? I have marked your ill natured
jests before, and am glad that he punished you."
Lupus rose slowly to his feet with an angry glare in his eyes. He
knew, however, that Scopus had in his time been unrivalled in the
arena, and that, moreover, the rest, who had been offended by his
airs of superiority, would side with the lanista against him.
"I said nothing to the Briton," he said; "it was the boy I addressed.
If it was an offence, why did he not take it up? Is he a coward
that others have to fight his battles? If he is offended, why does
he not challenge me to fight, as is customary in all the ludi?"
"Because he is as yet but a pupil, and will not be fit to enter the
arena for three or four years," Scopus said. "A fight can only be
between trained gladiators. You don't suppose that a fresh joined
youth is going to fight with one who has won a score of times in
"Excuse me, Scopus," Beric said quietly, "I am perfectly ready to
fight with this braggadocio, and challenge him to a contest; a few
hard knocks will do neither of us any harm, therefore let us go
into the school and have it out. It is much better so than to have
Scopus would have objected, but the gladiators broke into shouts
of "A fight! a fight!" and, as it was according to the rules of
all the ludi that quarrels should be fought out with wooden swords
without interference by the lanistae, he simply shrugged his
"Well, as he has challenged you, Lupus, I have nothing to say to
it;" and the whole of those present at once adjourned to the school.
The combatants were armed with bucklers and with swords of the
same weight to those ordinarily used, but with square edges with
the corners rounded off, so that though they would give a heavy
blow they would not cut.
Lupus, confident in his skill, and furious at the humiliation he
had just suffered, at once sprang upon Beric, but the latter as
nimbly leaped back, catching the blow on his buckler, and at the same
time bringing his own with such force and weight upon the Roman's
left shoulder that it brought him for a moment on his knee. A
shout of astonishment and applause burst from the lookers on. Lupus
would have instantly renewed the fight, but Beric stepped back and
lowered his sword.
"Your left arm is disabled," he said. "You had best wait till you
can use your buckler again; it would not be a fair match now."
Furious as he was, Lupus felt the truth of what his opponent said,
and though the burst of applause at Beric's magnanimity angered
him even more than before, he drew back a step or two. At the order
of Scopus two of the others came forward with some oil, with which
for some minutes they kneaded his shoulder.
"I am ready again," he said at last, and the gladiators drew back,
and the opponents faced each other. Lupus had learned that Beric
was not, as he had supposed, entirely untaught; but although he
attributed the blow he had received solely to his own rashness, he
renewed the conflict with the same care and prudence he would have
shown had he been fighting with edged weapons in the arena. He soon
found, however, that he had met with an opponent differing widely
from those he had hitherto fought. Beric had had excellent teachers
among the veteran legionaries at Camalodunum, and to skill in the
sword he added a prodigious activity. Instead of fighting in the
ordinary Roman method, standing firm, with the body bent forward and
the buckler stretched out at the level of the shoulder in front of
him, he stood lightly poised on his feet, ready to spring forward
or back, and with his shield across his body.
In vain Lupus tried to get to close quarters. His cramped attitude
prevented rapid movement, and he could not get even within striking
distance of his opponent save when the latter sprang in to deliver
a blow. These, however, fell vainly, for Lupus was fighting now
calmly and warily, and with sword or shield guarded every blow aimed
at him. Beric soon felt that he should but exhaust himself did he
continue to attack in this fashion, and presently desisted, and
standing his ground awaited the attack of Lupus. The blows fell fast
and heavy now. Then Beric purposely lowered his buckler a moment;
Lupus instantly struck, springing a pace forward. Beric sharply
threw up his left arm, striking up the hand of Lupus as it fell,
and at the same moment brought his weapon with tremendous force
down upon the head of his antagonist, who fell as if killed.
"Habet, habet!" shouted the gladiators, alike exultant and astonished
at the defeat of the bully of the school.
"By the gods, Beric," Scopus said, "you have given him a lesson.
I talked abut four years' training, but even now I would send you
into the arena without fear. Why, there are but one or two gladiators
who are considered the superior of Lupus with the sword, and he
had from the first no chance with you."
"It was simply because he did not understand my way of fighting,"
Beric said quietly. "No, Scopus, I will have the four years' training
before I fight. I have chanced to overcome Lupus this time, but I am
not going to match myself against men until I have my full strength."
Scopus laughed. "That looks as if there was strength enough in your
arm, Beric," he said pointing to the prostrate figure. "However,
I know from what you have said that you wish to put off your entry
into the arena as long as possible, and doubtless practice and
teaching will render you a far better swordsman than you are now.
Take him away," he said to the others, pointing to Lupus. "Dash
cold water over him till he comes round, and then bandage his head.
I doubt if his skull be not broken. One of you had better go for a
leech to examine him; and mind, let not a word be breathed outside
the school as to this contest. We will keep it silent until it is
time for Beric to enter the arena, and then we shall be dull indeed
if we do not lay bets enough on him to keep us in wine for a year.
There is no fear of Lupus himself saying a word about it. You may
be sure that, roughly shaken as his conceit may be, he will hold his
tongue as to the fact that he has found his master in what he was
pleased to call a boy. Mind, if I ever hear a word spoken outside
the school on the subject, I will make it my business to find out
who spread the report, and it will be very bad for the man who did
it when I bring it home to him."
It was upwards of a week before Lupus was able to enter the gymnasium
again. Beric had particularly requested the others to make no
allusion to his discomfiture, but from that time the superiority
of Lupus was gone, and Beric's position in the school was fully
CHAPTER XIII: A CHRISTIAN
While Beric thus spent his time between his exercises and the schools
and one or other of the libraries, varied occasionally by paying a
visit with Pollio, Boduoc and his companions were not ill contented
with their life. Most of them had, during the long journey through
Gaul, picked up a few words of Latin from their guards, and as it
was the language of the gymnasium, and was the only medium by which
the men of the various nationalities could communicate with each
other, they now rapidly increased their knowledge of it, Beric strongly
urging them to become acquainted with it as soon as possible, as
it might be most useful and important to them. None of the others
besides Boduoc were, Scopus thought, ever likely to be a credit
to him in the more serious contests in the ring, but all showed an
aptitude for wrestling and boxing, and the lanista was well content
with this, as the games in the arena frequently commenced with
these comparatively harmless sports, and in many of the provincial
cities wrestlers and boxers were in great request.
Beric was much pleased when he heard from the master that he
intended to confine his teaching to these two exercises only with
regard to his companions; for although men were sometimes seriously
hurt by blows given by the masses of leather and lead, which, wound
round the fist, were used to give weight to the blows, a final
termination to the contests was rare. In the exercises the men
practised with many wrappings of wadding and cotton wound round the
caestus, answering the purpose of the modern boxing glove. Beric
himself was very partial to the exercise, and as it strengthened
the muscles, and gave quickness and activity to the limbs, Scopus
encouraged him in it.
"I do not see the use of the caestus," Beric said one day. "One
could hit and guard much more quickly without it. It is good, no
doubt, for exercise, as it strengthens the muscles, but surely for
fighting it would be better to lay it aside. What is the advantage
of it? With the bare fist one can knock an opponent down, and with
a very few blows strike him senseless. What more can you want than
"Yes, for men like you Britons that would do, for a straight blow
from any one of you would well nigh break in the bones of the face
of an ordinary man, and, as you say, you could strike much more
quickly without the weight on your hands, but with smaller men a
contest might last for hours without the caestus, and the spectators
would get tired of it; but I will try the experiment some day, and
put up one of the Britons against Asthor the Gaul, hands against
the caestus, and see what comes of it. At present he is more skilful
than any of your people, but they are getting on fast, and when
one of them is fairly his match in point of skill I will try it. If
the Briton wins, I will, when they first go into the arena, match
them against the champions of the other schools with bare hands
against armed ones, and they will get great credit if they win
under those conditions. Both at that and at wrestling you Britons
are likely to carry all before you. I should like to train you all
only for that."
"I wish you would," Beric said earnestly.
"There is less honour in winning at wrestling and boxing than in
the other contests," Scopus said.
"For that I care nothing whatever, Scopus; besides, you would
get more credit from my winning in those games than from my being
killed in the others. Strength and height count for much in them,
while against an active retiarius strength goes for very little."
"But you are active as well as strong, Beric, and so is Boduoc.
Moreover, when Caesar sent you to me to be prepared for the ring,
he meant that you should take part in the principal contests, and
he would be furious if, on some great occasion, when he expected
to see you stand up against a famous champion, it turned out that
you were only a wrestler."
"I am ready and willing to learn all the exercises, Scopus--I
should like to excel in them all--but you might put me up as a
wrestler and boxer; then if Nero insisted on my betaking myself to
other weapons, I could do so without discredit to you. But my opinion
is that every man should do what he can do best. Were we to fight
with clubs, I think that we need have no fear of any antagonists;
but our strength is for the most part thrown away at sword play,
at which any active man with but half our strength is our match.
You have told me that Nero often looks in at your school, and
doubtless he will do so when he comes back from Greece. You could
then tell him that you had found that all the Britons were likely
to excel rather in wrestling and boxing, where their strength and
height came into play, than in the other exercises, and that you
therefore were instructing them chiefly in them."
"I will see what I can do," Scopus said. "I like you Britons, you
are good tempered, and give me no trouble. I will tell you what I
will do, I will send to Greece for the best instructor in wrestling
I can get hold of, they are better at that than we are, and wrestling
has always ranked very high in their sports. Most of you already
are nearly a match for Decius; but you are all worth taking pains
about, for there are rich prizes to be won in the provincial arenas,
as well as at Rome; and in Greece, where they do not care for the
serious contests, there is high honour paid to the winners in the
As time went on Beric had little leisure to spend in libraries, for
the exercises increased in severity, and as, instead of confining
himself, as most of the others did, to one particular branch, he
worked at them all, the day was almost entirely given up to exercises
of one kind or another. His muscles, and those of his companions,
had increased vastly under the training they received. All had
been accustomed to active exercise, but under their steady training
every ounce of superfluous flesh disappeared, their limbs became
more firmly knit, and the muscles showed out through the clear skin
in massive ridges.
