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THE NEWS IN THE CAMP
 THAT afternoon a banquet, which was as handsomely set
out as the very short notice permitted, was given to
all the officers in the camp. When the tables
Constantine, who had been carefully primed by his sons
with what he was to say, addressed his guests. His
words were few and to the point. "Britain," he said,
"has been long enough ruled by others. It is now time
that she should begin herself to rule. It was the error
of those who went before me to be content with the
limits of this island. But here there is not enough to
content us. Beyond the sea, separated from us by only
a few hours' journey, lie wealthy provinces which wait
for our coming. A kindlier sky, more fertile fields,
richer and fairer cities than ours are there. We have
only to show ourselves, in short, to be both
 welcomed and obeyed. Half the victories which we have
won here to no profit over poverty-stricken barbarians
would have sufficed to give us riches even beyond our
desires. Henceforth let us use our arms where they may
win something for us beyond empty honour and wounds.
Follow me, and within a year you shall be masters both
of Gaul and Spain."
The younger guests received this oration with shouts of
applause; visions of promotion and prize-money, and
even of the spoil of some of the wealthy cities of the
mainland floated before them. The older men did not
show this enthusiasm. Many of them were attached to
Britain by ties that they were very loth to break. They
had little to hope, but much to fear, from a change.
Still, they saw the necessity for doing something;
another year such as that which had just passed would
thoroughly demoralize the army of Britain. Legions that
get into the habit of making emperors and killing them
for their pastime must be dealt with by vigorous
remedies, and the easiest and best of these was active
service. In any case it would have been impolitic to
show dissent. Many feigned, therefore, a joy which they
did not feel, and shouted approval when the Senior
Tribune exclaimed, "Comrades, drink to our chief,
Constantine Augustus, Emperor of Britain and the
The revel was kept up late into the night, the young
Goth distinguishing himself by the marvellous depth
 of his draughts and the equally marvellous strength of
The Emperor retired early from the scene, and Constans,
who had little liking for these boisterous scenes,
followed his example, as did most of the older men. One
of these, the cheery centurion, who has been mentioned
more than once, we may follow to his home.
Outside the camp had grown up a village of
considerable size, though it consisted for the most
part of humble dwellings. There were two or three
taverns, or rather drinking-shops, where the soldiers
could carouse on the thin, sour wine of the British
vineyards, or, if the length of their purses permitted; on
metheglin, a more potent drink, made from the
fermentation of honey. A Jew, driven by the restless
speculation of his race, had established himself in a
shop where he sold cheap ornaments to the soldiers'
wives and advanced money to their husbands on the
security of their pay. A tailor displayed tunics and
cloaks and a shoemaker sold boots warranted to resist the cold
and wet of the island climate. There a few cottages
occupied by the grooms and stablemen who attended to the
horses employed in the camp, by fishermen who plied
their trade in the neighbouring waters, and other
persons of a variety of miscellaneous employments in
one way or other connected with the camp. But just
outside the main
 street, at the end nearest to the camp, stood a house
of somewhat greater pretensions. It was indeed a humble
imitation of the Roman villa, being built round three
sides of an irregular square, which was itself occupied
by a grass plot and a few flower beds. It was to this
that the Centurion Decius bent his steps after the
conversation related in the last chapter. It was
evidently with the reluctant step of the bearer of bad
news that he proceeded on his way. As soon as he
entered the enclosure his approach was observed from
within. Two blooming girls, whose ages may have been
seventeen and fifteen respectively, ran gaily to meet
him. A woman some twenty-five years older, but still
youthful of aspect and handsome, followed at a more
"What is the matter, father?" cried the elder of the
girls, who had been quick to perceive that all was not
The centurion held up his hand and made a signal for
silence. "Hush," he said; "I have something to tell
you, but it must not be here. Let us go indoors."
"Shall the children leave us alone?" said the
centurion's wife, who had now come up.
"No," he answered, wearily, "let them be with us while
they can," he added in a low voice, which only the
wife's ears, made keenly alive by affection and fear,
The gaiety of the young people was quenched,
 for, without having any idea of what had happened, they
could see plainly enough that something was disturbing
their parents; and it was with fast beating hearts that
they waited for his explanation.
"Our happy days here are over, my dearest," said the
centurion, drawing his wife to him, and tenderly
kissing her, as soon as they were within doors.
"You mean," said she, "that the order has come."
Yes," he answered, "we are to leave as soon as the
transports can be collected. The resolution was made
to-day and will be announced to the army to-morrow. It
is no secret, I suppose, or will not be for long."
"And where are we to go?" cried the elder of the girls,
whose face brightened as the thought of seeing a little
more of the world, of a home in one of the cities of
Gaul, possibly in Rome itself, flitted across her mind.
The poor centurion changed colour. The girl's question
brought up the difficulty which he knew had to be
faced, but which he would gladly have put off as long
as he could.
"We shall go to Gaul, certainly; where I cannot say,"
he answered, after a long pause, and in a hesitating
"Oh, how delightful!" cried the girl; "exactly the
thing that Lucia and I have been longing for. And Rome?
Surely we shall go to Rome, father?
Are you not glad to hear it, mother? I am sure that we
are all tired of this cold, foggy place."
The mother said nothing. If she did not exactly see the
whole of the situation, she had at least an housewife's
horror of a move. The poor father moved uneasily upon
"The legion will go," he said, "but your mother and
"Oh, Lucius," cried the poor wife, "you do not, cannot
mean that we are not to go with you!"
