A PRETENDER'S DIFFICULTIES
 OUR story must now go back a little, and take up the
course of events at the camp, where the look of affairs
was not promising. The donative promised by Constantine
on the day of his election had been paid, but this had
been done only after the greatest exertions in wringing
money out of unlucky traders, farmers, and even
peasants, who had been already squeezed almost dry. All
that had any coin left were beginning to bury it,
and though the collectors of taxes, or loans, or gifts,
or whatever else the frequent requisition of money
might be called, had ingenious ways of discovering or
making their owners give up these hoards, it was quite
evident that very little more could be got out of
Britain. The military chest meanwhile was becoming
 and though money was still found somehow for the larger
camps, some of the less important garrisons had been
left for months with almost nothing in the way of pay.
What was to be done was a pressing question, which had
to be answered in some way within a few days. If it was
not so answered, it was tolerably plain that
Constantine would meet the fate of Marcus and
Gratianus. The Emperor himself (if we are to give him
this title) seemed to be very little troubled by the
prospect, and remained stolidly calm. His elevation
indeed had made the least possible difference to him.
He drank a better kind of wine, and perhaps a little
more—for his cups had been limited by his means—but he
did not run into excess. He was still the same simple,
contented, good-natured man that he had always been.
But his sons were of another temper, though curiously
differing from each other. Constans the elder was an
enthusiast, almost fanatic, a man of strong religious
feeling, who would have followed the religious life if
it had been possible, and who now, finding himself
possessed of power, had schemes of using it to promote
his favourite schemes. Julian the younger had ambitions
of a more commonplace kind. But both the brothers were
agreed in holding on to the power that had been so
strangely put into their father's hands, hands which,
as he had very little will of his own, were practically
 A council was held at which Constantine, his two sons,
and three of the officers of highest rank were present,
and the urgent question of the day was anxiously
Julian began the discussion.
"The army," he said, "must be employed, or it will
find mischief to do at home which all of us will be
"I have some one to introduce to your Majesty," said
one of the officers present, "who may have something
to say which will influence your decision. He is from
and brings me a letter from the commander at Uriconium.
He came last night."
"Let him enter," said Constantine, with his usual dull
The tribune went to the door of the chamber, and
despatched a message to his quarters. In a few minutes
the stranger was introduced into the council. He was a
man verging upon middle age, somewhat short of stature,
with a great bush of fiery-red hair, which stood up
from his head with a very fierce look, a long, shaggy
beard of the same colour, eyes of the deepest blue,
very bright and piercing, but with a
 wandering and unsteady look in them, and a ruddy
complexion which deepened to an intense colour on his
cheek bones and other prominent parts of his face.
Around his neck he wore a heavy twisted collar of
remarkably red gold. Massive rings of the same metal
adorned his fingers. His dress was of undyed wool, and
very rudely shaped, a curious contrast to the richness
of his ornaments. He was followed into the room by an
interpreter, a young native of Northern Britain, who
had been carried off by Irish pirates from one of the
ecclesiastical schools. He had been taught Latin before
his captivity, and, while a captive, had made himself
acquainted with the Irish language, which indeed did
not differ very much from that spoken in Britain.
His task of interpreter was not by any means an easy
one to fulfil. The Prince broke out into a rapid
torrent of complaint, invective, and entreaty, which
left the young man, who was not very expert in either
of the languages with which he had to deal, hopelessly
behind. Then seeing that he was not followed, he turned
on his unlucky attendant and dealt him a blow upon the
ear that sent him staggering across the room. Then he
seemed to remember himself, and began to tell his story
again at a more moderate rate of speed, though he still
from time to time, when he came to
 some peculiarly exciting part in the tale of his
wrongs, broke out into a rapid eloquence that baffled
all interpretation. The upshot of the story was this—
He was, or rather had been, a small king in
the eldest of four brothers, having succeeded his
father about ten years before. There had been a quarrel
about the division of some property. The Prince was a
little obscure in his description of the property;
indeed it was a matter about which he was shrewd enough
to say as little as possible. But his hearers had no
difficulty in presuming that it consisted of spoil
carried off from Britain. The quarrel had come to
blows. All the nation had been divided into parties in
the dispute. Finally he had been compelled by his
ungrateful subjects to fly for his life. Would the
Emperor bring him back? He was liberal, even
extravagant, in his offers. He would bring the whole
island under his dominion. (As a matter of fact, his
dominions had never reached more than seventy miles
inland, and he had contrived to make himself so hated
during his ten years' reign that he had scarcely a
friend or follower left.) And what an island it was!