"We should astonish them at home, Beric," Boduoc said one day.
"It is strange that people like the Romans, who compared to us are
weakly by nature, should have so studied the art of training men
in exercises requiring strength. I used to wonder that the Roman
soldiers could wield such heavy spears and swords. Now I quite
understand it. We were just as nature made us, they are men built
up by art. Why, when we began, my arms used to ache in a short time
with those heavy clubs, now I feel them no more than if they were
Pollio had remained but two months in Rome, and had then gone out
with a newly appointed general to Syria. Beric had missed his light
hearted friend much, but he was not sorry to give up the visits with
him to the houses of his friends. He felt that in these houses he
was regarded as a sort of show, and that the captured British chief,
who was acquainted with the Latin tongue and with Roman manners,
was regarded with something of the same curiosity and interest as
a tamed tiger might be. Besides, however much gladiators might be
the fashion in Rome, he felt a degradation in the calling, although
he quite appreciated the advantage that the training would be to
him should he ever return to Britain. He was pleased to learn from
Pollio, on the day before he started, that he had heard that his
uncle would ere long return to Rome.
"I believe," he said, "that it is entirely my aunt's doing. You
know how she hates what she calls her exile, and I hear that she
has been quietly using all her family influence to obtain his recall
and his appointment as a magistrate here. I learn she is likely to
succeed, and that my uncle will be one of these fine days astounded
at receiving the news that he is appointed a magistrate here.
I don't suppose he will ever learn my aunt's share in the matter,
and will regard what others would take as a piece of supreme good
luck as a cruel blow of fortune. However, if he did discover it,
my aunt would maintain stoutly that she did it for the sake of
the girls, whom she did not wish to see married to some provincial
officer, and condemned, as she had been, to perpetual exile; and
as she would have the support of all her relations, and even of
my father, who is also convinced that it is the greatest of all
earthly happiness for a Roman to reside at Rome, my uncle for once
will have to give in. Aemilia, too, will be glad to return to Rome,
though I know that Ennia is of a different opinion. I believe, from
what she let drop one day, that she has a leaning towards the new
sect, of which she has heard from the old slave who was her nurse. It
will be a great misfortune if she has, for it would cause terrible
trouble at home, and if any fresh persecution breaks out, she might
be involved. I am sure my aunt has no suspicion of it, for if she
had the slave would be flogged to death or thrown to the fishes,
and Ennia's life would be made a burden to her till she consented
to abandon the absurd ideas she had taken up."
But if Norbanus had returned with his family to Rome, Beric had
heard nothing of it. Had Pollio been at Rome he would at once have
taken him to see them on their return, but now that he had gone
there was no one from whom he would hear of their movements, and
Norbanus himself would be so much occupied with his new duties,
and with the society with which Lesbia would fill the house, that
he would have no time to inquire about the British captive he had
received as his guest at Massilia.
One evening, when the rest of the gladiators were engaged in a hot
discussion as to the merits of some of those who were to appear
at the games given in celebration of the funeral obsequies of a
wealthy senator, Beric asked Boduoc to accompany him for a walk.
"One gets sick of all that talk about fighting," he said as they
went out. "How men can sit indoors in a hot room heavy with the
smoke of the lamps, when they can go out on such a lovely night as
this, I cannot understand. We do not have such nights as this at
"No," Boduoc assented reluctantly, for it was seldom that he would
allow anything Roman to be superior to what he was accustomed to
in Britain; "the nights are certainly fine here, and so they need
be when it is so hot all day that one can scarcely breathe outside
the house. It seems to me that the heat takes all the strength out
of my limbs."
Beric laughed. "It did not seem so, Boduoc, when today you threw
Borthon, who is as heavy and well nigh as strong as yourself, full
five yards through the air. Let us turn out from these busy streets
and get among the hills--not those on which the palaces stand,
but away from houses and people."
"What a night it would be for wolf hunting!" Boduoc said suddenly,
when they had walked along for some distance in silence.
"Yes, that was fine sport, Boduoc; and when we slew we knew we were
ridding the land of fierce beasts."
"Well, many of the gladiators are not much better, Beric. There
is Porus, who may be likened to a panther; there is Chresimus, who
is like a savage bull; Gripus, who, when not at work, is for ever
trying to stir up strife. Truly, I used to think, Beric, that I
could not slay a man unless he was an enemy, but I scarce feel that
now. The captives in war are like ourselves, and I would not, if
I could help it, lift sword against them. But many of the men are
malefactors, who have been sentenced to death as gladiators rather
than to death by the executioner, and who, by the terms of the
sentence, must be killed within the course of a year. Well, there
is no objection to killing these; if you do not do it, someone
else will. Then there are the Romans, these are the roughest
and most brutal of all; they are men who have been the bullies of
their quarters, who fight for money only, and boast that it is a
disappointment to them when, by the vote of the spectators, they
have to spare an antagonist they have conquered. It is at least
as good a work to kill one of these men as to slay a wolf at home.
Then there are the patricians, who fight to gain popular applause,
and kill as a matter of fashion; for them I have assuredly no pity.
"No, I hope I shall never have to stand up against a captive like
myself but against all others I can draw my sword without any of
the scruples I used to feel. I hear that if one of us can but hold
his own for three years, in most cases he is given his liberty.
I do not mean that he would be allowed to go home, but he is free
from the arena."
They were now near the summit of one of the hills, where a clear
sweep had been made of all the houses standing there in order that
a stately temple should be erected on the site. Suddenly they heard
a scream in a female voice.
"There is some villainy going on, Boduoc, let us break in upon the
game." They ran at the top of their speed in the direction from
which they had heard the cry, and came upon a group of seven or
eight men, belonging, as they could see by the light of the moon,
to the dregs of the city. A female was lying on the ground, another
was clinging to her, and two men with coarse jeers and laughter
were dragging her from her hold when the two Britons ran up.
Beric struck one of the men to the ground with a terrible blow,
while Boduoc seizing the other hurled him through the air, and
he fell head foremost among a heap of the masonry of a demolished
building. The other men drew their knives, but as Beric and his
companion turned upon them there was a cry, "They are gladiators,"
and the whole of them without a moment's hesitation took to their
Beric then turned towards the females, and as the light of the moon
fell full on his face the one with whom the men had been struggling
exclaimed, "Why, it is surely Beric!"
Beric looked at her in surprise. "It is the lady Ennia!" he
exclaimed. "Why, what are you doing at this time of night in so
lonely a place, and without other attendants than this woman?"
"It is my nurse," Ennia said; "I was on my way with her, Beric, to
a secret meeting of Christians held in an underground room of one
of the villas that stood here. I have been there several times
before and we have not been molested, but, as I gathered from what
the men said, they noticed the light fall upon my necklace and
bracelet as I passed by a lamp, and so followed us. Happily they
overtook us before we reached the place of meeting. Had they followed
us farther they might have come upon us there, and then much more
harm would have been done. They came up and roughly demanded who
we were, and bade me hand over my jewels. Lycoris answered them,
and they struck her down. I threw myself down on her and clung to
her, but they would soon have plundered and perhaps killed me had
not you arrived."
"Do not you think, Ennia, that it is foolish and wrong of you thus
to go out unprotected at night to such a place as this, and, as I
suppose, without the knowledge of your father and mother?"
"They do not know," she said, "but it is my duty to go. It is the
only opportunity I have for hearing the Word preached."
"I cannot think, Ennia, that it is your duty," Beric said gravely.
"The first duty of a young woman is to obey her parents, and I
think that you, being as yet scarce a woman, are not able to judge
between one religion and another. I know nothing of the doctrines
of this sect save what your father told me; but he said that they
were good and pure, and, being so, I am sure that they cannot
countenance disobedience to parents."
"The words are 'Forsake all, and follow Me,'" Ennia said firmly.
"That could not have been said to one of your age, Ennia. I was
reading the Jewish sacred book the other day, and one of the chief
commandments is to honour your father and mother. Well, I think,
at any rate, that it were best not to go there tonight. These men
may return, and at any rate I will not allow you thus to wander
about at night unprotected. Boduoc and I will escort you to your
house. When you get there I trust that you will think this over,
and that you will see that such midnight excursions are altogether
wrong, whatever the motive may be; but at any rate, if you must go,
I must obtain your promise that you will write to me at the school
of Scopus the gladiator, to tell me at what hour you start. I shall
not intrude my presence upon you, nor accompany you, for this would
be to make myself an accomplice in what I consider your folly; but
I shall always be near you, and if you are again disturbed on your
way Boduoc and I will be at hand to punish those who meddle with
The old nurse by this time had regained her feet.
"You are the nurse of this young lady," Beric said to her sternly,
"and should know better than to bring her into danger. If Norbanus
knew what you have done he would have you cut in pieces."
"It is not the fault of Lycoris. She begged and entreated me not to
come, but I would not listen to her. You are angry with me, Beric,
but you would not be angry if you knew what it was to me. Younger
than I have died for the Faith, and I would die too if it were
Beric made no reply, he was indeed deeply vexed at what he
considered an act of mad folly. The daughters of Norbanus had been
very friendly and kind to him at Massilia, and he felt a debt of
gratitude to their father; and this escapade on the part of Ennia,
who was as yet scarce sixteen, vexed him exceedingly. He was not
sure, indeed, but that he ought to go straight to Norbanus and tell
him what had happened, yet he feared that in such a case the anger
of the magistrate would be so great that Ennia would be forced
by him into becoming one of the vestal virgins, or be shut up in
strict imprisonment. Scarce a word was spoken as they passed down
the hill and into the streets, now almost deserted. At last Ennia
stopped at the entrance used by the slaves to her father's house.