"Nothing is settled," he replied, "it is true; but I am
much troubled about it. You might go, though I do not
like the idea of your following the camp; but these
dear girls—and yet they cannot be separated from you."
The unhappy wife saw the truth only too clearly. If the
times had been quiet, she might herself have possibly
accompanied the legion in its march southward; but even
then she could not have taken her daughters with her,
her daughters whom she never allowed to go within the
precincts of the camp, except on the one day, the
Emperor's birthday, when all the officers' families
were expected to be present at the ceremony of saluting
the Imperial likeness. And this had of late been
omitted when it was difficult to say from day to day
what Emperor the troops acknowledged. The centurion had
spoken only too truly; the legion might go, but they
 stay behind. She covered her face with her hands and
"Lucia," cried the elder girl to her sister, "we will
enlist; we will take the oath; I should make just as
good a soldier as many of the Briton lads they are
filling up the cohorts with now; though you, I must
allow, are a little too small," she added, ruefully, as
she looked at her sister's plump little figure, too
hopelessly feminine ever to admit the possibility of a
disguise. "Cheer up, mother," she went on, "we shall
find a way out of the difficulty somehow." And she threw
her arms round the weeping woman, and kissed her
There was silence for a few minutes, broken at last by
the timid, hesitating voice of the younger girl.
"But must you go, father?" she said. "Surely they don't
keep soldiers in the camp for ever. And have you not
served long enough? You were in the legion, I have
heard you say, before even Maria was born."
"My child," said the centurion, "it is true that my
time is at least on the point of being finished. Yet I
can't leave the service just now. Just because I am the
oldest officer the Legate counts on me, and I can't
desert him. It would be almost as bad as asking for
one's discharge on the eve of a battle. And besides,
though I don't like troubling your young spirits with
such matters, I cannot afford it.
 Were I to resign now I should get no pension, or next
to none. But in a year or two's time, when things are
settled down, I hope to get something worth having—some
post, perhaps, that would give me a chance of making a
home for you."
A fifth person, who had hitherto taken no part in the
conversation, and whose presence in the room had been
almost forgotten by every one, now broke in, with a
voice which startled the hearers by its unusual
clearness and precision. Lena, mother of the
centurion's wife, had nearly completed her eightieth
year. Commonly, she sat in the chimney corner,
unheeding, to all appearances, of the life that went on
about her, and dozing away the day. In her prime, and
even down to old age, she had been a woman of
remarkable activity, ruling her daughter's household as
despotically as in former days she had ruled her own.
Then a sudden and severe illness had prostrated her,
and she had seemed to shrink at once into feebleness
and helplessness of mind and body. Her daughter and
granddaughters tended her carefully and lovingly; but
she seemed scarcely to take any notice of them. The
only thing that ever seemed to rouse her attention was
the sight of her son-in-law when he chanced to enter
the chamber without disarming. The shine of the steel
brought a fire again into her dim, sunken eyes. It was
probably this that had now roused her; and her
 attention, once awakened, had been kept alive by what
"And at whose bidding are you going?" she said, in a
startlingly clear voice to come from one so feeble;
"this Honorius, as he calls himself, a feeble creature
who has never drawn a sword in his life! Now, if it had
been his father! He was a man to obey. He did deserve
to be called Emperor. I saw him forty years ago just
after you were born, daughter—when he came with his
father. A splendid young fellow he was; and one who
would have his own way, too! How he gave those
turbulent Greeks at Thessalonica their deserts! Fifteen
thousand of them!
That was an Emperor worth having!"
"Oh! mother," cried her daughter, horrified to see the
old woman's ferocity, softened, she had hoped, by age
and infirmity, roused again in all its old strength.
"Oh! mother, don't say such dreadful things. That was
an awful crime in Theodosius, and he had to do penance
for it in church."
"Ay," muttered the old woman, "I can fancy it did not
please the priests. But why," she went on, raising her
voice again, "why does not Britain have an Emperor of
 "So she has, mother," said the centurion. "You forget
our Lord Constantine."
"Our Lord Constantine!" she repeated. "Who is
Constantine? Why, I remember his mother—a slave
girl—whom the Irish pirates carried off from somewhere
in the North. Constantine's father bought her, and
married her. Why should he be Emperor? I could make as
good a one any day out of a faggot stick."
"Peace, dear mother," said the centurion, soothingly,
afraid that her words might have other listeners.
"Why not you," went on the old woman, unheeding; "you
are better born."
"I, Emperor!" cried the centurion. "Speak good words,
"Well," said the old woman, dropping her voice again,
"they are poor creatures now-a-days." And she relapsed
into silence, looking again as wholly indifferent to
the present as if the strange outburst of rage and
impatience which her family had just witnessed had
never taken place.
The family discussed the position of affairs anxiously
till far into the night.
"And what will happen," said the wife, "when the
legions are gone?"
"There will be a British kingdom, I suppose; and, if it
were united, it might stand. But it
 will not be united. It will be every man for himself."
"And how about the Saxons and the Picts? If the
legions hardly protected us from them, how will it be
when they are gone?"
The centurion's look grew gloomier than ever. "I know,"
he said, "the prospect is a sad one. But I hope that
for a year you will be fairly safe; and after that I
shall hope to send for you. Or you might go over to
Gaul. But I hope to see the Count of the Shore about
these matters. He will give me the best advice. Here,
of course, you can hardly stay, even if you cared, to
do it; and some place must be found. Meanwhile, make
all the preparations you can for a move."