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THE STRANGER'S STORY
 "I have found out that my name is known to these
ladies, though they are not aware that it belongs to
me. You, sir, have very probably not found time among
your many cares to give any thought to the trifles
which, if I may say so much of myself, have made me
famous. I am Claudius Claudianus."
"What! the poet!" cried the Count, "the Virgil of these
The poet blushed with pleasure to hear the compliment,
which, extravagant as it may seem to us, did not strike
him as being anything out of the way. For had not his
statue been set up in Trajan's Forum at Rome, an honour
which none of his predecessors had been thought worthy
"Ah! sir," he replied, "you are too good. But it would
have been well for me if I had contented myself with
following Virgil; unfortunately I must also imitate
Juvenal. Praise of the fallen may be
for-  given, but there is no pardon for satire against
those that succeed. Enmity lasts longer than
friendship, and I have made enemies whom nothing can
"But what of Stilicho?" said the Count. "Surely he has
not ceased to be your friend. Doubtless you owe much to
him, but he owes more, I venture to say, to you. He may
have given you wealth, but you have given him
 "Ah! sir," said Claudian, "have you not then heard?"
"Heard!" cried the Count; "we hear nothing here. We
always were cut off from the rest of the world; but for
the last nine months we might as well have been living
in the moon, for all that has reached us of what is
going on elsewhere."
"You did not know, then, that Stilicho was dead?"
"Dead! But how?"
"Killed by the order of the Emperor."
"What! killed? by the Emperor's orders? It is
impossible. The man who saved the Empire, the very
best soldier we have had since Cæsar! And you say that
the Emperor ordered him to be killed?"
The Count rose from his seat, and walked about in
"So they have killed him ! Fools and madmen that they
are! There never was such a man. I knew him well. He
was always ready, always cheerful, as gay in a battle
as at a wedding; as brave as a lion, and yet never
doing anything by force that he could contrive by
stratagem. But tell me—they had, or pretended to have,
some cause. What was it?"
"They said he was a traitor, that he wanted the Empire
for himself, or for his son, that he intrigued with the
"Well, he was fond of power; and who can wonder
 that he was dissatisfied when he saw in what hands it
was lodged? But tell me—what do you think?"
"I don't say," resumed Claudian, "that he was
blameless, but he had an impossible task—he had to save
the Empire without soldiers. He did it again and again;
he played off one barbarian power against another with
consummate skill; and filled his legion one day with
the enemies whom he had routed the day before. But this
could not be done without intrigues, without devices
which, taken by themselves, looked like treason. But it
is idle to speak of the past. He lies in a dishonoured
grave, and the Empire of Augustus is tottering to its
"Tell me of his end," said the Count. "You saw it?"
"Yes," said the poet; "I saw it, and, I am ashamed to
say, survived it. Well, I will tell you my tale. You
know he might have had the Empire; the soldiers offered
it to him; Alaric and his Goths would have been
delighted to help him. But he refused. He was loyal to
the last. He would not even fly. There are many places
where he would have been safe——"
"Yes," interrupted the Count; "he would have been safe
here, if I know anything of Britain."
"Well, he would go to none of them. He went to the one
place where safety was impossible. He went to Ravenna;
and at Ravenna every one, from
 the Emperor down to the meanest slave, was an enemy. He
wanted to make them trust him by trusting them—as if
one disarmed a tiger by going into his lair! He had two
or three of his chief officers with him, besides
myself, and as many slaves. We had not a weapon of any
kind among us. Stilicho made a point of our being
unarmed. Well, we had not an encouraging greeting when
we entered the city. Every one, as you may suppose,
recognized him. Indeed, there was no man, I suppose, in
the whole Empire, who was better known. No one who had
ever seen Stilicho could forget that towering form,
that white head.
There were sullen looks as we walked through the
streets, and hisses, and even some stone throwing.
However, we got safe to our lodgings, and passed the
night without disturbance. The next day, as we were
standing in the market-place, an old Vandal soldier—one
of the general's countrymen, you know—put a flower in
his hand as he walked by, without saying a word, or
even looking at him; for it would have been as much
 as his life was worth to be seen communicating with us.
'An old comrade,' said Stilicho, who never forgot a
face. 'He served with me in Greece.' The flower was a
little red thing; the 'shepherd's hour-glass' they call
it, because it shuts when there is rain coming. It was
a warning. There was danger close at hand. The general
said, 'We must take sanctuary.' Then he called me to
him. 'Leave me, Claudian,' he said; 'you cannot take
sanctuary with us, for you are not a baptized man. I do
not count much on the Church's protection; but still it
may give me time to make my defence to the Emperor. So
you must look out for your own safety. But surely they
can't be base enough to harm you, for what you have
done?' 'I don't know about that, my Lord,' I answered;
'you remember the fable of the
Anyhow, I shall follow you as far as I can.' Well, he
went into the great church—what used to be the Basilica
before Constantine's time—and took sanctuary by the
altar. I did not go further than the nave. In the
course of an hour or so comes the bishop, with the
archdeacon and two or three priests, and following them
one of the great officers of the Court, with a
body-guard. The church was
 now crowded from end to end; the people had climbed up
into the pulpit, and every accessible spot from which
they could get a view of what was going on. I think
that there was a reaction in the general's favour. No
one, whose heart was not flint, could see the man who
had saved the Empire, and that not once or twice, a
suppliant for his life. Well, I could not see for
myself what went on, but I heard the story afterwards.
