THE camp next day was covered with gloom. The soldiers
moved silent and with downcast faces along the avenues,
or discharged in a mechanical way their routine duties.
The guards were turned out, the sentries relieved, and
the general order of service maintained without any
action on the part of the officers—at least of those
who held superior rank. These remained in the seclusion
of their tents; and it may be said that those who were
conscious of being popular were almost as much alarmed
as those who knew that they were disliked. If the
latter dreaded the vengeance of those whom they had
offended, the others were scarcely less alarmed by the
possibility of being elected to the perilous dignity
which had just proved fatal to Gratianus. The country
people, whose presence generally gave an air of
cheerfulness and activity to the camp, were too much
alarmed to come. The
 trading booths inside the gates were empty, and only a
very few stalls were occupied in the market, which was
held every day outside them.
The funeral of the late prince was celebrated with some
pomp. The soldiers attended it in crowds, and
manifested their grief, and, it would seem, their
remorse, by groans and tears. They were ready even to
give proofs of their repentance by the summary
execution of those who had taken an active part in the
bloody deed. But here, one of the centurions, whose
cheerful, genial manners made him an unfailing
favourite with the men, had the courage to check them.
"No, my men," said he; "we were all mad last night, and
we must all take the blame."
Two days passed without any incident of importance. On
the third the question of a successor began to be
discussed. One of the other garrisons might be
beforehand with them, and they would have either to
accept a chief who would owe his best favours to
others, or risk their lives in an unprofitable struggle
with him. In the afternoon a general assembly of the
troops was held, the officers still holding aloof,
though some of them mixed, incognito, so to speak, in
Of course, the first difficulty was to find any one who
would take the lead. At last the genial centurion, who
has been mentioned above as a
well-  established favourite with the soldiers, was pushed to
the front. His speech was short and sensible.
"Comrades," he said, "I doubt whether what I have to
say will please you; but I shall say it all the same.
You know that I always speak my mind. We have not done
very well in the new ways. Let us try the old. I
propose that we take the oath to Honorius Augustus."
A deep murmur of discontent ran through the assembly,
and showed that the speaker had presumed at least as
far as was safe on his popularity with the troops.
"Does Decius," cried a burly German from the
crowd—Decius was the name of the centurion—"does Decius
recommend that we should trust to the mercy of
Honorius? Very good, perhaps, for himself; for the
giver of such advice could scarcely fail of a reward;
but for us it means decimation
at the least."
A shout of applause showed that the speaker had
expressed the feelings of his audience.
"I propose that we all take the oath to Decius
himself!" said a Batavian; "he is a brave man and an
honest, and what do we want more?"
The good Decius had heard undismayed the angry
 disapproval which his loyal proposal had called forth;
but the mention of his name as a possible candidate for
the throne overwhelmed him with terror. His jovial face
grew pale as death; the sweat stood in large drops upon
his forehead; he trembled as he had never trembled in
the face of an enemy.
"Comrades," he stammered, "what have I done that you
should treat me thus? If I have offended or injured
you, kill me, but not this."
More than half possessed by a spirit of mischief, the
assembly answered this piteous appeal by continuous
shouts of "Long live the Emperor Decius!"
The good man grew desperate. He drew his sword from the
scabbard, and pointed it at his own heart. "At least,"
he cried, "you can't forbid me this escape."
The bystanders wrested the weapon from him; but the
joke had gone far enough, and the man was too genuinely
popular for the soldiers to allow him to be tormented
beyond endurance. A voice from the crowd shouted, "Long
live the Centurion Decius!" to which another answered,
"Long live Decius the subject!" and the worthy man felt
that the danger was over.
A number of candidates, most of whom were probably as
little desirous of the honour as Decius, were now
proposed in succession.
 "I name the Tribune Manilius," said one of the
The name was received with a shout of laughter.
"Let him learn first to be Emperor at home!" cried a
voice from the back of the assembly, a sally which had
considerable success, as his wife was a well-known
termagant, and his two sons the most frequent inmates
of the military prison.