There never was such a place. The sheep were fatter,
the cows gave more milk than in any other place in the
whole world. And there was
 gold too, gold to be had for the picking up; and amber
on the shores, and pearls in the rivers. In short, it
was a treasure-house of wealth, which was waiting for
the lucky first-comer.
"Are you a Christian?" asked Constans.
The exiled chief would have gladly said that he was,
and indeed for a moment thought of the audacious
fiction that his attachment to the new faith had been
one of the causes of his expulsion. He was, in fact, a
savagely bigoted pagan, and had dealt very roughly with
one or two missionaries who had ventured into his
neighbourhood. But he reflected that the falsehood
would infallibly be detected, and would inevitably do
him a great deal of harm.
"No!" he exclaimed; "would that I were. But there is
nothing that I so much desire if only I could attain to
that blessing. But I promise to be baptized myself, and
to have every man, woman, and child within my dominions
baptized within a month, you will only bring me back to
Even Constans thought this zeal to be a little
"And how many men can you bring into the field?" asked
the more practical Julian; "and what money can you find
for the pay of the soldiers?" The stranger was taken
aback at these direct questions.
 "All my subjects, all my treasures are yours," he said,
after a pause.
"I don't believe," said one of the tribunes in Latin to
Julian, "that he has any subjects besides this
wretched interpreter, or any treasure beyond what he
wears on his neck and his fingers."
"Shall he withdraw?" said Julian to his father.
Constantine, who never spoke when he could avoid
speaking, answered by a nod, and the Irish Prince
"Let us have nothing to do," said the practical Julian,
"with these Irish savages. They may cut their own
throats, and welcome, without our helping them. The
men, too, would rebel at the bare mention of Ierne. It
is out of the world in their eyes, and I think they are
about right. And as to the gold and pearls, I don't
believe in them."
"Perhaps you are right," said Constans; "but it would
be a great work to bring over a new nation to the
Julian answered with a laugh. "My good brother, we are
not all such zealous missionaries as you. I am afraid
that preaching is not exactly the work which our
friends the soldiers are looking out for."
"What does your Majesty say to an expedition to
chastise those thieving Picts? They grow more insolent
This was the suggestion of one of the tribunes.
 "What is to be got?" was Julian's answer.
answered the tribune.
"Glory! What is that?—the men want pay and plunder.
These bare-legged villains haven't so much as a rag
that you can take from them, and they have a shrewd way
of giving at least as many hard blows as they take.
No!—we will leave the Picts alone, and only too
thankful if they will do the same for us!"
"The Count of the Shore has not yet taken the oath to
his Majesty," said an officer who had not spoken
before. "We might give some employment to the men in
bringing him to reason."
Constantine spoke for the first time since the council
had begun its sitting—"The Count is a good man and
does his business well. Leave him alone."
Other suggestions were made and discussed without any
sensible approach to a conclusion, and the council
broke up, but with an understanding that it should meet
again with as little delay as possible.
On the afternoon of that very day an incident occurred
which convinced every one—if further conviction was
needed—that delay would certainly be fatal.
A party of soldiers was practising javelin throwing,
and Constantine, who had been particularly expert in
this exercise in his youth, stood watching the game. He
had stepped up to examine the mark
 made by one of the weapons on the wooden figure at
which the men were throwing, when a javelin passed most
perilously near his head and buried itself in the wood.
It could not have been an accident; no one could have
been so recklessly careless as to throw under the
circumstances. Constantine was as imperturbable as
usual. Without a sign of fear or anger, he said,
"Comrades, you mistake; I am not made of wood," and,
signing to his attendants, walked quietly away. The
incident, however, made a great impression upon him,
and a still greater upon his sons.