The bishop brought a safe-conduct from the Emperor; or
rather the chamberlain brought it, and the bishop gave
it to Stilicho, with his own guarantee. I can't believe
that a man of peace and truth, as he calls himself,
could have been a party to so base a fraud—he must have
been deceived himself. Well, the safe-conduct promised
that the general should be heard in his own defence;
and he wanted nothing more. I doubt whether a trial
would have served him; but they never intended to give
him even so much. As soon as he was out of the church I
could see what was meant, for I followed him. The
chamberlain's body-guard drew their swords. Well, I was
wrong to say that he had no friends in Ravenna. He had
a friend even in that crew of hirelings—another of his
old soldiers, I daresay. I told you that Stilicho had
neither armour nor weapon. Well, in a moment, no one
could see how, there was a long sword lying at his
feet. He took it up; and, verily, if he had used
 it, he would at least have sold his life dearly. The
general was a great swordsman, as good a swordsman as he
was a general. But no; he would not condescend to it;
after a soldier's first impulse to take the weapon, he
made no use of it. He pointed it to the ground, and
stood facing his enemies. Ah!
it was a noble sight—that grand old man looking
steadfastly at that crew of murderers. For a few
moments they seemed cowed. No one lifted his hand—then
some double-dyed villain crept behind and stabbed him.
He staggered forward, and immediately there were a
dozen swords hacking at him. At least his was no
lingering death. They cut off that grand white head and
carried it to the Emperor; his body they threw into the
pit where they bury the slaves. And that was the end of
the saviour of the Empire."
"And about yourself?" said the Count.
"Well," went on the poet, "I have since thought that if
I had been a man I should have died with him. But when
I knew that he was dead, I was coward enough to fly.
You would not care to hear how I spent the next few
days. I had a few gold pieces in my pocket, and I found
a wretched lodging in one of the worst parts of the
city, and I lay there in hiding. One day I was having
my morning meal at a wine shop, when a shabbily dressed
old man, who sat next, turned to me in a meaning way,
and, pouring a few
 drops out of his wine cup, said, 'To Apollo and the
Muses.' That is a crime now-a-days, in some places at
least, Ravenna among them; and he wanted, I suppose,
to put me at my ease. 'Will you not do the same,' he
went on, 'of all men in the world there is no one who
has better cause.' Pardon me, illustrious Count, if I
repeat his flatteries. 'Whom do you take me for?' said
I, for one gets to be a sad coward after a few days'
hiding, and I was unwilling to declare myself. He
replied by repeating some of my verses in so meaning a
way that I could not misunderstand him. 'These
wine-bibbers here,' he went on, 'don't know one verse
from another, but they might catch up a name. Come
along with me; I will give you a flask of something
better than this sour stuff.' Well, we went to his
house, which was close to the harbour. He was the
owner, I found, of two or three small trading vessels.
The house was a veritable temple of the Muses,
ornamented with busts of the poets—my own I was
flattered to see among them—and containing an
excellent library of books. Manlius—that was my
friend's name—had heard me recite at Rome; and he
recognized me partly from memory, partly from my
resemblance to the bust. To make a long story short, he
entertained me most hospitably for several days, while
we discussed the question what was to become of me.
Home I could not go, not, at least, till there should
be a change in
 the Emperor's surroundings. The further I got from
Italy the more chance there would be of safety. We
thought of North-western Gaul or Britain, or of getting
across the Rhine. The end of it was that the good
fellow took me across Italy, disguised as his servant,
to Genoa, where he had correspondents. From Genoa I
went to Marseilles, and from Marseilles overland to
Narbonne, using now the character of a bookseller's
agent, one which I thought myself better qualified to
sustain than any other. At Narbonne I found employment
as a bookseller's assistant, till I could get a letter
from my wife in Africa with some money. That came in
due course, and then I set off on my travels again,
still working northwards. Then, sir, I thought of you.
I had often heard the great man speak of you. You
served under him against the Bastarnæ,
I think, and it occurred to me that for Stilicho's sake
you might give me shelter. Not that it matters much to
me. To Stilicho I owe so much that I can scarcely
imagine life without him. He gave me honour, wealth,
even," added the poet, with a sad little smile, "even
my wife, for it was not my courting, but the Lady
letter that won her for me. But to go on,
 I found an honest trader, and bargained with him to
bring me here. I had been sickening for some time, and
I remember little or nothing from the time of my
embarking. There, sir, you have my history carried up
to the latest point."
"We will put off the future to another day," said the
Count; "meanwhile you may count on me for anything
that I can do."
"Your kindness does much to reconcile me to life," said
the poet, "and now I will retire, for I feel a little
"Ah," said Carna half to herself, when he had left the
room, "now I understand about Proserpine."
"About Proserpine? What do you mean?" asked Ælia.
"Why, when he came to himself for the first time I was
sitting in the window with a piece of embroidery work
in my hand, and I heard him whisper something about
Proserpine." Carna suppressed the flattering epithet.
"Don't you remember that passage where he describes the
tapestry which Proserpine was working for her mother,
and how we admired it, and thought we would work
something of the kind for ourselves, only we could not
get any design?"
"Yes, I remember," replied the other, and you have had
a Pluto, too, to carry you off. Luckily he was not so
successful as the god."