"Will you give me your promise," he asked, "about going out at
night again? I implore you, I beseech you do not again leave the
house of your father at night unknown to him. You cannot tell the
dangers you run by so doing, or the misery you may bring, not only
on yourself, but on your parents."
"I promise you," Ennia said. "I owe you so great a debt of gratitude
that even your harsh words do not anger me. I will think over what
you have said, and try to do what may seem to me my duty."
"That is all I ask," Beric said more gently; and then turning
walked away with Boduoc, who had but faintly understood what was
being said, but was surprised at the recognition between Beric and
this girl, whom he had not particularly noticed when at Massilia.
"That is Pollio's cousin, the younger daughter of the magistrate I
stayed with at Massilia. It was well for her that it was not Pollio
who came to her rescue instead of us."
"I should say so," Boduoc said dryly. "Pollio would scarcely be a
match for eight cutthroats."
"I did not mean that, Boduoc. I meant that he would have rated her
"It seemed to me that you were rating her somewhat soundly, Beric.
I scarce ever heard you speak so harshly before, and I wondered the
more as you are neither kith nor kin to her, while by the heartiness
with which you scolded her you might have been her own brother."
"I did not think whether I had a right to scold her or not, Boduoc.
I liked both the maiden and her sister, and their father was very
kind to me. Moreover, after all Pollio has done for us, the least
I could do was to look after his cousin. But even if I had known
nothing whatever of her or her friends, I should have spoken just
as I did. The idea of a young girl like that wandering about at
night with no one but an old slave to protect her in an unfrequented
quarter of Rome! It is unheard of."
"But what were they doing there, Beric?"
"They were going to a meeting place of a new religion there is in
Rome. The people who belong to it are persecuted and obliged to
meet in secret. The old woman belongs to it, and has, I suppose,
taught Ennia. I have heard that the sect is spreading, and that
although most of those who adhere to it are slaves, or belong to
the poorer class, there are many of good family who have also joined
"Well, I should have thought," Boduoc said, "that the Romans had
no cause to be dissatisfied with their gods. They have given them
victory, and dominion, and power, and wealth. What more could they
want of them? I could understand that we, whose god did nothing
to assist us in our fight against the Romans, should seek other
gods who might do more for us. But that a Roman should have been
discontented with his gods is more than I can understand. But what
is that sudden flash of light?"
"It is a fire, and in these narrow streets, with a brisk wind
blowing, it may well spread. There, do you hear the watchmen's
trumpets giving the alarm? Let us get back quickly, Boduoc. It may
be that we shall be all turned out to fight the fire if it spreads."
They were not far from the school now, and a few minutes' run took
them there. The house was quiet, but a few oil lamps burning here
and there enabled them to make their way to the broad planks,
arranged like a modern guard bed, on which they slept with their
"Is that you, Beric?" Scopus, who slept in a cubicule leading off
the great room, asked.
"Yes it is; Boduoc and I."
"You are very late," he growled. "Late hours are bad for the health.
Are you sober?"
"No, I need not ask you," Scopus went on. "If it had been some of
the others who had been out so late, I should have been sure they
would have come home as drunk as hogs; but that is not your way."
"There is a fire not very far off, Scopus, and the wind is blowing
Scopus was at once on his feet and came out into the room. "I don't
like fires," he said uneasily. "Let us go up on the roof and see
what it is like."
Short as the time had been since Beric first saw the flash of
light the fire had already spread, and a broad sheet of flame was
shooting up into the air. "It is down there in the most crowded
quarter, and the wind is blowing strongly. It is likely to be a
big fire. Listen to the din."
A chorus of shouts, the shrieks of women, and the tramp of many
feet running, mingled with the sounding of the watchmen's horns.
"The soldiers will soon be there to keep order," Scopus said.
"As every household is obliged to keep a bucket in readiness, and
there is an abundance of water; they will cope with it. At any rate
the wind is not blowing in this direction. It is half a mile away
"Can we go down and see if we can be of any assistance?" Beric asked.
"We might help in removing goods from the houses, and in carrying
off the aged and sick."
"You can if you like, Beric. I would not say as much for those who
are training hard, for the loss of a night's rest is serious; but
as it will be some months before you Britons are ready for the
arena, it will do you no harm."
Beric went below, aroused his countrymen, and went with them and
Boduoc. The streets were alive. Men were running in the direction
of the fire carrying buckets; women were standing at the doors
inquiring of the passersby if they knew what street was on fire,
and whether it was likely to spread. The sound of military trumpets
calling the soldiers to arms rose in various parts of the city,
and mingled with the hoarse sound of the watchmen's horns. As they
approached the fire the crowd became thicker.
Beric admired the coolness shown and the order that already reigned.
The prefect of the 7th Cohort of the Night Guard, always on duty
to guard the streets from thieves or fire, was already on the spot,
and under his directions, and those of several inferior officials,
the men, as fast as they arrived, were set to pass buckets along
from the fountains and conduits.
"Who are you?" the magistrate asked, as the five tall figures came
up the street in the light of the fire.
"We belong to the school of Scopus," Beric said. "We have come
down to see if we can be of assistance. We are strong, and can move
goods from houses threatened, or carry off the sick should there
be any; or we can throw water on the flames."
"The soldiers will do that," the magistrate said, "that is their
business; but, as you say, you may be of use in helping clear the
houses outside their lines. The flames are spreading. Come with
me, I will take you to the centurion commanding a company of the
Night Guard here, for if he saw you coming out of the house with
goods he might take you for plunderers."
The centurion, who was hard at work with his men, nodded an assent.
"It were well to get some more stout fellows like these," he said
to the magistrate. "In spite of our efforts the fire is making
headway, and the sooner the houses in its path are stripped the
A strong body of volunteers for the work was soon organized, and
an official placed in charge of it. All night they worked without
intermission, Beric and his comrades keeping together and astonishing
those who were working with them by the strength and activity they
displayed. But fast as they worked the flames advanced faster. They
were half suffocated by smoke, and the sparks fell thickly round
them. The workers carried the goods out of the houses into the
street, where other parties conveyed them to open spaces. Lines of
men down all the streets leading to the scene of the fire passed
along buckets of water. These the soldiers carried up on to the
roofs, which they deluged, while others wetted the hangings and
furniture that had not been removed.
Parties of troops strove to pull down the houses in the path of the
flames, while others again marched up and down preserving order.
The Night Guard entered the houses, compelled all to leave, and
saw that none were left behind; while sentries kept guard over the
goods piled high in the open spaces. When morning broke, Beric gave
up the work to a fresh party and returned with his companions to
the school. They found it deserted, save by the slaves, the others
having, as they learned, gone to the fire an hour before with
"We will have a bath to get rid of the dust and sweat," Beric said.
"But first we will go up to the roof and have a look at the fire.
We had no time when we were working to think much of it; but as
we were always being driven back by it, it must have spread a good
An exclamation of surprise broke from them when they gained the
roof. Smoke and flames were rising over a large area. A dense canopy
overhung the town, a confused din filled the air, while momentarily
deep heavy sounds told of falling roofs and walls.
"This is terrible, Boduoc."
"Why terrible, Beric? For my part I should like to see Rome utterly
destroyed, as she has destroyed so many other towns."
"The Romans would build it up again more magnificent than before,
Boduoc. No, it would be a misfortune to the world if Rome were
destroyed; but there is little chance of that. They have had many
fires before now; this is a large one certainly, but by this time
all the troops in the city must be there, and if the wind drops
they will soon arrest the progress of the flames."
The other Britons quite agreed with Boduoc, and though ready to work
their hardest to aid in saving the property of individuals, they
looked on with undisguised satisfaction at the great conflagration.
On such a point as this Beric knew that it would be useless to
argue with them.
"You had better come down from the roof, Boduoc. There are others
watching the fire besides ourselves; and if it were reported that
some of the gladiators from the school were seen making exulting
gestures, there would be a popular tumult, and it is likely as not
we should be charged with being the authors of the fire. Let us go
down, get some food, and then have a bath and sleep for a while.
There is little chance of the fire being checked at present. At
any rate, we have done our share of work."
After a few hours' sleep Beric again went up to the roof. The
fire had made great progress, and, as he could see, was not only
travelling with the wind, but working up against it. It was already
much nearer to the school than it had been. As to the width of the
area of the conflagration the smoke prevented him from forming any
opinion; but he judged that the length was fully a mile. It was
evident that the progress of the fire was causing great dismay.
Groups were gathered on the housetops everywhere, while the streets
were crowded with fugitives laden with household goods, making
their way towards the thinly populated portions of the hills. After
eating some bread and fruit, Beric again sallied out with his four
companions. On their way down they met Scopus with several of the
"What is being done, Scopus?"
"As far as stopping the fire nothing is being done. It has been
given up. What can be done when the fire is sweeping along a mile
broad, and the heat is so great that there is no standing within a
hundred yards of it? All the soldiers are there, and the magistrates
and the guards, and all the rest of them, but all that can be done
is to prevent the scum of the city from sacking and plundering.
Scores of men have been scourged and some beheaded, but it is no
easy matter to keep down the mob. There are parties of guards in
every street. The whole of the Praetorians are under arms, but the
terror and confusion is so great and spread over so wide a space
that it is well nigh impossible to preserve order. Proclamations
have just been issued by the senate calling upon all citizens
to gather at their places of assembly in arms, enjoining them to
preserve order, and authorizing the slaying of all robbers caught
in the act of plundering. All persons within a certain distance
of the fire are recommended to send their wives and families, with
their jewels and all portable wealth, to the public gardens, where
strong guards of the Praetorians will be posted."