The consultation was renewed and prolonged far into the
night, and, as no conclusion was reached, continued on
the next day. About noon an unexpected adviser appeared
upon the scene.
A message was brought into the council-chamber that a
merchant from Gaul had something of importance to
communicate to the Emperor. The man was admitted, after
having been first searched by way of precaution. His
dress was sober in cut and colour, and he had a small
pack such as the wandering dealers in jewellery and
similar light articles were accustomed to carry.
Otherwise he was little like a trader; indeed, it did
not need a very acute or practised hand to detect in
him a soldier's bearing, and even that of one who was
accustomed to command.
 "You have something to tell us?" said Julian.
"Yes, I have," said the stranger, "but let me first
show you my credentials."
He spoke in passable Latin, but with a decided accent,
which, strongly marked as it was, was not recognized by
any of those present. At the same time he produced from
a silken purse, which he wore like a girdle round his
waist, a small square of parchment. It was a letter
written in a minute but very clear hand, and it had
evidently been put for the security of the bearer, who
could thus more easily dispose of it in case of need,
into the smallest possible compass. This was handed to
Constantine, who, in turn, passed it on to his elder
son Constans, he being the only one present who could
read and write with fluency. It ran thus:
"Alaric, the son of Baltha, King of the Goths,
Emperor of the World, to Marcus, Emperor of Britain and
the West, greeting."
A grim smile passed over Constantine's face as he heard
this address. He muttered to himself, " 'Marcus,'
indeed! Those who write to the Emperor of Britain must
have speedy letter-carriers." The letter proceeded
"I desire friendship and alliance with the nations
who are wearied and worn out with the oppressions and
cruelties of Rome, and for this purpose send this
present by my
 trusty kinsman and counsellor Atualphus, to you who
are, I understand, asserting against the common tyrant
of the world the liberty of Britain and the West. I
have not thought it fit to trust more to writing, but
commend to you the bearer hereof, the aforesaid
Atualphus, who is acquainted with the mind and purpose
of myself and of my people, and with whom you may
conveniently concert such plans as may best serve our
common welfare. Farewell. Given at my camp at Æmona."
"Marcus is no more," said Julian. "He was unworthy of
his dignity. You are in the presence of the most
excellent Constantine, Emperor of Britain."
"It matters not," said the Goth, with a haughty smile.
"My lord the king will treat as willingly with one as
with another, so he be an enemy of Rome!"
"And what does he propose? What would he have us do?"
"Make common cause with him against Honorius and Rome."
"What shall we gain thereby?"
"Half of the Empire of the World."
"How shall that be?"
"The King will march into Italy and attack the Emperor
in his own land. The Emperor will withdraw all the
legions that he yet controls for his own defence. With
them the King will deal. Then
 comes your opportunity. What does it profit you to
remain in this island, where nothing is to be won
either of glory or of riches. Cross over into Gaul and
Spain, which, wearied with oppression and desiring
above all things to throw off the Roman yoke, will
gladly welcome you. Your Cæsar shall reign on this side
of the Alps and the Pyrenees. The future may bring
other things, but that may suffice for the present."
The plan, so bold, and yet, it would seem, so feasible,
and presenting a ready escape out of a situation that
seemed hopeless, struck every one present with a
delighted surprise. Even the phlegmatic Constantine
was roused. "It shall be done," he said.
Some further conversation followed, which it is not
necessary to relate. Ways and means were discussed.
Questions were asked about the strength and temper of
the forces in Gaul and Spain, about the feeling of the
towns, and a hundred other matters, with all of which
Atualphus showed a curiously intimate knowledge. When
the Goth retired from council, he left very little
doubt or hesitation behind him.
"They are heretics—these Goths," grumbled Constans;
"obstinate Arians every one of them, I told—"
"You shall convert them, my brother," answered
 Julian, "when you are Bishop of Rome. When we divide
the West between us, that shall be your portion."
"It shall be done," said Constantine again, as he rose
from his chair.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics