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Title: A Struggle for Rome, v. 1
Author: Dahn, Felix, 1834-1912
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber's Notes:
1. Page scan source:
      http://www.archive.org/details/astruggleforrom00dahngoog
2. The diphthong OE and oe are represented by [OE] and [oe].



                          A STRUGGLE FOR ROME.

                                   BY
                              FELIX DAHN.


           _T R A N S L A T E D  F R O M  T H E  G E R M A N_
                                   BY
                            LILY WOLFFSOHN.


           "If there be anything more powerful than Fate,
            It is the courage which bears it undismayed."
                                                GEIBEL.


                           IN THREE VOLUMES.
                                VOL. I.



                                LONDON:
                        RICHARD BENTLEY AND SON.
                                  1878.
                        [_All Rights Reserved._]



                                PREFACE.


These pictures of the sixth century originated in my studies for the
following works:

"The Kings of the Goths," vol. ii., iii., iv. Munich and Würzburg,
1862-66.

"Procopius of Cæsarea:" a contribution to the historiography of the
migration of nations and the decay of the Roman Empire. Berlin, 1865.

By referring to these works, the reader may distinguish the details and
changes which the romance has added to the reality.

In history the events here described filled a period of almost thirty
years' duration. From reasons easily understood, it was necessary to
shorten, or at least to disguise, this long interval.

The character of the Roman hero of the story, Cethegus Cæsarius, is a
pure invention. That such a person existed is, however, known.

The work was begun at Munich in 1859, continued at Ravenna, Italy, and
concluded at Königsberg in 1876.

                                                  FELIX DAHN.

Königsberg: _January_, 1876.



                          A STRUGGLE FOR ROME.

                                 BOOK I.
                               THEODORIC.
       "Dietericus de Berne, de quo cantant rustici usque hodie."


                               CHAPTER I.


It was a sultry summer night of the year five hundred and twenty-six,
A.D.

Thick clouds lay low over the dark surface of the Adrea, whose shores
and waters were melted together in undistinguishable gloom; only now
and then a flash of distant lightning lit up the silent city of
Ravenna. At unequal intervals the wind swept through the ilexes and
pines on the range of hills which rise at some distance to the west of
the town, and which were once crowned by a temple of Neptune. At that
time already half ruined, it has now almost completely disappeared,
leaving only the most scanty traces.

It was quiet on the bosky heights; only sometimes a piece of rock,
loosened by storms, clattered down the stony declivity, and at last
splashed into the marshy waters of the canals and ditches which belted
the entire circle of the sea-fortress; or a weather-beaten slab slipped
from the tabled roof of the old temple and fell breaking on to the
marble steps--forebodings of the threatened fall of the whole building.

But these dismal sounds seemed to be unnoticed by a man who sat
immovable on the second step of the flight which led into the temple,
leaning his back against the topmost step and looking silently and
fixedly across the declivity in the direction of the city below.

He sat thus motionless, but waiting eagerly, for a long time. He heeded
not that the wind drove the heavy drops which began to fell into his
face, and rudely worried the full long beard that flowed down to his
iron belt, almost entirely covering his broad breast with shining white
hair.

At last he rose and descended several of the marble steps: "They come,"
said he.

The light of a torch which rapidly advanced from the city towards the
temple became visible; then quick and heavy footsteps were heard, and
shortly after three men ascended the flight of steps.

"Hail, Master Hildebrand, son of Hilding!" cried the advancing
torch-bearer, as soon as he reached the row of columns of the Pronaos
or antehall, in which time had made some gaps. He spoke in the Gothic
tongue, and had a peculiarly melodious voice. He carried his torch in a
sort of lantern--beautiful Corinthian bronze-work on the handle,
transparent ivory forming the four-sided screen and the arched and
ornamentally-perforated lid--and lifting it high, put it into the iron
ring that held together the shattered centre column.

The white light fell upon a face beautiful as that of Apollo, with
laughing light-blue eyes; his fair hair was parted in the middle of his
forehead into two long and flowing tresses, which fell right and left
upon his shoulders. His mouth and nose, finely, almost softly
chiselled, were of perfect form; the first down of a bright golden
beard covered his pleasant lip and gently-dimpled chin. He wore only
white garments--a war-mantle of fine wool, held up on the right
shoulder by a clasp in the form of a griffin, and a Roman tunic of soft
silk, both embroidered with a stripe of gold. White leather straps
fastened the sandals to his feet, and reached, laced cross-wise, to his
knees. Two broad gold rings encircled his naked and shining white arms.
And as he stood reposing after his exertion, his right hand clasping a
tall lance which served him both for staff and weapon, his left resting
on his hip, looking down upon his slower companions, it seemed as if
there had again entered the grey old temple some youthful godlike form
of its happiest days.

The second of the new-comers had, in spite of a general family
likeness, an expression totally different from that of the
torch-bearer.

He was some years older, his form was stouter and broader. Low down
upon his bull-neck grew his short, thick, and curly brown hair. He was
of almost gigantic height and strength. There were wanting in his face
the sunny shimmer, the trusting joy and hope which illumined the
features of his younger brother. Instead of these, there was in his
whole appearance an expression of bear-like strength and bear-like
courage; he wore a shaggy wolf-skin, the jaws of which shaded his head
like a cowl, a simple woollen doublet beneath, and on his right
shoulder he carried a short and heavy club made of the hard root of an
oak.

The third comer followed the others with a cautious step; a middle-aged
man with a dignified and prudent expression of countenance. He wore the
steel helmet, the sword, and the brown war-mantle of the Gothic
footmen. His straight light-brown hair was cut square across the
forehead--an ancient Germanic mode of wearing the hair, which one often
sees represented on Roman triumphal columns, and which has been
preserved by the German peasant to this day. The regular features of
his open face, his grey and steady eyes, were full of reflective
manliness and sober repose.

When he, too, had reached the cella of the temple, and had greeted the
old man, the torch-bearer cried in an eager voice:

"Well, old Master Hildebrand, a fine adventure must it be to which thou
hast bidden us on such an inhospitable night, and in this wilderness of
art and nature! Speak--what is it?"

Instead of replying, the old man turned to the last comer and asked:
"Where is the fourth whom I invited?"

"He wished to go alone. He shunned us all. Thou knowest his manner
well."

"There he comes!" cried the beautiful youth, pointing to another side
of the hill. And, in fact, a man of very peculiar appearance now drew
near.

The full glare of the torch illumined a ghastly-pale face that seemed
almost bloodless. Long and shining black locks, like dark snakes, hung
dishevelled from his uncovered head. Arched black brows and long lashes
shaded large and melancholy dark eyes, full of repressed fire. A
sharply-cut eagle nose bent towards the fine and smoothly-shaven mouth,
around which resigned grief had traced deep lines.

His form and bearing were still young; but pain seemed to have
prematurely ripened his soul.

He wore a coat of mail and greaves of black steel, and in his right
hand gleamed a battle-axe with a long lance-like shaft. He merely
greeted the others with a nod of the head, and placing himself behind
the old man, who now bade them all four step close to the pillar on
which the torch was fixed, began in a suppressed voice:

"I appointed you to meet me here to listen to earnest words, which must
be spoken, unheard, to faithful men. I have sought for months in all
the nation, and have chosen you. You are the right men. When you have
heard me, you will yourselves feel that you must be silent about this
night's meeting."

The third comer, he with the steel helmet, looked at the old man with
earnest eyes.

"Speak," said he quietly, "we hear and are silent. Of what wilt thou
speak to us?"

"Of our people; of this kingdom of the Goths, which stands close to an
abyss!"

"An abyss!" eagerly cried the fair youth. His gigantic brother smiled
and lifted his head attentively.

"Yes, an abyss," repeated the old man; "and you alone can hold and save
it."

"May Heaven pardon thee thy words!" interrupted the fair youth with
vivacity. "Have we not our King Theodoric, whom even his enemies call
the Great; the most magnificent hero, the wisest prince in the world?
Have we not this smiling land Italia, with all its treasures? What upon
earth can compare with the kingdom of the Goths?"

The old man, without heeding his questions, continued:

"Listen to me. The greatness and worth of King Theodoric, my beloved
master and my dear son, are best known by Hildebrand, son of Hilding.
More than fifty years ago I carried him in these arms, a struggling
boy, to his father, and said: 'There is an offspring of a strong
race--he will be a joy to thee.' And when he grew up I cut for him his
first arrow, and washed his first wound. I accompanied him to the
golden city of Byzantium, and guarded him body and soul. When he fought
for this lovely land, I went before him, foot by foot, and held the
shield over him in thirty battles. He may possibly, since then, have
found more learned advisers and friends than his old master-at-arms,
but hardly wiser, and surely not more faithful. Long ere the sun shone
upon thee, my young falcon, I had experienced a thousand times how
strong was his arm, how sharp his eye, how clear his head, how terrible
he could be in battle, how friendly over the cup, and how superior he
was even to the Greekling in shrewdness. But the old Eagle's wings have
become heavy. His battle-years weigh upon him; for he and you, and all
your race, cannot bear years like I and my play-fellows; he lies sick
in soul and body, mysteriously sick, in his golden hall down there in
the Raven-town. The physicians say that though his arm be yet strong,
any beat of his heart may kill him with lightning-like rapidity, and
with any setting sun he may journey down to the dead. And who is his
heir? who will then uphold this kingdom? Amalaswintha, his daughter;
and Athalaric, his grandson; a woman and a child!"

"The Princess is wise," said he with the helmet and the sword.

"Yes, she writes Greek to the Emperor, and speaks Latin with the pious
Cassiodorus. I doubt that she even thinks in Gothic. Woe to us, if she
should hold the rudder in a storm!"

"But I see no signs of storm, old man," laughed the torch-bearer, and
shook his locks. "From whence will it blow? The Emperor is again
reconciled, the Bishop of Rome is installed by the King himself, the
Frank princes are his nephews, the Italians are better off under our
shield than ever before. I see no danger anywhere."

"The Emperor Justinus is only a weak old man," said he of the sword,
assentingly. "I know him."

"But his nephew, who will soon be his successor, and is already his
right arm--knowest thou him? Unfathomable as the night and false as the
sea is Justinian! I know him well, and fear that which he meditates. I
accompanied the last embassy to Byzantium. He came to our camp; he
thought me drunk--the fool! he little knows what Hilding's child can
drink!--and he questioned me about everything which must be known in
order to undo us. Well, he got the right answer from me! But I know as
well as I know my name, that this man will again get possession of
Italy; and he will not leave in it even the footprint of a Goth!"

"If he can," grumblingly put in the brother of the fair youth.

"Right, friend Hildebad, if he can. And he can do much. Byzantium can
do much."

The other shrugged his shoulder

"Knowest thou _how_ much?" asked the old man angrily. "For twelve long
years our great King struggled with Byzantium and did not prevail. But
at that time thou wast not yet born," he added more quietly.

"Well," interposed the fair youth, coming to his brother's help, "but
at that time the Goths stood alone in the strange land. Now we have won
a second half. We have a home--Italy. We have brothers-at-arms--the
Italians!"

"Italy our home!" cried the old man bitterly; "yes, that is the
mistake. And the Italians our allies against Byzantium? Thou young
fool!"

"They were our King's own words," answered the rebuffed youth.

"Yes, yes; I know these mad speeches well, that will destroy us all. We
are as strange here to-day as forty years ago, when we descended from
the mountains; and we shall still be strangers in the land after
another thousand years. Here we shall be for ever 'the barbarians.'"

"That is true; but why do we remain barbarians? Whose fault is it but
ours? Why do we not learn from the Italians?"

"Be silent," cried the old man, trembling with wrath, "be silent,
Totila, with such thoughts; they have become the curse of my house!"
Painfully recovering himself, he continued: "The Italians are our
deadly enemies, not our brothers. Woe to us if we trust them! Oh that
the King had followed my counsel after his victory, and slain all who
could carry sword and shield, from the stammering boy to the stammering
old man! They will hate us eternally. And they are right. But we, we
are the fools to trust them."

There ensued a pause; the youth had become very grave, and asked:

"So thou holdest friendship to be impossible 'twixt them and us?"

"No peace between the sons of Gaul and the Southern folk! A man enters
the gold cave of a dragon--he holds the head of the dragon down with an
iron fist; the monster begs for life. The man feels compassion because
of his glittering scales, and feasts his eyes on the treasures of the
cavern. What will the poisonous reptile do? As soon as he can he will
sting him stealthily, so that he who spared him dies."

"Well then, let them come, the despicable Greeks!" shouted the gigantic
Hildebad; "let the race of vipers dart their forked tongues at us. We
will beat them down--so!" And he lifted his club and let it fall
heavily, so that the marble slab split into pieces, and the old temple
resounded with the blow.

"Yes, they shall try!" cried Totila, and from his eyes shone a martial
fire that made him look still more beautiful; "if these unthankful
Romans betray us, if the false Byzantines come," he looked with loving
pride at his strong brother, "see, old man, we have men like oaks!"

The old master-at-arms nodded, well pleased:

"Yes, Hildebad is very strong, though not quite as strong as Winither,
Walamer and others, who were young with me. Against North-men strength
is a good thing. But this Southern folk," he continued angrily, "fight
from towers and battlements. They carry on war as they might make a
reckoning, and at last they reckon a host of heroes into a corner,
where they can neither budge nor stir. I know one such arithmetician in
Byzantium, who is himself no man, but conquers men. Thou, too, knowest
him, Witichis?" So asking, he turned to the man with the sword.

"I know Narses," answered Witichis reflectively. He had become very
grave. "What thou hast said, son of Hilding, is, alas! too true. Such
thoughts have often crossed my mind, but confusedly, darkly, more a
horror than a thought. Thy words are undeniable; the King is at the
point of death--the Princess has Grecian sympathies--Justinian is on
the watch--the Italians are false as serpents--the generals of
Byzantium are magicians in art, but"--here he took a deep breath--"we
Goths do not stand alone. Our wise King has made friends and allies in
abundance. The King of the Vandals is his brother-in-law, the King of
the West Goths his grandson, the Kings of the Burgundians, the
Herulians, the Thuringians, the Franks, are related to him; all people
honour him as their father; the Sarmatians, even the distant Esthonians
on the Baltic, send him skins and yellow amber in homage. Is all
that----"

"All that is nothing! It is flattering words and coloured rags! Will
the Esthonians help us against Belisarius and Narses with their amber?
Woe to us, if we cannot win alone! These grandsons and sons-in-law
flatter as long as they tremble, and when they no more tremble, they
will threaten. I know the faith of kings! We have enemies around us,
open and secret, and no friends beyond ourselves."

A silence ensued, during which all gravely considered the old man's
words; the storm rushed howling round the weather-beaten columns and
shook the crumbling temple.

Then, looking up from the ground, Witichis was the first to speak:

"The danger is great," said he, firmly and collectedly, "we will hope
not unavoidable. Certainly thou hast not bidden us hither to look
deedless at despair. There must be a remedy, so speak; how, thinkest
thou, can we help?"

The old man advanced a step towards him and took his hand:

"That's brave, Witichis, son of Waltari. I knew thee well, and will not
forget that thou wert the first to speak a word of bold assurance. Yes,
I too think we are not yet past help, and I have asked you all to come
here, where no Italian hears us, in order to decide upon what is best
to be done. First tell me your opinion, then I will speak."

As all remained silent, he turned to the man with the black locks:

"If thy thoughts are ours, speak, Teja! Why art thou ever silent?"

"I am silent because I differ from you."

The others were amazed. Hildebrand spoke:

"What dost thou mean, my son?"

"Hildebad and Totila do not see any danger; thou and Witichis see it
and hope; but I saw it long ago, and have no hope."

"Thou seest too darkly; who dare despair before the battle?" said
Witichis.

"Shall we perish with our swords in the sheath, without a struggle and
without fame?" cried Totila.

"Not without a struggle, my Totila, and not without fame, I am sure,"
answered Teja, slightly swinging his battle-axe. "We will fight so that
it shall never be forgotten in all future ages; fight with highest
fame, but without victory. The star of the Goths is setting."

"Meseems, on the contrary, that it will rise very high," cried Totila
impatiently. "Let us go to the King; speak to him, Hildebrand, as thou
hast spoken to us. He is wise; he will devise means."

The old man shook his head:

"I have spoken to him twenty times. He listens no more. He is tired and
will die, and his soul is darkened, I know not by what shadows. What is
thy advice, Hildebad?"

"I think," answered Hildebad, proudly raising his head, "that as soon
as the old lion has closed his tired eyes, we arm two hosts. Witichis
and Teja lead the one before Byzantium and burn it down; with the other
I and my brother climb the Alps and destroy Paris, that dragon's nest
of the Merovingians, and make it a heap of stones for ever. Then there
will be peace in East and West."

"We have no ships against Byzantium," said Witichis.

"And the Franks are seven to one against us," said Hildebrand. "But thy
intentions are valiant, Hildebad. Say, what advisest thou, Witichis?"

"I advise a league--weighted with oaths, secured with hostages--of all
the Northern races against the Greeks."

"Thou believest in fidelity, because thou thyself art true. My friend,
only the Goths can help the Goths. But they must be reminded that they
_are_ Goths. Listen to me. You are all young, love all manner of
things, and have many pleasures. One loves a woman, another weapons, a
third has some hope or some grief which is to him as a beloved one. But
believe me, a time will come--it may be during your young days--when
all these joys and even pains will become worthless as faded wreaths
from yesterday's banquet.

"Then many will become soft and pious, forget that which is on earth,
and strive for that which is beyond the grave. But that neither you nor
I can do. I love the earth, with mountain and wood and meadow and
rushing stream; and I love life, with all its hate and long love, its
tenacious anger and dumb pride. Of the ethereal life in the wind-clouds
which is taught by the Christian priests, I know, and will know,
nothing. But there is one possession--when all else is gone--which a
true man never loses. Look at me. I am a leafless trunk. I have lost
all that rejoiced my life; my wife is dead long since; my sons, my
grandchildren are dead: except one, who is worse than dead--who has
become an Italian.

"All, all are gone, and now my first love and last pride, my great
King, descends tired into his grave. What keeps me still alive? What
gives me still courage and will? What drives _me_, an old man, up to
this mountain in this night of storm like a youth? What glows beneath
my icy beard with pure love, with stubborn pride, and with defiant
sorrow? What but the impulse that lies indestructible in our blood,
the deep impulsion and attraction to my people, the glowing and
all-powerful love of the race that is called Goth; that speaks the
noble, sweet, and homely tongue of my parents! This love of race
remains like a sacrificial fire in the heart, when all other flames are
extinguished; this is the highest sentiment of the human heart; the
strongest power in the human soul, true to the death and invincible!"

The old man had spoken with enthusiasm--his hair floated on the
wind--he stood like an old priest of the Huns amongst the young men,
who clenched their hands upon their weapons.

At last Teja spoke: "Thou art in the right; these flames still glow
when all else is spent. They burn in thee--in us--perhaps in a hundred
other hearts amongst our brothers; but can this save a whole people?
No! And can these fires seize the mass, the thousands, the hundred
thousands?"

"They can, my son, they can! Thanks to the gods, that they can!--Hear
me. It is now five-and-forty years ago that we Goths, many hundred
thousands, were shut up with our wives and children in the ravines of
the Hæmus. We were in the greatest need.

"The King's brother had been beaten and killed in a treacherous attack
by the Greeks, and all the provisions that he was to bring to us were
lost. We lay in the rocky ravines and suffered such hunger, that we
cooked grass and leather. Behind us rose the inaccessible precipices;
before, and to the left of us, the sea; to the right, in a narrow pass,
lay the enemy, threefold our number. Many thousands of us were
destroyed by famine or the hardships of the winter; twenty times had we
vainly tried to break through the pass.

"We almost despaired. Then there came a messenger from the Emperor to
the King, and offered us life, freedom, wine, bread, meat--under one
condition: that, separated from each other, four by four, we should be
scattered over the whole Roman Empire; none of us should ever again woo
a Gothic woman; none should ever again teach his child our tongue or
customs; the name and being of Goth should cease to exist, we should
become Romans.

"The King sprang up, called us together, and reported this condition
to us in a flaming speech, and asked at the end, whether we would
rather give up the language, customs and life of our people, or die
with him? His words spread like wildfire, the people shouted like a
hundred-voiced tumultuous sea; they brandished their weapons, rushed
into the pass; the Greeks were swept away as if they had never stood
there, and we were victors and free!"

His eyes glittered with pride; after a pause he continued:

"It is this alone which can save us now as then; if once the Goths feel
that they fight for their nationality, and to protect the secret jewel
that lies in the customs and speech of a people, like a miraculous
well-spring, then they may laugh at the hate of the Greeks and the
wiles of the Italians. And, first of all, I ask you solemnly: Do you
feel as strongly convinced as I do, that this love of our people is our
highest aim, our dearest treasure, our strongest shield? Can you say
with me: My people is to me the highest, all else is nothing; to my
people I will sacrifice all that I have and am. Will you say this, and
can you do it?"

"We will; we can!" cried the four men.

"'Tis well," continued the old man. "But Teja is right, all Goths do
not feel this as we do, and yet, if it is to be of any use, all _must_
feel it. Therefore swear to me, to fill with the spirit of this hour
all those with whom you live and act, from now henceforward. Too many
of our folk have been dazzled by the foreign splendour; many have
donned Grecian clothing and Roman thoughts; they are ashamed to be
called barbarians; they wish to forget, and to make it forgotten, that
they are Goths--woe to the fools! They have torn their hearts out of
their bosoms, and yet wish to live; they are like leaves that have
proudly loosened themselves from the parent stem. The wind will come
and blow them into the mire and dirt to decay; but the stem will still
stand in the midst of the storm, and will keep alive whatever clings to
it faithfully. Therefore awaken and warn the people. Tell the boys the
legends of their forefathers, relate the battles of the Huns, the
victories over the Romans; show the men the threatening danger, and
that nationality alone is our shield; warn your sisters that they may
embrace no Roman and no would-be Roman; teach your wives and your
brides that they must sacrifice everything, even themselves and you, to
the fortune of the good Goths, so that when the enemy come, they may
find a strong, proud, united people, against which they shall break
themselves like waves upon a rock. Will you aid me in this?"

"Yes," they cried, "we will!"

"I believe you," continued the old man; "I believe you on your mere
word. Not to bind you faster--for what can bind the false?--but because
I cling to old custom, and because _that_ succeeds best which is done
after the manner of our forefathers--follow me."



                              CHAPTER II.

Hildebrand took the torch from the column, and went across the inner
space, past the cella of the temple, past the ruined high altar, past
the bases of the statues of the gods--long since fallen--to the
porticum or back of the edifice. Silently his companions followed the
old man, who led them down the steps into the open field.

After a short walk they stopped under an ancient holm, whose mighty
boughs held off storm and rain like a roof.

A strange sight presented itself under this oak, which, however, at
once reminded the old man's Gothic companions of a custom of ancient
heathen times in their distant Northern home.

Under the oak a strip of thick turf, only a foot broad, but several
yards long, had been cut loose from the ground; the two ends of the
strip still lay in the shallow ditch thus formed, but in the middle it
was raised over and supported by three long spears of unequal length,
which were fixed into the ground, the tallest spear being in the
middle, so that the whole arrangement formed a triangle, under which
several men could stand commodiously between the shafts of the spears.

In the ditch stood a brazen cauldron filled with water, near it lay a
pointed and sharp butcher's knife, of extremely ancient form; the haft
was made of the horn of the ure-ox, the blade of flint.

The old man came forward, stuck the torch into the earth close to the
cauldron, and then stepped, right foot foremost, into the ditch; he
turned to the east and bent his head, then he beckoned to his friends
to join him, putting his finger to his lip in sign of silence. Without
a sound the four men stepped into the ditch beside him, Witichis and
Teja to his right, the two brothers to his left, and all five joined
hands in a solemn chain.

Then the old man loosened his hands from those of Witichis and
Hildebad, who stood next to him, and knelt down. First he took up a
handful of the black mould and threw it over his left shoulder; then he
dipped his other hand into the cauldron and sprinkled the water to the
right behind him. After this he blew into the windy night-air that
rustled in his long beard; and, lastly, he swung the torch from right
to left over his head. Then he again stuck it into the earth and spoke
in murmuring tones:

"Hear me, ancient earth, welling water, ethereal air, flickering flame!
Listen to me well and preserve my words. Here stand five men of the
race of Graut, Teja and Totila, Hildebad and Hildebrand, and Witichis,
Waltari's son.

     "We stand here in a quiet hour
      To bind a bond between blood-brethren,
      For ever and ever and every day.
      In closest communion as kindred companions.
      In friendship and feud, in revenge and right.
      One hope, one hate, one love, one lament,
      As we drop to one drop
      Our blood as blood-brethren."

At these words he bared his left arm, the others did the same; close
together they stretched their five arms over the cauldron, the old man
lifted the sharp flint-knife, and with one stroke scratched the skin of
his own and the others' forearms, so that the blood of all flowed in
red drops into the brazen cauldron. Then they retook their former
positions, and the old man continued murmuring:

     "And we swear the solemn oath,
      To sacrifice all that is ours,
      House, horse, and armour,
      Court, kindred, and cattle,
      Wife, weapons, and wares,
      Son, and servants, and body, and life,
      To the glance and glory of the race of Gaut,
      To the good Goths.
      And who of us would withdraw
      From honouring the oath with all sacrifices--"

here he, and at a sign, the others also, stepped out of the ditch from
under the strip of turf--

     "His red blood shall run unrevenged
      Like this water under the wood-sod--"

he lifted the cauldron, poured its bloody contents into the ditch, and
then took it out, together with the other implements--

     "Upon his head shall the halls of Heaven
      Crash cumbrous down and crush him,
      Solid as this sod."

At one stroke he struck down the three supporting lance-shafts, and
dully fell the heavy turf-roof back into the ditch. The five men now
placed themselves again on the spot thus covered by the turf, with
their hands entwined, and the old man said in more rapid tones:

"Whosoever does not keep this oath; whosoever does not protect his
blood-brother like his own brother during his life, and revenge his
death; whosoever refuses to sacrifice everything that he possesses to
the people of the Goths, when called upon to do so by a brother in case
of necessity, shall be for ever subject to the eternal and infernal
powers which reign under the green grass of the earth; good men shall
tread with their feet over the perjurer's head, and his name shall be
without honour wherever Christian folk ring bells and heathen folk
offer sacrifices, wherever mothers caress their children and the wind
blows over the wide world. Say, companions, shall it be thus with the
vile perjurer?"

"Thus shall it be with him," repeated the four men.

After a grave pause, Hildebrand loosened the chain of their hands, and
said:

"That you may know why I bade you come hither, and how sacred this
place is to me, come and see."

With this he lifted the torch and went before them behind the mighty
trunk of the oak, in front of which they had taken the oath. Silently
his friends followed, and saw with astonishment, that, exactly in a
line with the turfy ditch in which they had stood, there yawned a wide
and open grave, from which the slab of stone had been rolled away. At
the bottom, shining ghastly in the light of the torch, lay three long
white skeletons; a few rusty pieces of armour, lance-points, and
shield-bosses lay beside them.

The men looked with surprise; now into the grave, now at Hildebrand. He
silently held the torch over the chasm for some minutes. At last he
said quietly:

"My three sons. They have lain here for more than thirty years. They
fell on this mountain in the last battle for the city of Ravenna. They
fell in the same hour; to-day is the day. They rushed with joyous
shouts against the enemies' spears--for their people."

He ceased. The men looked down with emotion. At last the old man drew
himself up and glanced at the sky.

"It is enough," said he, "the stars are paling. Midnight is long since
past. You three return into the city. Thou, Teja, wilt surely remain
with me; to thee, more than to any other, is given the gift of sorrow,
as of song; and keep with me the guard of honour beside the dead."

Teja nodded, and sat down without a word at the foot of the grave, just
where he was standing. The old man gave Totila the torch, and leaned
opposite Teja against the stone slab. The other three signed to him
with a parting gesture. Gravely, and buried in deep thought, they
descended to the city.



                              CHAPTER III.

A few weeks after this midnight meeting near Ravenna an assembly took
place in Rome; just as secret, also under protection of night, but held
by very different persons for very different aims.

It took place on the Appian Way, near the C[oe]meterium of St.
Calixtus, in a half-ruined passage of the Catacombs; those mysterious
underground ways, which almost make a second city under the streets and
squares of Rome.

These secret vaults--originally old burial-places, often the refuge of
young Christian communities--are so intricate, and their crossings,
terminations, exits, and entrances so difficult to thread, that they
can only be entered under the guidance of some one intimately
acquainted with their inner recesses.

But the men, whose secret intercourse we are about to watch, feared no
danger. They were well led. For it was Silverius, the Catholic
archdeacon of the old church of St. Sebastian, who had led his friends
direct from the crypt of his basilica down a steep staircase into this
branch of the vaults; and the Roman priests had the reputation of
having studied the windings of these labyrinths since the days of the
first confessor.

The persons assembled also seemed not to have met there for the first
time; the gloom of the place made little impression upon them.
Indifferently they leaned against the walls of the dismal semi-circular
room, which, scantily lighted by a hanging lamp of bronze, formed the
termination of the low passage. Indifferently they heard the drops of
damp fall from the roof to the floor, or, when their feet now and then
struck against white and mouldering bones, they calmly pushed them to
one side.

Besides Silverius, there were present a few other orthodox priests, and
a number of aristocratic Romans, nobles of the Western Empire, who had
remained for centuries in almost hereditary possession of the higher
dignities of the state and city.

Silently and attentively they observed the movements of the archdeacon;
who, after having mustered those present, and thrown several searching
glances into the neighbouring passages--where might be seen, keeping
watch in the gloom, some youths in clerical costume--now evidently
prepared to open the assembly in form.

Yet once again he went up to a tall man who leaned motionless against
the wall opposite to him, and with whom he had repeatedly exchanged
glances; and when this man had replied to a questioning gesture by a
silent nod, he turned to the others and spoke.

"Beloved in the name of the triune God! Once again are we assembled
here to do a holy work. The sword of Edom is brandished over our heads,
and King Pharaoh pants for the blood of the children of Israel. We,
however, do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the
soul, we fear much more those who may destroy both body and soul in
hell-fire. We trust, during the terrors of night, to His help who led
His people through the wilderness, in the day by a cloud of smoke, at
night by a pillar of fire. And to this we will hold fast: that what we
suffer, we suffer for God's sake; what we do, we do to the honour of
His name. Thanks to Him, for He has blest our zeal. Small as those of
the Gospel were our beginnings, but we are already grown like a tree by
the fresh water-springs. With fear and trembling we first assembled
here; great was our danger, weak our hope; noble blood of the best has
been shed; to-day, if we remain firm in faith, we may boldly say that
the throne of King Pharaoh is supported on reeds, and that the days of
the heathen are counted in the land."

"To business!" interrupted a young man with short curly black hair and
brilliant black eyes. Impatiently he threw his _sagum_ (or short cloak)
back over his right shoulder, so that his broad sword became visible.
"To business, priest! What shall be done to-night?"

Silverius cast a look at the youth, which, with all its unctuous
repose, could not quite conceal his lively dissatisfaction at such bold
independence. In a sharp tone of voice he continued:

"Those who do not believe in the holiness of our aim, should not, were
it only for the sake of their own worldly aims, try to disturb the
belief of others in its sanctity. But to-night, my Licinius, my hasty
young friend, a new and highly welcome member is to be added to our
league; his accession is a visible sign of the grace of God."

"Who will you introduce? Are the conditions fulfilled? Do you answer
for him unconditionally, or have you other surety?" So asked another of
those present, a man of ripe years with regular features, who, a staff
between his feet, sat quietly on a projection of the wall.

"I answer for him, my Scævola; besides, his person? is sufficient----"

"Nothing of the sort. The statutes of our league demand surety, and I
insist upon it," said Scævola quietly.

"Good, good; I will be surety, toughest of all jurists!" repeated the
priest with a smile.

He made a sign towards one of the passages to the left.

From thence appeared two young _ostiarii_ (doorkeepers), leading a man
into the middle of the vault, upon whose covered head all eyes were
fixed. After a pause, Silverius lifted the cover from the head and
shoulders of the new comer.

"Albinus!" cried the others, in surprise, indignation, and anger.

Young Licinius grasped his sword; Scævola slowly rose; confused
exclamations sounded from all sides.

"What! Albinus, the traitor?"

The reviled man looked shyly about him; his relaxed features announced
inborn cowardice; as if beseeching help he turned his eyes towards the
priest.

"Yes, Albinus!" said the latter quietly, thus appealed to. "Will any
one of the colleagues speak against him? Let him speak."

"By my Genius!" cried Licinius, before any one could reply, "needs it
to be told? We all know who and what Albinus is. A cowardly shameful
traitor"--anger suffocated his voice.

"Invectives are no proof," interposed Scævola. "But I ask himself; he
shall confess here before us all. Albinus, was it you, or was it not,
who, when the existence of our league was betrayed to the tyrant and
you alone were accused, looked quietly on and saw the noble Boëthius
and Symmachus, our confederates, because they defended you against the
tyrant, despoiled of their fortune, persecuted, taken prisoners and
executed; while you, the really accused, saved yourself by taking a
shameful oath that you would never more trouble yourself about the
state, and by suddenly disappearing? Speak, was it you for whose sake
the pride of our fatherland fell?"

A murmur of indignation went through the assembly. The accused remained
dumb and trembled; even Silverius lost countenance for a moment.

Then the man who was leaning against the wall opposite, raised himself
and took a step forward; his mere vicinity seemed to embolden the
priest, who again began:

"Friends, what you say has happened, but not as you say it. Before all
things, know this: Albinus is the _least_ to blame. What he did, he did
by my advice."

"By your advice!"

"You dare to confess it?"

"Albinus was accused through the treachery of a slave, who had
deciphered the secret writing in the letters to Byzantium. All the
tyrant's suspicion was aroused; every appearance of resistance or of
connection would increase the danger. The impetuosity of Boëthius and
Symmachus, who courageously defended Albinus, was noble but foolish,
for it revealed to the barbarians the sentiments of the whole of the
Roman aristocracy; and showed that Albinus did not stand alone. They
acted against my advice, and alas! have suffered death for so doing.
But their zeal was superfluous; for the hand of the Lord suddenly
bereft the slave of life before further revelations, and the secret
writings of Albinus had been successfully destroyed before his arrest.

"But do you believe that Albinus would have been silent under torture,
under the threat of death, if naming his co-conspirators could have
saved him? You do not believe it, Albinus himself did not believe it.
Therefore it was necessary, before all else, to gain time and to
prevent the use of torture. This was accomplished by his oath.
Meanwhile, it is true, Boëthius and Symmachus suffered; they could not
be saved; but of their silence, even under torture, we were sure.

"Albinus was freed from his prison by a miracle, like St. Paul at
Philippi. It was said that he had escaped to Athens, and the tyrant was
contented with prohibiting his return. But the triune God has prepared
a refuge for him here in His temple until the hour of freedom
approaches. In the solitude of His sacred asylum the Lord has touched
his heart in a wonderful manner, and, undismayed by the danger of
death, which once before had so nearly overtaken him, he again enters
into our circle, and offers to the service of God and the fatherland
his whole immense fortune. Listen: he has made over all his property to
the church of St. Maria Majoris for the uses of our league. Would you
despise him and his millions?"

A pause of astonishment ensued; at last Licinius cried:

"Priest, you are as wise as----as a priest. But such wisdom pleases me
not."

"Silverius," said the jurist, "you may take the millions. It is fitting
that you should do so. But I was the friend of Boëthius; it is not
fitting that I should have anything in common with that coward. I
cannot forgive him. Away with him!"

"Away with him!" sounded from all sides. Scævola had given utterance to
the sentiment of all present. Albinus grew pale; even Silverius quailed
under this general indignation. "Cethegus!" whispered he, claiming
assistance.

This man, who, until now, had remained silent and had only regarded the
speakers with cool superiority, now stepped into the middle of the
assembly.

He was tall and lean, but powerful, with a broad breast and muscles of
pure steel.

A purple hem on his toga and delicate sandals betrayed riches, rank and
taste, but a long brown soldier's mantle hid the remainder of his
underclothing. His head was one of those which, once seen, are never
again forgotten. His thick and still glossy black hair was cut short,
after Roman fashion, round his lofty, almost too prominent forehead and
nobly-formed temples. Deep under his finely-arched brows were hidden
his narrow eyes, in whose undecided dark-grey colour lay a whole ocean
of sunken passions and a still more pronounced expression of the
coolest self-control. Round his sharply cut and beardless lips lurked a
trait of proud contempt of God and His whole creation.

As he stepped forward, and, with quiet distinction, allowed his eyes to
wander over the excited assembly; as he commenced his insinuating yet
commanding speech, every one felt his superiority, and few could remain
in his presence without a consciousness of subordination.

"Why do you wrangle," he said coldly, "about things that must be done?
Who wills the end, must will the means. You will not forgive? As you
please! That is of little consequence. But you must and you can forget.
I also was a friend of the dead, perhaps their dearest. And yet--I
will forget. I do so just because I was their friend. _He_ loves
them, Scævola, and he alone, who avenges them. For the sake of
revenge---- Albinus, your hand!"

All were silent, awed more by the personality than convinced by the
reasons of the speaker.

But the jurist still objected:

"Rusticiana, the influential woman, the widow of Boëthius, the daughter
of Symmachus, is favourable to our league. Will she remain so if this
man enters it? Can she ever forget and forgive? Never!"

"She can. Do not believe me, believe your eyes."

With these words Cethegus quickly turned and entered one of the
side-passages, whose opening had been hidden until now by his own
person.

Close to the entrance a veiled figure stood listening; he caught her
hand:

"Come," whispered he, "come now."

"I cannot! I will not!" was the almost inaudible answer of the
resisting woman. "I curse him! I cannot look at him, the wretch!"

"It must be. Come; you can and you shall--for I will have it so." He
threw back her veil; one look, and she followed as if deprived of the
power of will.

They turned the corner of the entrance:

"Rusticiana!" cried the whole assembly.

"A woman in our meeting!" exclaimed the jurist. "It is against the
statutes, the laws."

"Yes, Scævola; but the laws are made for the league, not the league for
the laws. And you would never have believed from _me_, that which you
now see with your own eyes."

He laid the widow's hand within the trembling right hand of Albinus.

"Look! Rusticiana forgives! Who will now resist?"

Vanquished and overruled, all remained silent. For Cethegus all further
proceedings seemed to have lost interest. He retired into the
background with Rusticiana. But the priest now said:

"Albinus is a member of the league."

"And the oath that he swore to the tyrant?" hesitatingly asked Scævola.

"Was forced, and he is absolved from it by Holy Church. But now it is
time to depart. Let us only conclude the most pressing business. Here,
Licinius, is the plan of the fortress of Neapolis: you must have it
copied by to-morrow; it goes to Belisarius. Here, Scævola, letters from
Byzantium, from Theodora, the pious wife of Justinian: you must answer
them. Here, Calpurnius, is an assignment of half a million _solidi_
from Albinus: you will send them to the Frankish major domus; he has
great influence with his king. Here, Pomponius, is a list of the
patriots in Dalmatia; you know men and things there, take notice if
important names are omitted. And be it known to all of you, that,
according to news received to-day from Ravenna, the hand of the Lord
lies heavy on the tyrant. Deep melancholy, too tardy remorse for all
his sins, oppresses him, and the consolations of the true faith have
not yet penetrated into his soul. Have patience but a little while; the
angry voice of the Judge will soon summon him; then comes the day of
freedom. At the next Ides, at the same hour, we shall meet here again.
The blessing of the Lord be with you!"

A motion of his hand dismissed the assembly; the young priests came out
of the side-passage with torches, and led the members, each one singly,
in different directions, to the secret exits of the Catacombs.



                              CHAPTER IV.

Silverius, Cethegus, and Rusticiana went together up the steps which
led to the crypt of the basilica of St. Sebastian. From thence they
passed through the church into the adjoining house of the archdeacon.
On arriving there, Silverius convinced himself that all the inhabitants
of the house were asleep, with the exception of an old slave, who was
watching in the atrium near a half-extinguished lamp. At a sign from
his master he lighted a silver lamp which stood near him, and pressed a
secret spring in the marble wainscot of the room.

A slab of marble turned on its hinges and allowed the priest who had
taken up the lamp to pass, with his two companions, into a small, low
chamber, and then quickly and noiselessly closed behind them, leaving
no trace of an opening.

The small chamber, now simply adorned by a tall wooden crucifix, a
fall-stool, and a few plain Christian symbols on a golden background,
had evidently, as the cushioned shelf which ran round the walls showed,
served for those small banquets of one or two guests, whose
unrestrained comfort Horace has so often celebrated in song. At the
time of which I speak it was the private chamber in which the
archdeacon brooded over his most secret priestly or worldly plans.

Cethegus silently seated himself on the _lectus_ (a small couch),
throwing the superficial glance of a critic at a Mosaic picture
inserted into the opposite wall. While the priest was occupied in
pouring wine from an amphora with large curving handles into some cups
which stood ready, and placing a metal dish of fruit on the bronze
tripod table, Rusticiana stood opposite Cethegus, measuring him with an
expression of astonishment and indignation.

Scarcely forty years of age, this woman showed traces of a rare--and
rather manly--beauty, which had suffered less from time than from
violent passions. Here and there her raven-black braids were streaked
with white, not grey, and strong lines lay round the mobile corners of
her mouth.

She leaned her left hand on the table, and meditatively stroked her
brow with her right, while she gazed at Cethegus. At last she spoke.

"Tell me, tell me, Cethegus, what power is this that you have over me?
I no more love you. I ought to hate you. I do hate you. And yet I must
involuntarily obey you, like a bird under the fascinating eye of a
snake. And you place my hand, _this_ hand, in that of that miserable
man! Say, you evil-doer, what is this power?"

Cethegus was inattentively silent. At last, leaning back, he said:
"Habit, Rusticiana, habit."

"Truly, 'tis habit! The habit of a slavery that has existed ever since
I can remember. It was natural that as a girl I should admire the
handsome son of our neighbours; that I believed in your love was
excusable, did you not kiss me? And who could--at that time--know that
you were incapable of loving anything--even yourself? That the wife of
Boëthius did not smother the mad passion which, as if in sport, you
again fanned into a flame, was a sin; but God and the Church have
forgiven it. But that I should still, after knowing for years your
utter heartlessness, when the glow of passion is extinguished in my
veins, that I should still most blindly follow your demoniac will--that
is folly enough to make me laugh aloud."

And she laughed wildly, and pressed her right hand to her brow.

The priest stopped in his domestic occupations and looked stealthily at
Cethegus. He was intensely interested.

Cethegus leaned his head back against the marble moulding, and with his
right hand grasped the drinking-cup which stood before him.

"You are unjust, Rusticiana," he said quietly, "and confused. You mix
the sports of Eros with the works of Eris and the Fates. You know that
I was the friend of Boëthius, although I kissed his wife. Perhaps just
for that reason. I see nothing particular in that. And you--well,
Silverius and the saints have forgiven you. You know further, that I
hate these Goths, mortally hate them; that I have the will and--more
than all others--the power to carry through that which is now your
greatest wish, to revenge your father, whom you loved, and your
husband, whom you honoured, on these barbarians.

"Therefore you obey my instigations, and you are wise in so doing; for
you have a decided talent for intrigue, but your impetuosity often
clouds your judgment. It spoils your finest plans. Therefore it is well
that you follow cooler guidance. That is all. But now go. Your slave is
crouching, drunk with sleep, in the vestibule. She believes that you
are in the confessional with friend Silverius. The confession must not
last too long. And we also have business to transact. Greet Camilla,
your lovely child, for me, and farewell."

He rose, took her hand, and led her gently to the door. She followed
reluctantly, nodded to the priest at parting, looked once more at
Cethegus, who appeared not to observe her inward emotion, and went out,
slightly shaking her head.

Cethegus sat down again and emptied his cup of wine.

"A strange struggle in this woman's nature," remarked Silverius, and
sat down by Cethegus with stylus, wax-tablets, letters and documents.

"It is not strange. She wishes to atone for having wronged her husband
by avenging him," said Cethegus. "And that she can accomplish this by
means of her former lover, makes the sacred duty doubly sweet. To be
sure, she is not conscious of it.--But what have we to do?"

The two men now began their business: to consider such points of the
conspiracy as they did not judge advisable to communicate to all the
members of the league.

"At present," began the archdeacon, "it is above all things necessary
to ascertain the amount of this fortune of Albinus, and decide upon its
appropriation. We assuredly require money, much money."

"Money affairs are your province,"--said Cethegus, drinking. "I
understand them, of course, but they annoy me."

"Further," continued Silverius, "the most influential men in Sicilia,
Neapolis, and Apulia must be won over to our cause. Here is the list of
their names, with notes annexed. There are men amongst them who are not
to be allured by the usual means."

"Give it to me," said Cethegus, "I will manage that," And he cut up a
Persian apple.

After an hour's hard work, the most pressing business was settled, and
the host replaced the documents, in a secret drawer in the wall behind
the crucifix.

The priest was tired, and looked with envy at his companion, whose
powerful frame and indefatigable spirit no late hours or exertion
seemed able to exhaust.

He expressed something of the sort, as Cethegus again filled the silver
cup.

"Practice, friend, strong nerves, and," added Cethegus, smiling, "a
good conscience; that is the whole secret."

"Yes, but in earnest, Cethegus, you are a riddle to me in other
respects."

"I should hope so."

"Oh ho! do you consider yourself such a superior being that I cannot
fathom you?"

"Not at all. But still sufficiently deep to be to others no less a
riddle than--to myself. Your pride in your knowledge of mankind may be
at ease. I am no wiser about myself than you are. Only fools are
transparent."

"In fact," said the priest, expatiating on the subject, "the key to
your nature must be difficult to find. For example, look at the members
of our league. It is easy to say what motives have led them to join us.
The hot young courage of a Licinius; the pig-headed but honest sense of
justice of a Scævola; as for myself and the other priests--our zeal for
the honour of God."

"Naturally," said Cethegus, drinking.

"Others are induced by ambition, or are in hopes that they may cut off
the heads of their creditors in a civil war; or they are tired of the
orderly condition of this country under the Goths, or have been
offended by one of these foreigners. Most of them have a natural
repugnance to the barbarians, and are in the habit of seeing in the
Emperor alone the master of Italy. But none of these reasons apply to
you, and----"

"And," interrupted Cethegus, "that is very uncomfortable, is it not?
For by knowledge of their motives one can govern men. Well, I am sorry,
reverend friend, but I cannot help you. I really do not know myself
what my motive is. I am so curious about it, that I would gladly tell
it to you--and allow myself to be governed--if I could only find it
out. Only one thing I feel--that these Goths are my antipathy. I hate
these full-blooded fellows, with their broad flaxen beards. I cannot
bear their brutal good humour, their ingenuous youthfulness, their
stupid heroism, their unbroken natures. It is the impudence of chance,
which governs the world, that this country, after such a history,
possessing men like--like you and me--should be ruled by these Northern
bears!"

He tossed his head indignantly, closed his eyes, and sipped a small
quantity of wine.

"That the barbarians must go, we are agreed," said Silverius, "and with
this, all is gained as far as I am concerned. For I only await the
deliverance of the Church from these heretical barbarians, who deny the
divinity of Christ, and make Him a demi-god. I hope that the primacy of
all Christendom will, as is fitting, incontestably fall to the share of
the Roman Church. But as long as Rome is in the power of the heretics,
while the Bishop of Byzantium is supported by the only orthodox and
legitimate Emperor----"

"The Bishop of Rome cannot be the first Bishop of Christendom, nor the
master of Italy; and therefore the Roman Apostolic See, even when
occupied by a Silverius, cannot be what it ought to be--the highest.
And yet that is what Silverius wishes."

The priest looked up in surprise.

"Do not be uneasy, reverend friend. I knew this long ago, and have kept
your secret, although you did not confide it to me. But further----" He
again filled his cup. "Your Falernian has been well stored, but it is
too sweet.--Properly speaking, you can but wish that these Goths may
evacuate the throne of the Cæsars, and not that the Byzantines should
take their place; for in that case the Bishop of Rome would have again
a superior bishop and an emperor in Byzantium. You must therefore,
instead of the Goths, wish--not for an Emperor--Justinian--but--what
else?"

"Either," eagerly interrupted Silverius, "a special Emperor of the
Western Empire----"

"Who, however," said Cethegus, completing the sentence, "would be only
a puppet in the hands of the holy Petrus----"

"Or a Roman republic, a State of the Church----"

"In which the Bishop of Rome is master, Italy the principal country,
and the barbarian kings in Gaul, Germany, and Spain the obedient sons
of the Church. All very fine, my friend. But first the enemy must be
annihilated, whose spoils you already divide. Therefore let us drink an
old Roman toast: 'Woe to the barbarians!'"

He rose and drank to the priest.

"But," he added, "the last night-watch creeps on, and my slaves must
find me in the morning in my bedchamber. Farewell!"

With this he drew the _cucullus_ (hood) of his mantle over his head and
departed.

His host looked after him. "A very important tool!" he said to himself.
"It is a good thing that he is only a tool. May he always remain so!"

Cethegus walked away from the Via Appia in a north-westerly direction,
towards the Capitol, beneath which, at the northern end of the Via
Sacra, his house was situated, to the north-east of the Forum Romanum.

The cool morning air played refreshingly over his brow. He threw open
his mantle and deeply inflated his strong broad chest.

"Yes, I am a riddle," he said to himself. "I join in a conspiracy and
go about by night, like a republican or a lover at twenty. And
wherefore? Who knows why he breathes? Because he must. And so I do what
I must. But one thing is certain, this priest may--perhaps must--become
Pope; but he must not remain so long, else farewell my scarcely-avowed
thoughts, which are yet but dreams and cloud-mists. Perhaps it may be
that from them will arise a storm that will decide my fate. See, it
lightens in the east! 'Tis well; I accept the omen!"

With these words he entered his house.

In his bed-chamber he found a letter on the cedar table before his bed,
tied with a silken string, and sealed with the royal seal. He cut the
string with his dagger, opened the double waxen tablets, and read:

"To Cethegus Cæsarius, the Princeps Senatus, Marcus Aurelius
Cassiodorus, Senator.

"Our lord and king lies on his death-bed. His daughter and heiress,
Amalaswintha, wishes to speak with you before his end.

"You are to undertake the most important office in the kingdom.

"Hasten at once to Ravenna."



                               CHAPTER V.

Over the King's palace at Ravenna, with all its gloomy splendour and
inhospitable spaciousness, lay an air of breathless anxiety.

The old castle of the Cæsars had suffered many disfiguring changes in
the course of centuries, and since the Gothic kings, with all their
Germanic courtiers, had taken the place of the emperors, it had
assumed a very inharmonious aspect, for many chambers, intended
for the peculiar customs of Roman life, stood, still retaining
the old magnificence of their arrangements, unused and neglected.
Cobwebs covered the mosaic of the rich baths of Honorius, and in the
toilet-chamber of Placidia the lizards climbed over the marble frames
of the silver mirrors on the walls. On the one side, the necessities of
a more warlike court had obliged the removal of many walls, in order to
change the small rooms of the ancient building into wider halls for
arsenals, banqueting and guard-rooms, and, on the other, neighbouring
houses had been joined to the palace by new walls, so as to create a
stronghold in the middle of the city.

In the dried-up _piscina maxima_ (large fish-pond) fair-haired boys now
romped, and in the marble halls of the _palæstra_[1] neighed the horses
of the Gothic guards. So the extensive edifice had the dismal
appearance partly of a scarcely-preserved ruin, and partly of a
half-finished new erection; and thus the palace of the present ruler
seemed a symbol of his Roman-Gothic kingdom, and of his whole
half-finished, half-decayed political creation.

On the day, however, on which Cethegus, after years of absence, once
again entered the house, there lay heavy upon it a cloud of anxiety,
sorrow and gloom, for its royal soul was departing from it.

The great man, who here had guided, for the space of a man's life, the
fate of Europe; who was wondered at, with love or with hate, by West
and by East; the hero of his age; the powerful Theodoric of Verona, of
whose name--even during his lifetime--Legend had possessed herself; the
great Amelung, King Theodoric, was about to die.

So said the physicians--if not to himself, yet to his nearest
relations--and the report soon spread in the great and populous city.

Although such an end to the secret sufferings of the aged King had been
long held possible, the news that the blow was at hand now filled all
hearts with the greatest excitement.

The faithful Goths were anxious and grieved, and a dull fear was the
predominating feeling even of the Roman population, for here in
Ravenna, in the immediate vicinity of the King, the Italians had had
frequent opportunities of admiring his mildness and generosity, and of
experiencing his beneficence.

And besides, it was feared that after the death of this King, who,
during his lifetime--with the single exception of the last contest with
the Emperor and the Senate, when Boëthius and Symmachus bled--had
protected the Italians from the harshness and violence of his people--a
new rule of severity and oppression would commence on the part of the
Goths.

And, finally, another and more noble influence was at work; the
personality of this hero-King had been so grand, so majestic, that even
those who had often wished for the destruction of himself and his
kingdom, could not--at the moment when this luminary was about to be
extinguished--revel in a feeling of malicious joy, and were unable to
overcome a deep depression.

So, since early morning--when servants from the palace had been seen
rushing in all directions, and special messengers hurrying to the
houses of the most distinguished Goths and Romans--the town had been in
a state of great excitement.

Men stood together by pairs or in groups in the streets, squares and
baths, questioning or imparting to each other what they knew; trying to
detain some person of importance who came from the palace, and talking
of the grave consequences of the approaching catastrophe. Women and
children, urged by curiosity, crouched on the thresholds of the houses.

As the day advanced, even the populations of the nearest towns and
villages--principally consisting of sorrowing Goths--streamed into the
gates of the city to hear the news.

The counsellors of the King, pre-eminently the pretorian prefect,
Cassiodorus, who earned great praise for preserving order in those
days, had foreseen this excitement, and perhaps expected something
worse.

At midnight all the entrances to the palace had been closed, and
guarded by Goths. In the Forum Honorum, before the palace, a troop of
cavalry had been placed. On the broad marble steps that led up to the
grand colonnade of the principal entrance, lay, in picturesque groups,
strong companies of Gothic foot-soldiers, armed with shield and spear.

Only there, according to the order of Cassiodorus, could admittance
be gained to the palace, and only the two leaders of the
infantry--Cyprian, the Roman, and Witichis, the Goth, were allowed to
grant permission to enter.

It was to the first of these persons that Cethegus applied.

As he took the well-known way to the King's apartments, he found all
the Goths and Romans whose rank or importance had procured them
admittance, scattered in groups about the halls and corridors.

In the once noisy banqueting-hall the young leaders of the Gothic
hundreds and thousands stood together, silent and sorrowing, or
whispering their anxious inquiries, while here and there an elderly
man--a companion-at-arms of the dying hero--leaned in the niche of a
bow-window, seeking to hide his ungovernable sorrow. In the middle of
the hall stood--pressing his head against a pillar and weeping
loudly--a rich merchant of Ravenna. The King, now on the point of
death, had once pardoned him for joining in a conspiracy, and had
prevented his goods from being plundered by the enraged Goths.

Cethegus passed by them all with a cold glance of contempt.

In the next room--a saloon intended for the reception of foreign
embassies--he found a number of distinguished Goths--dukes, earls, and
other nobles--who evidently were assembled together to consult upon the
succession, and the threatened overthrow of all existing conditions.

There was the brave Duke Thulun, who had heroically defended the town
of Arles against the Franks; Ibba, the conqueror of Spain; and Pitza,
who had been victorious over the Bulgarians and Gepidians--all mighty
warriors, proud of their nobility, which was little less than that of
the royal house of Amelung; for they were of the house of Balthe,
which, through Alaric, had won the crown of the Visigoths; and no less
proud of their services in war, which had protected and extended the
kingdom.

Hildebad and Teja were with them. They were the leaders of the party
which had long since desired a more severe treatment of the Italians,
whom they at once hated and shunned; but had been forced, against their
will, to give way to the milder opinions of the King.

What looks of hatred shot from their eyes upon the aristocratic Roman
who now came to witness the death of the great Gothic hero!

Cethegus walked quietly past them, and lifted the heavy woollen curtain
that divided this from the next apartment--the ante-chamber of the
sick-room.

On entering, he greeted with a profound inclination a tall and queenly
woman, enveloped in a black mourning veil, who, grave and silent, but
composed and without tears, stood before a marble table covered with
records. It was Amalaswintha, the widowed daughter of Theodoric.

A woman above thirty years of age, she was still extremely, though
coldly, beautiful. She wore her rich dark hair parted and waved in the
fashion of the Greeks. Her high forehead, her large, open eyes, her
straight nose, the pride expressed in her almost manly features, and
the majesty of her full form, gave her an imposing dignity, and, clad
in a garment folded in true Grecian style, she resembled a Juno of
Polycletus which had descended from its pedestal. Her arm, more
supporting than supported, was laid within that of a youth of about
seventeen years of age--Athalaric, her son, the heir of the kingdom of
the Goths.

He did not resemble his mother, but had the nature of his unhappy
father, Eutharic, whom a wasting heart disease had hurried to the grave
in the bloom of life. For this reason, Amalaswintha saw with sorrow
that her son grew daily more like his father; and it was no longer a
secret at the court of Ravenna that all the signs of the disease were
already visible in the young man.

Athalaric was as beautiful as all the other members of this royal
house, descended from the gods. Heavy black eyebrows and long eyelashes
shaded his beautiful dark eyes, that now melted with an expression of
dreamy reverie, and now flashed with intellectual brilliancy. Dark
brown tangled locks hung over his pale temples, on which, when he was
excited, the blue veins swelled convulsively. On his noble brow
physical pain or sad resignation had traced deep lines, strange to see
on his youthful countenance. Marble paleness and vivid red quickly
alternated in his transparent cheeks. His tall but bent-frame generally
seemed to hang, so to speak, on its hinges, as if tired, and only at
times he drew himself up with startling suddenness.

He did not notice Cethegus, for, leaning on his mother's breast, he had
in his sadness flung his Grecian mantle over that young head, which was
soon destined to wear a crown.

At some distance from these two figures, near an open window that
afforded a view of the marble steps upon which lay the Gothic warriors,
stood, lost in thought, a woman--or was it a girl?--of surprising and
dazzling beauty; it was Mataswintha, the sister of Athalaric.

She resembled her mother in height and nobleness of form, but her more
sharply-cut features were filled with fiery and passionate life, which
was only slightly concealed under an aspect of artificial coldness.

Her figure, in which blooming fulness and delicate slenderness were
harmoniously blended, reminded one of that Artemis in the arms of
Endymion, in the group sculptured by Agesander, which, as legend
reports, was banished from the town by the Council of Rhodes because
the marble representation of the most perfect maidenly beauty and
highest sensuousness had driven the youths of the island to madness and
suicide. The magic of ripe virgin beauty trembled over the whole form
of Mataswintha. Her rich waving hair was of a dark-red colour, with a
glimmering metallic light upon it, and had such an extraordinary effect
that it had procured for the Princess, even amongst her own nation,
whose women were celebrated for their splendid golden locks, the
appellation of "Beautiful-hair." Her nose was finely-shaped, with
delicately-chiselled nostrils, which quivered at the slightest emotion;
and freshly bloomed the full and rosy lips of her lovely mouth. But the
most striking feature of this extraordinary beauty was the grey eye,
not so much on account of its changing colour as from the wonderful
expression with which, though generally lost in reverie, it could
sometimes flash with burning passion.

Indeed, as she stood there leaning against the window, in the
half-Hellenic, half-Gothic costume, which her fancy had combined, her
full white arm wound round the dark column of porphyry, and gazing
thoughtfully out into the evening air, her seductive beauty resembled
that of those irresistible wood or water-nymphs, whose enchanting power
of love has always been celebrated in Northern legend.

And so great was the power of this beauty, that even the burnt-out
bosom of Cethegus, who had long known the Princess, was moved to new
admiration as he entered.

But his attention was immediately claimed by Cassiodorus--the learned
and faithful minister of the King, the first representative of that
benevolent but hopeless policy of reconciliation, which had been
practised in the Gothic Kingdom for many years--who was standing near
Amalaswintha.

This old man, whose venerable and mild features were no less filled
with an expression of sorrow at the loss of his royal friend than by
anxiety for the future of the kingdom, rose, and went with tottering
steps towards Cethegus, who reverently bent his head.

The aged man's eyes rested upon him for some moments, swimming in
tears; at last he sank sighing upon the cold breast of Cethegus, who
despised him for this weakness.

"What a day!" complained Cassiodorus.

"A fateful day," said Cethegus gravely. "Strength and presence of mind
are necessary."

"You say truly, patrician, and speak like a Roman," said the Princess,
leaving Athalaric--"welcome!"

She gave him her hand, which did not tremble. Her eye was clear and
tearless.

"The disciple of the Stoics preserves, even on this day, the wisdom of
Zeno and her own composure," said Cethegus.

"Say, rather, that the grace of God wonderfully upholds her soul," said
Cassiodorus reprovingly.

"Patrician," began Amalaswintha, "the prætorian prefect has proposed you
to me for the performance of an important business. His word would be
sufficient, even had I not known you so long. You are the self-same
Cethegus who transposed the first two songs of the? 'Æneid' into
Grecian hexameters?"

"Infandum renovare jubes, regina, dolorem. A youthful sin, Queen," said
Cethegus, smiling. "I bought up all the copies and burnt them on the
day on which Tullia's translation appeared."

Tullia was the pseudonym of Amalaswintha. Cethegus knew it, but the
Princess had no suspicion of his knowledge. She was flattered in her
weakest point, and continued:

"You know how it stands with us. My father's moments are counted;
according to the report of the physicians, he may, although yet strong
and active, die at any moment. Athalaric here is the heir to his crown.
But until he has reached the proper age, I shall conduct the regency,
and act as his guardian."

"Such is the will of the King, and Goths and Romans have long since
agreed to this wise arrangement," said Cethegus.

"They did so, but the mob is fickle. The rough men despise the
government of a woman"--and at this thought Amalaswintha knit her brow
in anger.

"It is certainly contrary to the political principles both of Goths and
Romans," said Cassiodorus apologetically. "It is quite a new thing that
a woman----"

"Whatever may be thought about it, it is a fact," interposed the
Princess. "Nevertheless, I count on the fidelity of the Goths in
general, though single aristocratic individuals may aim at the crown. I
also fear nothing from the Italians here in Ravenna, nor in most towns.
But I fear--Rome and the Romans!"

The attention of Cethegus was arrested. His whole being was suddenly
excited, but his countenance remained impassive.

"Rome will never accustom herself to the rule of the Goths; she will
always resist us--how can it be otherwise?" added Amalaswintha.

It seemed as if the daughter of Theodoric had a Roman soul.

"Therefore we fear," concluded Cassiodorus, "that, at the news of the
vacancy of the throne, a movement may break out in Rome against the
regency, be it for annexation to Byzantium, be it for the election of
an Emperor of the Western Empire."

Cethegus, as if in reflection, cast down his eyes.

"For this reason," quickly interposed the Princess, "everything must be
done before the news reaches Rome. A faithful, energetic man must
receive the oaths of the garrison for me--I mean for my son; must take
possession of the most important gates and squares, intimidate the
Senate and the nobles, win the people to my cause, and irrevocably
confirm my dominion before it is menaced. And to effect this,
Cassiodorus has proposed--you. Speak; will you undertake it?"

At this moment the golden stylus which she held happened to fell to the
ground.

Cethegus stooped to pick it up.

He had only this one moment for the crowding thoughts that passed
through his mind on hearing this proposal.

Was the conspiracy in the Catacombs betrayed? Was he himself betrayed?
Was this a snare laid by the crafty and ambitious woman? Or were the
fools really so blind as to press this offer upon him? And if it were
so, what should he do? Should he seize the occasion? Should he strike
at once, in order to win Rome? And for whom? For Byzantium or for an
Emperor of the West? And who should it be? Or were things not yet ripe?
Should he, for this once, seemingly practise fidelity?

To resolve these and many other questions, he had only the one moment
in which he stooped.

But his quick mind needed no more. He had seen, while in the act of
stooping, the unsuspicious, trusting look of Cassiodorus, and, giving
the stylus to the Princess, he spoke with decision:

"Queen, I undertake the business."

"That is well," said the Princess.

Cassiodorus pressed his hand.

"When Cassiodorus proposed me for this office," continued Cethegus, "he
gave another proof of his deep knowledge of mankind. He has seen the
kernel through the shell."

"What do you mean?" asked Amalaswintha.

"Queen, appearances might have deceived him. I confess that I do not
like to see the barbarians--pardon, the Goths--reigning in Italy."

"This frankness honours you, and I pardon the feeling in a Roman."

"Besides that, I have taken no interest in public affairs for some
years. After having experienced varied passions, I now live in the calm
and retirement of my country villas, cultivating the sportive muse,
enjoying my books, and untroubled by the cares of kings."

"Beatus ille qui procul negotiis," quoted the learned lady, sighing.

"But, because I honour science, because I, a scholar of Plato, desire
that the wise should govern, I wish that a Queen should reign over my
fatherland who is only a Goth by birth, but in her soul a Greek, and by
her virtues a Roman. For her sake I will sacrifice my leisure to hated
business. But only on condition that this shall be my last office of
state. I will undertake your commission, and answer for Rome with my
head."

"Good; here you will find the legal documents which you will need."

Cethegus looked rapidly through the records.

"This is the manifesto of the young King to the Romans, with your
signature. _His_ is still wanting."

Amalaswintha dipped the Cnidian reed-pen into the vessel filled with
crimson ink, which was used by the Amelungs as well as by the Roman
Emperors.

"Come, write thy name, my son," she said.

Athalaric, standing and leaning with both arms on the table, had keenly
observed Cethegus during the above conversation. Now he stood erect. He
was accustomed to act with the usual arrogance of a Crown Prince and
the petulancy of an invalid.

"No," he said impatiently; "I will not write. Not only because I do
not trust this cold Roman--I do not trust you in the least, you proud
man--but it is revolting that, while my noble father still breathes,
you already quarrel about his crown. You dwarfs! About the crown of a
giant! Shame on your insensibility! Behind those curtains the greatest
hero of the century is dying, and you think already of the partition of
his garment!"

He turned his back upon them and went slowly to the window, where he
passed his arm round his lovely sister, and stroked her shining hair.
He stood there for some time; she did not notice him.

Suddenly she started from her reverie.

"Athalaric," she whispered, hastily grasping his arm, and pointing at
the marble staircase, "who is that man in the blue steel helmet, who is
just coming round that pillar? Say, who is it?"

"Let me see," said the youth, bending forward. "That? Oh! that is Earl
Witichis, the conqueror of the Gepidae, a famous hero."

And he told her of the deeds and triumphs of the Earl in the last war.

Meanwhile Cethegus had looked inquiringly at the Princess and the
minister.

"Let him alone," sighed Amalaswintha. "If he will not, no power on
earth can make him."

Further questions on the part of Cethegus were cut short, for the
three-fold curtain, that shut out all the noise of the ante-chamber
from the King's bedroom, was parted.

It was Elpidios, the Greek physician, who, lifting the heavy folds, now
entered, and announced that the sick man, just awakened from a long
sleep, had sent him away, in order to be alone with old Hildebrand, who
never stirred from his side.



                              CHAPTER VI.

Theodoric's bed-chamber, which had served the same purpose under the
Emperors, was decorated with the heavy splendour of late Roman style.

The superabundant reliefs of the walls and the gilded ornamentation of
the ceiling still pictured the victories and triumphal processions of
Roman consuls and emperors. Heathen gods and goddesses floated proudly
above. Everywhere reigned the same oppressive magnificence.

The extreme simplicity of the Gothic King's couch formed a remarkable
contrast to all this pomp.

The oval frame of unpolished oak was raised scarcely a foot from the
ground, and contained few cushions. Only the costly crimson cover
which hid the King's feet, and the lion's skin with golden claws
that lay before the bed--a present from the King of the Vandals, in
Africa--betrayed the royalty of the sick man. All the other furniture
of the room was simple, plain, and almost barbarously clumsy.

On a pillar in the background hung the iron shield and broad-sword of
the King, which had not been used for many years. At the head of the
bed stood the old master-at-arms, with his eyes bent down, anxiously
examining the features of the patient, who, leaning on his left arm,
turned his majestic countenance towards him.

The King's sparse hair, rubbed off on the temples by years of friction
caused by his heavy helmet, was still of a bright brown colour, and
without a trace of grey. His heavy brow, sparkling eyes, large nose,
and the deep lines in his cheeks, spoke of great tasks and great
strength to accomplish them.

The expression of his face was commanding and even sublime; but
the benevolent softness of his mouth, in spite of the grim and
slightly-grey beard, gave evidence of the mildness and peaceful wisdom
by means of which he had raised his kingdom to such a flourishing
condition that it had already become a proverb and celebrated in story.

His golden-brown and piercing eyes rested for some time upon his
gigantic sick-nurse, with an expression of love and favour.

At last he stretched out his thin, but nervous, right hand.

"Old friend," said he, "we must now take leave of each other."

The old man sank upon his knees and pressed the King's hand to his
broad breast.

"Come, my friend, rise! Must I comfort _thee_?"

But Hildebrand remained upon his knees, and only lifted his head so
that he could look the King in the face.

"See," said the King, "I know that thou, son of Hilding, hast received
from thy ancestors and thy father a deeper knowledge of the ailings of
mankind and their healing than all these Grecian physicians and Lydian
quack-salvers. And, more than that, thou art sincere. Therefore, I beg
thee honestly to confirm me in what I feel to be true. Tell me, must I
not die to-day--even before the night?" And he looked at him in a
manner that would brook no deception.

But Hildebrand did not wish to deceive him; he had regained his natural
composure.

"Yes, King of the Goths, heir of the Amelungs, thou must die; the hand
of Death has passed across thy brow. Never again wilt thou see the
sun's setting."

"It is well," said Theodoric, without blenching. "Seest thou, the Greek
whom I dismissed has lied to me all the day long. And yet time is
precious to me."

"Wilt thou again send for the priests?" asked Hildebrand reluctantly.

"No; they can do me no good. I need them no more."

"Sleep has strengthened thee, and lifted the veil from thy soul. Hail!
Theodoric, son of Walamer! thou wilt die like a hero!"

"I know," said the King, smiling, "that it was repugnant to thy
feelings to see the priests near my couch. Thou art in the right. They
cannot help me."

"And now--who or what has helped thee now?"

"God and myself. Hear! And what I am about to say are my parting words.
In gratitude for thy fifty years' faithful service, I confide to thine
ear alone--not to my daughter, and not to Cassiodorus--that which has
so long troubled me. Tell me, what is reported among the people? What
is believed was the cause of the melancholy which suddenly overcame me,
and originated this disease?"

"The Italians say that it was remorse for the death of Boëthius and
Symmachus."

"Didst thou believe this?"

"No; I could not believe that the death of traitors could so affect
thee."

"Thou art in the right. Perhaps, according to law, they were not
deserving of death; and I loved Boëthius much. But they were traitors a
thousand times! Traitors in their thoughts, traitors to my trust, to my
heart. I prized these Romans more than the best of my people. And they
showed their gratitude by wishing that my crown were the Emperor's;
they wrote flattering letters to the Byzantines; they preferred a
Justinus and a Justinian to the friendship of a Theodoric! I am not
sorry for them; I despise them. Guess again. What didst thou believe?"

"King, thy heir is a youth, and enemies encompass thy throne."

The sick man frowned.

"This time thou art nearer the mark. I always knew the weakness of my
kingdom. When at the evening banquet I have shown the proud face of
confidence to the foreign ambassadors, at night I have anxiously sighed
at its inward disease. Old man, I know that thou hast often considered
me all too confident. But none might see me tremble, neither friend nor
foe. Else my throne had trembled. I sighed only when alone, and have
borne my care in solitude."

"Thou art wisdom itself, my King, and I was a fool!" cried the old man.

"Thou seest," continued the King, stroking the old man's hand, "that I
knew in what I displeased thee. I knew also thy blind hatred of these
Italians. Believe me, it _is_ blind, as was, perhaps, my love of them."
Here he stopped and sighed.

"Why wilt thou distress thyself?"

"No, let me continue! I know that my kingdom--the work of my glorious
and toilsome life--may easily fall. Perhaps owing to my generosity to
these Romans. Be it so! No work of man is eternal, and the error of
over-kindness is easily borne!"

"My great King!"

"But, Hildebrand, one night, as I was lying awake, anxious about the
danger of my kingdom, there rose before my soul the ghost of another
sin! Not of too much kindness, but of bloody force! And woe, woe to me,
if my nation is to be destroyed in expiation of the crime of Theodoric!
His, _his_ image rises before me!"

The sick man spoke with difficulty, and lay for a moment overwhelmed
with emotion.

"Whose image? of whom dost thou speak?" asked the old man softly,
bending over him.

"Odoacer!" whispered the King, and Hildebrand bowed his head.

At last Theodoric broke the painful silence.

"Yes, old friend, this right hand, as thou knowest, struck down the
mighty hero--my guest--at the banquet-table. His hot blood splashed
into my face, and an ardent hate flashed upon me from his filming eyes.
A few months past, during the night I speak of, his bloody, pale and
angry form rose before me like an avenging god. My heart was
contracted, my pulses beat with fever. The fearful conviction came over
me that my kingdom would fall and my nation decay, because of this my
bloody deed."

This time, after a short pause, Hildebrand, looking up defiantly, said:

"King, why dost thou fret like a woman? Hast thou not struck down
hundreds with thine own arm, and thy people thousands at thy behest?
Have we not descended from the mountains into this land in more than
thirty battles, wading ankle-deep in blood? What is the blood of _one_
man to all this? And remember the circumstances. For four years he had
defied thee as the ure-ox defies the bear. Twice he had driven thee and
thy folk to the brink of destruction. Hunger, sword, and pestilence
carried off thy Goths. At last, at last, stubborn Ravenna fell, forced
by famine. The deadly enemy lay at thy feet. Then a warning came that
he contemplated treason; that he would renew the fearful strife; that
he would attack thee and thine that night. What couldest thou do? Call
him openly to account? If he were guilty, that could do no good,
therefore thou wert beforehand with him, and did that to him in the
evening which he intended doing to thee at night. That _one_ deed saved
thy people, and prevented the renewal of a fearful strife. Thou
forgavest all his followers, and for thirty years caused Goths and
Italians to live as if in Paradise. And now thou wilt torment thyself
with vain remorse? Two nations will ever thank thee for this deed! I--I
would have killed him seven times over!"

The old man ceased; his eyes flashed; he looked like an angry giant.
But the King shook his head.

"That is nothing, old warrior! I have repeated the same thing to myself
a hundred times, and put it into more flattering forms than is possible
to thy rude tongue. All in vain! He was a hero--the only one of my
kind--and I murdered him without proof of his guilt, for I was jealous,
suspicious, aye, it must be said, I was _afraid_--afraid that I should
be compelled again to strive with him. It was, and is, and ever will
be a sin! I have found no peace in self-excuses. Since that night
his image has followed me unceasingly. At the banquet and in the
council-chamber; at the hunt, in the church, waking and sleeping. Then
Cassiodorus sent the priests and bishops to me. They could not help me.
They heard my confession, saw my grief and my faith, and absolved me
from all my sins. But peace came not, and though they forgave me, I
could not forgive myself. I know not whether it be the old manner of
thought inherited from my heathen ancestors, but I cannot hide myself
behind the Cross from the ghost of the murdered man! I cannot believe I
am freed from my bloody deed by the blood of an innocent God who died
upon the Cross!"

Hildebrand's face was suddenly lit up with joy.

"Thou knowest," he whispered in the King's ear, "that I could never
believe the priests of the Cross. Speak, oh, speak! dost thou still
believe in Thor and Odin? Have _they_ helped thee?"

The King smiled and shook his head.

"No, thou incorrigible old heathen! Thy Walhalla is nothing for me.
Hear how I was helped. Yesterday I sent the bishops away, and retired
into the recesses of my own heart. I thought and wrestled and entreated
God, and I became calmer, and, behold! in the night a deep slumber came
upon me, such as I had not known for long months. When I awoke, no
fever of torture shook my limbs; I felt composed, and my mind clearer;
I felt that no grace or miracle of God could undo the deed that I had
committed. I knew that if God be indeed a God of vengeance, He could
punish me and my house unto the seventh generation, and I dedicated
myself and my kingdom to His eternal vengeance. But, if God be just, He
cannot visit the sins committed by their King upon the people of the
Goths. No, He will not do that. And if ever this people decay, I feel
that it will not be owing to my deed; and thus peace hath entered into
my soul, and I can die with courage."

He was silent, but Hildebrand bowed his head and kissed the hand which
had killed Odoacer.

"These are my parting words to thee, my legacy and thanks for a whole
life of fidelity. Now let us dedicate the remaining time to the Goths.
Come, assist me to rise, I cannot die amid these cushions. There hang
my weapons! Give them to me! No objections! I will, and I can!"

Hildebrand was obliged to obey. With his help the sick man rose, and
threw a purple mantle over his shoulders, girded on his sword, set the
low helmet-crown on his head, and supporting himself on the shaft of
his heavy lance, leaned his back against the thick Doric column in the
middle of the room.

"Now call my daughter, and Cassiodorus, and whoever else may be
outside."



                              CHAPTER VII.

The King remained quietly standing, while Hildebrand threw back the
curtains of the door on both sides, so that bed-chamber and ante-room
now formed one undivided apartment. All those assembled outside--for
many Goths and Romans had entered meanwhile--drew near to the King in
astonished and reverent silence.

"My daughter," said the King, "are the letters written which are to
announce my death and the succession of my grandchild to Byzantium?"

"Here they are," answered Amalaswintha.

The King rapidly ran through the rolls of papyrus.

"To Emperor Justinus.--A second: to his nephew, Justinianus. 'Tis true,
he will soon wear the crown, and is already the master of his masters.
I see by the fine similes that Cassiodorus has written these letters.
But hold!" A cloud passed across his face. "'Recommending my youth to
your imperial protection!' Protection! That is too much. Alas! if ever
you should be obliged to depend on the protection of Byzantium!
'Recommending myself to your _friendship_, is enough from the grandson
of Theodoric." And he gave the letters back. "Still a third letter to
Byzantium? To whom? 'To Theodora, the noble spouse of Justinianus?'
What! to the dancer of the circus? To the shameless daughter of the
lionkeeper?"

His eye flashed.

"She has great influence upon her husband," interposed Cassiodorus.

"No, no. My daughter shall write to no female who has dishonoured the
name of her sex."

And he tore the roll of papyrus into pieces and threw them on the
floor. Then, walking over the fragments, he advanced towards the Goths
who stood in the middle of the hall.

"My brave Witichis, what will be thy office after my death?"

"I shall review our foot at Tridentum."

"None could do it better! Never yet hast thou claimed the favour which
was granted to thee beforehand, when thou wert victorious over the
Gepidæ. Hast thou no wish even now?"

"I _have_ a wish, my King."

"At last!--that pleases me. Speak."

"A poor jailer, for refusing to apply the torture and for striking at a
lictor, is himself condemned to be put to the torture to-day. Sire, set
the man free! To torture is shameful, and----

"The jailer is free; and from this moment torture is abolished in the
kingdom of the Goths. Look to it, Cassiodorus! Brave Witichis, give me
thy hand. To show to all how much I honour thee, I bequeath thee
Wallada, my chestnut charger, in remembrance of this parting hour. And
if ever thou art in danger, or--" here he lowered his voice, "would
avoid it, whisper my name into the horse's ear. Who will watch over
Neapolis? Duke Thulun was too rough. Those gay people must be won by
gentle looks."

"Yes. Young Totila will be Count of the Harbour there," answered
Cassiodorus.

"Totila! a sunny youth! a Siegfrid; a favourite of the gods! No heart
can withstand him. But truly, the hearts of these Italians--" He
sighed, and then continued, "Who will assure us of Rome and the
Senate?"

"Cethegus Cæsarius," said Cassiodorus, with a motion of his hand, "this
noble Roman."

"Cethegus? I know him well. Look at me, Cethegus."

Cethegus, thus addressed, reluctantly raised his eyes, which he had
quickly cast down before the steady look of the King. But now,
collecting himself, he quietly bore the eagle glance which seemed to
penetrate his soul.

"It was a sickly whim, Cethegus, which made a man of your kind withhold
himself so long from affairs of state; and from us. Or it was
dangerous. Perhaps it is still more dangerous that you--_now_--again
take an interest in politics."

"It was not my wish, O King."

"I will answer for him!" cried Cassiodorus.

"Peace, friend! On earth no one can answer for another!--scarcely for
himself! But," he continued with a searching look, "this proud
intellect--this Cæsar-like intellect--will not betray Italia to the
Greeks."

Cethegus had to endure one more sharp look from the golden eagle-eyes.
Then the King suddenly grasped his arm, and whispered in his ear:
"Listen to my warning. No Roman will ever again flourish on the throne
of the Western Empire. Peace! no contradiction. I have warned you. What
noise is that outside?" he asked, quickly turning to his daughter; who,
in a low voice, was speaking with a Roman messenger.

"Nothing, my King; nothing of importance, my father."

"What! secrets from me? By my crown! Wilt thou govern while I still
breathe? I hear the sound of strange tongues outside. Open the doors!"

The doors which divided the outer hall from the ante-room were thrown
open. There, in the midst of a number of Goths and Romans, were to be
seen several strange and dwarfish forms, clothed in a curious costume,
with doublets of wolfskin, pointed caps, and shaggy sheep-skins hanging
down their backs. Surprised and impressed by the sudden apparition of
the King, they sank upon their knees.

"Ah, messengers from the Avarians! Those robber border-ruffians on our
eastern boundaries! Have you brought the owing yearly tribute?"

"Sire, once again we bring it: skins, woollen carpets, swords, shields.
There they hang--there they lie. But we hope that next year--we will
see----"



"You will see whether the aged Theodoric has become a dotard? You hoped
that I was dead? You think that you can refuse the tribute to my
successor? You err, spies!"

And he took up, as if proving its worth, one of the swords which the
messengers had laid at his feet, together with its sheath, held it
firmly by hilt and point, and with a slight effort snapped the steel in
two, and threw the pieces on the ground.

"The Avari carry worthless swords," he said quietly. "Come, Athalaric,
heir to my kingdom. They do not believe that thou canst bear the weight
of my crown. Show them how thou canst throw my spear."

The youth bounded to him. The scarlet hue of ambition flushed his pale
face. He swung the heavy spear of his grandfather, and hurled it with
such force at a shield which the messengers had leaned against one of
the wooden pillars, that it completely pierced it and penetrated deeply
into the wood.

The King laid his left hand on the head of his grandchild, and said
proudly to the messengers:

"Now go, and tell at home what you have seen."

He turned away; the outer doors were closed, and shut out the amazed
Avarians.

"Give me a cup of wine. It may possibly be the last! No, unmixed! In
Germanic fashion--" he repulsed the Grecian physician. "Thanks, old
Hildebrand, for this draught, so faithfully given. I drink prosperity
to the Goths!"

He slowly emptied the goblet; and with a hand yet firm and strong he
replaced it on the marble table.

But suddenly, like a flash of lightning, that which the physicians had
long expected took place. He staggered, pressed his hand to his heart,
and fell backwards into Hildebrand's arms; who, slowly kneeling down,
let him gently slide on to the marble pavement, supporting his
helm-crowned head.

For one moment all present held their breath; but the King did not
move, and, with a loud cry, Athalaric threw himself upon the corpse.



                             CHAPTER VIII.

There was another man, besides Cassiodorus, who played a most
important, and, as it seemed to the Regency, a very deserving part, in
those days of transition. This was no other than Cethegus. He had
undertaken the momentous office of Prefect of Rome. As soon as the King
had closed his eyes for ever, Cethegus had instantly hurried to his
place of trust, and had arrived there before the news of the event had
reached that city.

Before daybreak, he had collected the senators together in the
_Senatus_, that is, in the closed hall of Domitian, near the temple of
Janus Geminus, on the right of the arch of Septimus Severus, and had
surrounded the building with Gothic troops. He informed the surprised
senators (many of whom he had only recently met in the Catacombs, and
had incited to the expulsion of the barbarians) of the already
accomplished succession to the throne. He had also, not without many
mild hints as to the spears of the Gothic hundreds, which might easily
be seen from the hall, taken their oaths of allegiance to Athalaric
with a rapidity that brooked no contradiction.

Then he left the "Senatus," where he kept the conscript fathers locked
up, until, with the support of the strong Gothic garrison, he had held
a meeting of the assembled Romans which he had called in the Flavian
amphitheatre, and had won the hearts of the easily-moved "Quirites" for
the young King.

He enumerated the generous deeds of Theodoric, promised the same
beneficence from his grandson, who was, besides, already acknowledged
by all Italy and the provinces, and also by the fathers of the city;
announced a general feast for the Roman population, with the gift of
bread and wine, as the first act of the new government; and concluded
with the proclamation of seven days of games in the Circus (races
between twenty-four Spanish four-horsed chariots), with which he
himself would celebrate the accession of Athalaric, and his own
entrance into office.

At once a thousand voices shouted, with loud huzzas, the names of the
Queen-Regent and her son; and still more loudly the name of Cethegus.
Then the people joyously dispersed, the imprisoned senators were
released, and the Eternal City was won for the Goths.

The Prefect hurried to his house at the foot of the Capitol, locked
himself up, and eagerly wrote his report to the Queen-Regent.

But he was soon disturbed by a violent knocking upon the iron door of
the house. It was Lucius Licinius, the young Roman whom we have already
met in the Catacombs. He struck with the hilt of his sword against the
door till the house echoed.

He was followed by Scævola, the jurist, with portentously frowning
brow, who had been amongst the imprisoned senators; and by Silverius,
the priest, with doubtful mien.

The ostiarius looked prudently through a secret aperture in the wall,
and, on recognising Licinius, admitted them.

Licinius rushed impetuously before the others through the well-known
vestibule and the colonnade of the atrium to the study of Cethegus.

When Cethegus heard the hastily-approaching footsteps, he rose from the
lectus upon which he was lying writing, and put his letters into a
casket with a silver lid.

"Ah, the saviours of the fatherland!" he said, smiling, and advanced
towards the door.

"Vile traitor!" shouted Licinius, his hand on his sword--anger impeded
further speech; he half drew his sword from the sheath.

"Stop! first let him defend himself, if he can," panted Scævola,
holding the young man's arm, as he hastened into the room.

"It is impossible that he can have deserted the cause of the Holy
Church," said Silverius, as he also entered.

"Impossible!" laughed Licinius. "What! are you mad, or am I? Has he not
caused us to be confined in our houses? Has he not shut the gates, and
taken the oaths of the mob for the barbarians?"

"Has he not," continued Cethegus, "caught the noble fathers of the
city, three hundred in number, and kept them in the Curia, like so many
mice in a trap; three hundred aristocratic mice?"

"He dares to mock us? Will you suffer that?" cried Licinius. And
Scævola turned pale with anger.

"Well, and what would you have done had you been allowed to act?" asked
the Prefect quietly, crossing his arms on his broad breast.

"What should we have done?" cried Licinius. "What we, and you with us,
have a hundred times decided upon. As soon as the news of the tyrant's
death had arrived, we should have killed all the Goths in the city,
proclaimed a Republic, and chosen two consuls----"

"Of the names of Licinius and Scævola; that is the first thing. Well,
and then? What then?"

"What then? Freedom would have conquered!"

"Folly would have conquered!" broke out Cethegus in a thundering voice,
which startled his accusers. "Well for us that your hands were bound;
you would have strangled Hope for ever. Look here, and thank me upon
your knees!"

He took some records from another casket, and gave them to his
astonished companions.

"There; read! The enemy had been warned, and had thrown the noose round
the neck of Rome in a masterly manner. If I had not acted as I did,
Earl Witichis would be standing at this moment before the Salarian Gate
in the north with ten thousand Goths; to-morrow young Totila would have
blockaded the mouth of the Tiber on the south with the fleet from
Neapolis; and Duke Thulun would have been approaching the Tomb of
Hadrian and the Aurelian Gate from the west, with twenty thousand men.
If, this morning early, you had touched a hair of a Goth's head, what
would have happened?"

Silverius breathed again. The others were ashamed and silent. But
Licinius took heart.

"We should have defied the Goths behind our walls," he said, with a
toss of his handsome head.

"Yes, when these walls are restored as I will restore them--for
eternity, my Licinius: as they are now--not for a day."

"Then we had died as free citizens," said Scævola.

"You might have done that in the Curie three hours ago," laughed
Cethegus, shrugging his shoulders.

Silverius stepped forward with open arms, as if to embrace
him--Cethegus drew back.

"You have saved us all, you have saved Church and fatherland! I never
doubted you!" exclaimed the priest.

But Licinius grasped the hand of the Prefect, who willingly abandoned
it to him.

"I _did_ doubt you," he said with charming frankness. "Forgive me, you
great Roman! This sword, with which I would have penetrated into your
very heart, is henceforward at your service. And when the day of
freedom dawns, then no consul, then _salve_, Dictator Cethegus!"

He hurried out with flashing eyes. The Prefect cast a satisfied glance
after him.

"Dictator, yes; but only until the Republic is in full security," said
the jurist, and followed Licinius.

"To be sure," said Cethegus, with a smile; "then we will wake up
Camillus and Brutus, and take up the Republic from the point at which
they left it a thousand years ago. Is it not so, Silverius?"

"Prefect of Rome," said the priest, "you know that I was ambitious to
conduct the affairs of the fatherland as well as of the Church. After
this, I am so no more. You shall lead, I will follow. Swear to me only
one thing: the freedom of the Roman Church--free choice of a Pope."

"Certainly," said Cethegus; "but first Silverius must have become Pope.
So be it."

The priest departed with a smile upon his lips, but with a weight upon
his mind.

"Go," said Cethegus, after a pause, looking in the direction taken by
his three visitors. "You will never overthrow a tyrant--you need one!"

This day and hour were decisive for Cethegus. Almost against his will,
he was driven by circumstances to entertain new views, feelings, and
plans, which he had never, until now, put to himself so clearly,
or confessed to be more than mere dreams. He acknowledged that
at this moment he was sole master of the situation. He had the
two great parties of the period--the Gothic Government and its
enemies--completely in his power. And the principal motive-power in the
heart of this powerful man, which he had for years thought paralysed,
was suddenly aroused to the greatest activity. The unlimited
desire--yes, the necessity--to _govern_, made itself all at once
serviceable to all the powers of his rich nature, and excited them to
violent emotion.

Cornelius Cethegus Cæsarius was the descendant of an old and immensely
rich family, whose ancestor had founded the splendour of his house as a
general and statesman under Cæsar during the civil wars; it was even
rumoured that he was the son of the great Dictator.

Our hero had received from nature various talents and violent passions,
and his immense riches gave him the means to develop the first and
satisfy the last to the fullest extent. He had received the most
careful education that was then possible for a young Roman noble. He
practised the fine arts under the best teachers; he studied law,
history, and philosophy in the famous schools of Berytus, Alexandria,
and Athens with brilliant success. But all this did not satisfy him. He
felt the breath of decay in all the art and science of his time. In
particular, his study of philosophy had only the effect of destroying
the last traces of belief in his soul, without affording him any
results. When he returned home from his studies, his father, according
to the custom of the time, introduced him to political life, and his
brilliant talents raised him quickly from office to office.

But all at once he abandoned his career. As soon as he had made himself
master of the affairs of state, he would no longer be a wheel in the
great machine of a kingdom from which freedom was excluded, and which,
besides, was subject to a barbarian King.

His father died, and Cethegus, being now his own master and possessor
of an immense fortune, rushed into the vortex of life, enjoyment, and
luxury with all the passion of his nature.

He soon exhausted Rome, and travelled to Byzantium, into Egypt, and
even as far as India.

There was no luxury, no innocent or criminal pleasure, in which he did
not revel; only a well-steeled frame could have borne the adventures,
privations, and dissipations of these journeys.

After twelve years of absence, he returned to Rome.

It was said that he would build magnificent edifices. People expected
that he would lead a luxurious life in his houses and villas. They were
sadly deceived.

Cethegus only built for himself the convenient little house at the foot
of the Capitol, which he decorated in the most tasteful manner; and
there he lived in populous Rome like a hermit.

He unexpectedly published a description of his travels, characterising
the people and countries which he had visited. The book had an
unheard-of success. Cassiodorus and Boëthius sought his friendship, and
the great King invited him to his court.

But on a sudden he disappeared from Rome.

What had happened remained a mystery, in spite of all malicious,
curious, or sympathetic inquiries.

People told each other that one morning a poor fisherman had found
Cethegus unconscious, almost dead, on the shores of the Tiber, outside
the gates of the city.

A few weeks later he again was heard of on the north-east frontier of
the kingdom, in the inhospitable regions of the Danube, where a bloody
war with the Gepidae, Avari, and Sclavonians was raging. There he
fought the savage barbarians with death-despising courage, and followed
them with a few chosen troops, paid from his private means, into their
rocky fortresses, sleeping every night upon the frozen ground. And
once, when the Gothic general entrusted to him a larger detachment of
troops in order to make an inroad, instead of doing this, he attacked
and took Sirmium, the enemy's fortified capital, displaying no less
good generalship than courage.

After the conclusion of peace, he travelled into Gaul, Spain, and again
to Byzantium; returned thence to Rome, and lived for years in an
embittered idleness and retirement, refusing all the military, civil,
or scientific offices and honours which Cassiodorus pressed, upon him.
He appeared to take no interest in anything but his studies.

A few years before the period at which our story commences, he had
brought with him from Gaul a handsome youth, to whom he showed Rome and
Italy, and whom he treated with fatherly love and care. It was said
that he would adopt him. As long as his young guest was with him he
ceased his lonely life, invited the aristocratic youth of Rome to
brilliant feasts in his villas, and, accepting all invitations in
return, proved himself the most amiable of guests.

But as soon as he had sent young Julius Montanus, with a stately suite
of pedagogues, freedmen, and slaves, to the learned schools of
Alexandria, he suddenly broke off all social ties, and retired into
impenetrable solitude, seemingly at war with God and the whole world.

Silverius and Rusticiana had, with the greatest difficulty, persuaded
him to sacrifice his repose, and join in the conspiracy of the
Catacombs. He told them that he only became a patriot from tedium. And,
in fact, until the death of the King, he had taken part in the
conspiracy--the conduct of which, however, was wholly in his and the
archdeacon's hands--almost with dislike.

It was now otherwise.

Until now, the inmost sentiment of his being--the desire to test
himself in all possible fields of intellectual effort; to overcome all
difficulties; to outdo all rivals; to govern, alone and without
resistance, every circle that he entered; and, when he had won the
crown of victory, carelessly to cast it aside and seek for new
tasks--all this had never permitted him to find full satisfaction in
any of his aims.

Art, science, luxury, office, fame. Each of these had charmed him. He
had excelled in all to an unusual degree, and yet all had left a void
in his soul.

To govern, to be the first, to conquer opposing circumstances with all
his means of superior power and wisdom, and then to rule crouching men
with a rod of iron; this, consciously and unconsciously, had always
been his aim. In this alone could he find contentment.

Therefore he now breathed proudly and freely. His icy heart glowed at
the thought that he ruled over the two great inimical powers of the
time, over both Goths and Romans, with a mere glance of his eye; and
from this exquisite feeling of mastery, the conviction arose with
demonic force, that there remained but one goal for him and his
ambition that was worth living for; but one goal, distant as the sun,
and out of the reach of every other man. He believed in his descent
from Julius Cæsar, and felt the blood rush through his veins at the
thought--Cæsar, Emperor of the West, ruler of the Roman Empire!

A few months ago, when this thought first flashed across his mind--not
even a thought, not a wish, only a shadow, a dream--he was startled,
and could not help smiling at his own boundless assurance.

_He_, Emperor and regenerator of the Empire! And Italy trembled under
the footsteps of three hundred thousand Goths! And the greatest of all
barbarian kings, whose fame filled the earth, sat on his powerful
throne in Ravenna!

Even if the power of the Goths were broken, the Franks and Byzantines
would stretch their greedy hands over the Alps and across the sea to
seize the Italian booty. Two great kingdoms against a single man! For,
truly, he stood alone amid his people. How well he knew, how utterly he
despised his countrymen, the unworthy descendants of great ancestors!
How he laughed at the enthusiasm of a Licinius or a Scævola, who
thought to renew the days of the Republic with these degenerate Romans!

He stood alone.

But the feeling only excited his ambition, and, at that moment, when
the conspirators had left him, when his superiority had been more
plainly proved than ever before, the thoughts which had been a
flattering amusement of his moody hours, suddenly ripened and formed
themselves into a clear resolve.

Folding his arms across his mighty chest, and measuring the apartment
with heavy steps, like a lion in his cage, he spoke to himself in
abrupt sentences:

"To drive out the Goths and prevent Franks and Greeks from entering,
would not be difficult, with a brave host at one's back; any other man
could do it. But alone, quite alone, more hindered than helped by these
knaves without marrow in their bones; to accomplish the impossible; to
make these cowards heroes; these slaves, Romans; these servants of the
priests and barbarians, masters of the world; that, _that_ is worth the
trouble. To create a new people, a new time, a new world, with the
power of his single will and the might of his intellect, is what no
mortal has yet accomplished--that would be greater than Cæsar!--_he_
led legions of heroes! and yet, it can be done, for it can be imagined.
And I, who can imagine it, can do it. Yes, Cethegus, that is an aim for
which it is easy to think, to live, to die! Up, and to work! and
henceforward, no thought, no feeling, except for this one thing!"

He stood still at last before a colossal statue of Cæsar, sculptured in
Parian marble, which--a masterpiece of Arkesilaus, and, according to
family tradition, given by Julius Cæsar himself to his son--stood
before the writing-divan, the most sacred treasure of the house.

"Hear me, divine Cæsar! great ancestor!" exclaimed Cethegus, "thy
descendant dares to rival thee! There is still something higher than
anything which thou hast reached; even to soar at a higher quarry than
thou, is immortal; and to fall--to fall from such a height--is the most
glorious death. Hail! Once again I know why I live!"

He passed the statue, and threw a glance at some military maps of the
Roman Empire, which lay unrolled upon the table.

"First trample upon these barbarians: Rome! Then once more subdue the
North: Paris! Then reduce the rebellious East to its old subjection to
the Cæsar-city: Byzantium! and farther, even farther, to the Tigris, to
the Indus; farther than Alexander; and back to the West, through
Scythia and Germania, to the Tiber; the path, Cæsar, which Brutus'
dagger cut off for thee. And so to be greater than thou, greater than
Alexander----hold, my thought! Enough!"

And the heart of the icy Cethegus flamed and glowed; the veins of his
temples throbbed violently; he pressed his burning forehead against the
cold marble breast of Julius Cæsar, who majestically looked down upon
him.



                              CHAPTER IX.

The day of the King's death was not only decisive for Cethegus, but
also for the conspiracy in the Catacombs, for Italy, and for the Gothic
kingdom.

Although the intrigues of the patriots--led by different men, who were
not agreed upon the means, nor even upon the aims of their plots--had,
till now, made slow and doubtful progress, this state of things was
completely altered from the moment when Cethegus took the conduct of
affairs into his own strong hands. Only then did the conspiracy become
really dangerous to the Goths.

Cethegus untiringly sought to undermine the security of their kingdom.
With his great capacity for winning and governing men, and penetrating
their motives, he was able daily to increase the number of important
members and the means of success. He understood how to avoid the
suspicion of the Goths on the one hand, and to prevent any untimely
rebellion on the other. For it would have been easy to attack the
barbarians in all the towns of the Peninsula on some special day, and
to call upon the Byzantines--who had long since been on the watch for
such a crisis--to complete the conquest. But in this way the Prefect
would not have been able to carry out his secret plans. He would merely
have put Byzantine tyranny in the place of Gothic rule. And we know
that he had very different intentions. In order to fulfil them, he
wished first to create for himself a power in Italy, greater than any
other man possessed. Before the foot of a Byzantine was set upon
Italian soil, he must become--although in secret--the mightiest man in
the country. All must be so prepared that the barbarians should be
driven away by Italy itself, that is, by Cethegus, with the least
possible help from Byzantium; so that, after the victory, the Emperor
could not avoid giving the dominion over the country to its saviour,
even if only as a governor. Then he would soon gain time and
opportunity to excite the national pride of the Romans against the rule
of the "Greek-lings," as they contemptuously called the Byzantines.
For, although for two hundred years--since the days of the great
Constantine--the glory of the Empire of the world had been removed from
widowed Rome to the golden town on the Hellespont, and the sceptre of
the sons of Romulus seemed to have passed over to the Greeks; though
East and West formed _one_ state of antique culture opposed to the
barbarian world; yet even now the Romans hated and despised the Greeks
as much as in the days when Flaminius declared humbled Hellas to be a
freedman of Rome. The old hate was now increased by envy.

Therefore Cethegus was sure of the enthusiasm and support of all Italy,
which, after the removal of the barbarians, would also banish the
Byzantines from the country; and the crown of Rome, the crown of the
Western Empire, would be his certain reward.

And if he succeeded in exciting the newly-awakened national feeling to
an offensive war on the other side of the Alps, when he had again
erected the throne of the Roman Empire on the ruins of the Frankish
Kingdom at Orleans and Paris, then the attempt would not be too rash
once again to subdue the Eastern Empire and continue the Empire of the
World in the Eternal City from the point at which Trajan and Hadrian
had left it.

In order to reach this distant and shining goal, every step on the
dizzy path must be taken with the greatest prudence; any stumble might
precipitate him into an abyss. In order to gain his end, Cethegus must
first of all make sure of Rome; on Rome alone could his plans be based.

Therefore the new Prefect bestowed the greatest care upon the city that
had been entrusted to him. He wished to make Rome, morally and
physically, his surety of dominion, belonging alone to him, and not to
be wrested from him.

His office gave him the best pretext for carrying out his plans. Was it
not the duty of the _Præfectus Urbi_ to care for the well-being of the
populace, and for the preservation and security of the city? He
understood perfectly well how to use the rights of his office for the
furtherance of his own aims. He easily won the sympathies of all ranks;
the nobles honoured in him the head of the conspiracy; he governed the
clergy through Silverius, who was the right hand of the pope, and, by
public opinion, appointed his successor, and who showed to the Prefect
a devotion that was even surprising to its object. He gained the common
people, not only by occasional gifts of bread, and games in the Circus,
but also by promoting great undertakings, which, at the cost of the
Gothic Government, provided work and sustenance for thousands.

He persuaded Amalaswintha to give orders that the fortifications of
Rome, which had suffered much more since the reign of Honorius from the
inroads of time and the selfishness of Roman architects, than from the
Visigoths and Vandals, should be quickly and completely restored "to
the honour of the Eternal City, and," as she imagined, "for protection
against the Byzantines."

Cethegus himself, and, as was afterwards proved by the unsuccessful
sieges of the Goths and Byzantines, with great strategic genius, made
the plan of the magnificent works. With the greatest zeal he set about
the gigantic task of transforming the immense city, with its
circumference of many miles, into a stronghold of the first rank. The
thousands of workmen, who well knew to whom they owed their well-paid
employment, applauded the Prefect whenever he showed himself upon the
ramparts, to examine what progress had been made, or excite to new
industry, and, sometimes, to put his own hand to the work. And the
deceived Princess assigned one million _solidi_ after another for the
expenses of fortifications, against which the whole power of her people
was shortly to be wrecked and annihilated.

The most important point of these fortifications was the Tomb of
Hadrian, known now under the name of Castle St. Angelo. This
magnificent edifice, built of blocks of Parian marble, which were laid
one upon the other without any uniting cement, lay, at that time, about
a stone's-throw from the Aurelian Grate, the flanking walls of which it
by far overtopped.

Cethegus had seen at a glance that this incomparably strong building,
which until now had been designed for offence _against_ the city,
might, by very simple means, be converted into a powerful bulwark of
defence _for_ the city; he caused two walls to be built from the
Aurelian Grate towards and around the Mausoleum.

And soon the towering marble castle formed an assault-proof rampart for
the Aurelian Grate, so much the more because the Tiber formed a natural
fosse close before it. On the top of the wall of the Mausoleum stood
about three hundred of the most beautiful statues of bronze, marble,
and iron, mostly placed there by Hadrian and his successors. Amongst
them were that of the Divus Hadrianus; his beautiful favourite
Antinous; a Jupiter of Soter; a Pallas "town-protectress;" and many
others. Cethegus rejoiced at the fulfilment of his ideas, and became
exceedingly fond of this place, where he used to wander every evening
with his beloved Rome spread out at his feet, examining the progress of
the works. He had even caused a number of beautiful statues from his
own villas to be added to those already existing, in order to increase
the splendour of his creation.



                               CHAPTER X.


Cethegus was obliged to be more prudent in the execution of a second
plan, not less necessary for the success of his projects. In order to
be able to defy the Goths, and, if needful, the Greeks, from within
_his_ Rome, as he loved to call it, he was in want--not only of walls,
but of soldiers to defend them.

At first he thought of mercenaries, of a body-guard such as had been
often kept by high officials, statesmen and generals in those times,
such as Belisarius and Narses possessed in Byzantium.

It would have been very easy for him, by means of his riches and the
connections he had formed during his travels in Asia, to hire brave
troops of the savage Isaurian mountain people, who then played the part
of the Swiss of the sixteenth century; but this procedure had two very
straitened limits. On the one side he could not, without exhausting the
means that were indispensable for other purposes, keep more than a
comparatively small band, the kernel of an army, not an army itself. On
the other side it was impossible to bring these mercenaries in larger
numbers to Italy or Rome, without arousing suspicion. He was obliged to
smuggle them over with much cunning--by pairs, singly, or in small
groups, to his scattered villas and estates, as his slaves, freedmen,
clients, or guests; and to employ them as sailors and ship-officials in
the harbour of Ostia, or as workmen in Rome.

Lastly, the Romans themselves would, after all, have to save and defend
Rome, and all his plans urged him to re-accustom his fellow-citizens to
the use of arms. But Theodoric had wisely excluded the Italians from
the army--exceptions were only made in favour of persons who were
considered as particularly reliable and in the late unquiet times of
his reign, during the process against Boëthius, he had issued orders
for the general disarming of all Romans. This measure had certainly
never been strictly carried out, but still Cethegus dared not hope that
the Queen-Regent would allow him, against the expressed will of her
august father and the evident interests of the Goths, to form any
considerable forces of Italians.

He contented himself with representing to her, that, by means of a very
innocent concession, she could procure for herself the merit of having
cancelled Theodoric's hateful measure by a noble trust; proposing to
her that she should allow him to drill and keep under arms only two
thousand Roman citizens as a guard for the city; the Romans would be
for ever grateful to her that the city did not appear to be solely
protected by barbarians.

Amalaswintha, who was enthusiastic about Rome, and whose dearest wish
was to gain the love of the Romans, gave her consent, and Cethegus
began to form his militia, as we should call it. In a proclamation,
which sounded like a trumpet-call, he "bid the sons of Scipio take up
their old weapons." He promised to double the pay fixed upon by the
Princess from his own pocket, to any Roman who voluntarily presented
himself. From the thousands who pressed forward he chose the most able.
He armed the poor; gave to those who distinguished themselves in the
service, Gallic helmets and Spanish swords from his own collections;
and, as the most important step, he regularly discharged those who were
sufficiently drilled as soon as possible, leaving them their weapons,
and enlisted new recruits, so that although at no time more were on the
service than the number allowed by Amalaswintha, yet, in an incredibly
short space of time, many thousands of armed and practised Romans were
at the disposal of their adored leader.

While Cethegus added in this manner to the strength of his future
capital and formed his future pretorians, he put off his
co-conspirators, who constantly urged him to strike, and comforted them
with the hope that the proper moment would soon arrive, which, however,
he alone could determine. At the same time he kept up constant
communication with Byzantium. He wanted to make sure of assistance
thence, which could appear upon the scene of action at any hour in
which he might desire it, but which would not come without a call, or
in such force that it could not easily be again removed. He wished for
a good general from Byzantium, who, however, must not be a great
statesman; bringing an army sufficiently powerful to support the
Italians, but not strong enough to gain the victory without them, or to
remain in the country against their will.

We shall see later how, with regard to this, much occurred in
accordance with the Prefect's wishes, but just as much against them.

As to the Goths--who at this time were in undisturbed possession of the
booty for which Cethegus already mentally quarrelled with the Emperor--
all his endeavour was to rock them into unsuspicious security, to
split them into parties, and to uphold a weak government at their head.

The first task was not difficult; for that strong Teutonic race
despised, with barbarian pride, all open and secret foes--we have
already seen how difficult it was to convince such a youth as Totila,
who was otherwise sharp-sighted and clear-headed, of the approach of
danger--and the stubborn trust of Hildebrand fully expressed the
general disposition of the Goths.

Party spirit was also not wanting in this people.

There were the proud race of the Balthe, with their widely-spread
kindred; at their head the three Dukes, Thulun, Ibba, and Pitza. The
rich Wölfungs, under the two brothers, Duke Guntharis and Earl Arahad;
and many others, who were not much inferior to the Amelungs in the
splendour of their ancestry, and jealously guarded their position near
the throne. There were also many who endured the guardianship of a
woman and the rule of a boy with strong dislike, and who would gladly,
according to the ancient rights of the nation, have passed over the
royal line, and chosen one of the tried heroes of the nation for their
King, But the Amelungs counted many blindly-devoted adherents, who
abhorred such sentiments as treasonable.

And, lastly, the whole nation was divided into two parties, one of
which, long discontented with the clemency shown to the Italians by
Theodoric and his daughter, would gladly have retrieved the mistake
which, as they thought, had been made when the country was conquered,
and punished the Italians for their secret hate with open violence. The
number of those who held milder and nobler opinions--who, like
Theodoric himself, were more susceptible to the higher culture of the
subjected Italians, and desirous to raise themselves and their people
to the same level--was naturally much smaller. At the head of this
party stood the Queen.

This woman Cethegus now sought to uphold in the possession of power;
for her feminine, weak, and divided government was calculated to
undermine the strength of the nation, to excite party spirit and
discontent, and to exclude all augmentation of national feeling.

Cethegus trembled at the thought that he might see an energetic man
unite the strength of the whole nation. And often the traits of
sublimity which occasionally were to be seen in Amalaswintha, and,
still more, the fiery sparks of repressed feeling which sometimes
blazed out in Athalaric's soul, caused him serious uneasiness. Should
mother and son betray such feelings more frequently, then, certainly,
he would be compelled to overthrow their government as zealously as he
had hitherto upheld it.

Meanwhile he rejoiced in the unlimited command which he possessed over
the mind of Amalaswintha. It had been easy for him to gain it; not only
because he, with great subtlety, took advantage of her predilection for
learned discussions--in which he was so often vanquished by the
seemingly superior knowledge of the Princess that Cassiodorus, who was
a witness of their arguments, could not refrain from regretting that
the genius of Cethegus, once so brilliant, had rusted for want of
practice--but he had touched the proud woman on a much more sensitive
subject.

Her great father had been blessed with no son; only this one daughter
had been born unto him. The wish for a male heir had been often heard
in the mouths of the King and of his people, and had penetrated to the
daughter's ears in her childish years. It outraged the feelings of the
highly-gifted girl that, merely on account of her sex, she should be
put lower than a possible brother, who, as a matter of course, would be
more capable and more worthy of governing. So, when a child, she often
wept bitter tears because she was not a boy. Of course, as she grew up,
she only heard the offensive wish from the lips of her father; every
other mouth praised the wonderful talent, the manly spirit and courage
of the brilliant Princess. And these praises were not flattery;
Amalaswintha was, indeed, a wonderful creature. The strength of her
will, the power of her intellect, her love of authority, and cold
abruptness of manner, far exceeded the limits which generally bound the
sphere of feminine grace. The consciousness that when her hand was
bestowed, the highest position in the kingdom, and perhaps the crown
itself, would be given with it, did not contribute to render her more
modest; and her deepest, strongest sentiment was no longer the wish to
be a man, but the conviction that, even as a woman, she was as capable
of performing all the duties of life and of government as the most
gifted man--much more capable than most men--and that she was fated to
refute the general prejudice, and to prove the equality of her sex.

The married life of this cold woman with Eutharic, a member of another
branch of the family, a man of a genial temperament and high intellect,
was of short duration--in a few years Eutharic fell a victim to
disease--and not at all happy. She had unwillingly obeyed her husband,
and, as a widow, gloried in her freedom. She burnt with the desire to
verify her favourite theory in her position as Queen-regent and
guardian of her son. She would govern in such a manner, that the
proudest man must acknowledge her superiority. We have seen how the
anticipation of ruling had enabled her to bear the death of her great
father with considerable equanimity. She assumed her high office with
the greatest zeal and the most untiring activity. She wished to do
everything alone. She thrust aside the aged Cassiodorus, for he was
unable to keep pace with the eagerness of her spirit. She would endure
no man's advice, and jealously watched over her absolute monarchy.

To none but one of her servants did she willingly and frequently lend
her ear: to him who often and loudly praised the manly independence of
her mind, and still more often seemed to admire it in secret, and who
appeared incapable of conceiving the desire to govern any of her
actions: she trusted Cethegus alone.

For he constantly evinced only _one_ ambition--that of carrying out all
the ideas and plans of the Queen with the most zealous care. He never
opposed her favourite endeavours, like Cassiodorus and the heads of the
Gothic parties, but supported her therein. He helped her to surround
herself with Greeks and Romans; to exclude the young king, as far as
possible, from all share in the government; gradually to remove from
the court the old Gothic friends of her father, who, in the
consciousness of their services and according to old custom, often took
upon themselves to speak a word of open blame; to use the money which
was intended for men-of-war, horses, and the armament of the Gothic
forces, for art and science, or for the embellishment, preservation,
and security of Rome; in short, he aided her in every act that would
estrange her from her people, or render her government an object of
hatred, and her kingdom defenceless.

And if he himself had a plan he always knew how to give his
transactions with the Queen such a turn, that she considered herself
the promoter of every scheme, and ordered him to execute his most
secret wishes as _her_ commands.



                              CHAPTER XI.

In order to gain and support this influence, it can easily be
understood that Cethegus was forced to be more at court, and oftener
absent from Rome, than was advantageous for his interests in that city.

He therefore endeavoured to bring persons into close connection with
the Queen, who would, in part, take his place, warmly defend his
interests, and keep him _au fait_ of all that passed in the court of
Ravenna.

Many Gothic nobles had left the court in anger, and it was necessary to
replace their wives in their office near the Queen; and Cethegus
determined to use this opportunity to bring Rusticiana, the daughter of
Symmachus and wife of Boëthius, once more to court. It was no easy
task. For the family of Boëthius, who had been executed as a traitor,
had been banished the capital. Before anything could be done, the
feeling which the Queen entertained towards this family must be
completely altered. Cethegus, however, soon succeeded in appealing to
the compassion and magnanimity of Amalaswintha, who possessed a noble
heart. At the same time she had never really believed in the unproved
guilt of the two noble Romans, one of whom, the husband of Rusticiana,
she had honoured as an extremely learned man, and, in some points, as
her teacher. Cethegus proved to her that by showing favour to this
family, either as an act of grace or of justice, she would touch the
hearts of all her Roman subjects, and he thus easily persuaded her to
pardon the deeply degraded family.

It was much more difficult to persuade the proud and passionate widow
of the murdered man to accept this favour, for her whole soul was
filled with bitterness against the royal house, and thirst for revenge.
Cethegus even feared that when she was in the presence of the
"tyrants," her ungovernable hatred might betray itself. In spite of the
great influence he had over her, she had repeatedly rejected this plan.

Matters had come to this pass, when, one day, Rusticiana made a
discovery which shortly led to the fulfilment of the Prefect's wish.

Rusticiana had a daughter of scarcely sixteen years of age, named
Camilla. She was a lovely girl, with a face of the true Roman type,
with nobly-formed features and chiselled lips. Intense feeling beamed
from her dark eyes; her figure, slender almost to delicacy, was elegant
and light as that of a gazelle, and all her movements were agile and
graceful. She had loved her unhappy father with all the energy of
filial devotion. The stroke that had laid his beloved head low had
entered deeply into her own young life; and inconsolable and sacred
grief, mixed with passionate admiration for his heroism, filled all her
youthful thoughts. A welcome guest at court before her father's death,
she had fled with her mother after the catastrophe over the Alps to
Gaul, where they had found an asylum with an old friend, while Anicius
and Severinus, Camilla's brothers, who had been also condemned, but who
were afterwards reprieved and sent into banishment, hastened at once to
the court at Byzantium, where they tried to move heaven and earth
against the barbarians.

When the first heat of persecution had abated, the two women had
returned to Italy, and led a retired life in the house of one of their
faithful freedmen at Perusia, whence, as we have seen, Rusticiana had
easily found means to join the conspiracy in Rome.

It was in June, that season of the year when the Roman
aristocracy--then as at this day--fled the sultry air of the towns, and
sought a refuge in their cool villas on the Sabine mountains, or at the
sea-coast. The two noble women, used to every luxury, felt extremely
ill at ease in the hot and narrow streets of Perusia, and thought with
regret of their beautiful villas in Florence and Neapolis, which,
together with all the rest of their fortune, had been confiscated by
the Gothic Government.

One day, their faithful servant, Corbulo, came to Rusticiana with a
strangely embarrassed expression of countenance, and explained to her
"how, having long since noticed how much the 'Patrona' suffered
under his unworthy roof, and had to endure much annoyance from his
handiwork--he being a mason--he had bought a small, a very small,
estate, with a still smaller house, in the mountains near Tifernum.
However, she must not compare it with the villa near Florentia; but
still there ran a little brook near it, which never dried up, even
under the dog-star; oaks and cornel-trees gave broad and pleasant
shade; ivy grew luxuriantly over a ruined Temple of Faunus; and in the
garden he had planted roses, lilies, and violets, such as Donna Camilla
loved; and so he hoped that they would mount their mules or litter, and
go to their villa like other noble dames."

The ladies, much touched by their old servant's fidelity, gratefully
accepted his kindness, and Camilla, who rejoiced like a child in the
anticipation of a little change, was more cheerful and animated than
she had ever been since her father's death.

Impatiently she urged their departure, and hurried off beforehand the
very same day, with Corbulo and his daughter, Daphnidion, leaving her
mother to follow as soon as possible with the slaves and baggage.

The sun was already sinking behind the hills of Tifernum when Corbulo,
leading Camilla's mule by the bridle, reached an open place in the
wood, from whence they first caught sight of the little estate. He had
long pleased himself with the thought of the young girl's surprise when
he should show her the prettily situated villa.

But he suddenly stood still, struck with surprise; he held his hand
before his eyes, fancying that the evening sun dazzled him; he looked
around to see if he were really in the right place; but there was no
doubt about it! There stood, on the ridge where wood and meadow met,
the grey border-stone, in the form of the old frontier-god Terminus,
with his pointed head. It was the right place, but the little house was
nowhere to be seen; where it should have been, was a thick group of
pines and plantains; and besides this, the whole place was changed;
green hedges and flowerbeds stood where once cabbages and turnips grew;
and where sandpits and the high-road had, till now, marked the limits
of his modest property, rose an elegant pavilion.

"The Mother of God and all the superior gods save me!" Cried the mason;
"some magic must be at work!"

His daughter hastily handed him the amulet that she carried at her
girdle; but she was no wiser than he, for it was the first time that
she had visited the new property; and so there was nothing left but to
drive the mules forward as fast as possible. Father and daughter,
leaping from stone to stone, accompanied the trotting mules to the
bottom of the declivity with cries of encouragement.

As they approached, Corbulo certainly discovered the house that he had
bought behind the group of trees, but so changed, renewed, and
beautified, that he scarcely recognised it.

His astonishment at the transformation of the whole place tended to
increase his superstitious fears. His mouth opened wide, he let the
reins fall, stood stock-still, and he was beginning another wonderful
speech, intermixed with heathen and Christian interjections, when
Camilla, equally astounded, called out:

"But that is the garden where we once lived, the Viridarium of Honorius
at Ravenna! The same trees, the same flower-beds, and, by the lake, the
little Temple of Venus, just as it once stood on the sea-shore at
Ravenna! Oh, how beautiful! What a faithful memory! Corbulo, how did
you manage it?" and tears of grateful emotion filled her eyes.

"The devil and all the Lemures take me, if I had anything to do with
it! But there comes Cappadox with his club foot; he at least is not
bewitched. Speak, then, Cyclops, what has happened here?"

Cappadox, a gigantic, broad-shouldered slave, came limping along with
an uncouth smile, and after many questions, told a puzzling tale.

About three weeks ago, a few days after he had been sent to the estate
to manage it for his master, who had gone to the marble quarries of
Luna, there came from Tifernum a noble Roman with a troop of slaves and
workmen and heavily-packed wagons. He inquired if this was the estate
bought by the sculptor Corbulo of Perusia for the widow of Boëthius.
Upon being answered in the affirmative, he had introduced himself as
the Hortulanus Princeps, that is, the superior intendant of the gardens
at Ravenna. An old friend of Boëthius--who wished not to tell his name,
for fear of the Gothic tyrants--desired to care for his family in
secret, and had given orders that their summer residence should be
improved and embellished with all possible art. He (Cappadox) was by no
means to spoil the intended surprise, and, half-kindly, half by force,
they had kept him fast in the villa. Then the intendant had immediately
made his plan, and set his men to work. Many neighbouring fields were
bought at a high price; and there began such a pulling-down and
building-up, such a planting and digging, hammering and knocking, such
a cleaning and painting, that it had made him both blind and deaf. When
he ventured to meddle or ask questions the workmen laughed in his face.

"And," concluded Cappadox, "it went on in this way till the day before
yesterday. Then they had finished, and went away. At first I was
afraid, and trembled when I saw all these splendid things growing out
of the earth. I thought, if Master Corbulo has to pay for all this,
then mercy on my poor back! and I wanted to come and tell you. But they
would not let me go; and besides, I knew you were not at home. And when
I saw what a ridiculous amount of money the intendant had with him, and
how he threw the gold pieces about, as children throw pebbles, I got
easier by degrees, and let things go on as they would. Now, master, I
know well that you can set me in the stocks, and have me whipped with
the vine-branch or even with the scorpion; for you are the master, and
Cappadox the servant. But, master, it would scarcely be just! By all
the saints and all the gods! For you set me over a few cabbage-fields,
and see! they have become an Emperor's garden under my care!"

Camilla had long since dismounted and disappeared, when the servant
ended his account.

Her heart beating with joy, she hurried through the garden, the bowers,
the house; she flew as if on wings; the active Daphnidion could
scarcely follow her. Repeated cries of astonishment and pleasure
escaped her lips. Whenever she turned the corner of a path, or round a
group of trees, a new picture of the garden at Ravenna met her
delighted eyes.

But when she entered the house, and in it found a small room painted,
furnished, and decorated exactly like the room in the Imperial Palace,
in which she had played away the last days of her childhood, and
dreamed the first dreams of her maidenhood; the same pictures upon the
hempen tapestry; the same vases and delicate citrean-wood[2] boxes;
and, upon the same small tortoise-shell table, her pretty little harp
with its swan's wings; overpowered by so many remembrances, and still
more by the feeling of gratitude for such tender friendship, she sank
sobbing on the soft cushions of the lectus.

Scarcely could Daphnidion calm her.

"There are still noble hearts in the world; there are still friends of
the house of Boëthius!" and she breathed a prayer of deep thankfulness
to Heaven.

When her mother arrived the next day, she was scarcely less moved by
the strange surprise. She wrote at once to Cethegus in Rome, and asked:
"In which of her husband's friends she should seek this secret
benefactor?" Within her heart she hoped that it might turn out to be
himself.

But the Prefect shook his head over her letter and wrote back: "He knew
no one of whom this delicate mode of proceeding reminded him. She
should carefully watch for every trace that might lead to the solving
of the riddle."

It was not long ere it was solved. Camilla was never tired of
traversing the garden, and continually discovering resemblances to its
well-known original.

She often extended her rambles beyond the park into the neighbouring
wood. She was generally accompanied by the merry Daphnidion, whose
similar youth and faithful affection soon won her confidence.
Daphnidion had repeatedly remarked to her that they must be followed by
a wood-sprite, for it often snapped in the branches and rustled in the
grass near them, and yet there nowhere was a man or an animal to be
seen.

But Camilla laughed at her superstition, and often persuaded her to
venture out again, far away under the green shadows of the elms and
plantains.

One hot day, as the two girls penetrated deeper and deeper into the
greenwood they discovered a clear-running spring, that issued copiously
from a dark porphyry rock. But it had no decided channel, and the
thirsty maidens with difficulty collected the single silvery drops.

"What a pity!" cried Camilla, "the delicious water! You should have
seen the fountain of the Tritons in the Pinetum[3] at Ravenna. How
prettily the water rushed from the inflated cheeks of the bronze
sea-god, into the wide shell of brown marble! What a pity!" And they
passed on.

Some days after they both came again to the same place. Daphnidion, who
was walking in front, suddenly stood still with a loud scream, and
silently pointed at the spring.

The woodland streamlet had been enclosed. From a bronze Triton's head
the water fell, in a bright stream, into a delicate shell of brown
marble. Daphnidion, now firmly believing in some magic, turned to fly
without further ado; her hands pressed over her eyes, so as not to see
the wood-sprite, which was considered to be extremely dangerous, she
fled towards the house, calling loudly to her mistress to follow her.

But a thought flashed through Camilla's mind. The spy who had lately
followed them was certainly in the vicinity, revelling in their
astonishment.

She looked carefully about her. The blossoms of a 'wild rose-bush fell
from its shaking boughs to the earth. She quickly stepped towards the
thicket, and lo! a young hunter, with spear and game-bag, advanced
towards her from out the bushes.

"I am discovered," he said, in a low, shy voice. He looked very
handsome in his embarrassment.

But, with a cry of fear, Camilla started back.

"Athalaric!" she stammered, "the King!"

A whole sea of thoughts and feelings rushed through her brain and
heart, and, half fainting, she sank upon, the grassy bank beside the
spring.

The young King, alarmed and delighted, stood for a few moments
speechless before the tender figure lying at his feet. Thirstily his
burning eye dwelt upon the beautiful features and noble form. A vivid
flush shot like lightning over his pale face.

"Oh, she--she is my death!" he breathed, pressing both hands to his
beating heart. "To die now--to die with her!"

Camilla moved her arm, which movement brought him to his senses; he
kneeled down beside her, and wetted her temples with the cool water of
the spring. She opened her eyes.

"Barbarian! murderer!" she cried shrilly, thrust his hand away, sprang
up, and fled like a frightened doe.

Athalaric made no attempt to follow her.

"Barbarian! murderer!" he murmured to himself, in great grief, and
buried his glowing forehead in his hands.



                              CHAPTER XII.

Camilla came home in such extreme excitement, that Daphnidion would not
be convinced that she had not seen the nymphs, or even the venerable
sylvan god, Picus, himself.

But the maiden threw herself with wild emotion into the arms of her
alarmed mother. The strife of confused feelings within her resolved
itself into a flood of hot tears, and only later was she able to answer
Rusticiana's anxious questions.

A terrible struggle was taking place in the soul of this child. At the
court of Ravenna it had not escaped the growing girl that the dark eyes
of the beautiful Athalaric often rested upon her with a strange and
dreamy expression, and that he eagerly listened to every tone of her
voice. But a suspicion of deeper affection had never entered into her
mind. The Prince, reserved and shy, cast down his eyes whenever she met
his look with an unembarrassed and inquisitive glance. Were they not
both at that time almost children?

She did not know how to interpret Athalaric's manner--he scarcely could
do so himself--and it had never occurred to her to reflect why she so
gladly lived near him; why she liked to follow the bold flights of his
thoughts and imaginations, differing so much from those of all other
playfellows; why she loved to wander silently through the quiet gardens
in the evening-light by the side of the silent boy, who often, in the
midst of his reverie, addressed her with abrupt, but always
significant, words; whose poetical feelings--the feelings of
enthusiastic youth--she so completely understood and appreciated.

The tender tissue of this budding inclination was violently torn by the
catastrophe of her father's death, and not only gentle sorrow for the
murdered man, but glowing hatred of his murderers, took possession of
the passionate Roman girl's soul.

At all times Boëthius, even when in the height of his favour at court,
had displayed a haughty condescension to the barbarism of the Goths,
and, since the catastrophe, all Camilla's companions--her mother, her
two brothers (who thirsted for vengeance), and the friends of the
house--breathed hatred and contempt, not only for the bloody murderer
and tyrant, Theodoric, but for all Goths, and particularly for the
daughter and grandson of the King, who, in their eyes, shared his guilt
because they had not hindered it.

So the maiden had almost ceased to think of Athalaric, and if he were
named, or if, as often happened, his picture entered into her dreams,
her hatred of the barbarians was concentrated in a feeling of the
greatest abhorrence towards him, perhaps just because, in the depths of
her heart, there lurked an involuntary suspicion of the secret
inclination which she nourished for the handsome and noble youth.

And now--now he had dared to lay a snare for her unsuspicious heart!

No sooner had she seen him step from the bushes--no sooner did she
recognise him, than she at once understood that it was he who had not
only enclosed the spring, but caused the alteration of the whole
estate. He, the hated enemy; he, the offspring of the cursed race which
had shed the blood of her father: the King of the Goths!

The joy with which, during the last few days, she had examined house
and garden, was now changed into bitterness. The deadly enemy of her
people, of her race, had dared to enrich her; to give her pleasure; to
make her happy; for him she had breathed thankful prayers to Heaven! He
had been bold enough to follow her steps, to listen to her words, to
fulfil her lightest wish; and at the bottom of her soul lay the
dreadful certainty that he loved her! The barbarian was insolent enough
to show it. The tyrant of Italy dared to hope that the daughter of
Boëthius---- Oh, it was too much! and, sobbing violently, she buried
her head in the cushions of her couch, to which she had retired, until
deep sleep of exhaustion overcame her.

Not long after, Cethegus, who had been hastily sent for, came to visit
the troubled woman.

Rusticiana would fain have followed her own and Camilla's first
impulse, to fly from the villa and the hated vicinity of the King, and
hide her child on the other side of the Alps. But Camilla's condition
had, till then, prevented their departure, and as soon as the Prefect
entered the house, the flame of their excitement seemed to sink before
his cold glances.

He took Rusticiana alone with him into the garden. Leaning his back
against a laurel-tree, and supporting his chin on his hand, he listened
quietly and attentively to her passionate recital.

"And now, speak," she concluded; "what shall I do? How shall I save my
poor child? Whither shall I take her?"

"Whither shall you take Camilla?" he repeated. "To the court, to
Ravenna."

Rusticiana started. "Why this ill-timed joke?"

But Cethegus quickly stood erect. "I am in earnest. Be quiet and
listen. Fate, that wills the destruction of the barbarians, could have
laid no more gracious gifts upon our path. You know how completely I
rule the Queen-regent, but you do not know how powerless I am over that
obstinate enthusiast, Athalaric. It is enigmatical. The sick youth is,
amongst all the nation, the only one who suspects, if he does not see
through, me; and I do not know whether he most fears or hates me. That
would be a matter of indifference to me if the audacious fellow did not
very decidedly and very successfully act against me. Naturally, his
opinion weighs heavily with his mother; often more than mine; and he
will always grow older, riper, and more dangerous. His spirit exceeds
his years; he takes a grave part in the councils of the Regency, and
always speaks against me; he often prevails. 'Twas but lately that,
against my will, he succeeded in giving the command of the Gothic
troops in Rome, in _my_ Rome, to that bilious Teja. In short, the young
King becomes highly dangerous. Until now I have not the shadow of
authority over him. He loves Camilla to his peril; through her we will
rule the unruly one."

"Never!" cried Rusticiana; "never as long as I breathe! _I_ at the
court of the tyrants! My child, Boëthius's daughter, the beloved of
Athalaric! Her father's bloody ghost would----"



"Would you avenge that ghost? Yes. Would you ruin the Goths? Yes.
Therefore you must consent to everything which will lead to this end."

"Never, by my oath!"

"Woman, do not irritate me, do not oppose me! You know me. By your
oath? Have you not sworn blind and unconditional obedience to me,
calling down curses on yourself and your children should you break that
oath? Caution is necessary when dealing with women! Obey, or tremble
for your soul!"

"Fearful man! Shall I sacrifice all my hatred to you and your
projects?"

"To me? who speaks of me? I plead _your_ cause, I complete _your_
revenge. The Goths have done nothing to _me_. _You_ disturbed me from
my books, _you_ called upon me to aid you in destroying these Amelungs;
do you repent? Very well. I will return to Horatius and the Stoics.
Farewell!"

"Remain, remain! But must Camilla be sacrificed?"

"Folly! Athalaric will be the victim. She shall not love him, she shall
only influence him--or," he added, looking sharply at her, "do you fear
for her heart?"

"May your tongue be paralysed! _My_ daughter love _him_! Rather would I
strangle her with these hands!"

But Cethegus had become thoughtful. "It is not for the girl's sake," he
thought, "that would not matter--but should she really love him?--the
Goth is handsome, intellectual, enthusiastic--Where is your daughter?"
he asked aloud.

"In the women's apartment. Even should I wish it, she will never
consent--never!"

"We will attempt it. I will go to her."

And they went into the house.

Rusticiana would have entered the room with Cethegus, but he repulsed
her.

"I must have her alone," he said, and passed through the curtain.

On seeing him, the beautiful girl rose from the cushions on which she
had been resting, lost in helpless reverie. Accustomed to find in this
wise and commanding man, her father's old friend, a constant adviser,
she greeted him trustfully, as a patient greets his physician.

"You know, Cethegus?"

"Everything!"

"And you bring me help and comfort?"

"I bring you revenge, Camilla!"

That was a new and startling idea! Hitherto to fly, to save herself
from this torturing position, had been her only thought. At the most,
an angry rejection of the royal gift. But now, revenge! Compensation
for all the pain she had suffered! Revenge upon the murderers of her
father! Her heart was deeply wounded, and in her veins boiled the hot
blood of the south. She rejoiced at the words of her tempter.

"Revenge? Who will revenge me? You?"

"You will revenge yourself; that will be sweeter."

Her eyes flashed.

"On whom?"

"On him. On his house. On all your enemies."

"How can I, a weak and timid girl?"

"Listen to me, Camilla. To you only, to the noble daughter of the noble
Boëthius, will I unfold what I would trust to no other woman on earth.
There exists a powerful league of patriots, who have sworn to extirpate
the barbarians from the face of this country. The sword of revenge
hangs trembling over the heads of the tyrants. The fatherland and the
shade of your father call upon you to cause it to fall."

"Upon me? _I_--revenge my father? Speak!" cried the maiden, her face
glowing as she stroked back the dark locks from her temples.

"There must be a sacrifice. Rome demands it."

"My blood, my life! Like Virginia will I die!"

"No; you shall live to triumph in your revenge. The King loves you. You
must go to Ravenna, to court. You shall destroy him by means of his
love. We have no power over him, but you will gain the mastery over his
soul."

"Destroy him!"

She seemed strangely moved as she spoke thus in a low voice. Her bosom
heaved; her voice trembled with the force of her opposing feelings.
Tears burst from her eyes, she buried her face in her hands.

Cethegus rose from his seat.

"Pardon me," he said, "I will go. I knew not--that you _loved_ the
King."

A scream of anger, like that of physical pain, escaped the maiden's
lips; she sprang up and grasped his arm.

"Man! who said so? I hate him! Hate him more than I ever knew I could
hate!"

"Then prove it, for I do not believe it."

"I will prove it!" she cried; "he shall die!"

She threw back her head; her eyes sparkled fiercely; her dark tresses
fell over her shoulders.

"She loves him," thought Cethegus; "but it matters not, for she does
not know it. She is only conscious of hating him. All is well."

"He shall not live," repeated Camilla. "You shall see," she added with
a wild laugh--"you shall see how I love him! What must I do?"

"Obey me in everything."

"And what do you promise in return? What shall he suffer?"

"Unrequited love."

"Yes, yes, that he shall!"

"His kingdom and his race shall be ruined," continued Cethegus.

"And he will know that it is through _me_!"

"I will take care that he shall know that. When shall we start for
Ravenna?"

"To-morrow! No; to-day, this instant." She stopped and grasped his
hand. "Cethegus, tell me, am I beautiful?"

"Yes, most beautiful!"

"Ah!" she cried, tossing back her flowing hair, "Athalaric shall love
me and perish! Away to Ravenna! I will and must see him!"

And she rushed out of the room.

Her whole soul was thirsting to be with the object of her love and
hate.



                             CHAPTER XIII.

That same day the inhabitants of the villa entered upon their journey
to Ravenna.

Cethegus sent a courier forward with a letter from Rusticiana to the
Queen-regent. Therein the widow of Boëthius declared, "that by the
mediation of the Prefect of Rome, she was now ready to accept the
repeated invitation to return to court. She did not accept it as an act
of pardon, but of conciliation; as a sign that the heirs of Theodoric
wished to make amends for the injustice done to the deceased."

This proud letter was written from Rusticiana's very heart, and
Cethegus knew that such a step would do no harm, and would only exclude
any suspicious construction that might be laid upon the sudden change
in her sentiments.

Half-way the travellers were met by a messenger bearing the Queen's
answer, which bade them welcome to her court.

Arrived in Ravenna, they were received by the Queen with all honours,
provided with a retinue, and led into the rooms which they had formerly
occupied. They were warmly welcomed by all the Romans at court.

But the anger of the Goths--who abhorred Symmachus and Boëthius as
ungrateful traitors--was greatly excited by this measure, which seemed
to imply an indirect condemnation of Theodoric. The last remaining
friends of that great King indignantly left the Italianised court.

Meanwhile, time, the diversions of the journey, and the arrival at
Ravenna, had softened Camilla's excitement. Her anger had the more time
to abate, as many weeks elapsed before she met Athalaric; for the young
King was dangerously ill.

It was said at court, that while on a visit to Aretium, whither he had
gone to enjoy the mountain air, the baths, and the chase, he had drank
from a rocky spring in the woods of Tifernum while heated with hunting,
and had thereby brought on a violent attack of his former malady. The
fact was, that his followers had found him lying senseless by the side
of the spring where he had met Camilla.

The effect of this story upon Camilla was strange. To the hate she bore
to Athalaric was now added a slight feeling of compassion, and even a
sort of self-reproach. But on the other side, she thanked Heaven that,
by this illness, the meeting was postponed, which, now that she was in
Ravenna, she feared no less than she had longed for it while far away
in Tifernum.

And as she wandered in the wide-spread grounds of the magnificent
palace-gardens, she was repeatedly reminded of the anxious care with
which Corbulo's little estate had been fashioned after this model.

Days and weeks passed. Nothing was heard of the patient except that he
was convalescent, but forbidden to leave his rooms. The physicians and
courtiers who surrounded him often expressed to Camilla their
admiration of his patience and strength of mind while suffering the
most acute pains, his gratitude for the slightest service, and the
noble mildness of his disposition.

But when she caught herself listening with pleasure to these words of
praise, she frowned angrily, and the thought arose within her: "And he
did not oppose the murder of my father!"

One hot July night, after long and restless wakefulness, Camilla
towards daybreak had sunk into an uneasy slumber.

Anxious dreams disturbed her.

It seemed to her as if the ceiling of the room, with all its
bas-reliefs, were sinking down upon her. Directly over her head was a
beautiful young Hypnos, the gentle God of Sleep, modelled by the hand
of a Greek.

She dreamed that the drowsy god assumed the earnest, sorrowful features
of his pale brother Thanatos.

Softly and slowly the God of Death bent his countenance above her. He
approached nearer and nearer. His features became more and more
distinct. She already felt his breath upon her forehead. His beautiful
lips almost touched her mouth. Then she recognised with affright the
pale features--the dark eyes. It was Athalaric! With a scream she
started up.

The silver lamp had long since burnt out. The room was dim.

A red light gleamed faintly through the window of spar-gypsum. She rose
and opened it. The cocks were crowing, the first rays of the sun gently
stole over the sea, of which, beyond the garden, she had a full view.
She could no longer bear to remain in the close chamber.

She threw a mantle over her shoulders and hurried softly out of the
still silent palace, down the marble steps, and into the garden; across
which the fresh morning wind from the neighbouring sea blew towards
her.

She hastened towards the sun and the sea, for, to the east, the high
walls of the palace gardens rose directly out of the blue waves of the
Adriatic.

A gilded lattice-gate, and, beyond it, ten broad steps of white
Hymettus marble, led to the little garden-harbour, in which rocked the
light-oared gondolas with their lateen sails of purple linen-cloth,
fastened with silver chains to the ornamental rams'-heads fixed right
and left upon the marble quay.

At the side of the lattice-gate towards the garden, the grounds ended
in a spacious rotunda, which was surrounded with broad and shady pines.
The ground was laid out with carefully-tended grassplots, intersected
by neat paths, and diversified by gay beds of sweet-scented flowers. A
spring, ornamentally enclosed, ran down the declivity into the sea. In
the centre of this place was a small and antique Temple of Venus,
overtopped by a single palm-tree, while burning-red saxifrage grew
in the now empty niches of its outer walls. At the right of its
long-closed door stood a bronze statue of Æneas. The Julius Cæsar to
the left had fallen centuries ago. Theodoric had placed upon its
pedestal a bronze statue of Amala, the mythic forefather of his house.

Between these statues, from the steps of the little fane, was a
splendid view through the lattice-gate over the sea, with its woody
lagoon-islands, and a group of jagged rocks, called "the Needles of the
Amphitrites."

This had been a favourite resort of Camilla's childhood. And it was
hither that she now bent her steps, lightly brushing the plentiful dew
from the high grass as, with slightly-lifted garments, she hastened
along the narrow pathway. She wished to behold the sun rise glowing
from the sea.

She advanced from behind the temple, passed to the estrade on the left,
and had just set her foot upon the first step which led from the front
of the temple to the lattice-gate, when she caught sight of a white
figure reclining on the second step, with the head leaning against the
balustrade and the face turned towards the sea.

She recognised the black and silky hair; it was the young King.

The meeting was so unexpected that there was no possibility of avoiding
it. As if rooted to the ground, she stood still upon the first step.

Athalaric sprang up and quickly turned. His pallid face was illumined
by a vivid flush. But he was the first to recover himself, and said:

"Forgive, Camilla. I could not expect you to come here at this hour. I
will go; and leave you alone with the rising sun."

And he flung his white mantle over his shoulder.

"Remain, King of the Goths. I have no right to scare you away--and no
intention," she added.

Athalaric came a step nearer.

"I thank you. And I beg one favour," he added, smiling. "Do not betray
me to my physicians nor to my mother. All day long they shut me up so
carefully, that I am obliged to escape before sunrise. For the fresh
air, the sea-breeze, does me good; I feel that it cools me. You will
not betray me?"

He spoke so quietly. He looked so unembarrassed. This freedom from
embarrassment confused Camilla. She would have felt more courageous if
he had been more moved. She observed his coolness with pain, but not
because she really cared for the Prefect's plans. So, in answer, she
only shook her head in silence, and cast down her eyes.

At that moment the rays of the sun reached the spot on which the pair
were standing.

The old temple and the bronze of the statues shone in the rosy light;
and from the east a broad path of trembling gold was laid upon the
smooth flood.

"See, how beautiful!" cried Athalaric, carried away by his admiration.
"Look at that bridge of light and glory!"

She joined in his admiration, and looked out over the sea.

"Do you remember, Camilla," he continued slowly, as if lost in
recollection, and not looking at her, "do you remember how we played
here when we were children? How we dreamed? We said that the golden
path painted on the waters by the sun, led to the Islands of the
Blessed."

"To the Islands of the Blessed!" repeated Camilla. In secret she was
wondering at the delicacy and ease with which, avoiding every allusion
to their last meeting, he conversed with her in a manner, which
completely disarmed her.

"And look, how the statues glitter, that wonderful pair, Æneas
and--Amala! Listen, Camilla, I have something to beg pardon for."

Her heart beat rapidly. He was going to speak of the rebuilding of the
Villa and the fountain. The blood rose to her cheeks. She remained
silent in painful expectation.

But the youth continued quietly:

"You know how often--you the Roman, and I the Goth--vied with each
other here in praises of the glory and fame and manners of our people.
Then you stood under the statue of Æneas, and told me of Brutus and
Camillus, of Marcellus and the Scipios. And I, leaning against the
shield of my ancestor Amala, praised Ermanaric and Alaric and
Theodoric. But you spoke more eloquently than I. And often, when the
glory of your heroes threatened to outshine mine, I laughed at your
dead greatness, and cried, 'The living present and the glowing future
belong to my people!'"

"Well, and now?"

"I speak so no more. You have won, Camilla!"

But even while he spoke thus, he looked prouder than ever.

And this expression of superiority revolted the Roman girl. Besides
that, she was irritated by the unapproachable coolness with which the
King, upon whose passion for her such plans were being founded, stood
before her. She did not understand this tranquillity. She had hated him
because he had dared to show her his love, and now her hate revived
because he was able to conceal it. With the intention to hurt his
feelings she slowly said:

"So you acknowledge, King of the Goths, that your barbarians are
inferior to the civilised nations?"

"Yes, Camilla," he answered quietly; "but only in one thing: in good
luck. In the favours of Fate as well as of Nature. Look at that group
of fishermen, who are hanging up their nets on the olive-trees upon the
strand. How beautiful are their forms! In motion and repose, in spite
of their rags, they are complete statues! Look at that girl with the
amphora on her head. And there, at that old woman, who, leaning her
head on her arm, lies upon the sand and gazes out dreamily over the
sea. Each beggar amongst them looks like a dethroned king. How
beautiful they are! At one with themselves and happy! The glory of
uninterrupted happiness lies upon them, as it does upon children, or
upon noble animals! This is wanting to us barbarians!"

"Is that alone wanting to you?"

"No, Fate is not gracious to us--my poor, glorious people! We have been
carried away into a strange world, in which we do not flourish. We
resemble the flower of the high Alps, the Edelweiss, which has been
carried by the stormy wind to the hot sands of the low-levels. We
cannot take root here. We fade and die." And overcome with noble
sadness, he turned away and looked over the blue waves.

But Camilla was not in the humour to reflect upon these prophetic words
spoken by a king of his people.

"Why did you overstep the mountains which God set as an eternal
boundary between your people and ours?" she asked. "Say, why?"

"Do you know," answered Athalaric, without looking at her, almost as if
thinking aloud, "do you know why the dark moth flies to the bright
flame? Again and again! Warned by no pain, until it is devoured by the
beautiful but dangerous element? From what motive? From a sweet
madness! And it is just such a sweet madness that has enticed my
fellow-Goths away from the fir and the oak to the laurel and the olive.
They will burn their wings, the foolish heroes, and will not cease to
do so. Who can blame them for it? Look around you! How deeply blue the
sky! How deeply blue the sea! And in it are reflected the summits of
the pines and the white glitter of the marble temples! And away in the
distance arise blue mountains; and out in the waters swim green
islands, where the vine clings to the elm. And, above all, the soft,
warm and caressing air that illumines the whole with a magic light.
What wonders of form and colour does the eye drink, and what sweetness
do the delighted senses breathe! This is the magic charm which will for
ever entice and undo us!"

The deep emotion of the young King did not fail to make an impression
upon Camilla. The tragic force of his words affected her; but she
_would_ not be moved. She defended herself against the increasing
softness of her feelings. She said coldly:

"A whole nation enchanted by this magic, in spite of reason and
judgment?" and she looked at him incredulously.

But she was startled; for like lightning flashed the eyes of the youth,
and his long-withheld passion broke out suddenly without restraint.

"Yes, I tell thee, maiden! a whole people can nourish a foolish
passion, a sweet destructive madness, a deadly longing, as well as--as
well as a single man! Yes, Camilla, there is a power in the heart,
which, stronger than reason and will, forcibly draws us with open eyes
to destruction. But thou knowest it not, and mayst thou never
experience it. Never! Farewell!"

He quickly turned away and entered a bowery walk of climbing vines to
the right of the temple, which immediately hid him from Camilla, as
well as from the windows of the palace. The girl remained standing in
deep reflection. His last words echoed strangely in her ears. For a
long time she looked out dreamily over the open sea, and at last
returned to the palace, filled with strangely conflicting feelings, and
in an altered mood.



                              CHAPTER XIV.

On the same day Cethegus paid a visit to the two ladies. He had
come over from Rome on important business, and had just left the
privy-council which had been held in the invalid King's room. His
energetic features were full of repressed anger.

"To work, Camilla!" he cried. "You are too long about it. This
impertinent boy becomes more and more unmanageable. He defies me and
Cassiodorus, and even his mother. He is intimate with dangerous people.
With old Hildebrand and Witichis and their friends. He sends and
receives letters behind our backs. He has managed that the Queen may
never hold a council of the regency except in his presence. And in the
council he crosses all our plans. This must cease. In one way or
another."

"I have no more hope of influencing the King," said Camilla gravely.

"Why? Have you already seen him?"

The girl reflected. She had promised Athalaric not to allow his
disobedience to come to the ears of his physicians; and besides, it
went against her feelings to desecrate and betray their meeting. So she
avoided the question and said:

"If the King refuses to obey his mother, the Queen-regent, he is not
likely to suffer himself to be controlled by a young girl."

"What sweet simplicity!" laughed Cethegus. And he dropped the
conversation as long as the girl remained in the room. But afterwards,
in private, he forced from Rusticiana a promise to manage matters so
that her daughter in future might frequently see and speak to the King.
It was possible to do this, for Athalaric's health rapidly improved. He
became daily more manly and more decided. It seemed as if his
opposition to Cethegus strengthened him both bodily and mentally.

In a very short time he again spent many hours of the day in the
extensive pleasure-grounds. It was here that his mother and the family
of Boëthius frequently met him in the evening.

And while Rusticiana appeared to receive the gracious courtesies of the
Queen with answering friendship, listening attentively to her
confidential remarks, in order afterwards to report them, word for
word, to the Prefect, the two young people walked before them through
the shady paths of the garden. Often this select company entered one of
the light gondolas in the little harbour, and Athalaric rowed them
himself over the blue sea to one of the small wooded isles which lay
not far away. On the return home, the purple sails were spread, and the
fresh breeze, which always arose at sunset, carried them gently and
idly back. Camilla and the King, accompanied by Daphnidion, frequently
enjoyed this trip over the waves alone.

Amalaswintha naturally saw the danger of increasing by such freedom the
inclination of her son for Camilla, which had not escaped her notice;
but, above all other considerations, she was thankful for the
favourable influence which this companionship evidently exercised upon
her son. In Camilla's presence he was quieter and more cheerful; and at
the same time more gentle in his manner to herself, which had often
been abrupt and violent. He also controlled his feelings with a mastery
which was doubly surprising in such an irritable invalid. And, lastly,
the Queen-regent, supposing that his inclination should indeed ripen to
earnest love, would not be averse to an alliance which promised
completely to win the Roman aristocracy, and erase all memory of a
cruel deed.

In Camilla a wonderful change was going forward. Day by day, as she
more and more clearly saw the noble tenderness, the gifted soul, and
the deep and poetical feelings of the young King develop, she felt her
hate melt away. With difficulty she recalled to her memory the fate of
her father, as an antidote to this sweet poison; she learnt better to
distinguish justly which of the Goths and Amelungs had contributed to
that fate, and, with growing certainty, she felt that it was unjust to
hate Athalaric for a misfortune which he had merely not opposed, and
indeed would hardly have been able to prevent. She would have liked,
long ago, to speak to him openly, but she mistrusted her own weakness;
she shunned it as a sin against father, fatherland, and her own
freedom; she trembled as she felt how indispensable this noble youth
had become to her, how much she thirsted to hear his melodious voice,
and look into his dark and thoughtful eyes. She feared this sinful
love--which she could now scarcely conceal from herself--and she would
not part with the only weapon that remained to her: the reproach of his
passive acquiescence in her father's death.

So she fluctuated from feeling to feeling; all the more hesitatingly,
the more mysterious Athalaric's strange reserve became. After all that
had happened, she could not doubt that he loved her; and yet--

Not a syllable, not a look betrayed this love. The exclamation with
which he had left her at the Temple of Venus was the most important,
the only important speech that had escaped him. She could not suspect
what the youth had suffered before his love had become not
extinguished, but self-denying. And still less in what new feeling he
had found manly strength enough for such renunciation.

Her mother, who watched Athalaric with all the keenness of hate, and,
in doing so, forgot to observe her own child, appeared even more
astonished at his coldness.

"But patience," she said to Cethegus, with whom she often consulted
behind Camilla's back. "Patience! soon, in three days' time, you will
see him alter."

"It is high time," answered Cethegus. "But upon what grounds do you
build?"

"Upon a means which has never yet failed me."

"You will not, surely, mix a love-philtre for him?" asked the Prefect,
smiling.

"Certainly I shall. I have done so already."

He looked at her mockingly.

"And are you, then, so superstitious, you, the widow of the great
philosopher, Boëthius? Upon my word, in love affairs all women are mad
alike!"

"It is neither madness nor superstition," replied Rusticiana quietly.
"Our family has possessed this secret charm for more than a hundred
years. An Egyptian woman once gave it to one of my female ancestors on
the Nile, and it has always proved its power. No woman of my family has
ever loved without requital."

"That required no magic," observed the Prefect. "You are a handsome
race."

"Spare your sarcasm. The love-philtre is unfailing, and if it has not
yet taken effect----"

"So you have really---- What imprudence! How could you, unobserved----"

"Every evening, when he returns from a walk or a row with us, Athalaric
takes a cup of spiced Falernian. The physicians ordered it. There are
some drops of Arabian balsam in it. The cup always stands ready upon
the marble table in front of the temple. Three times I have succeeded
in pouring in my potion."

"Well," observed Cethegus, "until now it has done no particular good."

"That is only owing to my impatience. The herbs must be gathered during
the new moon. I knew it well enough; but, hurried by your insistence, I
tried it during the full moon, and, you see, it was not effectual."

Cethegus shrugged his shoulders.

"But yesterday," she went on, "it was new moon. I was not idle with my
golden scissors, and when he drinks now----"

"A second Locusta! Well, _my_ comfort is Camilla's beautiful eyes! Does
she know of your arts?"

"Not a word to her! She would never suffer it. Silence! She comes!"

The girl entered in great excitement; her oval cheeks were red; a plait
of her hair had got loose, and floated over her lovely neck.

"Tell me," she cried, "you who are wise and experienced, tell me what
to think! I come from the boat. Oh, he has never loved me, the haughty
man! He pities, he is sorry for me! No, that is not the right word. I
cannot explain it." And bursting into tears, she hid her face upon her
mother's neck.

"What has happened, Camilla?" asked Cethegus.

"Very often before," she began, with a heavy sigh, "an expression played
about his mouth, and filled his eyes, as if _he_ had been deeply
offended by _me_, as if _he_ had to forgive, as if _he_ had made a
great sacrifice for me----"

"Raw boys always imagine it to be a sacrifice, when they are in love."

At this Camilla's eyes flashed; she tossed her head, and turned quickly
upon Cethegus.

"Athalaric is no boy, and no one shall laugh at him!"

Cethegus was silent, and quietly dropped his eyelids; but Rusticiana
asked in surprise:

"Do you hate the King no more?"

"To the death! He shall be undone, but not mocked!"

"What has happened?" repeated Cethegus.

"To-day I again noticed that puzzling, proud, and cold expression upon
his face more distinctly than ever. A little incident occurred which
caused the King to speak more plainly. An insect--a beetle--had fallen
into the water. The King stooped and took it out, but the little
creature turned against the beneficent hand, and bit the fingers that
held it. 'The ungrateful thing!' I exclaimed. 'Oh,' said Athalaric,
with a bitter smile, 'we wound most those to whom we are most
indebted!' and he glanced at me with a sad and proud expression. But,
as if he had said too much, he briefly bid me farewell, and went
away; but I----" and her bosom heaved, her finely-cut lips were
compressed--"I can bear it no longer! The haughty one! He _shall_ love
me--or die!"

"That shall he," said Cethegus inaudibly; "one or the other."



                              CHAPTER XV.

A few days later the court was surprised by a new step towards
independence on the part of the young King. He himself summoned a
council, a prerogative which, until now, had only been assumed by
Amalaswintha.

The Queen-regent was not a little astonished when a messenger from her
son bade her repair to his apartments, where the King had already
assembled several of the highest officials of the realm, both Goths and
Romans. Amongst these last were Cassiodorus and Cethegus.

At first the latter had intended to absent himself, in order not by his
presence to acknowledge the right which the youth had assumed; he
suspected nothing good. But just for this reason he altered his mind.

"I must not turn my back upon danger, I must face it," he said as he
prepared for the distasteful assembly.

He found all those who had been invited already collected in the King's
chamber. The Queen alone was still absent. When she at last entered,
Athalaric, who wore a long and wide purple robe, with the crown of
Theodoric shining upon his brow, and his sword at his side, rose from
his throne (behind which was a niche covered by a curtain), advanced to
the Queen and led her to a second and higher throne, which, however,
was placed on the left. So soon as she was seated he began:

"My royal mother, brave Goths, noble Romans! We have assembled you here
to make known to you our will. Dangers threatened this kingdom which
only we, its King, could avert."

Such a speech had never yet been heard from his lips. All were silent
and confounded; Cethegus from prudence; he waited for the proper
moment. At last Cassiodorus began:

"Your wise mother and your faithful servant Cassiodorus----"

"My faithful servant Cassiodorus will be silent until his lord and King
asks his advice. We are discontented, highly discontented, with that
which the advisers of our mother have, until now, done and left undone.
It is high time that we ourselves should look to the right. Until now
we were too young and too ailing. We feel so no more. We announce to
you that we accordingly annul the regency, and take the reins of
government into our own hands."

He ceased. Every one remained silent. None wished, like Cassiodorus, to
speak and be rebuked.

At length Amalaswintha, who was quite stunned by the sudden energy
displayed by her son, again found her tongue:

"My son, the age of minority is, according to the laws of the
Emperor----"

"The Romans, mother, may abide by the Emperor's laws. We are Goths and
live under Gothic law. German youths are of age when the assembled army
has declared them capable of bearing arms. We have therefore determined
to invite all the generals, counts, and freemen of our realm, as many
as will obey our call, from all the provinces of the kingdom, to a
review of the army at Ravenna. They will arrive at the next solstitial
feast."

All were mute with surprise.

"That will be in fourteen days," said Cassiodorus at last. "Will it be
possible to issue summonses in so short a time?"

"They are issued. Hildebrand, my old master-at-arms, and Earl Witichis
have thought of everything."

"Who has signed the summonses!" asked Amalaswintha, taking courage.

"I alone, dear mother. It was necessary to show those invited that I
was old enough to act alone."

"And without my knowledge!" cried the Queen-regent.

"It was done without your knowledge, because otherwise it must have
been done against your will."

He ceased. All the Romans were confounded by the suddenly developed
energy of the young King. Only Cethegus was at once resolved to prevent
the review at any price. He saw the foundations of all his plans
tottering. Gladly would he have come to the help of the regency, which
was thus sinking before his very eyes, with all the weight of his
oratory; he would have long since gladly crushed the bold efforts of
the youth with his calm superiority, but a strange circumstance held
his thoughts and tongue enchained as if in magic bonds.

He fancied he heard a noise behind the curtain, and fixed a keen look
upon it. He soon remarked beneath it, for the fringes did not quite
reach the ground, the feet of a man. But only as far up as the ankles.

Upon these ankles, however, were steel greaves of peculiar
construction. He knew these greaves; he knew that they belonged to a
full suit of armour of the same make; he knew also, by an instinctive
connection of ideas, that the wearer of this armour was hateful and
dangerous to him. But still it was impossible for him to say who this
enemy was. If he could only have seen the greaves as far up as the
knee!

His eyes wandered again and again to the same spot. Against his will
his mind was occupied in guessing. And this circumstance kept his
attention fixed, at a moment when everything was at stake. He was angry
with himself, but he could not tear his thoughts and looks away from
the niche.

Meanwhile the King continued without contradiction: "Further, we have
recalled the noble Dukes Thulun, Ibba and Pitza, who have left our
court in ill-will, from Gaul and Spain. We find that too many Romans
and too few Goths surround us. These three brave warriors, together
with Earl Witichis, will examine the defences of our kingdom, the
fortresses and ships, and will discover and remedy all deficiencies. We
expect them to arrive shortly."

"They must at once leave the place again," said Cethegus to himself;
but his thoughts repeated, "not without reason is that man concealed
behind the curtain."

"Further," resumed Athalaric, "we have ordered Mataswintha, our
beautiful sister, to return to court. She was banished to Tarento
because she refused to become the wife of an aged Roman. She shall
return, the loveliest flower of our realm and an ornament to our
court."

"Impossible!" cried Amalaswintha; "you attack the rights, not only of
the Queen, but of the mother."

"I am the head of the family as soon as I am of age."

"My son, you know how feeble you were only a few weeks ago. Do you
really believe that the Gothic warriors will declare you capable of
bearing arms?"

The King became as scarlet as his royal purple, partly from shame,
partly from anger. Before he could find an answer, a rough voice at his
side exclaimed:

"Be not troubled about that, your Majesty! I have been his master,"
continued the speaker, turning to the assembly: "I tell you that he can
measure his strength against any foe; and whom old Hildebrand declares
capable of bearing arms is considered so by all the Goths."

Loud applause from all the Goths present confirmed this assertion.
Again Cethegus would have put in his word, but a movement behind the
curtain drew his attention away. "It is one of my greatest enemies, but
who?" he thought.

"There is yet an important matter to make known to you," again began
the King with a hasty glance at the niche, which did not escape
Cethegus.

"Perhaps an accusation against me," thought the latter; "they want to
take me by surprise? They shall not succeed!"

But it surprised him, after all, when the King suddenly called in a
loud voice:

"Prefect of Rome! Cethegus Cæsarius!"

Cethegus started; but, quickly recovering himself, bent his head and
answered: "My Lord and King!"

"Have you nothing to announce from Rome? What is the feeling of the
Quirites? What do people think of the Goths?"

"They are honoured as the people of Theodoric."

"Are they feared?"

"There is no cause to fear them."

"Are they loved?"

Gladly would the Prefect have replied, "There is no cause to love
them;" but the King himself continued:

"So there is no trace of discontent? No cause for uneasiness? Nothing
particular in preparation?"

"I have nothing to communicate."

"Then you are badly informed, Prefect of Rome, or badly disposed! What?
must I--who have scarcely risen from my sick-bed here at Ravenna--tell
you what happens in Rome under your very eyes? The workmen on your
bulwarks sing satirical songs against the Goths, against the Queen,
against me. Your legions use threatening words while practising the use
of their arms. Most probably there exists already a widespread
conspiracy, with senators and priests at its head. They assemble by
night in secret places. An accomplice of Boëthius, a banished man,
Albinus, has been seen in Rome, and do you know where? In the garden of
your house."

All eyes--either in astonishment, rage, or fear--were fixed upon
Cethegus. Amalaswintha trembled for the object of her trust. But he was
now quite himself again. Quiet, cool, and silent, he looked full at the
King.

"Justify yourself!" exclaimed the King.

"Justify myself? Against a shadow, a report? Against an accusation
without accusers? Never!"

"We shall know how to force you."

The Prefect's thin lips curled with contempt.

"I may be murdered upon mere suspicion, without doubt--we Italians have
experienced such a thing--but not condemned. There can be no
justification opposed to force."

"Justice shall be done, doubt it not. We charge all Romans present with
the examination, and leave the sentence to the Roman Senate. Choose a
defender."

"I defend myself," said Cethegus coolly. "What is the accusation? Who
is my accuser? Where is he?"

"Here!" cried the King, and threw back the curtain.

A Gothic warrior, in a full suit of black armour, stepped forth. We
already know him. It was Teja.

The Prefect turned away his eyes in deadly hatred.

Teja spoke.

"I, Teja, son of Tagila, accuse thee, Cethegus Cæsarius, of treason
against the Goths. I accuse thee of having hidden the banished traitor,
Albinus, in thy house in Rome. Death is the penalty. And, besides this,
thou art plotting to subject this country to the Emperor of Byzantium."

"That least of all," said Cethegus coolly, "Prove your accusation."

"I saw Albinus, with my own eyes, entering thy garden fourteen days
ago," continued Teja, turning to the assembly. "He came from the Via
Sacra, enveloped in a mantle, a wide-brimmed hat upon his head. I had
seen him on two former occasions; this time I recognised him. As I went
towards him, he disappeared through a door, which closed behind him."

"Since when does my colleague, the brave Commandant of Rome, play the
nightly spy?"

"Since he had a Cethegus at his side," retorted Teja. "But as the
fugitive escaped, this roll fell from his mantle. It contains the names
of distinguished Romans, and opposite to each name notices in an
unknown cipher. Here is the roll."

He gave it to the King, who read:

"The names are Silverius, Cethegus, Licinius, Scævola, Calpurnius,
Pomponius. Canst thou swear, Teja, that the disguised man was Albinus?"

"I will swear it."

"Prefect of Rome, Earl Teja is a free, unblemished, honourable man. Can
you deny it?"

"I deny it. He is not unblemished. His parents lived in an illegal,
incestuous marriage; they were sister's children. The Church has cursed
their connection and its fruit. He is a bastard, and can not bear
witness against a noble Roman of senatorial rank."

A murmur of anger burst from all the Goths present. Teja's pale face
became still paler. He grasped his sword.

"Then I will defend my word with my sword," he said, in a voice stifled
by rage. "I challenge thee to mortal combat! God shall judge between
us!"

"I am a Roman, and do not act according to your barbaric customs. But
even if I were a Goth, I would refuse to fight a bastard!"

"Patience," said Teja, and quietly returned his sword to its sheath.
"Patience, my sword; thy day will come!"

The Romans in the room breathed again.

The King resumed:

"However that may be, the accusation is sufficiently well founded to
justify the arrest of the said Roman. You, Cassiodorus, will decipher
the secret writing. You, Earl Witichis, will hasten to Rome and make
sure of the five suspected men; search their houses, and that of the
Prefect. Hildebrand, arrest the accused, and take his sword."

"Hold!" said Cethegus. "I will guarantee not to leave Ravenna until
this question be settled, with the forfeiture of all my property. I
demand an examination upon a free footing; such is the right of a
senator."

"Trouble not thyself about that, my son," cried old Hildebrand to the
King. "Let me arrest him!"

"Let him alone," answered the King. "He shall have strict justice.
Leave him. The accusation has taken him by surprise. He shall have time
to prepare his defence. To-morrow at this hour we will meet here again.
I dissolve the assembly."

He made a sign with his sceptre. Amalaswintha hurried away in the
greatest excitement.

The Goths surrounded Teja, greatly pleased; but the Romans passed
quickly by Cethegus, avoiding any speech with him.

Cassiodorus alone stepped firmly up to him, laid his hand upon his
shoulder, looking searchingly into his eyes, and then asked:

"Cethegus, can I help you?"

"No; I will help myself," answered Cethegus, shaking him off, and went
out alone with a proud step.



                              CHAPTER XVI.

The heavy blow which the young King had so unexpectedly aimed at the
whole system of the Regency soon filled the palace and the city with
astonishment, fright, or joy. Cassiodorus took the first decided news
to the family of Boëthius, at the same time sending Rusticiana to
comfort the agitated Queen.

Overwhelmed with questions, he circumstantially related the whole
proceeding; and disturbed and indignant though he was, his admiration
of the decision and courage of the young King shone unmistakably
through his unfriendly report.

Camilla listened with eagerness to every word; pride in the
beloved--love's happiest feeling--filled her whole soul.

"There is no doubt," concluded Cassiodorus, sighing, "that Athalaric is
our most decided adversary. He sticks to the Gothic party--to
Hildebrand and his friends. He will undo the Prefect. Who would have
believed it? I cannot help remembering, Rusticiana, how differently he
conducted himself with regard to the process against your husband."

Camilla listened attentively.

"At that time we were convinced that he would be the most ardent
friend, the most zealous advocate of the Romans."

"I know nothing of it," said Rusticiana.

"It was hushed up. The sentence of death had been pronounced upon
Boëthius and his sons. In vain had we all, Amalaswintha foremost,
appealed to the clemency of the King: his ire was unappeasable. As I
again and again besieged him with petitions, he started up in anger and
swore by his crown, that he who again dared to petition for the
traitors, should repent it in the deepest dungeon of the palace. At
that we were all dumb, except one. Athalaric, the boy, would not be
repulsed; he wept and prayed, and clung to his grandfather's knees."

Camilla trembled and held her breath.

"And he did not desist," Cassiodorus went on, "until Theodoric, starting
up in a rage, pushed him violently away, and delivered him to the
guards. The King kept his oath. Athalaric was led into the castle
dungeon, and Boëthius was at once executed."

Camilla tottered, felt herself sinking, and caught at a slender pillar
near which she was standing.

"But Athalaric had not spoken and suffered in vain," continued
Cassiodorus. "The next evening, while at table, the King sorely missed
his darling. He remembered with what noble courage the youth had begged
for his friend's life, when all men were dumb with fear. At last he
rose from his repast, at which he had sat reflecting for some time, and
descended in person to the prison, opened the doors, embraced his
grandson, and granted his petition to spare the lives of your sons,
Rusticiana."

"Away! away to him!" exclaimed Camilla, and hurried, unnoticed, out of
the hall.

"At that time," concluded Cassiodorus, "Romans and their friends
believed that in the young King they had found their best support; and
now--my unfortunate mistress, unhappy mother!" and with this lament
upon his lips, he departed.

Rusticiana sat for some time as if stunned. She saw the foundations,
upon which she had built her plans of revenge, totter; she sank into a
moody reverie.

Longer and longer stretched the shadows of the towers across the court
of the palace, into which she was gazing. All at once she was roused by
the firm footsteps of a man; Cethegus stood before her. His countenance
was cold and dark, but icily calm.

"Cethegus!" cried the distressed woman, hurrying towards him; and would
have taken his hand, but his coldness repulsed her.

"All is lost!" she sighed, stopping short.

"Nothing is lost. Calmness is all that is wanting--and promptness," he
added, looking round the room.

When he saw that he was alone with her, he put his hand into the folds
of his toga.

"Your love-philtre has done no good, Rusticiana. Here is another; more
potent. Take it," and he thrust into her hand a small phial made of
dark-coloured lava-stone.

She looked into his face with anxious suspicion.

"Do you all at once believe in magic and charms? Who has mixed it?"

"I," he answered, "and _my_ potions work."

"You!" a cold shudder ran through her frame.

"Ask no questions, do not delay," he commanded. "It must be done this
day! Do you hear? This very day!"

But Rusticiana still hesitated, and looked doubtfully at the bottle in
her hand.

Then Cethegus went close to her and lightly touched her shoulder.

"You hesitate?" he said slowly. "Do you know what is at stake? Not only
our whole plan! No, blind mother. Still more. Camilla _loves_, loves
the King; with all the power of her young soul. Shall the daughter of
Boëthius become the paramour of the tyrant?"

With a loud cry Rusticiana started back. That which, during the last
few days, had crossed her mind with a terrible suspicion, now became a
certainty; she cast one glance at the man who had spoken the cruel
word, and hurried away, angrily grasping the phial.

Cethegus looked quietly after her.

"Now, young Prince, we shall see! You were quick, I am quicker. It is
strange," he added, "I have long thought that I was incapable of such
violent emotion. Life has again a charm. I can again strive, hope, and
fear. Even hate. Yes, I hate this boy, who dares to meddle in
my affairs with his childish hand. He would defy me--hinder my
progress--he boldly crosses my path--he! Well, let him bear the
consequences!" And he slowly left the chamber, and turned towards the
audience-room of the Queen, where he intentionally showed himself to
the assembled crowd, and, by his calmness, gave some degree of
confidence to the troubled hearts of the Roman courtiers.

At sunset he went with Cassiodorus and a few other Romans--consulting
about his defence for the next day--into the gardens, where he looked
about in vain for Camilla.

She, as soon as she had heard the end of Cassiodorus' report, had
hurried to the court of the palace, where she hoped to find the King at
the exercise of arms with the other young Goths. She only wished to see
him, not yet to speak to him and beg pardon at his feet for the great
wrong she had done him.

She had abhorred him, repulsed him, hated him as spotted with the blood
of her father--him, who had suffered for her father's sake, who had
saved her brothers' lives!

But she did not find the King in the court. The important events of the
day kept him confined to his study. His comrades also did not fence
to-day. Standing in thick groups, they loudly praised the courage of
their young King. Camilla heard this praise with delight. Blushing with
pride, she wandered in happy dreams about the garden, seeking the
traces of her lover in all her favourite haunts.

Yes, she loved him! Joyfully and proudly she confessed it to herself;
he had a thousand times deserved it. What matter that he was a Goth, a
barbarian! He was a noble, generous youth, the King of her soul!

She repeatedly told the slave who accompanied her to keep at a
distance, so that she might not hear how she again and again murmured
the beloved name.

At last she arrived at the Temple of Venus, and sank into sweet dreams
of the future, which lay indistinct, but golden-hued, before her. She
first of all resolved to declare to her mother and the Prefect that
they must no more reckon upon her assistance in any plot against the
King. Then she would ask pardon for her fault with moving words, and
then--then?

She did not know what would happen then; but she blushed in the midst
of her sweet reverie.

Red and perfumed almond-blossoms fell from the bending trees; in the
thick oleander near her sang a nightingale; the clear stream glided
purling past her to the blue sea, and the waves of this sea rolled
softly to her feet, as if doing homage to her love.



                             CHAPTER XVII.

The sound of approaching footsteps upon the sandy path startled her
from her reverie. The step was so rapid and firm, that she did not
expect Athalaric. But he it was, changed in appearance and carriage;
more manly, stronger, more decided.

"Welcome, welcome, Camilla!" he cried, in a loud and lively voice. "To
see you here is the best reward for this troublous day."

He had never spoken to her so before.

"My King!" she whispered, blushing. She cast a beaming look upon him
from her dark eyes, then the long and silky lashes fell.

"My King!" She had never before called him so, never given him such a
look.

"Your King!" he said, seating himself beside her. "I fear you will call
me so no longer, when you learn what has happened to-day."

"I know all."

"You know! Well then, Camilla, be just. Do not scold, I am no
tyrant----"

"The noble youth!" she thought. "He excuses himself for his most manly
act."

"Heaven knows that I do not hate the Romans. Are they not your people?
I honour them and their ancient greatness; I respect their rights; but
I must firmly protect my kingdom, Theodoric's creation, and woe to the
hand that threatens it! Perhaps," he continued, more slowly and
solemnly, "perhaps its doom is already written in the stars. 'Tis all
the same. I, its King, must with it stand or fall."

"You say truly, Athalaric, and speak like a King!"

"Thanks, Camilla; how just and good you are today! To such goodness I
may well confide what blessing, what healing has come to me. I was a
sick and erring dreamer, without support, without joy, gladly sinking
to the grave. Then there suddenly came over me a feeling of the danger
which threatened this nation, an active anxiety for the welfare of my
people, and out of this anxiety grew a warm and mighty love for my
Goths; and this ardent and watchful love has strengthened and comforted
my heart for .... a bitterly painful renunciation. What matters _my_
happiness, if only my people flourish! See, this thought has made me
whole and strong, and truly, I could now venture upon the most daring
deed!"

He sprang up and extended both his arms, exclaiming: "Oh, Camilla! this
inaction destroys me! Oh that I were mounted and meeting a full-armed
foe! Look," he added, more calmly, "the sun is setting. The mirror-like
flood invites us. Come, Camilla, come with me in the boat."

Camilla hesitated. She looked around.

"The slave?" asked Athalaric. "Ah, let her alone. There she reposes
under the palm by the spring. She sleeps. Come, come quickly, ere the
sun sets. Look at the golden ripple on the water--it beckons us!"

"To the Isles of the Blessed?" asked the lovely girl, with a shy look
and a slight blush.

"Yes, come to the Blessed Isles!" he answered, delighted, lifted her
quickly into the boat, loosed the silver chain from the ram's head upon
the quay, sprang in, took the ornamental oar, and pushed off.

Then he laid the oar into the notch at his left hand, and, standing in
the stern of the boat, steered and rowed at the same time--a graceful
and picturesque movement, and a right Germanic ferryman's custom.

Camilla sat upon a _diphros_, or Grecian folding-stool, in the bow of
the boat, and looked into Athalaric's noble face. His dark hair was
ruffled by the breeze, and it was pleasant to watch the lithe and
graceful motions of his agile form.

Both were silent. Like an arrow the light bark shot through the smooth
water. Flecked and rosy cloudlets passed slowly across the sky, the
faint breeze was laden with clouds of perfume from the blossoming
almond-trees upon the shore, and all around was peace and harmony.

At last the King broke the silence, while giving the boat a strong
impulse, so that it obediently shot forwards.

"Do you know of what I am thinking? How splendid it would be to steer a
nation--thousands of well-loved lives--securely forward through waves
and wind, to happiness and glory! But what were you thinking about,
Camilla? You looked so kind, you must have had pleasant thoughts."

She blushed and looked aside into the water.

"Oh, speak! Be frank in this happy hour."

"I was thinking," she said, her pretty head still averted, "how
delightful it must be to be steered through the heaving flood of life
by a faithful and beloved hand, to whose guidance one could implicitly
trust."

"Oh, Camilla, even a barbarian may be trusted--"

"You are no barbarian! Whoever feels so tenderly, thinks so nobly, so
generously controls himself, and rewards great ingratitude with
kindness, is no barbarian! He is as noble a man as ever Scipio was."

The King ceased to row in his delight; the boat remained motionless.

"Camilla, am I dreaming? Did _you_ say that? and to me V 9

"More still, Athalaric! I beseech you to forgive that I have repulsed
you so cruelly. Ah! it was from shame and fear."

"Camilla, pearl of my soul----"

Camilla, who had her face turned towards the shore, suddenly cried out:

"What is that? They follow us. The court! the women! my mother!"

It was so. Rusticiana, aroused by the Prefect's terrible warning, had
sought for her daughter in the garden. She could not find her. She
hurried to the Temple of Venus. In vain. Looking around, she suddenly
caught sight of the two--her child, alone with Athalaric--in the boat,
far out upon the sea.

Greatly angered, she rushed to the marble table, where the slaves
were just preparing the King's evening draught, sent them down the
steps to unloose the gondola, won in this way an unobserved moment
near the table, and directly afterwards descended the steps with
Daphnidion--whom her angry cry had awakened--to the boat.

At this moment the Prefect and his friends, whose walk had also led
them to this place, approached from a thick taxus-path. Cethegus
followed Rusticiana down the steps and gave her his hand to help her
into the gondola.

"It is done!" she whispered to him, and the boat pushed off.

It was just then that the young pair became aware of the movement upon
the beach. Camilla stood up; perhaps she suspected that the King would
turn the boat, but he cried:

"No; they shall not rob me of this hour, the happiest of my life! I
must sip still more of these sweet words. Oh, Camilla, you must tell me
more; you must tell me all! Come, we will land upon that island, they
may reach us there."

And rowing rapidly, he pressed with all his might upon the oar, so that
the boat flew forward as if winged.

"Will you not speak again?"

"Oh! my friend, my King--do not press me."

He only looked into her lovely face, into her beaming eyes; he paid no
more attention to his goal.

"Well, wait--there upon the island; there you shall----"

A renewed and passionate effort, when all at once a dull crash was
heard; the boat had struck, and drove, shaking violently, backwards.

"Oh, Heaven!" cried Camilla, springing up and looking towards the bow
of the boat. A whole volume of water came foaming towards her. "The
boat has burst! we sink!" she cried, turning pale.

"Come here to me; let me see!" cried Athalaric, starting up. "Ah! it is
the 'Needles of the Amphitrites!' We are lost!"

The "Needles of the Amphitrites"--we know that they could scarcely be
seen from the terrace of the temple--were two narrow, sharp-pointed
rocks, lying between the shore and the nearest lagoon island. They
scarcely rose above the level of the water; with the slightest wind,
the waves washed quite over them.

Athalaric knew the danger of the place, and had always easily avoided
it; but this time he had only looked into Camilla's eyes.

At one glance he saw their fearful position.

They could not be saved.

A plank in the bottom of the slightly-made boat had sprung; the water
rushed rapidly through the leak. The boat sank deeper and deeper every
moment.

He could not hope, with Camilla, to gain the nearest island or the
shore by swimming. On the narrow point of the rock scarcely the feet of
a sea-eagle could have found a moment's resting-place, and Rusticiana's
gondola had only just pushed off from the land.

All this he had seen with lightning-like rapidity, and he cast a
horrified look at Camilla.

"Beloved, thou must die!" he cried despairingly. "And through me!" He
embraced her passionately.

"Die?" she cried. "Oh no! not so young--not now! Let me live--live with
thee!" And she clung closely to his arm.

The tone, the words, cut him to the heart. He tore himself loose; he
looked about for rescue. In vain; in vain. The water rose higher and
higher; the boat sank more and more rapidly. He threw the oar away.

"It is over--all is over, beloved! Let us take leave!"

"No; we part no more! If we must die--oh! then, away with all the
restraints which bind the living!" And, glowing all over, she nestled
to his breast. "Oh! let me tell thee, let me confess to thee how much I
love thee; how long ago--since--since first I knew thee! All my hate
was only bashful love. Oh, God! I loved thee already when I thought I
ought to abhor thee! Yes, thou shalt know how I love thee!" And she
covered his eyes and mouth with hasty kisses. "Oh! now I will gladly
die. Rather die with thee than live without thee! But no"--and she
suddenly pushed him away--"thou shalt not die! Leave me here; go!
swim--you can easily reach the island alone. Try; and leave me."

"No," he cried, in an ecstasy of joy; "rather die with thee than live
without thee! After such painful doubt, at length joyous certainty!
From this hour we belong to each other for ever. Come, Camilla,
beloved, let us die together!"

A shudder of horror and delight, of love and death, shook their frames.
He drew her to him, embraced her with his left arm, and lifted her upon
the steer-board of the boat, which scarcely rose a hand's-breadth above
the water. Already he prepared for the fatal leap--when suddenly they
both uttered a joyful cry.

Round a precipitous promontory which stretched far out into the sea, at
a short distance, they saw a ship coming at full speed.

The crew had heard their cry, and, at all events, saw their danger;
perhaps had even recognised the person of the King. Forty oars, plunged
into the water at the same moment by the rowers on the double deck,
gave impetus to the course of the swift vessel, which rustled before
the wind with swelling sails.

Those who crowded the deck shouted to them to stand firm; and
presently--it was high time--the prow of the bireme lay close over the
little boat, which sank immediately after the endangered pair had been
taken on board the ship through the opening of the lower deck.

It was a small Gothic guardship. The golden rampant lion, the arms of
the Amelungs, shone upon the blue flag. Aligern, a cousin of Teja,
commanded it.

"Thanks, brave friends!" said Athalaric, as soon as he could find
words. "Thanks! you have not only saved your King, but also your
Queen!"

Much astonished, soldiers and sailors surrounded the happy man, who
held the weeping Camilla in his arms.

"Hail to our young and beautiful Queen!" cried the red-haired Aligern;
and the crew shouted enthusiastically, "Hail! hail to our Queen!"

At this moment the sailing-vessel rustled past Rusticiana's gondola.
The sound of this joyous shout aroused the unhappy woman from the
stupor of horror into which she had fallen when her two startled
oarsmen had discovered the danger of the young couple in the sinking
boat, and had at once declared that it was impossible to save them.

On hearing this, she had sunk senseless into Daphnidion's arms. Now she
came to herself, and cast a confused glance around her. She was amazed.
Was it a dream that she saw, or was it really her daughter who stood on
the deck of the Gothic ship, which proudly rustled past, lying on the
young King's breast? And did really joyous voices cry, "Hail, Camilla,
our Queen?" She stared at the passing vision, speechless and
confounded.

But the swiftly-flying ship had already passed her boat and drew near
the land. It anchored outside the shallow garden-bay; a boat was
lowered, the rescued couple, Aligern, and three sailors sprang into it,
and soon they climbed the steps of the quay, where, besides Cethegus
and his companions, a crowd of people had collected, who, from the
palace or the gardens, had with horror become aware of the danger of
the little boat, and now hurried to greet the rescued King.

Accompanied by felicitations and blessings, Athalaric mounted the
steps.

"Behold!" he said, on arriving at the temple, "behold, Goths and
Romans! behold your Queen, my bride! The God of Death has united us. Is
it not so, Camilla?"

She looked up at him, but was terribly startled. The excitement
and the sudden change from horror to joy had fearfully shaken the
scarcely-recovered King. His countenance was pale as marble; he
tottered and convulsively pressed his hand to his breast, as though
suffocating.

"For God's sake!" cried Camilla, fearing an attack of his old malady.
"The King is unwell! Quick with the wine, the medicine!"

She flew to the table, caught up the silver cup which stood ready, and
pressed it into the King's hand.

Cethegus stood close by, and followed Athalaric's every movement with
eagerness. The latter had already lifted the cup to his lips, but
suddenly removed it, and said, smiling, to Camilla:

"Thou must drink to me, as becomes a Gothic Queen at her court."

And he gave her the goblet. She took it out of his hand.

For a moment the Prefect felt as if on fire.

He was upon the point of darting forward to dash the cup from her hand.
But he controlled himself. If he did so, he was irrevocably lost. Not
only tomorrow, as guilty of high treason, but at once arrested and
accused of poisoning. And with him would be lost the future of Rome and
all his ideal world. And for whom? For a love-sick girl, who had
faithlessly revolted to his deadly enemy.

"No," he said coldly to himself, clenching his fist; "she or
Rome--therefore she!"

And he quietly looked on while the girl, sweetly blushing, sipped
somewhat of the wine, which the King then drank to the last dregs.

Athalaric shuddered as he replaced the cup upon the marble table.

"Come up to the palace," he said, shivering, and threw his mantle
across his shoulders; "I feel cold."

And he turned away. In doing so he caught sight of Cethegus, stood
still for a moment, and looked penetratingly into the Prefect's eyes.

"You here?" he said gloomily, and advanced a step towards him. All at
once he shuddered again, and, with a sudden cry, fell prone near the
spring.

"Athalaric!" cried Camilla, and threw herself upon him. The old servant
Corbulo sprang to her from the group of domestics.

"Help!" he cried; "she is dying--the King!"

"Water, quick! water!" called Cethegus, and he resolutely went to the
table, took the silver cup, stooped, rinsed it quickly but thoroughly
in the spring, and then bent over the King, who lay in Cassiodorus'
arms, while Corbulo laid Camilla's head upon his knee.

Helpless and horrified, the courtiers surrounded the two apparently
lifeless forms.

"What has happened? My child!" With this cry Rusticiana, who had just
landed, rushed to her daughter's side. "Camilla!" she screamed
desperately, "what ails you?"

"Nothing," said Cethegus quietly, examining the two bodies. "It is only
a fainting-fit. But his heart-disease has carried off the young King!
He is dead!"



                                BOOK II.
                             AMALASWINTHA.

"Amalaswintha did not despair like a woman, but vigorously defended her
royalty."--_Procopius: Wars of the Goths_, i. 2.



                               CHAPTER I.

Athalaric's sudden death fell like lightning from a clear sky upon the
Gothic party, whose hopes, just at this very time, had been raised to
such a high pitch. All the measures which the King had taken at their
suggestion were paralysed, and the national party was left without a
representative in the State; at the head of which the Queen-regent was
now placed alone.

Early in the morning of the next day Cassiodorus went to the Prefect of
Rome. He found him in a sound and tranquil sleep.

"And you can sleep as quietly as a child after such a blow?"

"I sleep," answered Cethegus, raising himself on his elbow, "in the
feeling of renewed security."

"Security! yes, for you; but the kingdom!"

"The kingdom was in more danger through this boy than I. Where is the
Queen?"

"She sits speechless beside the open coffin of her son! She has sat
there the whole night."

Cethegus sprang up.

"That must not be! It does no good. She belongs to the State, not to
this corpse. So much the less because I have heard whispers concerning
poison. The young tyrant had many enemies. How about that matter?"

"Very uncertain. The Grecian physician, Elpidios, who examined the
corpse, certainly speaks of some striking appearances. But he thinks
that if poison has been used it must be a very secret one, quite
unknown to him. In the cup from which the unfortunate boy drank there
could not be discovered the least trace of suspicious contents. So it
is generally believed that excitement had again brought on his former
malady, and that this was the cause of his death. But still it is well
that, since the moment of your leaving the assembly, _you_ were always
in the presence of witnesses; grief breeds suspicion."

"How is it with Camilla?" the Prefect inquired further.

"She has never yet awakened from her stupor; the physicians fear the
worst. But I came to ask you what shall now be done? The Queen speaks
of suppressing the examination concerning you."

"That must not be," cried Cethegus. "I demand an investigation. We will
go to her immediately."

"Will you intrude upon her at the coffin of her son?"

"Yes, I will. Do you shrink from it in your tender consideration? Well
then, come afterwards, when I have broken the ice."

He dismissed his visitor and called his slaves to dress him. Shortly
afterwards, enveloped in a dark mourning garment, he descended to the
vault where the corpse lay exposed. With an imperious gesture he
motioned aside the guard and the women of Amalaswintha, who kept watch
at the door, and entered noiselessly.

It was the low vaulted hall, where, in former times, the corpses of the
emperors had been prepared with salves and combustibles for the funeral
pyre.

This quiet hall, flagged with dark-green serpentine, the roof of which
was supported by short Doric columns of black marble, was never
illumined by a ray of sunshine, and at the present moment no other
light fell upon the gloomy Byzantine mosaics on the gold ground of the
walls than that from four torches, which flickered with an uncertain
light near the stone sarcophagus of the young King.

There he lay upon a dark purple mantle; helm, sword, and shield at his
head.

Old Hildebrand had wound a wreath of oak-leaves amidst the dark locks.
The noble features reposed in pallid and earnest beauty.

At his feet, clad in a long mourning veil, sat the tall form of the
Queen, supporting her head upon her left arm, which was laid upon the
sarcophagus. Her right hand hung languidly down. She could weep no
more.

The crackling of the burning torches was the only sound in this
stillness of the grave.

Cethegus entered noiselessly, not unmoved by the poetry of the scene.

But, contracting his brows, he smothered the passing feeling of
compassion. He knew that it was necessary to be clear and composed.

He gently drew near and took Amalaswintha's relaxed hand.

"Rise, noble lady, you belong to the living, not to the dead."

She looked up, startled.

"You here, Cethegus? What seek you here?"

"A Queen!"

"Oh, you only find a weeping mother!" she cried, sobbing.

"That I cannot believe. The kingdom is in danger, and Amalaswintha will
show that even a woman can sacrifice her sorrow to the fatherland."

"She can!" replied the Queen, rising. "But look at him. How young! how
beautiful! How could Heaven be so cruel!"

"Now, or never!" thought Cethegus, and said aloud: "Heaven is just,
severe; not cruel."

"Of what do you speak? What wrong has my noble son committed? Do you
dare to accuse him?"

"Not I! But a portion of Holy Writ has been fulfilled upon him: 'Honour
thy father and mother, that thy days may be long in the land!' The
commandment is also a threat. Yesterday he sinned against his mother
and dishonoured her by bold rebellion--to-day he lies here. Therein I
see the finger of God."

Amalaswintha covered her face. She had heartily forgiven her son while
watching beside his coffin. But still this view, these words,
powerfully affected her, and drew her attention away from her grief to
the well-loved habit of government.

"You wish, O Queen, to suppress my examination, and recall Witichis.
Witichis may be recalled. But I demand, as my right, that the
prosecution be continued, and I fully expect a solemn acquittal."

"I have never doubted your fidelity. Woe to me, should I be obliged to
do so! Tell me that you know of no conspiracy, and all is ended."

She seemed to expect his asseveration,

Cethegus was silent for a short time. Then he quietly said:

"Queen, I know of a conspiracy."

"What say you?" cried the Queen, looking at him threateningly.

"I have chosen this hour and place," continued Cethegus, with a glance
at the corpse, "to put a seal to my devotion, so that it may be
indelibly impressed upon your heart. Hear and judge me."

"What shall I hear?" said the Queen, now upon her guard, and firmly
resolved to allow herself to be neither deceived nor softened.

"I should be a bad Roman, Queen, and you would despise me, if I did not
love my nation above all things. That proud nation, which even you, a
stranger, love! I know--as you know--that hatred against you as
heretics and barbarians still smoulders in the hearts of most Italians.
The last harsh deeds of your father have fanned this feeling into a
flame. I suspected a conspiracy. I sought and discovered it."

"And concealed it?" said the Queen, rising in anger.

"And concealed it. Until to-day. The blind fools would have sought
assistance from the Greeks, and, after destroying the Goths, subjected
themselves to the Emperor."

"The vile traitors!" cried Amalaswintha.

"The fools! They had already gone so far, that only _one_ means was
left by which to keep them back: I placed myself at their head."

"Cethegus!"

"In this manner I gained time, and was able to prevent noble, though
blind men, from rushing to destruction. I opened their eyes by degrees,
and showed them that their plan, if it succeeded, would have only
exchanged a mild government for a despotic one. They acknowledged it;
they obeyed me; and no Byzantine will ever touch Italian soil, until I
call him, I--or you."

"I! Do you rave?"

"Sophocles, your favourite, says, 'Forswear nothing.' Be warned, Queen,
for you do not see the pressing danger. Another conspiracy, much more
dangerous than that of these Roman enthusiasts, and close to you,
threatens you, your kingdom, and the Amelungs' right of sovereignty--a
conspiracy of the Goths!"

Amalaswintha turned pale.

"You have seen yesterday, to your sorrow, that your hand can no more
guide the rudder of this realm. Just as little as could that of your
noble son, who was but the tool of your enemies. You know, Queen, that
many of your nation are bloodthirsty, barbarous, rapacious, and brutal;
they would like to levy contributions upon this land, where Virgil and
Tullius wandered. Yon know that your insolent nobles hate the
superiority of your royal house, and would make themselves its equal.
You know that the rude Goths think unworthily of woman's vocation for
government."

"I know it," she said, proudly and angrily.

"But you do not know that both these parties are united. They are
united against you and your Roman predilections. They will overthrow
you, or force you to do their will. Cassiodorus and I are to be
dismissed from your side, our Senate and our rights to be dissolved,
and the kingship to become a shadow. War is to be proclaimed against
the Emperor; and force, extortion, and rapine, let loose upon us
Romans."

"You paint mere idle phantoms!"

"Was that which happened yesterday an idle phantom? If Heaven had not
intervened, would not you--like me--be robbed of all your power? Would
you still be mistress in your kingdom, in your house? Are they not
already so strong, that the heathen Hildebrand, the countrified
Witichis, the gloomy Teja, openly defy your will in the name of your
befooled son? Have they not recalled the three rebel dukes? And your
perverse daughter, and----"

"True, too true," sighed the Queen.

"If these men should rule--then farewell science, art, and all noble
culture! Farewell, Italia, mother of humanity! Then, burst into flame,
you white parchments! crumble into fragments, you beautiful statues!
Brutality and murder will run rife in these plains, and posterity will
bear witness: 'Such things happened in the reign of Amalaswintha, the
daughter of Theodoric.'"

"Never, never shall that happen! But----"

"You want proofs? I fear you will have them only too soon. However, you
see, even now, that you cannot rely upon the Goths, if you wish to
prevent such horrors. We alone can protect you against them; we, to
whom you already belong by intellect and culture; we Romans. Then, when
the barbarians surround your throne with uproar, let me rally the men
around you who once conspired against you: the patriots of Rome! They
will protect you and themselves at the same time."

"Cethegus," said the distressed woman, "you influence men easily! Who,
tell me, who will answer for the patriots? Who will answer for _your_
truth?"

"This paper, Queen, and this! The first contains a correct list of the
Roman conspirators. You see, there are many hundred names. This is a
list of the members of the Gothic league, whom I certainly could only
guess at. But I guess well. With these two papers I give both these
parties--I give myself--completely into your hands. You can at any
moment reveal me to my own party as a traitor, who, before all things,
sought _your_ favour. You can expose me to the hatred of the Goths--as
soon as you will. I shall be left without adherents. I stand alone;
your favour is my only support."

The Queen had glanced over the papers with sparkling eyes. "Cethegus,"
she exclaimed, "I will always remember your fidelity and this hour!"

And she gave him her hand with emotion.

Cethegus slightly bent his head. "Still one thing more, O Queen. The
patriots, henceforward your friends as they are mine, know that the
hate of the barbarians, the sword of destruction, hangs over their
heads. Their anxious hearts require encouragement. Let me assure them
of your high protection. Place your name at the head of this list, and
let me thereby give them a visible sign of your favour."

She took the golden stylus and the waxen tablets which he handed to
her. For one moment she hesitated; then she quickly signed her name,
and gave tablets and stylus back again. "Here! They must be faithful to
me; as faithful as yourself!"

At this moment Cassiodorus entered. "O Queen, the Gothic nobles await
you. They wish to speak with you."

"I come! They shall learn my will!" she said vehemently; "but you,
Cassiodorus, shall be the first to know the decision to which I have
come during this trying hour, and which will soon be known to my whole
kingdom. Henceforward the Prefect of Rome is the first of my servants,
as he is the most faithful. He has the place of honour in my trust and
near my throne."

Much astonished, Cassiodorus led the Queen up the dark steps.

Cethegus followed slowly. He held up the tablets in his hand, and said
to himself: "Now you are mine, daughter of Theodoric! Your name upon
this list severs you for ever from your people!"



                              CHAPTER II.

As Cethegus emerged from the subterranean chamber into the ground-floor
of the palace, and prepared to follow the Queen, his ear was caught and
his progress arrested by the solemn and sorrowful tones of flutes. He
guessed what it meant.

His first impulse was to turn aside. But he presently decided to
remain.

It would happen some time, therefore it was best at once. He must find
out how far she was informed.

The tones of the flutes came nearer, alternating with a monotonous
dirge. Cethegus stepped into a wide niche of the dark corridor, into
which the head of a little procession already turned.

Foremost came, two by two, six noble Roman maidens, covered with grey
mourning veils, carrying reversed torches. Then followed a priest,
before whom was borne the tall banner of the Cross, with long
streamers. Next came a troop of the freedmen of the family of Boëthius,
led by Corbulo and the flute-players. Then followed, borne by four
Roman girls, an open coffin, covered with flowers. Upon it lay, on a
white linen cloth, the dead Camilla, in bridal ornaments, a wreath in
her dark hair, an expression of smiling peace upon her slightly-opened
lips.

Behind the coffin, with loosened hair, staring fixedly before her, came
the unhappy mother, surrounded by matrons, who supported her sinking
form.

A company of female slaves closed the procession, which slowly
disappeared into the vault.

Cethegus recognised the sobbing Daphnidion, and stopped her.

"When did she die?" he asked calmly.

"Oh, sir, a few hours ago! Oh, the good, kind, beautiful Domna!"

"Did she ever awaken to full consciousness?"

"No, sir, never. Only quite at the last she once more opened her large
eyes, and appeared to seek for something. 'Where has he gone?' she
asked her mother. 'Ah, I see him!' she then cried, and rose from her
cushions. 'Child, my child, where will you go?' cried my mistress,
weeping. 'Oh, there!' she replied with a rapturous smile; 'to the Isles
of the Blessed!' and she closed her eyes and fell back upon her couch;
that lovely smile remained upon her lips--and she was gone, gone for
ever!"

"Who has caused her to be brought down here?"

"The Queen. She learned everything, and gave orders that the deceased,
as the bride of her son, should be laid beside him and buried in the
same tomb."

"But what says the physician? How could she die so suddenly?"

"Alas! the physician saw her only for a moment; he was too much
occupied with the royal corpse; and then my mistress would not suffer
the strange man to touch her daughter. It is just her heart that has
been broken; one can easily die of that! But peace--they come!"

The procession returned in the same order as before, but without the
coffin. Daphnidion joined it. Only Rusticiana was missing.

Cethegus quietly walked up and down the corridor, to wait for her.

At last her bowed-down form came slowly up the steps. She staggered and
seemed about to fall.

Cethegus quickly caught her arm. "Rusticiana, take courage!"

"You here? God! you also loved her! And we--we two have murdered her!"
and she sank upon his shoulder.

"Silence, unhappy woman!" he whispered, looking around.

"Alas! I, her own mother, have killed her! I mixed the fatal draught
that caused his death."

"All is well," thought Cethegus. "She has no suspicion that Camilla
drank, and still less that I saw her do so.--It is a terrible stroke of
Fate!" he said aloud. "But reflect, what would have followed had she
lived? She loved him!"

"What would have followed?" cried Rusticiana, receding. "Oh, if she but
lived! Who can prevent love? Oh that she had become his--his wife--his
mistress, provided only that she lived!"

"But you forget that he _must_ have died?"

"Must? Why must he have died? So that you might carry out your
ambitious plans? Oh, selfishness without example!"

"They are your plans that I carry out, not mine; how often must I
repeat it? _You_ have conjured up the God of Revenge, not I. Why do you
accuse me if he demand a sacrifice? Think better of it. Farewell."

But Rusticiana violently seized his arm. "And that is all? And you have
nothing more--not a word, not a tear for my child? And you would make
me believe that you have acted thus to avenge her, to avenge me? You
have never had a heart! You did not even love her--coldly you see her
die! Ha, curses, curses upon thee!"

"Be silent, frantic woman!"

"Silent! no, I will speak and curse you! Oh that I knew of something
that was as dear to you as Camilla was to me! Oh that you, like me,
could see your whole life's last and only joy torn away--that you could
see it vanish, and despair! If there be a God in heaven you will live
to do so!"

Cethegus smiled.

"You do not believe in heavenly vengeance? Well, then, believe in the
vengeance of a miserable mother! You shall tremble! I will hasten to
the Queen and tell her all! You shall die!"

"And you will die with me."

"With a smile--if only I can see you perish!" and she would have
hurried away, but Cethegus held her back with an iron grasp.

"Stop, woman! Do you think that I am not on my guard with such as you?
Your sons, Anicius and Severinus, are here in Italy, secretly--in
Rome--in my house. You know that death is the penalty of their return.
A word--and they die with us. Then you may take to your husband your
sons, as well as your daughter, who has died by your means. Her blood
upon your head!" and quickly turning the angle of the corridor, he
disappeared.

"My sons!" cried Rusticiana, and sank down upon the marble pavement.

A few days after, the widow of Boëthius, with Corbulo and Daphnidion,
left the court for ever. In vain the Queen sought to detain her.

The faithful freedman took her back to the sheltered Villa of Tifernum,
which she now deeply regretted ever having left. There, in the place of
the little Temple of Venus, she erected a basilica, in the crypt of
which an urn was placed, containing the hearts of the two lovers.

In her passionate soul her prayers for the salvation of her child were
inseparably bound up with a petition for revenge upon Cethegus, whose
real share in Camilla's death she did not even suspect; she only felt
that he had used mother and daughter as tools for his plans, and had
sacrificed the girl's happiness and life with heartless coldness.

And scarcely less continuously than the flame of the eternal lamp
before the urn, the prayer and the curse of the lonely mother rose up
to heaven.

The hour came which disclosed to her all the Prefect's guilt, and the
vengeance which she called down from heaven did not tarry.



                              CHAPTER III.

At the court of Ravenna there ensued a bitter and obstinate strife.

The Gothic patriots, although deeply grieved at the sudden death of
their youthful King, and, for the moment, overpowered, were very soon
re-encouraged by their indefatigable leaders.

The high consideration in which Hildebrand was held, the quiet strength
of Witichis, who had returned, and Teja's watchful zeal, operated
continuously.

We have seen that these men had succeeded in inducing Athalaric to
shake off the authority of his mother. It was now easy for them to find
ever new adherents amongst the Goths against a government in which the
hated Cethegus would come more than ever to the front.

The feeling in the army and the Germanic population of Ravenna was
sufficiently prepared for a decisive stroke. The old master-at-arms
with difficulty restrained the discontented, until, strengthened by
important confederates, they could be more certain of success.

These confederates were the three dukes, Thulun, Ibba, and Pitza, whom
Amalaswintha had driven away from court, and whom her son had so lately
recalled.

Thulun and Ibba were brothers; Pitza was their cousin.

Another brother of the former, Duke Alaric, had been condemned to death
some years ago on account of a pretended conspiracy, and since his
flight (for he had succeeded in escaping) nothing had been heard of
him. They were the offspring of the celebrated race of the Balthe, who
had worn the crown of the Visigoths, and were scarcely inferior in
ancient descent and rank to the Amelungs. Their pedigree, like that of
the Royal House, descended from the gods. The wealth of their
possessions in land and dependent colonies, and the fame of their
warlike deeds, enhanced the power and glory of their house.

It was said amongst the people that Theodoric had, for a while, thought
of passing over his daughter and her son, and, in the interest of the
kingdom, of appointing the powerful Duke Thulun as his successor. And,
after the death of Athalaric, the patriots were decided, in case of the
worst--that is, if the Queen could not be persuaded to renounce her
system--once more to entertain this idea.

Cethegus saw the threatening tempest. He saw how Gothic national
feeling, awakened by Hildebrand and his friends, grew more opposed to
the Romanising Regency. He indignantly confessed to himself that he had
no real power with which to keep down discontent. Ravenna was not his
Rome, where he controlled all proceedings, where he had again
accustomed the citizens to the use of arms, and attached them to his
person; here all the troops were Goths, and he could only fear that
they would reply to an order for the arrest of Hildebrand or Witichis
by open rebellion. So he took a bold resolution to free himself at one
stroke from the net which encompassed him in Ravenna. He decided to
take the Queen, if necessary by force, to Rome. There he was mighty,
had weapons and adherents; there Amalaswintha would be exclusively in
his power, and the Goths would be frustrated.

To his delight, the Queen entered into his plan with eagerness. She
longed to be out of these walls, where she appeared to be more a
prisoner than a ruler. She longed for Rome, freedom, and power.

Cethegus took his measures with his usual rapidity. He was obliged to
renounce the shorter way by land, for upon the broad Via Flaminia, as
well as on the other roads from Ravenna to Rome, escorts of Gothic
troops were stationed, and it was therefore to be feared that their
flight by any of these ways would be easily discovered, and perhaps
impeded.

Fortunately the Prefect remembered that the Navarchus, or captain of
the galleys, Pomponius, one of the conspirators, was cruising about in
chase of African pirates on the east coast of the Adriatic, with three
triremes, manned by Romans. To him he sent an order to appear in the
harbour of Ravenna on the night of the Feast of Epiphany. He hoped,
while the town was occupied with religious festivities, to reach the
ships with Amalaswintha easily and safely from the gardens of the
palace, when they would be taken by sea past the Gothic positions to
Teate. Thence the way to Rome was short and safe.

With this plan in his mind--his messenger had safely gone and returned
with the promise of Pomponius to appear punctually--the Prefect smiled
at the daily increasing hate and insolence of the Goths, who observed
his position of favourite with bitter displeasure.

He warned Amalaswintha to be patient and not, by an outbreak of her
royal wrath against the "rebels," to occasion a collision before the
day of deliverance, which might easily render vain all plans of rescue.

The Feast of Epiphany arrived. The people crowded the basilicas and
squares of the city. The jewels of the treasury were ready ordered and
packed, as well as the most important documents of the archives. It was
mid-day.

Amalaswintha and the Prefect had just told their friend Cassiodorus of
their plan, the boldness of which at first startled him, but he very
soon perceived its prudence.

They were just about to leave the room where they had told him of their
intentions, when suddenly the uproar made by the populace--who were
crowding before the palace--became louder and more violent; threats,
cries of exultation, and the clatter of arms arose promiscuously.

Cethegus threw back the curtain of the large bay-window, but he only
saw the last of the crowd pressing through the open gates of the
palace.

It was not possible to discover the cause of this excitement. Already
the uproar was ascending the staircase of the palace. The noise of
altercations with the attendants was audible; the clash of weapons; and
soon approaching and heavy footsteps.

Amalaswintha did not tremble; she tightly grasped the dragon's head
which decorated the throne-seat, to which Cassiodorus had again led
her.

Meanwhile Cethegus hurried to meet the intruders.

"Halt!" he called from the threshold of the chamber. "The Queen is
visible for no one."

For one moment there was complete silence.

Then a powerful voice called out: "If for thee, Roman, also for us, for
her Gothic brethren. Forwards!"

And again the roar of voices arose, and in a moment Cethegus, without
the application of any particular violence, was pushed by the press, as
if by an irresistible tide, into the farthest corner of the hall, and
the foremost intruders stood close before the throne.

They were Hildebrand, Witichis, Teja, a gigantic Goth, unknown to
Cethegus, and near this last--there was no doubt about it--the three
dukes, Thulun, Ibba, and Pitza, in full armour--three splendid
warriors.

The intruders bowed before the throne. Then Duke Thulun called to those
behind him, with the gesture of a born ruler:

"Goths, wait yet a short time without! We will try; in your name, to
adjust things with the Queen. If we do not succeed, we will call upon
you to act--you know in what manner."

With a shout of applause, the crowd behind him willingly withdrew, and
were soon lost in the outer passages and halls of the palace.

"Daughter of Theodoric," began Duke Thulun, "we are come because thy
son, the King, recalled us. Unfortunately we find he is no more alive.
We know that thou hast no delight in seeing us here."

"If you know it," said Amalaswintha with dignity, "how dare you,
notwithstanding, appear before our eyes? Who allows you to intrude upon
us against our will?"

"Necessity enjoins it, Highness--necessity, which has often forced
stronger bolts than the whims of a woman. We have to announce to thee
the demands of thy people, which thou wilt fulfil."

"What language! Knowest thou before whom thou standest, Duke Thulun?"

"Before the daughter of the Amelungs; whose child I honour, even when
she errs and transgresses!"

"Rebel!" cried Amalaswintha, and rose indignantly from her throne. "Thy
_King_ stands before thee!"

But Thulun smiled.

"It would be wiser, Amalaswintha, to be silent upon this point. King
Theodoric charged thee with the guardianship of thy son--thee, a woman!
It was against the law; but we Goths did not interfere between him and
his kindred. He wished this boy to be his successor. That was not
prudent; but the nobles and people have honoured the race of the
Amelungs and the wish of a King, who else was ever wise. But he never
wished, and we should never have allowed, that after the death of that
boy a woman should reign over us--the spindle over the spear."

"So you refuse to acknowledge me as your Queen?" she cried
indignantly. "And thou, too, Hildebrand, old friend of Theodoric, thou
disownest his daughter?"

"Queen," said the old man, "would that thou wouldst prevent it!"

Thulun continued:

"We do not disown thee--not yet. I only answer thee thus because thou
boastest of thy right, and thou must know that thou hast no right. But
as we gladly honour noble birth--in which we honour ourselves--and
because at this moment it might lead to evil dissensions in the kingdom
if we deprived thee of the crown, I will repeat the conditions under
which thou mayst continue to wear it."

Amalaswintha suffered terribly. How gladly would she have delivered the
bold man who spoke such words into the hands of the executioner! And
she was obliged to listen helplessly! Tears rose to her eyes; she
repressed them, but at the same time sank back exhausted upon the
throne, supported by Cassiodorus.

Meanwhile Cethegus had made his way to her side.

"Concede everything," he whispered; "it is forced and null. And
to-night Pomponius will arrive.

"Speak!" said Cassiodorus; "but spare the woman, barbarians!"

"Ha! ha!" laughed Duke Pitza. "She will not be treated like a woman.
She is our _King_!"

"Peace, cousin!" said Duke Thulun reprovingly; "she is of noble blood.
First," he continued, "thou must dismiss the Prefect of Rome. He is
said to be an enemy of the Goths; he may not advise the Gothic Queen.
Earl Witichis will take his place near thy throne."

"Agreed!" said Cethegus himself, instead of Amalaswintha.

"Secondly, thou wilt declare, in a proclamation, that for the future no
order of thine can be executed which is not signed by Hildebrand or
Witichis; and that no law is valid without the ratification of the
National Assembly."

The Queen started up angrily; but Cethegus held her arm.

"Pomponius comes to-night," he whispered. Then he said aloud, "This
also is agreed to."

"The third condition," resumed Thulun, "is one which thou wilt as
willingly grant as we ask it. We three Balthes have not learned to bow
our heads in a prince's court. The roof here is too low for us. It is
better that Amelungs and Balthes live as far apart as the eagle and the
falcon. And the realm needs our weapons upon its boundaries. Our
neighbours think that the land is orphaned since thy great father died,
Avari, Gepidæ, and Sclavonians fearlessly overstep the frontiers. In
order to punish these three nations, thou wilt equip three armies, each
of thirty thousand; and we three Balthes will lead them, as thy
generals, to the east and to the north."

"The whole military force also in their hands--not bad!" thought
Cethegus. "Accepted!" he cried aloud, smiling.

"And what remains to me," asked Amalaswintha, "when I have granted all
this?"

"A golden crown upon a white forehead," said Duke Ibba.

"Thou canst write like a Greek," re-commenced Thulun. "Such arts are
not learned in vain. This parchment should contain all that we demand;
my slave has written it down." He gave it to Witichis to examine. "Is
it so? 'Tis well. That thou wilt sign, Princess. Good. We have
finished. Now, Hildebrand, speak with yonder Roman."

But Teja was beforehand. He advanced to the Prefect, trembling with
hate, his sword in his hand.

"Prefect of Rome," said he, "blood has been shed--precious, noble,
Gothic blood! It consecrates the furious strife which will soon be
kindled. Blood, which thou shalt atone----"

His voice was suffocated with rage.

"Bah!" cried Hildebad--for he was the tall Goth--pushing him aside.
"Make not such a to-do about it! My dear brother can easily part with a
little superfluous blood; and the others lost more than he could spare.
There, thou black devil!" he cried, turning to Cethegus, and holding a
broad-sword close before his eyes, "knowest thou that?"

"Pomponius's sword!" cried Cethegus, turning pale and staggering back a
step.

Amalaswintha and Cassiodorus asked in alarm,

"Pomponius?"

"Aha!" laughed Hildebad. "That is shocking, is it not? Nothing will
come of the water-party!"

"Where is Pomponius--my Navarchus?" asked Amalaswintha vehemently.

"With the sharks, Queen, in deep water."

"Ha! death and destruction!" exclaimed Cethegus, now carried away by
his anger. "How happened that?"

"Merrily enough! My brother Totila--thou surely knowest him?--lay in
the harbour of Ancona with two little ships. Thy friend Pomponius had
had for some days such an insolent expression of countenance, and had
let fall such bragging words, that it struck even my unsuspicious
brother. One morning Pomponius suddenly disappeared from the harbour
with his three triremes. Totila smelt a rat, spread all sail, pursued
him, overtook him off Pisaurum, stopped him, went on board with me and
a few others, and asked him whither he would be going."

"He had no right to do so. Pomponius will have given him no answer."

"He did so, for all that, most excellent Cethegus! When he saw that we
were only ten upon his ship, he laughed, and cried, 'Whither sail I? To
Ravenna, thou downy-beard, to save the Queen from your claws, and take
her to. Rome!' And he therewith made a sign to his crew. But we, too,
threw our shields before us, and--hurrah! how the swords flew from the
sheaths! It was hard work--ten to forty! But happily it did not last
long. Our comrades in the nearest ship heard the iron rattle, and were
quickly alongside with their boats, and climbed the bulwarks like cats.
Now we had the upper hand; but the Navarchus--to give the devil his
due!--would not yield; fought like to madman, and pierced my brother's
arm through his shield, so that the blood spouted. But then my brother
got into a rage too, and ran his spear through the other's body, so
that he fell like an ox. 'Greet the Prefect,' he said, as he lay dying,
'give him my sword, his gift, back again, and tell him that no one can
cheat Death, else I had kept my word!' I swore to him that I would
confirm his words. He was a brave man. Here is the sword."

Cethegus took it in silence.

"The ships yielded, and my brother took them back to Ancona. But I
sailed here with the swiftest, and met the three Balthes in the
harbour, just at the right moment."

A pause ensued, during which Cethegus and Amalaswintha bitterly
contemplated their desperate position. Cethegus had consented to
everything in the sure hope of flight, which was now frustrated. His
well-considered plan was balked; balked by Totila; and hatred of this
name entered deeply into the Prefect's soul. His grim reflections were
interrupted by the voice of Thulun, asking:

"Well, Amalaswintha, wilt thou sign? or shall we call upon the Goths to
choose a King?"

At these words Cethegus quickly recovered himself. He took the tablets
from the hand of the Duke and handed them to the Queen.

"It is necessary, O Queen," he said in a low voice; "you have no
choice."

Cassiodorus gave her the stylus, she wrote her name and Thulun received
the tablets.

"'Tis well," said he; "we go to announce to the Goths that their
kingdom is saved. Thou, Cassiodorus, accompany us to bear witness that
all has been done without violence."

At a sign from Amalaswintha the senator obeyed, and followed the Gothic
leaders to the Forum before the palace.

When the Queen found herself alone with Cethegus, she started from her
seat. She could no longer restrain her tears. She passionately struck
her forehead. Her pride was terribly humbled. She felt the shame of
this hour more deeply than the loss of husband, father, or even of her
son.

"Then this," she cried, weeping loudly, "this is man's superiority!
Brutal, clumsy force! O, Cethegus, all is lost!"

"Not all, Queen, only a plan. I beg you to keep me in kindly
remembrance," he added coldly. "I go to Rome."

"What? you will leave me at this moment? You, you have made me give all
these promises, which rob me of my throne, and now you forsake me! Oh!
it were better that I had resisted, I should then have remained indeed
a Queen, even if they had set the crown upon the head of that rebel
Duke!"

"Certainly," thought Cethegus, "better for you, worse for me. No, no
hero shall ever again wear this Gothic crown." He had quickly seen that
Amalaswintha could no longer serve him, and just as quickly he gave her
up. He was already thinking of a new tool for his plans. Yet he decided
to disclose to her a portion of his thoughts, in order that she might
not act upon her own account, contradict her promises, and thereby
cause the crown to obvert to Thulun. "I go, O Queen," he said; "but I
do not therefore forsake you. Here I can no longer serve you. They have
banished me from your side, and will guard you as jealously as a lover
his mistress."

"But what shall I do with these promises? what with the three dukes?"

"Wait, and, at present, submit. And as to the three dukes," he added
hesitatingly, "they go to the wars--perhaps they will never return."

"Perhaps!" sighed the Queen. "Of what use is a 'perhaps?'"

Cethegus came close to her.

"As soon as you wish it--they _shall_ never return."

The woman trembled:

"Murder? Terrible man, of what are you thinking?"

"Of what is necessary. Murder is a wrong expression. It is
self-defence. Or a punishment. If you had now the power, you would have
a perfect right to kill them. They are rebels. They force your royal
will. They kill your Navarchus; they deserve death."

"And they _shall_ die," whispered Amalaswintha to herself, clenching
her fist; "they shall not live, these brutal men, who force a Queen to
do their behest. You are right--they shall die!"

"They must die--they and," he added in a tone of intense hatred,
"and--the young hero!"

"Wherefore Totila? He is the handsomest and most valiant youth in the
nation!"

"He dies!" growled Cethegus. "Oh that he would die ten times over!" And
such bitter hatred flamed from his eyes, that, suddenly seen in a man
of such a cold nature, it both startled and terrified Amalaswintha.

"I shall send you from Rome," he continued rapidly in a low tone,
"three trusty men, Isaurian mercenaries. These you will send after the
three Balthes, as soon as they have reached their several camps. You
understand that _you_, the Queen, send them; for they are executioners,
no murderers. The three dukes must fall on the same day--I myself will
care for handsome Totila--the bold stroke will alarm the whole nation.
During the first consternation of the Goths I will hurry here from
Rome, with troops, to your aid. Farewell."

He departed, and left alone the helpless woman, upon whose ear now
broke the shouts of the assembled multitude from the Forum in front of
the palace, extolling the success of their leaders and the submission
of Amalaswintha.

She felt quite forsaken. She suspected that the last promise of the
Prefect was little more than an empty word of comfort to palliate his
departure. Overcome by sorrow, she rested her cheek upon her beautiful
hand, and was lost for some time in futile meditations.

Suddenly the curtain at the entrance rustled. An officer of the palace
stood before her.

"Ambassadors from Byzantium desire an audience. Justinus is dead. His
nephew Justinianus is Emperor. He tenders a brotherly greeting and his
friendship."

"Justinianus!" This name penetrated the very soul of the unhappy
woman. She saw herself robbed of her son, thwarted by her people,
forsaken by Cethegus. In her sad musings she had been seeking in vain
for help and support, and, with a sigh of relief, she again repeated,
"Justinianus--Byzantium!"



                              CHAPTER IV.

In the woods of Fiesole, a modern wanderer coming from Florence will
find to the right of the high-road the ruins of an extensive villa-like
edifice. Ivy, saxifrage and wild roses vie with each other in
concealing the ruins. For centuries the peasants in the neighbouring
villages have carried away stones from this place in order to dam up
the earth of their vineyards on the slopes of the hills. But even yet
the remains clearly show where once stood the colonnade before the
house, where the central hall, and where the wall of the court.

Weeds grow luxuriantly in the meadows where once lay in shining order
the beautiful gardens; nothing has been left of them except the wide
marble basin of a long dried-up fountain, in whose pebble-filled
runnels the lizards now sun themselves.

But in the days of our story the place looked very different. "The
Villa of Mæcenas at Fæsulæ," as the building, probably with little or
no reason, was called at that time, was inhabited by happy people; the
house ordered by a woman's careful hand; the garden enlivened by
childhood's bright laughter.

The climbing clematis was gracefully trained up the slender shafts of
the Corinthian columns in front of the house, and the cheerful vine
shaded the flat roof. The winding walks in the garden were strewed with
white sand, and in the outhouses dedicated to domestic uses reigned an
order and cleanliness which was never to be found in a household served
by Roman slaves alone.

It was sunset.

The men and maid servants were returning from the fields. The
heavily-laden hay-carts swung along, drawn by horses which were
evidently not of Italian breed. The shepherds were driving goats and
sheep home from the hills, accompanied by large dogs, which scampered
on in front, barking joyously.

Close before the yard gate, a couple of Roman slaves, with shrill
voices and mad gestures, were urging on the panting horses of a cruelly
over-laden wagon, not with whips, but with sticks, the iron points of
which they stuck again and again into the same sore place upon the poor
animals' hides. In spite of this, no advance was made, for a large
stone lay just in front of the left fore-wheel of the wagon, which the
angry and impatient drivers did not notice.

"Forwards, beast! and son of a beast!" screamed one of them to the
struggling horse; "forwards, thou Gothic sluggard!" Another stab with
the iron point, a renewed and desperate pull; but the wheel did not go
over the stone, and the tortured animal fell on its knees, threatening
to upset the wagon by its struggles.

At this the rage of the driver was redoubled. "Wait, thou rascal!" he
shouted, and struck at the eye of the panting animal.

But he only struck once; the next moment he himself fell under a heavy
blow.

"Davus, thou wicked dog!" growled a powerful voice, and, twice as tall,
and certainly twice as broad as the frightened tormentor, there stood
over the fallen man a gigantic Goth, who rained down blows upon him
with a thick cudgel. "Thou miserable coward," said he, giving him a
final kick, "I will teach thee how to treat a creature which is ten
times better than thyself. I verily believe, thou rascal, that thou
treatest the beast ill, because he comes from the other side of the
mountains! If I catch thee at it again, I will break every bone in thy
body. Now get up, and unload--thou shalt carry every swath that is too
much into the barn upon thine own back. Forwards!"

With a malicious glance at his punisher the beaten man rose, and,
limping, prepared to obey.

The Goth had immediately helped the struggling horse to its feet, and
now carefully washed its broken knees with his own evening drink of
wine and water.

He had scarcely finished his task, when the clear voice of a boy called
urgently from a neighbouring stable:

"Wachis, come here; Wachis!"

"I'm coming, Athalwin, my boy! What's the matter?" And he already stood
in the open door of the stable near a handsome boy of about seven years
of age, who angrily stroked his long yellow hair from his glowing face,
and with great trouble repressed two large tears of rage that _would_
spring into his blue eyes. He held a pretty wooden sword in his right
hand, and shook it threateningly at a black-browed slave who stood
opposite to him, with his head insolently thrust forward and his fists
clenched. "What is the matter here?" repeated Wachis, crossing the
threshold.

"The chesnut has again nothing to drink; and only look! Two gadflies
have sucked themselves fast upon his shoulder, where he cannot get at
them with his tail, and I cannot reach with my hand; and that bad Cacus
there won't do what I tell him; and I am sure he has been scolding at
me in Latin, which I don't understand."

Wachis drew nearer with a threatening look.

"I only said," said Cacus, slowly receding, "that I must first eat my
millet. The beast may wait. In our country men come before beasts."

"Indeed, thou dunce!" said Wachis, as he killed the gadflies; "in our
country the horse eats before the rider! Make haste!"

But Cacus was strong and obstinate; he tossed his head and said:

"Here, we are in _our_ country, and _our_ customs must be followed."

"Oho, thou cursed blockhead! wilt thou obey?" asked Wachis, raising his
hand.

"Obey? Not thee! Thou art only a slave like me. And my parents lived in
this house when such as thou were stealing cows and sheep on the other
side of the mountains."

Wachis let his cudgel fall and swung his arms to and fro.

"Listen, Cacus, I have another crow to pluck with thee besides; thou
knowest wherefore. Now it can all be done with at the same time."

"Ha, ha!" cried Cacus with a mocking laugh, "about Liuta, the
flaxen-haired wench? Bah! I like her no longer, the barbarian. She
dances like a heifer!"

"Now it's all up with thee," said Wachis quietly, and caught hold of
his adversary.

But Cacus twisted himself like an eel out of the grasp of the Goth,
pulled a sharp knife from the folds of his woollen frock and threw it
at him. As Wachis stooped the knife whistled only a hair's-breadth past
his head, and penetrated deeply into the door-post behind him.

"Well, wait, thou murderous worm!" cried the German, and would have
thrown himself upon Cacus, but he felt himself clasped from behind.

It was Davus, who had watched for this moment of revenge.

But now Wachis became exceedingly wroth.

He shook the man off, held him by the nape of the neck with his left
hand, got hold of Cacus with his right, and, with the strength of a
bear, knocked the heads of his adversaries together, accompanying every
knock with an interjection, "There, my boys--that for the knife--and
that for the back-spring--and that for the heifer!" And who knows how
long this strange litany would have continued, if he had not been
interrupted by a loud call.

"Wachis! Cacus! let loose, I tell you," cried the strong fall voice of
a woman; and a stately matron, clad in a blue Gothic garment, appeared
at the door.

She was not tall, and yet imposing. Her fine figure was more sturdy
than slender. Her gold-brown hair was bound in simple but rich braids
round her head; her features were regular; more firm than delicate.

An expression of sincerity, worth, and trustfulness lay in her large
blue eyes. Her round bare arms showed that she was no stranger to work.
At her broad girdle, over which puffed out her brown under-garment of
home-spun cloth, rattled a bunch of keys; she rested her left hand
quietly upon her hip, and stretched her right commandingly before her.

"Aye, aye, Rauthgundis, mistress mine," said Wachis, letting loose,
"must you have your eyes everywhere?"

"Everywhere, when my servants are at mischief. When will you learn to
agree? You Italians need a master in the house. But thou, Wachis,
shouldst not vex the housewife too. Come, Athalwin, come with me."

And she led the boy away.

She went into a side-yard, filled her raised skirt with grain out of a
trough, and fed the fowls and pigeons, which immediately flocked around
her.

For a little while Athalwin watched her silently. At last he said:

"Mother, is it true? Is father a robber?"

Rauthgundis suspended her occupation, and looked at the child in
surprise.

"Who said so?"

"Who? Eh, the nephew of Calpurnius! We were playing on the great heap
of hay in his meadow, and I showed him how far the land belongs to us
on the right of the hedge--far and wide--as far as our servants were
mowing, and the brook shone in the distance. Then he got angry and
said, 'Yes, and all that land once belonged to us, and thy father or
thy grandfather stole it, the robbers!'"

"Indeed! And what didst thou reply?"

"Eh, nothing at all, mother. I only threw him over the hay-cock, with
his heels in the air. But now I should like to know if it is true."

"No, child, it is not true. Your father did not steal it, but took it
openly, because he was stronger and better than these Italians. And
heroes have done the same in all ages. And when the Italians were
strong and their neighbours weak, they did so most of all. But now
come; we must look after the linen that is bleaching on the green."

As they turned their backs upon the stables, and were going towards the
grassy hill on the left of the house, they heard the rapid hoof-beats
of a horse, which was approaching on the old Roman high-road.

Athalwin climbed quickly to the top of the hill and looked towards the
road.

A rider, mounted on an immense brown charger, galloped down the woody
heights towards the villa. Brightly sparkled his helmet and the point
of the lance, which he carried across his shoulder.

"It is father, mother; it is father!" cried the boy, and ran swift as
an arrow down the hill to meet the rider.

Rauthgundis had just now reached the top of the hill. Her heart beat.
She shaded her eyes with her hand, to look into the evening-red; then
she said in a low happy voice:

"Yes, it is he! my husband."



                               CHAPTER V.

Meanwhile Athalwin had already reached his father and climbed up his
knee, clinging to his foot.

The rider lifted him up with a loving hand, set him before him in the
saddle, and spurred his horse into a gallop. The noble animal, once the
charger of Theodoric, neighed lustily as he recognised his home and his
mistress, and shook his flowing mane.

The rider now reached the hill, and dismounted with the boy.

"My dear wife!" he exclaimed, embracing her tenderly.

"My Witichis!" she answered, blushing with pleasure, and clinging to
him; "welcome home!"

"I promised that I would come before the new moon--it was
difficult----"

"But thou hast kept thy word, as always."

"My heart drew me here," he said, putting his arm around her.

They went on slowly to the house.

"It seems, Athalwin, that Wallada is of more consequence to thee than
thy father," said Witichis, smiling, to the boy, who was leading the
horse carefully after them.

"No, father; but give me the lance too--I have not often such a
pleasure in this country life;" and dragging the long, heavy shaft of
the spear after him with difficulty, he cried out: "Eh! Wachis,
Ansbrand! father has come! Fetch the skin of Falernian from the cellar.
Father is thirsty after his rapid ride!"

With a smile Witichis stroked the golden curls of the boy, who now
hurried past them to the house.

"Well, and how does all go on here?" asked Witichis, looking at
Rauthgundis.

"Very well, Witichis. The harvest is all brought in, the grapes
crushed, the sheaves housed."

"I do not ask about that," said he, pressing her tenderly to him--"how
art thou?"

"As well as a poor woman can be," she answered, looking up at him, "who
misses her well-loved husband. Work is the only thing that comforts me,
my friend; plenty of occupation, which benumbs a sensitive heart. I
often think how thou, far away amongst strange people, must trouble
thyself in court and camp, where there is none to cherish thee. At
least, I say to myself, he shall find his home well-kept and cheerful
when he returns. And it is that, seest thou, which sanctifies and
ennobles all the dull routine of work, and makes it dear to me."

"That's my brave wife! But dost thou not too much fatigue thyself?"

"Work is healthy. But vexation, and the men's wickedness, _that_ hurts
me!"

Witichis stood still.

"Who dares to grieve thee?"

"Ah! the Italian servants, and our Italian neighbours! They all hate
us. Woe to us, if they did not fear us. Calpurnius, our neighbour, is
so insolent when he knows thou art absent, and the Roman slaves are
disobedient and false; our Gothic servants alone are good."

Witichis sighed. They had now arrived at the house, and sat down at a
marble table under the colonnade.

"Thou must remember," said Witichis, "that our neighbour was forced to
give up to us the third part of his estate and slaves."

"And has kept two-thirds, and his life into the bargain--he ought to
thank God!" answered Rauthgundis contemptuously.

Just then Athalwin came running with a basketful of apples, which he
had plucked from the tree. Presently Wachis and the other German
servants came with wine, meat, and cheese, and greeted their master
with a frank clasp of the hand.

"Well done, my children. The mistress praises you. But where are Davus,
Cacus, and the others?"

"Pardon, sir," answered Wachis, grinning, "they have a bad conscience."

"Why? What about?"

"Eh!--I think--because I have beaten them little; they are ashamed."

The other men laughed.

"Well, it will do them no harm," said Witichis; "go now to your meal.
To-morrow I will examine your work."

The men went.

"What is that about Calpurnius?" asked Witichis, pouring wine into his
cup.

Rauthgundis blushed and hesitated.

"He has carried away the hay from the mountain meadow," she then
replied, "which our men had mowed; and has put it into his barn by
night, and will not return it."

"He will return it quickly enough, I think," said her husband quietly,
as he took up his cup and drank.

"Yes," cried Athalwin eagerly, "I think so too! And if he will not, all
the better for me! Then we will declare war, and I will go over with
Wachis and all the great fellows, with weapons and pikes! He always
looks at me so wickedly, the black spy!"

Rauthgundis told him to be silent, and sent him to bed.

"Very well, I will go," he said; "but, father, when thou comest again,
thou wilt bring me a real weapon, instead of this stick, wilt thou
not?" and he ran into the house.

"Contentions with these Italians never cease," said Witichis; "the very
children inherit the feeling. But it causes thee far too much vexation
here. So much the more willingly wilt thou do what I now propose: come
with me to Ravenna, Rauthgundis, to court."

His wife looked at him with astonishment.

"Thou art joking!" she said incredulously. "Thou hast never before
wished it! During the nine years of our married life, it has never
entered thy head to take me to court! I believe no one in all the
nation knows that a Rauthgundis exists. For a surety, thou hast kept
our marriage secret," she added, smiling, "like a crime!"

"Like a treasure!" said Witichis, embracing her.

"I have never asked thee wherefore. I was and am happy; and I thought
and think now: he has his reason."

"I had a good reason: it exists no longer. Now thou mayest know all. A
few months after I had found thee amid the solitudes of thy mountains,
and had conceived an affection for thee, King Theodoric hit upon the
strange idea, to unite me in marriage with his sister Amalaberga, the
widow of the King of the Thuringians, who needed the protection of a
man against her wicked neighbours, the Franks."

"Thou wert to wear a crown?" asked Rauthgundis, with sparkling eyes.

"But Rauthgundis was dearer to me," continued Witichis, "than Queen or
crown, and I said, No. It vexed the King exceedingly, and he only
forgave me when I told him that probably I should never marry. At that
time I could not hope ever to call thee mine; thou knowest how long thy
father suspiciously and sternly refused to trust thee to me; but when,
notwithstanding, thou wert become my wife, I considered that it would
not be wise to show the King the woman for whose sake I had refused his
sister."

"But why hast thou concealed all this from me for nine long years?"

"Because," he said, looking lovingly into her eyes, "because I know my
Rauthgundis. Thou wouldst ever have imagined I had lost I know not what
with that crown! But now the King is dead, and I am permanently bound
to the court. Who knows when I shall again rest in the shadow of these
columns, in the peace of this roof?"

And he related briefly the fall of the Prefect, and what position he
now held near Amalaswintha.

Rauthgundis listened attentively; then she took his hand and pressed
it.

"It is good, Witichis, that the Goths gradually find out thy worth, and
thou art more cheerful, I think, than usual."

"Yes; I feel more contented since I can bear part of the burden of the
time. It was much more difficult to stand idly by and see it pressing
heavily upon my nation. I am only sorry for the Queen, she is like a
prisoner."

"Bah! Why did the woman grasp at the office of a man? Such a thing
would never enter my head."

"Thou art no Queen, Rauthgundis, and Amalaswintha is proud."

"I am ten times prouder than she! but not so vain. She can never have
loved a man, nor understood his nature and worth, otherwise she could
not wish to fill a man's place."

"At court that is looked upon in a different manner. But do come with
me to Ravenna."

"No, Witichis," she quietly said, rising from her seat, "the court is
not fit for me, nor I for the court. I am the child of a mountain
farmer, and far too uncultured. Look at this brown neck," she laughed,
"and these rough hands! I cannot tinkle on the lyre, or read verses. I
should be ill suited for the fine Roman ladies, and thou wouldst have
little honour with me."

"Surely thou dost not consider thyself too bad for the court?"

"No, Witichis, too good."

"Well, people must learn to bear with and appreciate each other."

"I could not do that. They could perhaps learn to bear with me, out of
fear of thee. But I should daily tell them to their faces that they are
hollow, false, and bad!"

"So, then, thou wilt rather do without thy husband for months?"

"Yes, rather do without him, than be near him in a false and unfitting
position. Oh, my Witichis!" she added, encircling his neck with her
arm, "consider who I am and how thou foundest me! where the last
settlements of our people dot the edge of the Alps, high up upon the
steep precipices of the Scaranzia; where the youthful Isara breaks
foaming out of the ravines into the open plains, there stands my
father's lonely farm; there I knew of nought but the hard work of
summer upon the quiet alms, of winter in the smoke-blackened hall,
spinning with the maids. My mother died early, and my brothers were
killed by the Italians. So I grew up lonely, no one near me but my old
father, who was as true, but also as hard and close, as his native
rocks. There I saw nothing of the world which lay outside our
mountains. Only sometimes, from a height, I watched with curiosity a
pack-horse going along the road deep below in the valley, laden with
salt or wine. I sat through many a shining summer evening upon the
jagged peaks of the high Arn, and looked at the sun sinking splendidly
over the far-away river Licus; and I wondered what it had seen the
whole long summer day, since it had risen over the broad [OE]nus; and I
thought how I should like to know what things looked like at the other
side of the Karwändel, or away behind the Brennus, over which my
brothers had gone and had never returned. And yet I felt how beautiful
it was up there in the green solitude, where I heard the golden eagle
screaming in its near eyrie, and where I plucked more lovely flowers
than ever grow in the plains, and even, sometimes, heard by night the
mountain-wolf howling outside the stable-door, and frightened it away
with a torch. In early autumn, too, and in the long winter, I had time
to sit and muse; when the white mist-veils spun themselves over the
lofty pines; when the mountain wind tore the blocks of stone from our
straw-roof, and the avalanches thundered from the precipices. So I grew
up, strange to the world beyond the next forest, only at home in the
quiet world of my thoughts, and in the narrow life of the peasant. Then
thou earnest--I remember it as if it had happened yesterday----"

She ceased, lost in recollection.

"I remember it too, exactly," said Witichis. "I was leading a
centumvirate from Juvavia to the Augusta-town on the Licus. I had lost
my way and my people. For a long time I had wandered about in the
sultry summer day, without finding a path, when I saw smoke rising
above a fir-tree grove, and soon I found a hidden farm, and entered
the yard-gate. There stood a splendid girl at the pump, lifting a
bucket----"

"Look, even here in the valley, in this southern valley of the Alps, it
is often too close for me; and I long for a breath of air from the
pine-woods of my mountains. But at court, in the narrow gilded
chambers! there I should languish and pine away. Leave me here; I shall
manage Calpurnius well enough. And thou, I know well, wilt still think
of home, wife, and child, when absent in the royal halls."

"Yes, God knows, with longing thoughts! Well then, remain here, and God
keep thee, my good wife!"

The second day after this conversation Witichis again rode away up the
wooded heights.

The parting hour had made him almost tender; but he had firmly checked
the outbreak of feeling which it was so repugnant to his simple and
manly nature to indulge in. How the brave man's heart clung to his
trusty wife and darling boy!

Behind him trotted Wachis, who would not be prevented from accompanying
his master for a short distance.

Suddenly he rode up to him.

"Sir," said he, "I know something."

"Indeed! Why didst not tell it?"

"Because no one asked me about it."

"Well, I ask thee about it."

"Yes; if one is asked, then of course he must answer! The mistress has
told you that Calpurnius is such a bad neighbour?"

"Yes; what about that?"

"But she did not tell you since when?"

"No; dost thou know?"

"Well, it was about half a year ago. About that time Calpurnius once
met the mistress in the wood, alone as they both thought; but they were
not alone. Some one lay in a ditch, and was taking his mid-day nap."

"Thou wert that sluggard!"

"Rightly guessed. And Calpurnius said something to the mistress."

"What did he say?"

"That I did not understand. But the mistress was not idle; she lifted
her hand and struck him in the face with such a smack, that it
resounded. And since then our neighbour is a bad neighbour, and I
wanted to tell you, because I thought the mistress would not wish to
vex you about the rascal; but still it is better that you know it. And
see! there stands Calpurnius at his house door; do you see? and now
farewell, dear master."

And with this he turned his horse and galloped home. But the blood
rushed to Witichis' face.

He rode up to his neighbour's door. Calpurnius was about to retreat
into the house, but Witichis called to him in such a voice, that he was
obliged to remain.

"What do you want with me, neighbour Witichis?" he asked, looking up at
him askance.

Witichis drew rein, and stopped his horse close to him. Then he held
his clenched iron-gloved fist close before his neighbour's eyes.

"Neighbour Calpurnius," he said quietly, "if _I_ ever strike thee in
the face, thou wilt never rise again."

Calpurnius started back in a fright.

But Witichis gave his horse the spur, and rode proudly and slowly upon
his way.



                              CHAPTER VI.

In his study at Rome, comfortably stretched upon the soft cushions of a
lectus, lay Cethegus the Prefect.

He was of good cheer.

His examination had ended with full acquittal. Only in case of an
immediate search in his house--such as the young King had ordered, but
which his death had frustrated--could discovery have been apprehended.

He had succeeded in gaining permission to complete the fortifications
of Rome, supplying the funds out of his own exchequer, which
circumstance still more increased his influence in that city.

The evening before he had held a meeting in the Catacombs. All the
reports were favourable; the patriots were increasing in number and
means.

The greater oppression which since the late occurrences at Ravenna
weighed upon the Italians, could but serve to add to the ranks of the
malcontents; and, which was the main thing, Cethegus now held all the
threads of the conspiracy in his own hands. Even the most jealous
Republicans implicitly acknowledged the necessity of committing the
conduct of affairs, until the day of deliverance, to the most gifted of
men.

The feeling against the barbarians had made such progress amongst all
Italians, that Cethegus could entertain the project of striking a blow
without the help of the Byzantines, as soon as ever Rome was
sufficiently fortified.

"For," he repeatedly told himself, "all foreign liberators are easily
summoned, but with difficulty discarded."

Musing thus, Cethegus reposed upon his lectus. He laid aside Cæsar's
"Civil Wars," the leaves of which he had been turning over, and said to
himself:

"The gods must have great things in store for me; whenever I fall, it
is like a cat--upon my feet and unhurt. Ah! when things go well with
us, we like to share our content with others. But it is too dangerous a
pleasure to put trust in another, and Silence is the only faithful
goddess. And yet one is human, and would like----"

Here a slave entered--the old Ostiarius Fidus--and silently handed to
Cethegus a letter upon a flat golden salver.

"The bearer waits," he said, and left the room.

Cethegus took up the letter. But as soon as he recognised the design
upon the wax seal which secured the string twisted round the
tablets--the Dioscuri--he cried eagerly, "From Julius--at a happy
hour!" hastily untied the string, opened the tablets, and read, his
cold and pale countenance flushed with a warmth of pleasure usually
wholly strange to him:


"'To Cethegus the Prefect, from Julius Montanus.

"'How long it is, my fatherly preceptor'--(by Jupiter! that sounds
frosty)--'that I have delayed sending you the greeting which I owe you.
The last time I wrote from the green banks of the Ilissos, where I
sought for traces of Plato in the desolated groves of the Akademia, but
found none. I know well that my letter was not cheerful. The sad
philosophers, wandering in the lonely schools, surrounded by the
oppressions of the Emperor, the suspicion of the priests, and the
coldness of the multitude, could only arouse my compassion. My soul was
gloomy; I knew not wherefore. I blamed my ingratitude to you, the most
generous of all benefactors.'

"He has never given me such intolerable names before," observed
Cethegus.

"'For two years I have travelled, accompanied by your slaves and
freedmen, endowed like a King of the Syrians with your riches, through
all Asia and Hellas; I have enjoyed all the beauty and wisdom of the
ancients, and my heart is still unsatisfied, my life empty. Not the
enthusiastic wisdom of Plato; not the gilded ivory of Phidias; not
Homer and not Thucydides gave me what I wanted! At last, at last, here
in Neapolis, in this blooming, God-endowed city; here I found what I
had unconsciously missed and sought for everywhere. Not dead wisdom,
but warm, living happiness.'--(He is in love! At last, thou coy
Hippolyte! Thanks, Eros and Anteros!)--'Oh! my guardian, my father! do
you know what happiness it is for the first time to call a heart that
completely understands you, your own?'--(Ah, Julius!" sighed the
Prefect, with a singular expression of softened sentiment, "as if I
knew it not?)--'a heart to which one can freely open his whole soul?
Oh! if you have ever proved it, rejoice with me! sacrifice to Jupiter,
the fulfiller! For the first time I have found a friend!'

"What does he say?" cried Cethegus indignantly; and starting up with a
look of jealous pain, "The ungrateful boy!"

"'For thou wilt understand it well, until now I had no bosom friend.
You, my fatherly preceptor----'"

Cethegus threw the tablets upon the tortoise-shell table, and walked
hastily up and down the room.

"Folly!" he then said quietly, took up the letter again, and read on:

"'You, so much older, wiser, better, greater than I--you had laid such
a weight of gratitude and reverence upon my young soul, that it could
never unfold itself to you without reserve. I have also often heard
with discouragement the biting wit with which you mocked at all warmth
and softness of feeling; and a sharp expression about your proud and
closely-compressed mouth has always killed such feelings in me, as the
night-frost kills the first violets.'--(Well, at all events, he is
sincere!)--'But now I have found a friend--frank, warm, young, and
enthusiastic--and I feel a delight hitherto unknown to me. We are one
in heart and soul; we wander together on sunny days and moonlight
nights through the Elysian fields, and are never at a loss for winged
words. But I must soon close this letter. He is a Goth'--(that too!"
cried Cethegus, angrily)--"'and is named Totila.'"

Cethegus let drop the hand which held the letter. He said nothing. He
only shut his eyes for an instant, and then he quietly read on again:

"'And is named Totila. The day after my arrival in Neapolis, as I was
lounging through the Forum of Neptune, and admiring some statues under
the arches of a neighbouring house which had been exposed for sale by a
sculptor, there suddenly rushed at me, out of the door of this house, a
grey-haired man with a woollen apron, all over white with plaster, and
holding in his hand a pointed tool. He grasped my shoulder and shouted,
"Pollux, my Pollux! have I found thee at last!" I thought the old
fellow was mad, and said, "You mistake, old man, I am called Julius,
and come from Athens." "No," cried he; "thou art named Pollux, and come
from Olympus!" And before I knew what had happened, he had pushed me
into the house. There I gradually found out what was the matter. It was
the sculptor who had exposed the statues. In the ante-chamber stood
many half-finished works, and the sculptor explained to me that for
years he had been thinking of a group of the Dioscuri. For the Castor
he had found a charming model in a young Goth. "But in vain," he
continued, "have I prayed to Heaven for an inspiration for my Pollux.
He must resemble the Castor; like him, a brother of Helena and a son of
Jupiter. Complete similarity of feature and form must be there, and yet
the difference must be as apparent as the resemblance; they must each
be completely individual. In vain I sought in all the baths and
gymnasiums of Neapolis. I could not find the Leda-twin. And now a
god--Jupiter himself--has led thee to my door! It struck me like
lightning when I saw thee, 'There stands my Pollux, just as he ought to
look!' And I will never let thee depart living from my house until thou
hast promised me thy head and thy body." I willingly promised the
strange old man to come again the next day; and I did so the more
gladly when I afterwards learnt that my violent friend was Xenarchus,
the greatest sculptor in marble and bronze that Italia has known for a
long time. The next day I went again, and found my Castor. It was
Totila; and I cannot deny that the great resemblance surprised me,
although Totila is older, taller, stronger, and incomparably more
handsome than I. Xenarchus says that we are like a pale and a
gold-coloured citron--for Totila has fairer hair and beard--and just in
this manner, the master swears, were the two Dioscuri alike and unlike.
So we learnt to know and love each other amongst the statues of the
gods and goddesses in the studio of Xenarchus; became, in truth, Castor
and Pollux, inseparable and intimate as they; and already the merry
populace of Neapolis calls us by these names when we wander arm in arm
through the streets. But our new-made friendship was still more quickly
ripened by a threatened danger, which might easily have nipped it in
the bud. One evening, as usual, we had wandered out of the Porta Nolana
to seek refreshment after the heat of the day in the Baths of Tiberius.
After the bath--in a mood of sportive tenderness--you will blame it--I
had thrown my friend's mantle over me, and set his helmet, decorated
with the swan's wings, upon my head. He entered into the joke, and,
with a smile, threw my chlamys[4] around him; and, chatting peacefully,
we went back through the pine grove in the gloom of approaching night
to the city. All at once a man sprang upon me from a taxus-bush behind
me, and I felt cold steel at my throat. But the next moment the
murderer lay at my feet, Totila's sword in his breast. Only slightly
wounded, I bent over the dying man, and asked him what reason he had to
hate and murder me. But he stared in my face, and breathed out, "Not
thee--Totila, the Goth!" and he gave a convulsive shiver and was dead.
By his costume and weapons, we saw that he was an Isaurian mercenary.'"

Again the hand which held the letter dropped, and Cethegus pressed the
other to his forehead.

"Madness of chance!" he said; "to what mightest thou not have led!" And
he read to the end. '"Totila said he had many enemies at Ravenna. We
reported the incident to Uliaris, the Gothic Earl at Neapolis. He
caused the corpse to be examined, and instituted an inquiry--without
result. But this grave event has cemented our youthful friendship and
consecrated it with blood for ever. It has united us in an earnest and
holy bond. The seal-ring of the Dioscuri, which you gave me at parting,
was a friendly omen, and it has been pleasantly fulfilled; and when I
ask myself to whom is owing all my happiness, it is to you, to you
alone, who sent me to this city, where I have found all that I wanted!
So may the gods requite you for it! Ah, I see that my letter speaks
only of myself and this friendship--write to me speedily, I beg, and
let me know how things go with you.--_Vale_."

A bitter smile passed across the Prefect's expressive mouth, and he
again measured the room with rapid strides. At last he stopped,
supporting his chin in his hand:

"How can I be so--childish--as to vex myself? It is all very natural,
if very foolish. You are sick, Julius. Wait; I will write you a
prescription."

And with an expression of pleased malice on his face, he seated himself
upon the writing-divan, took a Cnidian reed-pen, and wrote with the red
ink from a cup of agate, in the shape of a lion's head, which was
screwed into the lectus:


"To Julius Montanus: Cethegus, Prefect of Rome.

"Your touching epistle from Neapolis amused me much. It shows that you
have not yet outlived the last childish ailments. When you have laid
them aside you will be a man. In order to precipitate this crisis, I
will prescribe the best means. You will at once seek for the trader in
purple, Valerius Procillus, the oldest friend that I have in Neapolis.
He is the richest merchant of the East, an inveterate enemy of the
Emperor of Byzantium, and as good a republican as Cato; merely on that
account he is my trusted friend. But his daughter, Valeria Procilla, is
the most beautiful Roman girl of our time, and a true daughter of the
ancient, the heathen world. She is only three years younger than you,
and therefore ten times as wise. At the same time her father will not
refuse you if you explain to him that Cethegus sues for you. But thou
wilt fall deeply in love at first sight! Of this I am sure; although I
tell it you beforehand, although you know that I wish it. In her arms
you will forget all the friends in the world; when the sun rises, the
moon pales. Besides, do you know that your Castor is one of the most
dangerous enemies of the Romans? And I once knew a certain Julius who
swore: 'Rome before all things!'--_Vale_."

Cethegus rolled the papyrus together, tied it with a string of red
bast, fastened the knot with wax, and pressed his amethyst ring,
engraved with a splendid head of Jupiter, upon it. Then he touched a
silver eagle which protruded from the marble wainscoting of the room;
outside, upon the wall of the vestibule, a bronze thunderbolt struck
upon the silver shield of a fallen Titan with a clear bell-like tone.
The slave re-entered the room.

"Let the messenger have a bath; give him food and wine, a gold solidus,
and this letter. To-morrow at sunrise he will return to Neapolis."



                              CHAPTER VII.

Several weeks later we find the grave Prefect in a circle which seemed
very ill-suited to his lofty character, or even to his age.

In the singular juxtaposition of heathenism and Christianity which,
during the first century succeeding Constantine's conversion, filled
the life and manners of the Roman world with such harsh contrasts, the
peaceful mingling of the old and the new religious festivals played a
striking part. Generally the merry feasts of the ancient gods still
existed, together with the great holidays of the Christian Church,
though usually robbed of their original significance, of their
religious kernel. The people allowed themselves to be deprived of the
belief in Jupiter and Juno, of sacrifices and ceremonies, but not of
the games, the festivities, the dances and banquets, by which those
ceremonies had been accompanied; and the Church was at all times wise
and tolerant enough to suffer what she could not prevent. Thus, even
the truly heathen Lupercalia, which were distinguished by gross
superstition and all kinds of rude excess, were only, and with great
difficulty, abolished in the year 496.

The days of the Floralia were come, which formerly were celebrated over
the whole continent with noisy games and dances, as being specially a
feast of happy youth; and which, in the days we speak of, were at least
passed in banqueting and drinking.

And so the two Licinii, with their circle of young gallants and
patricians, had made an appointment to meet together for a symposium
upon the principal holiday of the Floralia, to which, as at our
picnics, every one contributed his share of food and wine.

The guests assembled at the house of young Kallistratos, an amiable and
rich Greek from Corinth, who had settled in Rome to enjoy an artistic
leisure, and had built, near the gardens of Sallust, a tasteful house,
which became the focus of luxury and polite society.

Besides the rich Roman aristocracy, this house was particularly
frequented by artists and scholars; and also by that stratum of the
Roman youth, which could spare little time and thought from its horses,
chariots and dogs for the State, and which until now had therefore been
inaccessible to the influence of the Prefect.

For this reason Cethegus was well-pleased when young Lucius Licinius,
now his most devoted adherent, brought him an invitation from the
Corinthian.

"I know," said Licinius modestly, "that we can offer you no appropriate
entertainment; and if the Falernian and Cyprian, with which
Kallistratos regales his guests, do not entice you, you can decline to
come."

"No, my son; I will come," said Cethegus; "and it is not the old
Cyprian which tempts me, but the young Romans."

Kallistratos, who loved to display his Grecian origin, had built his
house in the midst of Rome in Grecian style; not in the style then
prevalent, but in that of the free Greece of Pericles, which, by
contrast with the tasteless overcharging usual in Rome in those days,
made an impression of noble simplicity.

Through a narrow passage one entered the peristyle, or open court,
surrounded by a colonnade, in the centre of which a splashing fountain
fell into a coloured marble basin. The colonnade, open to the north,
contained, besides other rooms, the banqueting hall, in which the
company was now assembled.

Cethegus had stipulated that he should not be present at the c[oe]na,
or actual banquet, but only at the compotatio, the drinking-bout which
followed.

So he found the friends in the elegant drinking-room, where the bronze
lamps upon the tortoise-shell slabs on the walls were already lighted,
and the guests, crowned with roses and ivy, lay upon the cushions of
the horse-shoe-shaped triclinium.

A stupefying mixture of wine-odours and flower-scents, a glare of
torches and glow of colour, met him upon the threshold.

"_Salve_, Cethegus!" cried the host, as he entered. "You find but a
small party."

Cethegus ordered the slave who followed him, a beautiful and slender
young Moor, whose finely-shaped limbs were rather revealed than hidden
by the scarlet gauze of his light tunic, to unloose his sandals.
Meanwhile he counted the guests.

"Not less than the Graces, nor more than the Muses," he said with a
smile.

"Quick, choose a wreath," said Kallistratos, "and take your place up
there, upon the seat of honour on the couch. We have chosen you
beforehand for the king of the feast."

The Prefect was determined to charm these young people. He knew how
well he could do so, and that day he wished to make a particular
impression. He chose a crown of roses, and took the ivory sceptre,
which a Syrian slave handed to him upon his knees.

Placing the rose-wreath on his head, he raised the sceptre with
dignity.

"Thus I put an end to your freedom!"

"A born ruler!" cried Kallistratos, half in joke, half in earnest.

"But I will be a gentle tyrant! My first law: one-third
water--two-thirds wine."

"Oho!" cried Lucius Licinius, and drank to him, "_bene te!_ you govern
luxuriously. Equal parts is usually our strongest mixture."

"Yes, friend," said Cethegus, smiling, and seating himself upon the
corner seat of the central triclinium, the "Consul's seat," "but I took
lessons in drinking amongst the Egyptians; they drink pure wine. Ho,
cupbearer--what is he called?"

"Ganymede--he is from Phrygia. Fine fellow--eh?"

"So, Ganymede, obey thy Jupiter, and place near each guest; a patera of
Mamertine wine--but near Balbus two, because he is a countryman."

The young people laughed.

Balbus was a rich Sicilian proprietor, still quite young, and already
very stout.

"Bah!" said he, laughing, "ivy round my head, and an amethyst on my
finger--I defy the power of Bacchus!"

"Well, at which wine have you arrived?" asked Cethegus, at the same
time signing to the Moor who now stood behind him, and who at once
brought a second wreath of roses, and, this time, wound it about his
neck.

"Must of Setinum, with honey from Hymettus, was the last. There, try
it!" said Piso, the roguish poet, whose epigrams and anacreontics could
not be copied quickly enough by the booksellers; and whose finances,
notwithstanding, were always in poetical disorder. He handed to the
Prefect what we should call a _vexing-cup_, a bronze serpent's-head,
which, lifted carelessly to the lips, violently shot a stream of wine
into the drinker's throat.

But Cethegus knew the trick, drank carefully, and returned the cup.

"I like your _dry_ wit better, Piso," he said, laughing; and snatched a
wax tablet from a fold in the other's garment.

"Oh, give it me back," said Piso; "it is no verses--just the
contrary--a list of my debts for wine and horses."

"Well," observed Cethegus, "I have taken it--so it and they are
mine. To-morrow you may fetch the quittance at my house; but not for
nothing--for one of your most spiteful epigrams upon my pious friend
Silverius."

"Oh, Cethegus!" cried the poet, delighted and flattered, "how spiteful
one can be for 40,000 solidi! Woe to the holy man of God!"



                             CHAPTER VIII.

"And the dessert--how far have you got there?" asked Cethegus, "already
at the apples? are these they?" and he looked, screwing up his eyes, at
two heaped-up fruit-baskets, which stood upon a bronze table with ivory
legs.

"Ha, victory!" laughed Marcus Licinius, Lucius's younger brother, who
amused himself with the then fashionable pastime of modelling in wax.
"There! you see my art, Kallistratos! The Prefect thinks that my waxen
apples, which I gave you yesterday, are real."

"Ah, indeed!" cried Cethegus, as if astonished, although he had long
since noticed the smell of the wax with dislike. "Yes, art deceives the
most acute. With whom did you learn? I should like to put similar
ornaments in my Kyzikenian hall."

"I am an autodidact," said Marcus proudly, "and to-morrow I will send
you my new Persian apples--for you honour art."

"But is the sitting at an end?" asked the Prefect, resting his left arm
on the cushions of the triclinium.

"No," cried the host, "I will confess the truth. As I could not reckon
upon the king of our feast until the dessert, I have prepared a little
after-feast to be taken with the wine."

"Oh, you sinner!" cried Balbus, wiping his greasy lips upon the rough
purple Turkish table-cover, "and I have eaten such a terrible quantity
of your _becca-ficchi_!"

"It is against the agreement!" cried Marcus Licinius.

"It will spoil my manners," said the merry Piso gravely.

"Say, is that Hellenic simplicity?" asked Lucius Licinius.

"Peace, friends!" and Cethegus comforted them with a quotation: "'E'en
unexpected hurt, a Roman bears unmoved.'"

"The Hellenic host must adjust himself according to his guests," said
Kallistratos, excusing himself. "I feared you would not come again if I
offered you Marathonian fare."

"Well, at least confess with what you menace us," cried Cethegus.
"Thou, Nomenclator! read the bill of fare. I will then decide upon the
suitable wines."

The slave--a handsome Lydian boy, dressed in a garment of blue Pelusian
linen, slit up to the knee--came close to Cethegus at the cypress-wood
table, and read from a little tablet which he carried fastened to a
golden chain about his neck:

"Fresh oysters from Britannia, in tunny-sauce, with lettuce."

"With this dish, Falernian from Fundi," said Cethegus at once. "But
where is the sideboard with the cups? Good wine deserves handsome
goblets."

"There is the sideboard!" And at a sign from the host, a curtain, which
had concealed a corner of the room opposite the guests, dropped.

A cry of astonishment ran round the table.

The richness of the service displayed, and the taste with which it was
arranged, surprised even these fastidious feasters.

Upon the marble slab of a side-table stood a roomy silver carriage,
with golden wheels and bronze horses. It was a model of a booty-wagon,
such as were used in Roman triumphal processions, and, like a costly
booty, within it was piled, in seeming disorder, but with an artistic
hand, a quantity of goblets, glasses, and salvers, of every shape and
material.

"By Mars the Victor!" laughed the Prefect, "the first Roman triumph for
two hundred years! A rare sight! Dare I destroy it?"

"You are the man to set it up again," said Lucius, with fire.

"Do you think so? Let us try! First, we will have that goblet of
pistachio-wood for the Falernian."

"Wind-thrushes from the Tagus, with asparagus from Tarento," continued
the Lydian, reading the bill of fare.

"With that, red Massikian from Sinuessa, to be drunk out of that
amethyst goblet."

"Young lobsters from Trapezunt, with flamingo-tongues."

"Stop! By holy Bacchus!" cried Balbus, "it is the torture of
Tantalus. It is all the same to me out of what I drink, whether from
pistachio-wood or amethyst; but to listen to this list of divine
dainties with a dry throat, is more than I can stand. Down with
Cethegus, the tyrant! Let him die, if he lets us thirst!"

"I feel as if I were Emperor, and heard the roar of the faithful Roman
populace! I will save my life and yield. Serve the dishes, slaves."

At this the sound of flutes was heard from an outer room, and six
slaves entered, marching in time to the music, with ivy in their
shining, anointed locks, and dressed in red mantles and white tunics.
They gave to each guest a snowy cloth of finest Sidonian linen, with
purple fringes.

"Oh," cried Massurius, a young merchant who traded principally with
beautiful slaves of both sexes, and enjoyed the rather doubtful
reputation of being a great critic in such wares, "the best cloth is
beautiful hair," and he passed his hands through the locks of a
Ganymede who was kneeling near him.

"But, Kallistratos, I hope those flutes are of the female sex. Up with
the curtain; let the girls in."

"Not yet," ordered Cethegus. "First drink, then kiss. Without Bacchus
and Ceres, you know----"

"Venus freezes, but not Massurius!"

All at once lyres and citharas sounded from the side room, and there
entered a procession of eight youths in shining silken garments of a
gold-green colour. Foremost the "dresser" and the "carver." The other
six bore dishes upon their heads. They passed the guests with measured
steps, and halted at the sideboard of citron-wood. While they were busy
there, castanets and cymbals were heard from another part of the house;
the large double doors turned upon their shining bronze hinges, and a
swarm of slaves in the becoming costume of Corinthian youths streamed
into the room.

Some handed bread in ornamentally-perforated baskets; others whisked
the flies away with fans of ostrich feathers and palm-leaves; some
gracefully poured oil into the wall-lamps from double-handled vases;
whilst others swept the crumbs from the mosaic pavement with besoms of
Egyptian reeds, or helped Ganymede to fill the cups, which now were
circling merrily.

The conversation grew more rapid and animated, and Cethegus, who,
although he remained cool and collected, seemed to be quite lost in the
enjoyment of the moment, charmed the young guests by his youthful
gaiety.

"What do you say?" asked the host, "shall we play dice between the
dishes? There stands the dice-box, near Piso."

"Well, Massurius," observed Cethegus, with a sarcastic look at the
slave-dealer, "will you try your luck with me once more? Will you bet
against me? Give him the dice-box, Syphax," he said to the Moor.

"Mercury forbid!" answered Massurius, with comical fright. "Have
nothing to do with the Prefect he has inherited the luck of his
ancestor, Julius Cæsar."

"Omen accipio!" laughed Cethegus. "I accept the omen, with the dagger
of Brutus into the bargain."

"I tell you, he is a magician! Only lately he won an unwinnable bet
against me about this black demon," and the speaker threw a cactus-fig
at the slave's face, but Syphax caught it cleverly with his shining
white teeth, and quietly ate it up.

"Well done, Syphax!" said Cethegus. "Roses from the thorns of the
enemy! Thou canst become a conjurer as soon as I let thee free."

"Syphax does not wish to be free: he will always be your Syphax, and
save your life as you saved his."

"What is that--thy life?" asked Lucius Licinius.

"Did you pardon him?" asked Marcus.

"More than that, I bought him off."

"Yes, with my money!" grumbled Massurius.

"You know that I immediately gave him the money I won from you as his
private possession," answered Cethegus.

"What about this bet? Let us hear. Perhaps it will afford a subject for
my epigrams," said Piso.

"Retire, Syphax. There! the cook is bringing us his masterpiece, it
seems."



                              CHAPTER IX.

It was a turbot weighing six pounds, which for years had been fed with
goose-liver in the sea-water fishponds of Kallistratos. The much-prized
"Rhombus" was served upon a silver dish, with a little golden crown on
its head.

"All ye gods, and thou, Prophet Jonah!" stammered Balbus, sinking back
upon the cushions, "that fish is worth more than I!"