"I name the Centurion Pisinna."
"Very good, if he does not pledge the purple," for
Pisinna was notoriously impecunious.
"I name the Tribune Cetronius."
"Very good as Emperor of the baggage-guard." Cetronius
had, to say the least, no high reputation for personal
courage, and was supposed to prefer the least exposed
parts on the field.
A number of other names were mentioned only to be
dismissed with more or less contumely. Tired of this
sport—for it really was nothing more—the crowd cried
out for a speech from a well-known orator of the camp,
whose fluency, not unmixed with shrewdness and humour,
had gained him a considerable reputation among his
"Comrades," he began, "if you have not yet found a
candidate worthy of your suffrages, it is not because
such do not exist among you. Can it be believed that
Britain is less worthy to produce the Emperor than
Gaul, or Spain, or Thrace, or even the effeminate
 Syria? Was it not from Britain that there came forth
the greatest of the successors of Augustus, the Second
Romulus, Flavius Aurelius Constantinus?"
The orator was not permitted to proceed any further.
The name Constantinus ran like an electric shock
through the whole assembly, and a thousand voices took
up the cry, "Long live Constantinus, Emperor Augustus!"
while all eyes were turned to one of the back rows of
the meeting, where a soldier who happened to bear that
name was standing. Some of his comrades caught him by
the arm, hurried him to the front, and from thence on
to the hustings. He was greeted with a perfect uproar
of applause, partly, of course, ironical, but partly
the expression of a genuine feeling that the right man
had been found, and found by some sort of Divine
assistance. The soldiers were, as has been said, a
strange medley of men, scarcely able to understand each
other, and alike only in being savage, ignorant, and
superstitious. They had been unlucky in choosing for
themselves, and now it might be well to have the choice
made for them. And at least the new man had a name
which all of them knew and reverenced, as far as they
CONSTANTINE ELECTED EMPEROR.
 Whether he had anything but a name might have seemed
perhaps somewhat doubtful. He had reached middle age,
for he had two sons already grown up, but had never
risen above the rank of a private soldier. It might be
said, perhaps, that he had shown some ability in thus
avoiding promotion—not always a desirable thing in
troublous times; but there was the fact that he was
nearly fifty years of age, and was not even a
deputy-centurion. On the other hand, he was a
respectable man, ignorant indeed, for, like most of his
comrades, he could neither read nor write, but with a
certain practical shrewdness, so good-humoured that he
had never made an enemy, known to be remarkably brave,
a great athlete in his youth, and still of a strength
beyond the average.
His sudden and strange elevation did not seem to throw
him in the least off his balance. He had been perfectly
content to go without promotion, and now he seemed
equally content to receive the highest promotion of
all. He stood calmly facing the excited mob, as unmoved
as if he had been a private soldier on the parade
ground. A slight flush, indeed, might have been seen to
mount to his face when the cloak of imperial purple was
thrown over his shoulders, and the peaked diadem put
upon his head. He must have been less than man not to
have felt some thrill either of fear or pride at the
touch of what had brought two of his comrades to their
graves within the space
 of less than half a year; but he showed no other sign
The officers, seeing the turn things had taken, had now
come to the front, and the senior tribune, taking the
new Emperor by the hand, led him to the edge of the
hustings, and said, "Comrades, I present to you
Aurelius Constantinus, chosen by the providence of God
and the choice of the army to be Emperor of Britain and
the West. The Blessed and Undivided Trinity order it
for the best." A ringing shout of approval went up in
response. The tribunes then took the oath of allegiance
to the new Emperor in person. These again administered
it to the centurions, and the centurions swore in
great batches of the soldiers. The new-made prince
meanwhile stood unmoved, it might almost be said
insensible, so strange was his composure in the face of
his sudden elevation. All that he said—the result, it
seemed, of a whisper from one of his sons—were a few
words, which, however, had all the success of a most
"Comrades, I promise you a donative;
within the space of a month."
The assembly broke up in great good-humour, and the
newly-made Emperor, attended by the officers, went to
take possession of headquarters.