"It seems to me that the fire is advancing in this direction, also,
"It is spreading everywhere," Scopus said gloomily. "The heat
seems to draw the air in from all directions, and the flames surge
sometimes one way and sometimes another. You had better not go far
away, Beric; if the flames crawl up much nearer we shall have to
prepare for a move. We have no jewels to lose, nor is the furniture
of much value, but the arms and armour, our apparatus, clothes,
and other things must be carried off."
The scene as Beric went forward was pitiful in the extreme. Weeping
women carrying heavy burdens and with their children clinging to
their dress came along. Some searched up and down frantically for
members of the family who had been lost in the crowd. Old men and
women were being helped along by their relations. The sick were
being borne past upon doors or the tops of tables.
Among the fugitives were groups of men from the poorest districts
by the river, who were only restrained from snatching at the
ornaments and caskets of the women by the presence of the soldiers,
standing at short intervals along the street and at the doors of the
principal houses. In spite of the vigilance of the guard, however,
such thefts occasionally took place, and the screams that from
time to time rose in the side streets told of the work of plunder
going on there.
"I should like to turn down here and give a lesson to some of these
villains," Boduoc said.
"I should like nothing better, Boduoc, but it would not do to get
into a fray at present. It would only bring up the guard, and they
would not be likely to ask many questions as to who was in fault,
but would probably assume at once that we, being gladiators, were
there for the purpose of robbery, and that the row had arisen over
the division of spoil. Look, there is a centurion taking a party
of men down the street where we heard those screams. Let us move
back a few paces and see what is going to happen. Yes, there is
another party of soldiers coming in at the other end. The women
are running out of the houses to tell their grievances."
Small parties of soldiers entered the houses. Shouts and yells could
be heard even above the surrounding din. Men jumped from windows
or ran out into the street only to be cut down by the troops there,
and so each body of soldiers continued to advance until they met
in the centre of the street, and then, after a few words between
the officers, each party returned by the way it had come. They had
done their work, and the street had been completely cleared of the
"You see, Boduoc, had we run down there when we heard the cries it
would have gone hard with us. The troops certainly spent no time
in questioning; the women might have told them, perhaps, that we
had come to their assistance; still it is just as well that we keep
clear of the matter."
Beric's party skirted along the fire for some distance. At some
points to windward of the flames efforts were still being made to
prevent their spread, large numbers of men being employed in pulling
down houses under the supervision of the fire guard. Bodies of
troops guarded the entrances to all the streets, and kept back the
crowd of sightseers, who had assembled from all parts of the city.
Fearing that they might be impressed for the work of demolition,
the Britons returned to the school. The familia, as the members
of any school of this kind were called, were all assembled. Scopus
was walking moodily up and down the gymnasium, but it was evident
by the countenances of most of the men that they felt a deep
satisfaction at the misfortune that had befallen Rome. From time
to time Scopus ascended to the roof, or sent one of the men out
to gather news, but it was always to the same effect, the fire was
still spreading, and assuming every hour more serious proportions.
Towards evening the flames had approached so closely, that Scopus
gave orders for the men to take up the bundles that had already
been made up, containing everything of any value in the school.
"You had better not wait any longer," he said; "at any moment there
may be orders for all schools to go down to help the troops, and
then we should lose everything."
Accordingly the heavy packets were lifted by the men on to their
heads or shoulders, and they started for the Palatine, which was
the nearest hill. Here were many of the houses of the wealthy, and
the owners of most of these had already thrown open their gardens
for the use of the fugitives. In one of these the gladiators
deposited their goods. Two of the party having been left to guard
them the rest went out to view the fire.
There was little sleep in Rome that night. It was now evident to all
that this was no local conflagration, but that, if the wind continued
to blow, it threatened the entire destruction of a considerable
portion of the town. Every space and vantage ground from which a
view of the fire could be obtained was crowded with spectators.
"There were great fires when we destroyed Camalodunum, Verulamium,
and London," Boduoc said, "but this is already larger than any of
those, and it is ever spreading; even at this distance we can hear
the roar of the flames, the crash of the falling houses, and the
shouts of the workers."
"It is a terrible sight, indeed, Boduoc. It looks like a sea of
fire. So far the part involved is one of the oldest and poorest
in the city, but if it goes on like this the better quarters will
soon be threatened. If we get no special orders tomorrow, we will
go down to the house of Norbanus and give what help we can in the
removal of his goods. His library is a very valuable one, and its
loss would be a terrible blow to him. I remember that at Camalodunum
there was nothing I regretted so much as the destruction of the
"It is all a matter of taste," Boduoc said. "I would rather have a
good suit of armour and arms than all the books in Rome. Why some
people should worry their brains to make those little black marks
on paper, and others should trouble to make out what they mean, is
more than I can understand. However, we shall be glad to help you
to carry off the goods of Norbanus."
CHAPTER XIV: ROME IN FLAMES
All night the gladiators watched the ever widening area of fire.
In the morning proclamations were found posted in every street,
ordering all citizens to be under arms, as if expecting the attack
of an enemy; each district was to be patrolled regularly, and all
evildoers found attempting to plunder were to be instantly put to
death, the laws being suspended in face of the common danger. All
persons not enrolled in the lists of the city guards were exhorted
to lend their aid in transporting goods from the neighbourhood of
the fire to a place of safety in the public gardens, and the masters
of the schools of gladiators were enjoined to see that their scholars
gave their aid in this work.
"Well, we may as well set to work," Scopus said. "There are some
of my patrons to whom we may do a good service."
"Will you let me go with my comrades first to aid Norbanus,
a magistrate who has done me service?" Beric said. "After I have
helped to move his things I will join you wherever you may appoint."
Scopus nodded. "Very well, Beric. I shall go first to the house
of Gallus the praetor, he is one of my best friends. After we are
done there we will go to the aid of Lysimachus the senator; so, if
you don't find us at the house of Gallus, you will find us there."
Beric at once started with the four Britons to the house where he
had left Ennia. It was distant but half a mile from the point the
fire had now reached, and from many of the houses round the slaves
were already bearing goods. Here, however, all was quiet. The door
keeper, knowing Beric, permitted him and his companions to enter
without question. Norbanus was already in his study. He looked up
as Beric approached him. "Why, it is Beric!" he said in surprise.
"I heard that you were in one of the ludi and was coming to see
you, but I have been full of business since I came here. I am glad
that you have come to visit me."
"It is not a visit of ceremony," Beric said; "it is the fire that
has brought me here."
"Lesbia tells me that it is still blazing," Norbanus said
indifferently. "She has been worrying about it all night. I tell
her I am not praetor of the fire guard, and that it does not come
within my scope of duty. I went down yesterday afternoon, but the
soldiers and citizens are all doing their work under their officers,
and doubtless it will soon be extinguished."
"It is ever growing, Norbanus. It is within half a mile of your
house now, and travelling fast."
"Why, it was treble that distance last night," Norbanus said in
surprise. "Think you that there is really danger of its coming this
"Unless a change takes place," Beric said, "it will assuredly be
here by noon; even now sparks and burning flakes are falling in the
street. The neighbours are already moving, and I would urge you to
lose not a moment's time, but summon your slaves, choose all your
most valuable goods, and have them carried up to a place of safety.
If you come up to the roof you will see for yourself how pressing
is the danger."
Norbanus, still incredulous, ascended the stairs, but directly he
looked round he saw that Beric had not exaggerated the state of
"I have brought four of my tribesmen with me," Beric said, "and we
are all capable of carrying good loads. There ought to be time to
make three journeys at least up to the gardens on the hill, where
they will be safe. I should say, let half your slaves aid us in
carrying up your library and the valuables that come at once to
hand, and then you can direct the others to pack up the goods you
prize most so that they shall be ready by our return."
"That shall be done," Norbanus said, "and I am thankful to you,
Beric, for your aid."
Descending, Norbanus at once gave the orders, and then going up to
the women's apartments told Lesbia to bid the female slaves pack at
once all the dresses, ornaments, and valuables. The cases containing
the books were then brought out into the atrium, and there stacked
in five piles. They were then bound together with sacking and cords.
"But what are you going to do with these great piles?" Norbanus
said as he came down from above, where Lesbia was raging at the
news that much of their belongings would have to be abandoned.
"Why, each of them is a wagon load."
"They are large to look at, but not heavy. At any rate we can
carry them. Is there anyone to whom we shall specially take them,
or shall we place a guard over them?"
"My cousin Lucius, the senator, will, I am sure, take them for
me. His house is surrounded by gardens, and quite beyond reach of
fire. His wife is Lesbia's sister, and Aemilia shall go up with
The Britons helped each other up with the huge packets, four slaves
with difficulty raising the last and placing it on Beric's head.
"The weight is nothing now it is up," he said, "though I wish it
were a solid packet instead of being composed of so many of these
The cases in which the Romans usually kept their books were about
the size and shape of hat boxes, but of far stronger make, and each
holding from six to ten rolls of vellum. A dozen slaves under the
superintendence of the steward, and carrying valuable articles of
furniture, followed the Britons, and behind them came Aemilia, with
four or five female slaves carrying on their heads great packages
of the ladies' clothing. The house of Lucius was but half a mile
away from that of Norbanus. Even among the crowd of frightened men
and women hurrying up the hill the sight of the five Britons, with
their prodigious burdens created lively astonishment and admiration.
"Twenty such men as those," one said, "would carry off a senator's
villa bodily, if there was room for it in the road."
"They are the Titans come to life again," another remarked. "It
would take six Romans to carry the weight that one of them bears."
When they neared the villa of Lucius, Aemilia hurried on ahead with
the female slaves, and was standing at the door with the senator
when the Britons approached. The senator uttered an exclamation of
"Whence have you got these wonderful porters, Aemilia?"
"I know not," the girl said. "We were dressing, when our father
called out that we were to hurry and to put our best garments
together, for that we were to depart instantly, as the fire was
approaching. For a few minutes there was terrible confusion. The
slaves were packing up our things, all talking together, and in
an extreme terror. Our mother was terribly upset, and I think she
made things worse by giving fresh orders every minute. In the middle
of it my father shouted to me to come down at once, and the slaves
were to bring down such things as were ready. When I got down
I was astonished at seeing these great men quite hidden under the
burdens they carried, but I had no time to ask questions. My father
said, 'Go with them to my cousin Lucius, and ask him to take in
our goods,' and I came."
By this time the party had reached the house.
"Follow me," Lucius said, leading the way along the front of the
house, and round to the storehouses in its rear. Aemilia accompanied
him. The slaves deposited their burdens on the ground, and then
aided the Britons to lower theirs. Aemilia gave an exclamation of
astonishment as Beric turned round.
"Why, it is Beric the Briton!" she exclaimed.
"You did not recognize me, then?" Beric said smiling.
"I should have done so had I looked at you closely," she said, "in
spite of your Roman garb; but what with the crowd, and the smoke,
and the fright, I did not think anything about it after my first
wonder at seeing you so loaded. Where did you come from so suddenly
to our aid? Are these your countrymen? Ennia and I have asked our
father almost every day since we came to Rome to go and find you,
and bring you to us. He always said he would, but what with his
business and his books he was never able to. How good of you to
come to our aid! I am sure the books would never have been saved
if it had not been for you, and father would never have got over
"I knew where your house was," Beric said, "and was glad to be
able to do something in gratitude for your father's kindness at
Massilia. But I must not lose a moment talking; I hope to make two
or three more trips before the fire reaches your house. Your slaves
have orders to return with us. Will you tell your steward to guide
us back by a less frequented road than that we came by, and then we
can keep together and shall not lose time forcing our way through
By the time they reached the house of Norbanus the slaves left
behind had packed up everything of value.
"I will go up," Norbanus said, "with all the slaves, male and
female, if you will remain here to guard the rest of the things
till we return. Several parties of ill favoured looking men have
entered by the door, evidently in the hopes of plunder, but left
when they saw we were still here. The ladies' apartments have been
completely stripped, and their belongings will go up this time, so
that there will be no occasion for them to return. If the flames
approach too closely before we come back, do not stay, Beric, nor
trouble about the goods that remain. I have saved my library and
my own manuscripts, which is all I care for. My wife and daughters
have saved all their dresses and jewels. All the most valuable of
my goods will now be carried up by my slaves, and if the rest is
lost it will be no great matter."
Beric and his companions seated themselves on the carved benches of
the atrium and waited quietly. Parties of marauders once or twice
entered, for the area of the fire was now so vast that even the
troops and armed citizens were unable properly to guard the whole
neighbourhood beyond its limits; but upon seeing these five formidable
figures they hastily retired, to look for booty where it could be
obtained at less risk.
The fire was but a few hundred yards away, and clouds of sparks
and blazing fragments were falling round the house when Norbanus
and his slaves returned. These were sufficient to carry up the
remaining parcels of goods without assistance from the Britons,
who, however, acted as an escort to them on their way back. Their
throats were dry and parched by the hot air, and they were glad of
a long draught of the good wine that Lucius had in readiness for
their arrival. Beric at first refused other refreshment, being
anxious to hasten away to join Scopus, but the senator insisted
upon their sitting down to a meal.
"You do not know when you may eat another," he said; "there will
be little food cooked in this part of Rome today."
As Beric saw it was indeed improbable that they would obtain other
food if they neglected this opportunity, he and the others sat down
and ate a good, though hasty, meal.
"You will come and see us directly the fire is over," Norbanus said
as they rose to leave. "Remember, I shall not know where to find
you, and I have had no time to thank you worthily for the service
that you have rendered me. Many of the volumes you have saved were
unique, and although my own manuscripts may be of little value to
the world, they represent the labour of many years."
Hurrying down to the rendezvous Scopus had given him, Beric found
that both villas had already been swept away by the fire. He then
went up to the spot where their goods were deposited, but the two
gladiators in charge said that they had seen nothing whatever of
"Then we will go down and do what we can," Beric said. "Should
Scopus return, tell him that we will be here at nightfall."
For another two days the conflagration raged, spreading wider and
wider, and when at last the wind dropped and the fury of the flames
abated, more than the half of Rome lay in ashes. Of the fourteen
districts of the city three were absolutely destroyed, and in
seven others scarce a house had escaped. Nero, who had been absent,
reached Rome on the third day of the fire. The accusation that he
had caused it to be lighted, brought against him by his enemies
years afterwards, was absurd. There had been occasional fires in
Rome for centuries, just as there had been in London before the
one that destroyed it, and the strong wind that was blowing was
responsible for the magnitude of the fire.
There can, however, be little doubt that the misfortune which appeared
so terrible to the citizens was regarded by Nero in a different
light. Nero was prouder of being an artist than of being an emperor.
Up to this time Rome, although embellished with innumerable temples
and palaces, was yet the Rome of the Tarquins. The streets were
narrow, and the houses huddled together. Mean cottages stood next
to palaces. There was an absence of anything like a general plan.
Rome had spread as its population had increased, but it was a
collection of houses rather than a capital city.
Nero saw at once how vast was the opportunity. In place of the
rambling tortuous streets and crowded rookeries, a city should rise
stately, regular, and well ordered, with broad streets and noble
thoroughfares, while in its midst should be a palace unequalled
in the world, surrounded by gardens, lakes, and parks. There was
ample room on the seven hills, and across the Tiber, for all the
population, with breathing space for everyone. What glory would
there not be to him who thus transformed Rome, and made it a worthy
capital of the world! First, however, the people must be attended
to and kept in good humour, and accordingly orders were at once
issued that the gardens of the emperor's palaces should be thrown
open, and the fugitives allowed to encamp there. Such magazines
as had escaped the fire were thrown open, and food distributed to
all, while ships were sent at once to Sicily and Sardinia for large
supplies of grain for the multitude.
While the ruins were still smoking the emperor was engaged with
the best architects in Rome in drawing out plans for laying out
the new city on a superb scale, and in making preparations for the
commencement of work. The claims of owners of ground were at once
wiped out by an edict saying, that for the public advantage it was
necessary that the whole of the ground should be treated as public
property, but that on claims being sent in other sites would be
given elsewhere. Summonses were sent to every town and district
of the countries under the Roman sway calling for contributions
towards the rebuilding of the capital. So heavy was the drain, and
so continuous the exactions to raise the enormous sums required to
pay for the rebuilding of the city and the superb palaces for the
emperor, that the wealth of the known world scarce sufficed for
it, and the Roman Empire was for many years impoverished by the
tremendous drain upon its resources.
The great mass of the Roman population benefited by the fire.
There was work for everyone, from the roughest labourer to the most
skilled artisan and artist. Crowds of workmen were brought from
all parts. Greece sent her most skilful architects and decorators,
her sculptors and painters. Money was abundant, and Rome rose again
from her ruins with a rapidity which was astonishing.
The people were housed far better than they had ever been before;
the rich had now space and convenience for the construction of their
houses, and although most of them had lost the greater portion of
their valuables in the fire, they were yet gainers by it. All shared
in the pride excited by the new city, with its broad streets and
magnificent buildings, and the groans of the provincials, at whose
cost it was raised, troubled them not at all. It was true that Nero,
in his need for money, seized many of the wealthier citizens, and,
upon one pretext or other, put them to death and confiscated their
property; but this mattered little to the crowd, and disturbed none
save those whose wealth exposed them to the risk of the same fate.
Beric saw nothing of these things, for upon the very day after the
fire died out Scopus started with his scholars to a villa on the
Alban Hills that had been placed at his disposal by one of his
patrons. There were several other schools in the neighbourhood, as
the air of the hills was considered to be far healthier and more
strengthening than that of Rome. In spite of the public calamity
Nero continued to give games for the amusement of the populace, other
rich men followed his example, and the sports of the amphitheatre
were carried on on an even more extensive scale than before.
Scopus took six of his best pupils to the first games that were
given after the fire. Four of them returned victorious, two were
sorely wounded and defeated. Their lives had, however, been spared,
partly on account of their skill and bravery, partly because the
emperor was in an excellent humour, and the mass of the spectators,
on whom the decision of life or death rested, saw that the signal
for mercy would be acceptable to him.
The Britons greatly preferred their life on the Alban Hills to
that in Rome; for, their exercises done, they could wander about
without being stared at and commented upon.
The pure air of the hills was invigorating after that of the great
city; and here, too, they met ten of their comrades whose ludi
had been all along established on the hills. Plans of escape were
sometimes talked over, but though they could not resist the pleasure
of discussing them, they all knew that it was hopeless. Though
altogether unwatched and free to do as they liked after the work
of the day was over, they were as much prisoners as if immured in
the strongest dungeons. The arm of Rome stretched everywhere; they
would be at once followed and hunted down wherever they went. Their
height and complexion rendered disguise impossible, and even if
they reached the mountains of Calabria, or traversed the length
of Italy successfully and reached the Alps--an almost hopeless
prospect--they would find none to give them shelter, and would
ere long be hunted down. At times they talked of making their way
to a seaport, seizing a small craft, and setting sail in her; but
none of them knew aught of navigation, and the task of traversing
the Mediterranean, passing through the Pillars of Hercules, and
navigating the stormy seas beyond until they reached Britain, would
have been impossible for them.
News came daily from the city, and they heard that Nero had accused
the new sect of being the authors of the conflagration, that the
most rigid edicts had been issued against them, and that all who
refused to abjure their religion were to be sent to the wild beasts
in the arena.
Beric had not seen Norbanus since the day when he had saved his
library from the fire; but a few days after they had established
themselves in the hills he received a letter from him saying that
he had, after much inquiry, learned where Scopus had established
his ludus; he greatly regretted Beric had left Rome without his
seeing him, and hoped he would call as soon as he returned. His
family was already established in a house near that of Lucius.
After that Beric occasionally received letters from Aemilia, who
wrote sometimes in her father's name and sometimes in her own. She
gave him the gossip of Rome, described the wonderful work that was
being done, and sent him letters from Pollio to read.
One day a letter, instead of coming by the ordinary post, was
brought by one of the household slaves.
"We are all in terrible distress, Beric," she said. "I have told
you about the severe persecution that has set in of the Christians.
A terrible thing has happened. You know that our old nurse belonged
to that sect. She often talked to me about it, but it did not seem
to me that what she said could be true; I knew that Ennia, who is
graver in her disposition than I am, thought much of it, but I did
not think for a moment that she had joined the sect. Two nights
ago some spies reported to one of the praetors that some persons,
believed to be Christians, were in the habit of assembling one or
two nights a week at a lonely house belonging to a freedman. A guard
was set and the house surrounded, and fifty people were found there.
Some of them were slaves, some freedmen, some of them belonged to
noble families, and among them was Ennia.
"She had gone accompanied by that wretched old woman. All who had
been questioned boldly avowed themselves to be Christians, and
they were taken down and thrown into prison. Imagine our alarm in
the morning when we found that Ennia was missing from the house,
and our terrible grief when, an hour later, a messenger came from
the governor of the prison to say that Ennia was in his charge. My
father is quite broken down by the blow. He does not seem to care
about Ennia having joined the new sect--you know it is his opinion
that everyone should choose their own religion--but he is chiefly
grieved at the thought that she should have gone out at night attended
only by her nurse, and that she should have done this secretly and
without his knowledge. My mother, on the other hand, is most of
all shocked that Ennia should have given up the gods of Rome for a
religion of slaves, and that, being the daughter of a noble house,
she should have consorted with people beneath her.
"I don't think much of any of these things. Ennia may have done
wrong, but that is nothing to me. I only think of her as in terrible
danger of her life, for they say that Nero will spare none of the
Christians, whether of high or low degree. My father has gone out
this morning to see the heads of our family and of those allied
to us by kinship, to try to get them to use all their influence to
obtain Ennia's pardon. My mother does nothing but bemoan herself
on the disgrace that has fallen upon us. I am beside myself with
grief, and so, as I can do nothing else, I write to tell you of
the trouble that has befallen us. I will write often and tell you
Beric's first emotion was that of anger that Ennia should, after the
promise she had given him, have again gone alone to the Christian
gathering. Then he reflected that as he was away from Rome, she
was, of course, unable to keep that promise. He had not seen her
since that night, for she had passed straight through the atrium
with her mother while he was assisting the slaves to take up their
He could not help feeling an admiration for her steadfastness in
this new Faith that she had taken up. By the side of her livelier
sister he had regarded her as a quiet and retiring girl, and was
sure that to her these midnight outings by stealth must have been
very terrible, and that only from the very strongest sense of duty
would she have undertaken them. Now her open avowal of Christianity,
when she must have known what were the penalties that the confession
entailed, seemed to him heroic.
"It must be a strange religion that could thus influence a timid
girl," he said to himself. "My mother killed herself because she
would not survive the disaster that had fallen upon her people and
her gods; but her death was deemed by all Britons to be honourable.
Besides, my mother was a Briton, strong and firm, and capable of
heroic actions. This child is courting a death that all who belong
to her will deem most dishonourable. There is nothing of the heroine
in her disposition; it can only be her Faith in her religion that
sustains her. As soon as I return to Rome I will inquire more into
It was now ten months since Beric had entered the school of Scopus.
He was nearly twenty years old, and his constant and severe exercises
had broadened him and brought him to well nigh his full strength.
Scopus regarded him with pride, for in all the various exercises
of the arena he was already ahead of the other gladiators. His
activity was as remarkable as his strength, and he was equally
formidable with the trident and net as with sword and buckler;
while in wrestling and with the caestus none of the others could
stand up against him. He had been carefully instructed in the most
terrible contest of all, that against wild beasts, for Scopus deemed
that, being a captive of rank and importance, he might be selected
for such a display.
A Libyan, who had often hunted the lion in its native wilds, had
described to him over and over again the nature of the animal's
attack, and the spring with which it hurls itself upon its opponent,
and Scopus having obtained a skin of one of the animals killed in
the arena, the Libyan had stuffed it with outstretched paws; and
Scopus obtained a balista, by which it was hurled through the air as
if in the act of springing. Against this Beric frequently practised.
"You must remember," the Libyan said, "that the lion is like a great
cat, and as it springs it strikes, so that you must avoid not only
its direct spring, but its paws stretched to their full extent as
it passes you in the air. You must be as quick as the animal itself,
and must not swerve till it is in the air. Then you must leap aside
like lightning, and, turning as you leap, be ready to drive your
spear through it as it touches the ground. The inert mass, although it
may pass through the air as rapidly as the wild beast, but poorly
represents the force and fierceness of the lion's spring. We
Libyans meet the charge standing closely together, with our spears
in advance for it to spring on, and even then it is rarely we kill
it without one or two being struck down before it dies. Bulls are
thought by some to be more formidable than lions; but as you are
quick, you can easily evade their rush. The bears are ugly customers.
They seem slow and clumsy, but they are not so, and they are very
hard to kill. One blow from their forepaws will strip off the flesh
as readily as the blow of a tiger. They will snap a spear shaft
as easily as if it were a reed. They are all ugly beasts to fight,
and more than a fair match for a single man. Better by far fight
the most skilled gladiator in the ring than have anything to do
with these creatures. Yet it is well to know how to meet them, so
that if ill fortune places you in front of them, you may know how
to do your best."
Accounts came almost daily to the hills of the scenes in the arena,
and the Romans, accustomed though they were to the fortitude with
which the gladiators met the death stroke, were yet astonished at
the undaunted bearing of the Christians--old men and girls, slaves
and men of noble family, calmly facing death, and even seeming to
rejoice in it.
One evening a slave brought a note from Aemilia to Beric. It
contained but a few words:
"Our efforts are vain; Ennia is condemned, and will be handed
to the lions tomorrow in the arena. We have received orders to be
present, as a punishment for not having kept a closer watch over
her. I think I shall die."
Beric went to Scopus at once.
"You advised me several times to go to the arena, Scopus, in
order to learn something from the conflicts. I want to be present
tomorrow. Porus and Lupus are both to fight."
"I am going myself, Beric, and will take you with me. I shall start
two hours before daybreak, so as to be there in good time. As their
lanista I shall enter the arena with them. I cannot take you there,
but I know all the attendants, and can arrange for you to be down
at the level of the arena. It may not be long before you have to
play your part there, and I should like you to get accustomed to
the scene, the wall of faces and the roar of applause, for these
things are apt to shake the nerves of one unaccustomed to them."
Beric smiled. "After meeting the Romans twenty times in battle,
Scopus, the noise of a crowd would no more affect me than the roar
of the wind over the treetops. Still I want to see it; and more,
I want to see how the people of this new sect face death. British
women do not fear to die, and often slay themselves rather than
fall into the hands of the Romans, knowing well that they will go
straight to the Happy Island and have no more trouble. Are these
Christians as brave?"
Scopus shrugged his shoulders. "Yes, they die bravely enough. But
who fears death? Among all the peoples Rome has conquered where has
she met with cowards? Everywhere the women are found ready to fall
by their husbands' swords rather than become captives; to leap from
precipices, or cast themselves into blazing pyres. Is man anywhere
lower than the wild beast, who will face his assailants till the
last? I have seen men of every tribe and people fight in the arena.
If conquered, they raise their hand in order to live to conquer
another day; but not once, when the thumbs have been turned down,
have I seen one flinch from the fatal stroke."
"That is true enough," Beric said; "but methinks it is one thing
to court death in the hour of defeat, when all your friends have
fallen round you, and all hope is lost, and quite another to stand
alone and friendless with the eyes of a multitude fixed on you.
Still I would see it."
The next day Beric stood beside Scopus among a group of guards and
attendants of the arena at one of the doors leading from it. Above,
every seat of the vast circle was crowded with spectators. In the
centre of the lower tier sat the emperor; near him were the members
of his council and court. The lower tiers round the arena were
filled by the senators and equities, with their wives and daughters.
Above these were the seats of officials and others having a right
to special seats, and then came, tier above tier to the uppermost
seats, the vast concourse of people. When the great door of the
arena opened a procession entered, headed by Cneius Spado, the
senator at whose expense the games were given. Then, two and two,
marched the gladiators who were to take part in it, accompanied by
their lanistae or teachers. Scopus, after seeing Beric well placed,
had left him to accompany Porus and Lupus.
The gladiators were variously armed. There were the hoplomachi,
who fought in complete suits of armour; the laqueatores, who used
a noose to catch their adversaries; the retiarii, with their net
and trident, and wearing neither armour nor helmet; the mirmillones,
armed like the Gauls; the Samni, with oblong shields; and the
Thracians, with round ones. With the exception of the retiarii
all wore helmets, and their right arms were covered with armour,
the left being protected by the shield. The gladiators saluted
the emperor and people, and the procession then left the arena,
the first two matched against each other again entering, each
accompanied by his lanista. Both the gladiators were novices, the
men who had frequently fought and conquered being reserved for the
later contests, as the excitement of the audience became roused.
One of the combatants was armed as a Gaul, the other as a Thracian.
The combat was not a long one. The men fought for a short time
cautiously, and then closing exchanged fierce and rapid blows
until one fell mortally wounded. A murmur of discontent rose from
the spectators, there had not been a sufficient exhibition of skill
to satisfy them. Eight or ten pairs of gladiators fought one after
the other, the excitement of the audience rising with each conflict,
as men of noted skill now contended. The victors were hailed
with shouts of applause, and the vanquished were spared, a proof
that the spectators were in a good temper and satisfied with the
entertainment. Beric looked on with interest. In the age in which
he lived feelings of compassion scarcely existed. War was the normal
state of existence. Tribal wars were of constant occurrence, and
the vanquished were either slain or enslaved. Men fought out their
private quarrels to the death; and Beric, being by birth Briton
and by education Roman, felt no more compunction at the sight of
blood than did either Briton or Roman.
To him the only unnatural feature in the contest was that there
existed neither personal nor tribal hostility between the combatants,
and that they fought solely for the amusement of the spectators.
Otherwise he was no more moved by the scenes that passed before
his eyes than is a Briton of the present day by a friendly boxing
match. He was more interested when Porus entered the arena, accompanied
by Scopus. He liked Porus, who, although quick and fiery in temper,
was good natured and not given to brawling. He had often practised
against him, and knew exactly his strength and skill. He was
clever in the management of his net, but failed sometimes from his
eagerness to use his trident. He was received with loud applause
when he entered, and justified the good opinion of the spectators
by defeating his antagonist, who was armed as a Samnite, the
spectators expressing their dissatisfaction at the clumsiness of
the latter by giving the hostile signal, when the Gaul--for the
vanquished belonged to that nationality--instead of waiting for
the approach of Porus, at once stabbed himself with his own sword.
The last pair to fight were Lupus and one of the Britons. He had
not been trained in the school of Scopus, but in one of the other
ludi, and as he was the first of those brought over by Suetonius
to appear in the arena, he was greeted with acclamation as loud as
those with which Lupus was received. Tall as Lupus was, the Briton
far exceeded him in stature, and the interest of the spectators
was aroused by the question whether the strength of the newcomer
would render him a fair match for the well known skill of Lupus. A
buzz went round the amphitheatre as bets were made on the result.
Beric felt a thrill of excitement, for the Briton was one of the
youngest and most active of his followers, and had often fought
side by side with him against the Romans.
How well he had been trained Beric knew not, but as he knew that
he himself was superior in swordmanship to Lupus, he felt that his
countryman's chances of success were good. It was not long, however,
before he saw that the teaching the Briton had received had been
very inferior to that given at the school of Scopus, and although
he twice nearly beat Lupus to the ground by the sheer weight of
his blows, the latter thrice wounded him without himself receiving
a scratch. Warned, however, of the superior strength of the Briton
Lupus still fought cautiously, avoiding his blows, and trying to
tire him out. For a long time the conflict continued, then, thinking
that his opponent was now weakened by his exertions and by loss of
blood, Lupus took the offensive and hotly pressed his antagonist,
and presently inflicted a fourth and more severe wound than those
A shout rose from the spectators, "Lupus wins!" when the Briton,
with a sudden spring, threw himself upon his opponent. Their shields
clashed together as they stood breast to breast. Lupus shortened his
sword to thrust it in below the Briton's buckler, when the latter
smote with the hilt of his sword with all his strength full upon
his assailant's helmet, and so tremendous was the blow that Lupus
fell an inert mass upon the ground, while a tremendous shout rose
from the audience at this unexpected termination of the contest.
Scopus leaned over the fallen man. He was insensible but breathed,
being simply stunned by the weight of the blow. Scopus held up his
own hand, and the unanimous upturning of the thumbs showed that
the spectators were well satisfied with the skill and courage with
which Lupus had fought.
CHAPTER XV: THE CHRISTIANS TO THE LIONS
After the contest in which Lupus had been defeated there was a
pause. The gladiatorial part of the show was now over, but there
was greater excitement still awaiting the audience, for they knew
Nero had ordered that some of the Christians were to be given to
the lions. There was a hush of expectation as the door was opened,
and a procession, consisting of a priest of Jupiter and several
attendants of the temple, followed by four guards conducting
an elderly man with his two sons, lads of seventeen or eighteen,
entered. They made their way across the arena and stopped before the
emperor. The priest approached the prisoners, holding out a small
image of the god, and offered them their lives if they would pay
the customary honours to it. All refused. They were then conducted
back to the centre of the arena, and the rest, leaving them there,
filed out through the door. The old man laid his hands on the
shoulders of his sons and began singing a hymn, in which they both
joined. Their voices rose loud and clear in the silence of the
amphitheatre, and there was neither pause nor waver in the tone
as the entrance to one of the cages at the other end of the arena
was opened, and a lion and a lioness appeared. The animals stood
hesitating as they looked round at the sea of faces, then, encouraged
by the silence, they stepped out, and side by side made the circuit
of the arena, stopping and uttering a loud roar as they came upon
the track along which the bleeding bodies of those who had fallen
had been dragged. When they had completed the circle they again
paused, and now for the first time turned their attention to
the three figures standing in its centre. For a minute they stood
irresolute, and then crouching low crawled towards them.
Beric turned his head. He could view without emotion a contest
of armed men, but he could not, like the population of Rome, see
unarmed and unresisting men pulled down by wild beasts. There was
a dead stillness in the crowded amphitheatre, then there was a low
sound as of gasping breath. One voice alone continued the hymn, and
soon that too ceased suddenly. The tragedy was over, and the buzz
of conversation and comment again broke out among the spectators.
Certainly these Christians knew how to die. They were bad citizens,
they had doubtless assisted to burn Rome, but they knew how to die.
A strong body of guards provided with torches now entered. The
lions were driven back to their dens, the bodies being left lying
where they had fallen. Four batches of prisoners who were brought
out one after another met with a similar fate. Then there was
another pause. It was known that a girl of noble family was to be
the last victim, and all eyes were turned to Norbanus, who, with
his wife and Aemilia, sat in the front row near Nero, with two
Praetorian guards standing beside them. Norbanus was deadly pale,
but the pride of noble blood, the stoicism of the philosopher, and
the knowledge of his own utter helplessness combined to prevent his
showing any other sign of emotion. Lesbia sat upright and immovable
herself. She was not one to show her emotion before the gaze of
the common people.
Aemilia, half insensible, would have fallen had not the guard beside
her supported her. She had seen nothing of what had passed in the
arena, but had sat frozen with horror beside her mother. Again the
doors opened, a priest of Diana, followed by a procession of white
robed attendants, and six virgins from the temple of Diana, entered,
followed by Ennia between the attendants of the temple, while a band
of lictors brought up the rear. Even the hardened hearts of the
spectators were moved by the youth and beauty of the young girl,
who, dressed in white, advanced calmly between her guards, with
a gentle modest expression on her features. When the procession
formed up before the emperor, she saluted him. The priest and the
virgins surrounded her, and urged her to pay reverence to the statue
Pointing to her parents, they implored her for their sake to recant.
Pale as death, and with tears streaming down her cheeks, she shook
her head quietly. "I cannot deny the Lord who died for me," she
Nero himself rose from his seat. "Maiden," he said, "if not for your
own sake, for the sake of those who love you, I pray you to cease
from your obstinacy. How can a child like you know more than the
wisest heads of Rome? How can you deny the gods who have protected
and given victory to your country? I would fain spare you."
"I am but a child, as you say, Caesar," Ennia replied. "I have no
strength of my own, but I am strong in the strength of Him I worship.
He gave His life for me--it is not much that I should give mine
Nero sank back on his seat with an angry wave of his hand. He saw
that the sympathy of the audience was with the prisoner, and would
willingly have gained their approval by extending his clemency
towards her. The procession now returned to the centre of the arena,
where the girls, weeping, took leave of Ennia, who soon stood alone
a slight helpless figure in the sight of the great silent multitude.
Nero had spoken in a low tone to one of his attendants. The door of
another cage was opened, and a lion, larger in bulk than any that
had previously appeared, entered the arena, saluting the audience
with a deep roar. As it did so a tall figure, naked to the waist,
sprang forward from the group of attendants behind a strong barrier
at the other end of the arena. He was armed only with a sword which
he had snatched from a soldier standing next to him. Deep murmurs
of surprise rose from the spectators. The master of ceremonies
exchanged a few words with the emperor, and a body of men with
torches and trumpets ran forward and drove the lion back into its
den. Then Beric, who had been standing in front of Ennia, advanced
towards the emperor.
"Who are you?" Nero asked.
"I am Beric, once chief of the Iceni, now a British captive. I
received great kindness on my way hither from Norbanus, the father
of this maid. As we Britons are not ungrateful I am ready to
defend her to the death, and I crave as a boon, Caesar, that you
will permit me to battle against the lion with such arms as you
"Are you a Christian?" the emperor asked coldly.
"I am not. I am of the religion of my nation, and Rome has always
permitted the people that have been subdued to worship in their
own fashion. I know nought of the Christian doctrines, but I know
that this damsel at least can have had nought to do with the burning
of Rome, and that though she may have forsaken the gods of Rome,
in this only can she have offended. I pray you, and I pray this
assembly, to let me stand as her champion against the beasts."
A burst of applause rose from the spectators. This was a novelty,
and an excitement beyond what they had bargained for. They had been
moved by the youth of the victim, and now the prospects of something
even more exciting than the rending to pieces of a defenceless
girl enlisted them in favour of the applicant. Moreover the Romans
intensely admired feats of bravery, and that this captive should
offer to face single handed an animal that was known to be one of
the most powerful of those in the amphitheatre filled them with
admiration. Accustomed as they were to gaze at athletes, they were
struck with the physique and strength of this young Briton, with
the muscles standing up massive and knotted through the white skin.
"Granted, granted!" they shouted; "let him fight."
Nero waited till the acclamation ceased, and then said: "The people
have spoken, let their will be done. But we must not be unfair
to the lion; as the maiden was unarmed so shall you stand unarmed
before the lion."
The decision was received in silence by the spectators. It was a
sentence of death to the young Briton, and the silence was succeeded
by a low murmur of disapproval. Beric turned a little pale, but he
showed no other sign of emotion.
"Thanks, Caesar, for so much of a boon," he said in a loud, steady
voice; "I accept the conditions, it being understood that should
the gods of my country, and of this maiden, defend me against the
lion, the damsel shall be free from all pain and penalty, and shall
be restored to her parents."
"That is understood," Nero replied.
With an inclination of his head to the emperor and a wave of his
hand to the audience in general, Beric turned and walked across
the arena to the barrier. Scopus was standing there.
"You are mad, Beric. I grieve for you. You were my favourite pupil,
and I looked for great things from you, and now it has come to
this, and all is over."
"All is not quite over yet, Scopus. I will try to do credit to
your training; give me my cloak." He wrapped himself in its ample
folds, and then walked quietly back to the centre of the arena. A
murmur of surprise rose from the spectators. Why should the Briton
cumber his limbs with this garment?
On reaching his position Beric again threw off the cloak, and stood
in the short skirt reaching scarce to the knees. "I am unarmed,"
he cried in a loud voice. "You see I have not as much as a dagger."
Then he tore off two broad strips from the edge of the garment and
twisted them into ropes, forming a running noose in each, threw
the cloak, which was composed of the stout cloth used by the common
people, over his arm, and signed to the attendants at the cage to
open the door.
"Oh, Beric, why have you thrown away your life in a useless attempt
to save mine?" Ennia said as he stood before her.
"It may not be useless, Ennia. My god has protected me through
many dangers, and your God will surely assist me now. Do you pray
to Him for aid."
Then as the door of the den opened he stepped a few paces towards
it. A roar of applause rose from the vast audience. They had appreciated
his action in making the ropes, and guessed that he meant to use
his cloak as a retiarius used his net; there would then be a contest
and not a massacre. Enraged at its former treatment the lion dashed
out of its den with a sudden spring, made three or four leaps
forward, and then paused with its eyes fixed on the man standing
in front of it, still immovable, in an easy pose, ready for instant
action. Then it sank till its belly nearly touched the ground, and
began to crawl with a stealthy gliding motion towards him. More
and more slowly it went, till it paused at a distance of some ten
For a few seconds it crouched motionless, save for a slow waving
motion of its tail; then with a sharp roar it sprang through the
air. With a motion as quick Beric leaped aside, and as it touched
the ground he sprang across its loins, at the same moment wrapping
his cloak in many folds round its head, and knotting the ends
tightly. Then as the lion, recovering from its first surprise,
sprang to its feet with a roar of anger and disgust, Beric was on
his feet beside it.
For a moment it strove to tear away the strange substance which
enveloped its head, but Beric dropped the end of a noose over one
of its forepaws, drew it tight, and with a sudden pull jerked the
animal over on its back. As it sprang up again the other forepaw
was noosed, and it was again thrown over. This time, as it sprang
to its feet, Beric struck it a tremendous blow on the nose. The
unexpected assault for a moment brought it down, but mad with rage
it sprang up and struck out in all directions at its invisible foe,
leaping and bounding hither and thither. Beric easily avoided the
onslaught, and taking every opportunity struck it three or four
times with all his force on the ear, each time rolling it over and
over. The last of these blows seemed almost to stun it, and it lay
for a moment immovable.
Again Beric leaped upon it, coming down astride of its loins with
all his weight, and seizing at once the two ropes. The lion uttered
a roar of dismay and pain, and struck at him first with one paw
and then with the other. By his coolness and quickness, however,
he escaped all the blows, and then, when the lion seemed exhausted,
he jerked tightly the cords, twisting them behind the lion's back
and with rapid turns fastening them together. The lion was helpless
now. Had Beric attempted to pull the cords in any other position
it would have snapped them like pack thread, but in this position
it had no strength, the pads of the feet being fastened together
and the limbs almost dislocated. As the animal rolled over and
over uttering roars of vain fury, Beric snatched the cloth from its
head, tore off another strip, twisted it, and without difficulty
bound its hind legs together. Then he again wrapped it round the
lion's head, and standing up bowed to the spectators.
A mighty shout shook the building. Never had such a feat been seen
in the arena before, and men and women alike standing up waved their
hands with frantic enthusiasm. Beric had not escaped altogether
unhurt, for as the lion struck out at him it had torn away a piece
of flesh from his side, and the blood was streaming down over
his white skirt. Then he went up to Ennia, who was standing with
closed eyes and hands clasped in prayer. She had seen nothing of
the conflict, and had believed that Beric's death and her own were
"Ennia," he said, "our gods have saved me; the lion is helpless."
Then she sank down insensible. He raised her on his shoulder, walked
across the arena, passed the barrier, and, ascending the steps,
walked along before the first row of spectators and handed her over
to her mother. Then he descended again, and bowed deeply, first to
the emperor and then to the still shouting people.
The giver of the games advanced and placed on his head a crown of
bay leaves, and handed to him a heavy purse of gold, which Beric
placed in his girdle, and, again saluting the audience, rejoined
Scopus, who was in a state of enthusiastic delight at the prowess
of his pupil.
"You have proved yourself the first gladiator in Rome," he said.
"Henceforth the school of Scopus is ahead of all its rivals. Now
we must get your side dressed. Another inch or two, Beric, and the
conflict would not have ended as it did."
"Yes, if the lion had not been in such a hurry to strike, and had
stretched its paw to the fullest, it would have fared badly with
me," Beric said; "but it was out of breath and spiteful, and had
not recovered from the blow and from the shock of my jumping on it,
which must have pretty nearly broken its back. I knew it was a risk,
but it was my only chance of getting its paws in that position, and
in no other would my ropes have been strong enough to hold them."
"But how came you to think of fighting in that way?" Scopus asked,
after the leech, who was always in attendance to dress the wounds
of the gladiators, had bandaged up his side.
"I never expected to have to fight the beasts unarmed," Beric said,
"but I had sometimes thought what should be done in such a case,
and I thought that if one could but wrap one's cloak round a lion's
head the beast would be at one's mercy. Had I had but a caestus
I could have beaten its skull in, but without that I saw that the
only plan was to noose its limbs. Surely a man ought to be able to
overcome a blinded beast."
"I would not try it for all the gold in Rome, Beric, even now
that I have seen you do it. Did you mark Caesar? There is no one
appreciates valiant deeds more than he does. At first his countenance
was cold--I marked him narrowly--but he half rose to his feet
and his countenance changed when you first threw yourself on the
lion, and none applauded more warmly than he did when your victory
was gained. Listen to them; they are shouting for you again. You
must go. Never before did I know them to linger after a show was
over. They will give you presents."
"I care not for them," Beric said.
"You must take them," Scopus said, "or you will undo the favourable
impression you have made, which will be useful to you should you
ever enter the arena again and be conquered. Go, go!"
Beric again entered the arena, and the attendants led him up to
the emperor, who presented him with a gold bracelet, saying:
"I will speak to you again, Beric. I had wondered that you and
your people should have resisted Suetonius so long, but I wonder
Then Beric was led round the arena. Ladies threw down rings and
bracelets to him. These were gathered up by the attendants and handed
to him as he bowed to the givers. Norbanus, his wife, and daughter
had already left their seats, surrounded by friends congratulating
them, and bearing with them the still insensible girl. Having made
the tour of the arena Beric again saluted the audience and retired.
One of the imperial attendants met them as they left the building.
"The emperor bids me say, Scopus, that when Beric is recovered from
his wound he is to attend at the palace."
"I thought the emperor meant well towards you," Scopus said. "You
will in any case fight no more in the arena."
"How is that?" Beric asked in surprise.
"Did you not hear the shouts of the people the last time you entered,
"I heard a great confused roar, but in truth I was feeling somewhat
faint from loss of blood, and did not catch any particular sounds."
"They shouted that you were free from the arena henceforth. It
is their custom when a gladiator greatly distinguishes himself to
declare him free, though I have never known one before freed on
his first appearance. The rule is that a gladiator remains for two
years in the ring, but that period is shortened should the people
deem that he has earned his life by his courage and skill. For a
moment I was sorry when I heard it, but perhaps it is better as it
is. Did you remain for two years, and fight and conquer at every
show, you could gain no more honour than you have done. Now I will
get a lectica and have you carried out to the hills. You are not
fit to walk."
They were joined outside by Porus and Lupus. The former was warm
in his congratulation.
"By the gods, Beric, though I knew well that you would gain a great
triumph in the arena when your time came, I never thought to see
you thus fighting with the beasts unarmed. Why, Milo himself was
not stronger, and he won thirteen times at the Olympian and Pythian
games. He would have won more, but no one would venture to enter
against him. Why, were you to go on practising for another five years,
you would be as strong as he was, and as you are as skilful as you
are strong it would go hard with any that met you. I congratulated
myself, I can tell you, when I heard the people shout that you were
free of the arena, for if by any chance we had been drawn against
each other, I might as well have laid down my net and asked you to
finish me at once without trouble."
"It was but a happy thought, Porus: if a man could be caught in
a net, why not a lion blinded in a cloak? That once done the rest
"Well, I don't want any easy jobs of that sort," Porus said. "But
let us go into a wine shop; a glass will bring the colour again to
"No, no, Porus," Scopus said. "Do you and Lupus drink, and I will
drink with you, but no wine for Beric. I will get him a cup of hot
ass's milk; that will give him strength without fevering his blood.
Here is a place where they sell it. I will go in with him first,
and then join you there; but take not too much. You have a long
walk back, and I guess, Lupus, that your head already hums from the
blow that Briton gave it. By Bacchus, these Britons are fine men!
I thought you had got an easy thing of it, when boom! and there
you were stretched out like a dead man."
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