"Peace, friend," said Piso, "let not Cato hear thee, who said, 'Woe to
that city where a fish is worth more than an ox.'"

A burst of laughter, and the loud call of "_Euge belle!_" drowned the
angry exclamation of the half-drunken Sicilian.

The fish was carved, and was found delicious.

"Now, slaves, away with the weak Massikian. A noble fish must swim in
noble liquid. Quick, Syphax, the wine which I have contributed to the
banquet will suit exactly. Go, and let the amphora, which the slaves
have set in snow outside, be brought in, and with it the cups of yellow
amber."

"What rare thing have you brought--from what country?" asked
Kallistratos.

"Ask this far-travelled Odysseus, from what hemisphere," said Piso.

"You must guess. And whoever guesses right, or whoever has already
tasted this wine, shall have an amphora from me as large as this."

Two slaves, crowned with ivy, dragged in the immense dark-coloured
vase; it was of brown-black porphyry and of a singular shape, inscribed
with hieroglyphics and well closed at the neck with plaster.

"By the Styx! does it come from Tartarus? It is indeed a black fellow!"
said Marcus, laughing.

"But it has a white soul--show, Syphax."

The Nubian carefully knocked off the plaster with an ebony hammer which
Ganymede handed to him, took out the stopper of palm-rind with a bronze
hook, poured away the oil which swam at the top of the wine, and filled
the cups. A strong and intoxicating odour arose from the white and
sticky fluid.

Every one drank with an air of examination.

"A drink fit for the gods!" cried Balbus, setting down his cup.

"But as strong as liquid fire," said Kallistratos.

"I do not know it," said Lucius Licinius.

"Nor I," affirmed Marcus Licinius.

"And I am happy to make its acquaintance," said Piso, and held his
empty cup to Syphax.

"Well," said the host, turning to an, until now, almost silent guest at
his right hand, "well, Furius, valiant sailor, discoverer and
adventurer! you who have sailed round the world, is _your_ wisdom also
at fault?"

The guest slightly raised himself from the cushions. He was a
handsome athletic man of about thirty years of age, with a bronzed
weather-beaten complexion, coal-black, deep-set eyes, dazzling white
teeth, and a full beard, trimmed in Oriental fashion. But before he
could speak Kallistratos interposed:

"By Jupiter Xenios! I believe you do not know each other!"

Cethegus measured his unknown and attractive companion with a keen
look.

"I know the Prefect of Rome," said the silent guest.

"Well, Cethegus," said Kallistratos, "this is my Vulcanic friend,
Furius Ahalla, from Corsica, the richest ship-owner of the West; deep
as night and hot as fire. He possesses fifty houses, villas and palaces
on all the coasts of Europe, Asia, and Africa; twenty galleys; a few
thousand slaves and sailors, and----"

"And a very talkative friend," concluded the Corsican. "Prefect, I am
sorry for you, but the amphora is mine. I know the wine." And he took a
Kibitz-egg and broke the shell with a silver spoon.

"Hardly," said Cethegus with a sarcastic smile.

"Nevertheless I do know it. It is Isis-wine. From Memphis." And the
Corsican quietly sipped the golden yolk of his egg.

Cethegus looked at him in surprise.

"Well guessed!" he then said. "Where have you tasted it?"

"Necessarily in the same place as you. It flows only from one source,"
said the Corsican, smiling.

"Enough of your secrets! No riddles under the rose!" cried Piso.

"Where have you two weasels found the same nest?" asked Kallistratos.

"Indeed," said Cethegus, "you may as well know it. In Old Egypt, and
particularly in holy Memphis, there remain near the Christian settlers
and monks in the deserts, men, and especially women, who still cling to
their old faith; who will not forsake Apis and Osiris, and cherish
faithfully the sweet worship of Isis. They fly from the surface, where
the Church has victoriously planted the cross of the ascetics, to the
secret bosom of Mother Earth with their holy and beloved religious
ceremonies. They still keep, hidden below the pyramids of Cheops, a few
hundred amphoras of the strong wine which intoxicated the initiated at
the orgies of joy and love. The secret is kept from generation to
generation, there is always only one priestess who knows the cellar and
keeps the key. I kissed the priestess and she let me in. She was like a
wild cat, but her wine was good; and at parting she gave me five
amphoras to take on board my ship."

"I did not get as far as that with Smerda," said the Corsican. "She let
me drink in the cellar, but at parting she only gave me this." And he
bared his brown throat.

"A dagger-stab of jealousy!" laughed Cethegus. "Well, I am glad that
the daughter has not degenerated. In my time, that is, when the mother
let me drink, the little Smerda still ran about in baby-frocks. Long
live the Nile and sweet Isis!" And the two men drank to each other. But
yet they were vexed that they shared a secret which each believed he
had possessed alone.

The others, however, were charmed by the amiable humour of the icy
Prefect, who chatted with them as youthfully as the youngest amongst
them, and who now, when the favourite theme of young men at the
wine-cup had been introduced--love adventures and stories of lovely
women--bubbled over with anecdotes of jests and tricks, of most of
which he had himself been witness. Every one stormed him with
questions. The Corsican alone remained dumb and cold.

"Say," cried the host, and signed to the cup-bearer just as a burst of
mirth caused by one of these stories had ceased; "tell us, you man of
varied experience--Egyptian Isis-girls, Gallic Druidesses, black-haired
daughters of Syria, and my plastic sisters of Hellas--all these you
know and understand how to value; but tell us, have you ever loved a
Germanic woman?"

"No," said Cethegus, "they were always too insipid for me."

"Oho!" said Kallistratos; "that is saying too much. I tell you, I was
mad all the last calendars for a German girl; she was not at all
insipid."

"What? you, Kallistratos of Corinth, the countryman of Aspasia and
Helena, you could burn for a barbarian woman? Oh, wicked Eros,
sense-confuser, man-shamer!"

"Well, I acknowledge it was an error of the senses. I have never before
experienced such."

"Relate, relate!" cried all the others.



                               CHAPTER X.

"With pleasure," said the host, smoothing his cushions; "although I
play no brilliant part in the story. Well, some time ago I was
returning home from the baths of Abaskanthus at about the eighth hour.
In the street I found a woman's litter, accompanied by four slaves,
who, I believe, were captive Gepidians. And exactly opposite the door
of my house stood two veiled women, their calanticas thrown over their
heads. One wore the garment of a slave, but the other was very richly
and tastefully dressed; and the little that could be seen of her figure
was divine. Such a graceful walk, such slender ankles, such an arched
instep! As I approached they entered the litter and were gone. But
I--you know that a sculptor's blood flows in the veins of every
Greek--I dreamt all night of the slender ankles and the light step. The
next day at noon, as I opened the door to go, as usual, to the
bibliographers in the Forum, I saw the same litter hurrying away. I
confess--though I am not usually vain--I thought that this time I had
made a conquest; I wished it so much. And I could no longer doubt it,
when, coming home again at the eighth hour, I saw my strange beauty,
this time unaccompanied, slip past me and hurry to her litter. I could
not follow the quick-footed slaves, so I entered my house, full of
happy thoughts. The ostiarius met me and said:

"'Sir, a veiled female slave waits in the library.'

"I hurried to the room with a beating heart. It was really the slave
whom I had seen yesterday. She threw back her mantle; a handsome
coquettish Moor or Carthaginian--I know the sort--looked at me with sly
eyes.

"'I claim the reward of a messenger, Kallistratos,' she said; 'I bring
you good news.'

"I took her hand and would have patted her cheek--for who desires to
win the mistress must kiss the slave--but she laughed and said:

"'No, not Eros; Hermes sends me. My mistress'--I listened eagerly. 'My
mistress is--a passionate lover of art. She offers you three thousand
solidi for the bust of Ares which stands in the niche at the door of
your house.'"

The young guests laughed loudly, Cethegus joining in their merriment.

"Well, laugh away!" continued the host, smiling; "but I assure you I
did not laugh. My dreams were dashed to pieces, and I said, greatly
vexed, 'I do not sell my busts.' The slave offered five thousand, ten
thousand solidi. I turned my back upon her and opened the door. Then
the sly puss said, 'I know that Kallistratos is indignant because he
expected an adventure, and only found a money-affair. He is a Greek,
and loves beauty; he burns with curiosity to see my mistress.' This
was so true, that I could only smile. 'Well,' she said, 'you shall see
her, and then I will renew my last offer. Should you still refuse, at
least you will have had the advantage of satisfying your curiosity.
To-morrow, at the eighth hour, the litter will come again. Then be
ready with your Ares.' And she slipped away. I cannot deny that my
curiosity was aroused. Quite decided not to give up my Ares, and yet to
see this beauteous art-enthusiast, I waited impatiently for the
appointed hour. It came, and with it the litter. I stood watching at my
open door. The slave descended. 'Come,' she called to me, 'you shall
see her.' Trembling with excitement, I stepped forward, the curtain
fell, and I saw----"

"Well?" cried Marcus, bending forward, his cup in his hand.

"What I shall never again forget! a face, friends, of unimagined
beauty. Cypris and Artemis in one! I was dazzled. But I hurried back,
lifted the Ares from its niche, gave it to the Punic slave, refused her
money, and staggered into my house as confused as if I had seen a
wood-nymph."

"Well, that is wonderful," laughed Massurius; "you are else no novice
in the works of Eros."

"But," asked Cethegus, "how do you know that your charmer was a Goth?"

"She had dark-red hair, and a milk-white skin, and black eyebrows."

"Oh, ye gods!" thought Cethegus. But he was silent and waited. No one
present uttered the name. "They do not know her.--And when was this?"
he asked his host.

"During the last calendars."

"Quite right," thought Cethegus. "She came at that time from Tarentum
through Rome to Ravenna. She rested here for three days."

"And so," said Piso, laughing, "you gave your Ares for a look at a
beautiful woman! A bad bargain! This time, Mercury and Venus were
allies. Poor Kallistratos!"

"Oh," said Kallistratos, "the bust was not worth so very much. It was
modern work. Ion of Neapolis made it three years, ago. But I tell you,
I would give a Phidias for such a look."

"An ideal head?" asked Cethegus indifferently, and lifted admiringly
the bronze mixing-vase which stood before him.

"No; the model was a barbarian--some Gothic earl or other--Watichis or
Witichas--who can remember these hyperborean names," said Kalistratos,
as he peeled a peach.

Cethegus reflectively sipped his wine from the cup of amber.



                              CHAPTER XI.

"Well, one might put up with the barbarian women," cried Marcus
Licinius, "but may Orcus devour their brothers!" and he tore the faded
rose-wreath from his head--the flowers could ill bear the close air of
the room--and replaced it by a fresh one. "Not only have they deprived
us of liberty--they even beat us upon the field of love, with the
daughters of Hesperia. Only lately, the beautiful Lavinia shut the door
upon my brother, and received the foxy-haired Aligern."

"Barbaric taste!" observed Lucius, shrugging his shoulders, and taking
to his Isis-wine, as if to comfort himself. "You know the Goths too,
Furius; is it not an error of taste?"

"I do not know your rival," answered the Corsican; "but there are
youths enough among the Goths who might well be dangerous to a woman.
And an adventure occurs to me, which I lately discovered, but of which,
certainly, the point is still wanting."

"That does not matter; tell it to us," said Kallistratos, putting his
hands into the luke-warm water, which was now handed round in
Corinthian bronze vessels; "perhaps we can find the point."

"The hero of my story," began Furius, "is the handsomest of all the
Goths."

"Ah, the young Totila," interrupted Piso, and gave his cameo-decorated
cup to be filled with iced wine.

"The same. I have known him for years, and like him exceedingly, as all
must who have ever looked into his sunny face; not to speak of the
fact"--and here the shadow of some grave remembrance flitted across the
Corsican's face, as he hesitated--"that I am under an obligation to
him."

"It seems that you are in love with the fair-haired youth," said
Massurius sarcastically, and throwing to the slave he had brought with
him a kerchief full of Picentinian biscuits, to take home with him.

"No; but he has been very friendly to me, as he is to every one with
whom he comes into contact; and very often he had the harbour-watch in
the Italian ports where I landed."

"Yes, he has rendered great services to the Gothic navy," said Lucius
Licinius.

"As well as to their cavalry," concurred Marcus. "The slender youth is
the best rider in his nation."

"Well, I met him last in Neapolis. We were well-pleased to meet, but it
was in vain that I pressed him to share our merry suppers on board my
ship."

"Oh, those suppers are both celebrated and ill-famed," observed Balbus;
"you have always the most fiery wines."

"And the most fiery girls," added Massurius.

"However that may be, Totila always pleaded business, and was not to be
persuaded. Imagine that! business after the eighth hour in Neapolis,
when the most industrious are lazy! Naturally, it was only an excuse. I
promised myself to find out his pranks, and, at evening, loitered near
his house in the Via Lata. And truly, the very first evening he came
out, looking carefully about him, and, to my surprise, in disguise. He
was dressed like a gardener, with a travelling-cap well drawn down over
his face, and a cloak folded closely about him. I dogged his footsteps.
He went straight through the town to the Porta Capuana. Close to the
gate stands a large tower, inhabited by the gate-keeper, an old
patriarchal Jew, whom King Theodoric, on account of his great fidelity,
entrusted with the office of warder. My Goth stood still before the
house, and gently clapped his hands. A little side-door, which I had
not remarked before, opened noiselessly, and Totila slipped in like an
eel."

"Ho, ho!" interrupted Piso eagerly, "I know both the Jew and his child
Miriam--a splendid large-eyed girl! The most beautiful daughter of
Israel, the pearl of the East! Her lips are red as pomegranates, her
eyes are deep sea-blue, her cheeks have the rosy bloom of the peach."

"Well done, Piso," said Cethegus, smiling; "your poem is very
beautiful."

"No," he answered, "Miriam herself is living poetry."

"The Jewess is proud," grumbled Massurius, "she scorned my gold with a
look as if no one had ever bought a woman before."

"So the haughty Goth," said Lucius Licinius, "who walks with an air as
if he earned all heaven's stars upon his curly head, has condescended
to a Jewess."

"So I thought, and I determined, at the next opportunity, to laugh at
the youth for his predilection for musk. But nothing of the sort! A few
days later, I was obliged to go to Capua. I started before daybreak to
avoid the heat. I drove out of the town through the Porta Capuana, just
as it was dawning, and as I rattled over the hard stones before the
Jews' tower, I thought with envy of Totila, and said to myself that he
was then lying in the embrace of two white arms. But at the second
milestone from the gate, walking towards the town, with two empty
flower-baskets hanging over his breast and back, dressed in a
gardener's costume, just as before, whom should I meet but Totila!
Therefore he was not lying in Miriam's arms; the Jewess was not his
sweetheart, but perhaps his confidante; and who knows where the flower
that this gardener cherishes blooms? The lucky fellow! Only consider
that on the Via Capuana stand all the villas and pleasure-houses of the
first families of Neapolis, and that in these gardens flourish and
bloom the loveliest of women."

"By my genius!" cried Lucius Licinius, lifting his wreathed goblet, "in
that region live the most beautiful women of Italia--cursed be the
Goths!"

"No," shouted Massurius, glowing with wine, "cursed be Kallistratos and
the Corsican! who offer us strange love-stories, as the stork offered
the fox food from narrow-necked flasks. Now, O mine host, let your
girls in, if you have ordered any. You need not excite our expectation
any further."

"Yes, yes! the girls! the dancers! the players!" cried the young guests
all together.

"Hold!" said the host. "When Aphrodite comes, she must tread upon
flowers. This glass I dedicate to thee, Flora!"

He sprang up, and dashed a costly crystal cup against the tabled
ceiling, so that it broke with a loud ring. As soon as the glass struck
the ceiling, the whole of it opened like a trap-door, and a thick rain
of flowers of all kinds fell upon the heads of the astonished guests;
roses from Pæstum, violets from Thurii, myrtles from Tarentum; covering
with scented bunches the tesselated floor, the tables, the cushions,
and the heads of the drinkers.

"Never," cried Cethegus, "did Venus descend more beautifully upon
Paphos!"

Kallistratos clapped his hands.

To the sound of lyre and flute the centre wall of the room, directly
opposite the triclinium, parted; four short-robed female dancers,
chosen for their beauty, in Persian costume, that is, dressed in
transparent rose-coloured gauze, sprang, clashing their cymbals, from
behind a bush of blooming oleander.

Behind them came a large carriage in the form of a fan-shaped shell,
with golden wheels, pushed by eight young female slaves. Four girls,
playing on the flute, and dressed in Lydian garments--purple and white
with gold-embroidered mantles--walked before, and upon the seat of the
carriage rested, in a half-lying position, and covered with roses,
Aphrodite herself; a blooming girl of enchanting, voluptuous beauty,
whose almost only garment was an imitation of Aphrodite's girdle of the
Graces.

"Ha, by Eros and Anteros!" cried Massurius, and sprang down from the
triclinium with an unsteady step amidst the group.

"Let us draw lots for the girls," said Piso; "I have new dice made from
the bones of the gazelle. Let us inaugurate them."

"Let our festal King decide," proposed Marcus.

"No, freedom! freedom at least in love!" cried Massurius, and roughly
caught the goddess by the arm; "and music. Hey there! Music!"

"Music!" ordered Kallistratos.

But before the cymbal-players could begin, the entrance-doors were
hastily thrown open, and pushing the slaves who tried to stop him
aside, Scævola rushed in. He was deadly pale.

"You here! I really find you here, Cethegus! at this moment!" he cried.

"What's the matter?" asked the Prefect, quietly taking the wreath of
roses off his head.

"What's the matter!" repeated Scævola. "The fatherland trembles between
Scylla and Charybdis! The Gothic Dukes, Thulun, Ibba, and Pitza----"

"Well?" asked Lucius Licinius.

"Are murdered!"

"Triumph!" shouted the young Roman, and let loose the dancer whom he
held in his arms.

"A fine triumph!" said the jurist angrily. "When the news reached
Ravenna, the mob accused the Queen; they stormed the palace--but
Amalaswintha had escaped."

"Whither?" asked Cethegus, starting up.

"Whither! Upon a Grecian ship--to Byzantium."

Cethegus frowned and silently set down his cup.

"But the worst is that the Goths mean to dethrone her, and choose a
King."

"A King?" said Cethegus. "Well, I will call the Senate together. The
Romans, too, shall choose."

"Whom? what shall we choose?" asked Scævola.

But Cethegus was not obliged to answer.

Before he could speak Lucius shouted:

"A Dictator! Away, away to the Senate!"

"To the Senate!" repeated Cethegus majestically. "Syphax, my mantle!"

"Here, master, and the sword as well," whispered the Moor. "I always
bring it with me, in case of need."

And host and guests, staggering, followed Cethegus, who, the only
completely sober man amongst them, was the first out of the house and
into the street.



                              CHAPTER XII.

In one of the small rooms of the Emperor's palace in Byzantium, a short
time after the Feast of the Floralia, a little man of insignificant
appearance was pacing to and fro, lost in anxious thought.

The room was quiet and lonely. Although outside it was broad daylight,
the bay-window, which looked into the court of the extensive edifice,
was thickly hung with heavy curtains of gold-brocade. Equally costly
stuffs covered the mosaic floor, so that no noise accompanied the
footsteps of the solitary inmate.

A softened light filled the room. Relieved against the golden
background of the walls, stood a row of small white busts of the
Christian Emperors since Constantine. Exactly over a writing divan,
hung a large cross of massive gold. Whenever the little man passed
this, he bent before it; for in the middle of the gold, and covered
with glass, a splinter of wood was enclosed, said to be a piece of the
true Cross. At last he stopped before a map, which, representing the
_orbis Romanus_, and traced upon a parchment with a purple border,
covered one of the walls.

After a long and searching look, he sighed and covered his eyes with
his hands. They were not beautiful, nor was his face noble; but his
features were exceedingly suggestive both of good and evil. Mistrust,
cunning and vigilance lay in the restless glance of his deep-set eyes;
deep wrinkles, more the result of care than of age, furrowed his
projecting forehead and hollow cheeks.

"Who can foresee the result?" he exclaimed, sighing again, and rubbing
his long and bony hands. "I am unceasingly impelled to do it. A spirit
has entered my bosom, and it warns me repeatedly. But is it an angel of
the Lord or a demon? Who can interpret my dream? Forgive, Thou Triune
God, forgive Thy most zealous servant! Thou hast cursed him who
interprets dreams. And yet Joseph interpreted the dreams of King
Pharaoh, and Jacob saw the heavens open; and their dreams were from
Thee. Shall I, dare I venture?"

Again he walked to and fro; and who knows how long he would have
continued to do so, had not the purple curtains of the doorway been
gently drawn aside. A slave, glittering with gold, threw himself on the
ground before the little man, with his arms crossed on his breast.

"Emperor, the patricians whom you summoned have arrived.

"Patience!" said the Emperor to himself, and seated himself upon a
couch, of which the supports were made of gold and ivory. "Quick with
the shoes and the chlamys!"

The slave drew a pair of sandals with thick soles and high heels upon
the Emperor's feet, which added some inches to his height, and threw
over his shoulders a rich mantle worked all over with stars of gold,
kissing each article as he touched it. After a repetition of the humble
prostration, which had lately been introduced at Byzantium in this
aggravated form of Oriental submission, the slave withdrew.

Emperor Justinian placed himself opposite the entrance in the attitude
in which he was accustomed to give audience, resting his left arm upon
a broken porphyry column from the Temple of Jerusalem.

The curtain at the entrance was again parted, and three men entered,
with the same salutation as the slave; and yet they were the first men
of the empire, as was shown by their characteristic heads and
intellectual features, still more than by their richly-decorated
garments.

"We have summoned you," began the Emperor, without noticing their
humble greeting, "to hear your advice concerning Italy. You have had
all necessary information--the letters of the Queen-regent, and the
documents of the patriotic party. You have also had three days to
reflect. Speak first, Magister Militum."

And he turned to the tallest of the three, a man of stately and heroic
figure, clad in a full suit of richly-gilded armour. His well-opened,
light-brown eyes were frank and confident; his large, straight nose and
full cheeks gave his face an expression of health and strength. There
was something Herculean about his broad chest and powerful thighs
and arms; but his mouth, in spite of the fierce beard, was mild and
good-humoured.

"Sire," he said, in a full, deep-chested voice, "the advice of
Belisarius is always, 'Attack the enemy!' At your command, I lately
destroyed the Kingdom of the Vandals, in Africa, with fifteen thousand
men. Give me thirty thousand, and I will lay the Gothic crown at your
feet."

"'Tis well," said the Emperor approvingly. "Your words have done me
good. What say you, Tribonianus, pearl of jurists?"

The jurist was little shorter than Belisarius, but not so
broad-shouldered and stout-limbed. His high, grave forehead, quiet
eyes, and expressive mouth, bore witness to a powerful mind.

"Emperor," said he firmly, "I warn you against this war. It is unjust."

Justinian started up indignantly.

"Unjust!--to recover that which belongs to the Roman Empire!"

"Which _did_ belong. Your predecessor, Zeno, ceded the West to
Theodoric and his Goths when they had overthrown the usurper Odoacer."

"Theodoric was to be the Viceregent of the Emperor, not the King of
Italy."

"Admitted. But after he had become King--as he could not fail to do,
for a Theodoric could never be the servant of another--the Emperor
Anastasius, your uncle Justinus, and, later, you yourself, acknowledged
him and his kingdom."

"That was under the pressure of necessity. Now that they are in need,
and I the stronger, I revoke that acknowledgment."

"That is exactly what I call unjust."

"You are blunt and disagreeable, Tribonianus, and a tough disputant.
You are excellently fitted to compile my pandects. I will never again
ask your advice in politics. What has justice to do with politics?"

"Justice, Justinianus, is the best policy."

"Bah! Alexander and Cæsar thought differently."

"But, first, they never completed their work; and, secondly----"

He stopped.

"Well, secondly?"

"Secondly, you are not Cæsar, nor are you Alexander."

All were silent. After a pause, the Emperor said quietly:

"You are very frank, Tribonianus."

"Always, Justinianus."

The Emperor quickly turned to the third of his advisers:

"Well, what is your opinion, Narses?"



                             CHAPTER XIII.

Narses was a stunted little man, considerably shorter than Justinian,
for which reason the latter stooped, when speaking with him, much more
than was necessary. He was bald, his complexion a sickly yellow, his
right shoulder higher than his left, and he limped a little on the left
foot, supporting himself upon a stick with a golden crutch. But his
eagle eye was so commanding, that it annulled any disagreeable
impression made by his insignificant figure, and lent to his plain
countenance the consecration of intellectual greatness, while the
expression of painful resignation and cool superiority about his mouth
had even a singular charm. When addressed by the Emperor, Narses
quickly banished from his lips a cold smile, which had been excited by
the jurist's moral politics, and raised his head.

"Emperor," he said, in a sharp, decided voice, "I would dissuade you
from this war--for the present."

The Emperor bit his lips in vexation.

"Also from reasons of justice?" he asked, almost sarcastically.

"I said: for the present."

"Why?"

"Because what is necessary precedes what is pleasant. He who has to
defend his own house should not break into strange dwellings."

"What does that mean?"

"It means, that no danger threatens your empire from the West, from the
Goths. The enemy who can, and perhaps will, destroy it, comes from the
East."

"The Persians!" cried Justinian contemptuously.

"Since when," interposed Belisarius, "since when does Narses, my great
rival, fear the Persians?"

"Narses fears no one," answered the latter, without looking at his
interrogator, "neither the Persians whom he has beaten, nor you whom
the Persians have beaten. But he knows the Orient. If not the Persians,
then it will be others who follow them. The tempest which threatens
Byzantium approaches from the Tigris, not from the Tiber."

"Well, and what does that mean?"

"It means, that it is a shameful thing for you, O Emperor, and for the
Roman name which we still bear, that you should, year by year, buy
peace from Chosroes, the Persian Khan, at the cost of many
hundredweights of gold."

The Emperor's face flushed scarlet.

"How can you put such a meaning upon gifts, subsidies?"

"Gifts! If they are not forthcoming but a week after the day of
payment, Chosroes, the son of Cabades, burns your villages! Subsidies!
With them he pays Huns and Saracens, the most dangerous enemies of your
frontiers!"

Justinian walked rapidly through the room.

"What do you then advise?" he said at last, stopping short before
Narses.

"Not to attack the Goths without necessity or reason, when we can
scarcely defend ourselves from the Persians. To put forth the whole
power of your empire in order to abolish this shameful tribute; to
prevent the depredations on your frontiers; to rebuild the burnt towns
of Antiochia, Dara, and Edessa; to win back the provinces which you
lost, in spite of the valiant sword of Belisarius; and to protect your
frontiers by a seven-fold girdle of fortresses from the Euphrates to
the Araxes. And when you have completed this necessary work--and I fear
much you cannot complete it--then you may follow where Fame leads."

Justinianus slightly shook his head.

"You are displeasing to me, Narses," he said bitterly.

"I knew that long ago," Narses answered quietly.

"And not indispensable," cried Belisarius proudly. "Do not listen, my
great Emperor, to this small doubter. Give me the thirty thousand, and
I wager my right hand that I will conquer Italy for you."

"And I wager my head, which is more," said Narses, "that Belisarius
will conquer Italy neither with thirty, nor with sixty, nor with a
hundred thousand men.",

"Well," asked Justinianus, "and who can do it, and with what forces?"

"I," said Narses, "with eighty thousand."

Belisarius grew red with anger; he was silent for want of words.

"You have never yet, with all your self-esteem, Narses," said the
jurist, "vaunted yourself thus highly above your rival."

"I do not now, Tribonianus. See, the difference is this: Belisarius is
a great hero, and I am not; but I am a great general, and Belisarius is
not, and none but a great general can conquer the Goths."

Belisarius drew himself up to his full height, and angrily grasped his
sword. He looked as if he would have gladly crushed the cripple near
him.

The Emperor defended him. "Belisarius no great general! Envy blinds
you, Narses."

"I envy Belisarius nothing, not even," answered Narses, slightly
sighing, "his health. He would h& a great general if he were not so
great a hero. Every battle which he has lost, he has lost through too
great heroism."

"That can not be said of you, Narses," retorted Belisarius.

"No, Belisarius, for I have never yet lost a battle."

An angry retort from Belisarius was cut short by the entrance of a
slave, who, lifting the curtain, announced:

"Alexandros, sire, who was sent to Ravenna, has landed an hour ago, and
asks----"

"Bring him in! Here!" cried the Emperor, hastily starting from his
seat. He impatiently signed to the ambassador, who entered at once, to
rise from his obeisance.

"Well, Alexandros, you came back alone?"

The ambassador--a handsome and still young man--repeated: "Alone."

"But your last report said--In what condition have you left the Gothic
kingdom?"

"In great confusion. I wrote in my last report that the Queen had
decided to rid herself of her three most haughty enemies. Should the
attempt fail, she would be no longer safe in Italy, and she begged to
be allowed, in that case, to go in my ship to Epidamnus, and from
thence to escape to Byzantium."

"And I accepted the proposal readily. Well, and the attempt?"

"Succeeded. The three dukes are no more. But the rumour had reached
Ravenna that the most dangerous of them, Duke Thulun, was only wounded.
This induced the Queen--as, besides, the Goths threateningly surrounded
the palace--to escape to my ship. We weighed anchor, but soon after we
had left the harbour, off Ariminum, Earl Witichis overtook us with
superior numbers, boarded us, and demanded that Amalaswintha should
return, guaranteeing her safety until a solemn examination had taken
place before the National Assembly. When she learnt from him that Duke
Thulun had succumbed to his wounds, and saw from the proposal of
Witichis that he and his powerful friends did not yet believe in her
guilt, and as, besides, she apprehended compulsion, she consented to
return with him to Ravenna. But first, on board the _Sophia_, she wrote
this letter to you, and sends you this present from her treasury."

"Of that later. Tell me further, how do things, stand now in Italy?"

"Well for you, O great Emperor! An exaggerated account of the rebellion
of the Goths at Ravenna and of the flight of the Queen to Byzantium,
has flown through the whole country. Already many encounters have taken
place between Romans and barbarians. In Rome itself the patriots wished
to strike a blow at once; to choose a Dictator in the Senate, and call
for your assistance. But this step would have been premature, for the
Queen was in the hands of the Goths, and only the firmness of the
clever man who heads the conspiracy of the Catacombs prevented it."

"The Prefect of Rome?" asked Justinian.

"Cethegus. He mistrusted the reports. The conspirators wished to
surprise the Goths, proclaim you Emperor of the West, and choose him,
meanwhile, for Dictator. But he literally allowed them to put the
dagger to his throat in the Curia, and said, No."

"A courageous man!" said Belisarius.

"A dangerous man!" said Narses.

"An hour after," continued the ambassador, "news, arrived of
Amalaswintha's return, and things remained as they were. That gloomy
warrior, Teja, had sworn to render Rome a pasture for cattle, if a drop
of Gothic blood were shed. I learned all this on my intentionally slow
coast voyage to Brundusium. But I have something still better to
announce. I have found zealous friends of Byzantium, not only among the
Romans, but also among the Goths, and even in the members of the Royal
Family."

"Whom mean you?"

"In Tuscany there lives a rich proprietor, Prince Theodahad, the cousin
of Amalaswintha."

"To be sure! he is the last male of the Amelung family, is he not?"

"The last. He and, still more, Gothelindis, his clever but wicked
wife, the proud daughter of the Balthe, mortally hate the Queen. He,
because she opposed the measureless avarice with which he sought to
appropriate the property of all his neighbours; she, from reasons which
I could not discover, but which, I believe, originated during the
girlhood of the two Princesses; enough, her hate is deadly. Now, these
two have promised me to help you in every possible way to win Italy
back. She will be satisfied, it seems, with the destruction of the
object of her hatred; he, however, demands a rich reward."

"He shall have it."

"His support is important, for he already possesses half Tuscany--the
noble family of the Wölfungs owns the other half--and can easily bring
it into our power; and also because he expects, if Amalaswintha falls,
to seat himself upon her throne. Here are letters from him and
Gothelindis. But, first of all, read the writing from the Queen---- I
believe it is very important."



                              CHAPTER XIV.

The Emperor opened the tablets, and read:

"To Justinian, Emperor of the Romans, Amalaswintha, Queen of the Goths
and the Italians."

"Queen of the Italians!" laughed Justinian; "what an insane title!"


"From Alexandros you will learn how Eris and Ate haunt this land. I am
like a lonely palm-tree which is tossed by opposing winds. Each day
increases the barbarians' enmity to me, and daily I become more
estranged from them; and the Romans, however much I try to conciliate
them, can never forget that I am of Germanic origin. Till now I have
defied all danger with a firm spirit; but I can do so no longer, if my
palace and my person are not in security. I cannot rely upon any party
in this country. Therefore I appeal to you, as my royal brother.
It is the dignity of all rulers, and the peace of Italy, which
you will protect. Send me, I beseech you, a trustworthy troop, a
life-guard"--the Emperor cast a significant look at Belisarius--"a
troop of some thousand men, with a leader who will be unconditionally
devoted to me. They shall occupy the palace; it is a fortress in
itself. As to Rome, these troops must, above all things, keep from me
the Prefect Cethegus, who is as full of duplicity as he is powerful,
and who deserted me in the danger into which he himself had led me. If
necessary, they must ruin him. When I have overthrown my enemies, and
secured my kingdom, as I trust in Heaven and my own strength that I
shall, I will send back troops and leader richly laden with gifts, and
still more with warm thanks.--_Vale_."


Justinian clasped the wax-tablets tightly in his hand; his eyes shone;
his plain features were ennobled by an expression of high intellectual
power; and the present moment showed, that together with many
weaknesses and littlenesses, he possessed strength and greatness: the
greatness of diplomatic genius.

"In this letter," he cried at last, with sparkling eyes, "I hold Italy
and the Gothic kingdom!"

And, much agitated, he paced the room with long strides, even
forgetting to bow before the Cross.

"A life-guard! that she shall have! But not a few thousand men; many
thousands--more than she will like; and you, Belisarias, shall lead
them."

"Deign to look at the presents," said Alexandros, pointing to a costly
shrine of cypress-wood, inlaid with gold, which a slave had set down
behind him. "Here is the key."

And he held out a little box of tortoise-shell, which was closed with
the Queen's seal.

"Her picture is there too," he said, raising his voice as if by
accident.

At the moment in which Alexandros raised his voice, the head of a woman
was protruded gently and unnoticed through the curtain, and two
sparkling black eyes looked keenly at the Emperor.

Justinian opened the shrine, quickly pushed aside its costly contents,
and hastily caught up a simple tablet of polished box-wood, with a
small golden frame.

A cry of astonishment involuntarily burst from his lips, his eyes
sparkled, and he showed the picture to Belisarius.

"A splendid woman! What majesty on her brow! One sees that she is a
born ruler--a king's daughter!" and he gazed admiringly at the noble
features.

The curtain rustled, and the listener entered.

It was Theodora, the Empress. A seductive apparition.

All the arts of woman's inventive genius in a time of refined luxury,
and all the means of an empire, were daily called into requisition, in
order to keep the beauty of this woman--who had impaired it only too
much by a life of unbridled sensuality--fresh and dazzling. Gold-dust
gave to her blue-black hair a metallic brilliancy; it was carefully
combed up from the nape of her neck, in order to show the beautiful
shape of her head, and its fine set upon her shoulders. Her eyebrows
and eye-lashes were dyed black with Arabian antimony; and so carefully
was the red of her lips put on, that even Justinian, who kissed those
lips, never suspected an aid to Nature by means of Ph[oe]nician
scarlet. Every tiny hair on her alabaster arm had been carefully
destroyed: and the delicate rose-colour of her finger-nails was the
daily care of a specially-appointed slave.

And yet, without all these arts, Theodora, who was not yet forty years
of age, would have passed for an extremely lovely woman. Her
countenance was certainly not noble; no noble, or even proud spirit,
spoke from her fatigued and weirdly shining eyes; round her lips played
an habitual smile, the dimples of which indicated the place of the
first future wrinkle; and her cheeks, beneath the eyes, showed traces
of exhaustion.

But as she now gracefully moved towards the Emperor, delicately holding
up the heavy folds of her dark-yellow silk robes with her left hand,
her whole appearance produced a bewitching charm, similar to the sweet
and soothing scent of Indian balsam which she shed around her.

"What pleases my imperial lord so much? May I share his delight?" she
asked in a sweet and flattering voice.

Those present prostrated themselves before the Empress, scarcely less
humbly than before the Emperor.

Justinian started upon seeing her, as if he had been caught in some
culpable act, and tried to conceal the portrait in the folds of his
chlamys. But it was too late. The Empress had already fixed her quick
eyes upon it.

"We are admiring," said the Emperor, "the--the fine chasing of the gold
frame."

And, blushing, he gave her the portrait.

"Well," said Theodora, smiling, "there is not much to admire in the
frame. But the picture is not bad. It is surely the Gothic Queen?"

The ambassador bowed assent.

"Not bad, as I said before; but barbaric, severe, unwomanly. How old
may she be, Alexandros?"

"About forty-five."

Justinian looked at the picture and then at the ambassador.

"The picture was taken fifteen years ago," said Alexandros, as if in.
explanation.

"No," said the Emperor, "you mistake; here stands the date, according
to the indiction[5] and the consul, and the date of her accession; it
is of this year."

An awkward pause ensued.

"Well," stammered Alexandros, "then the artists flatter like----"

"Like courtiers," concluded the Emperor.

But Theodora came to the ambassador's aid.

"Why do we chatter about portraits and the age of strange women, when
we should think only of the empire? What news brings Alexandras? Are
you decided, Justinianus?"

"Almost. I only wished to hear your opinion, and, I know, you are in
favour of war."

Narses quietly interposed. "Wherefore, sire, did you not at once tell
us that the Empress was in favour of war? We could have spared our
words."

"What! would you insinuate that I am the slave of my wife?"

"Guard your tongue better," said Theodora angrily. "Many who seemed
invulnerable, have been stung by their own sharp tongues."

"You are very imprudent, Narses," said Justinian.

"Emperor," he answered, "I have long since ceased to be prudent. We
live in a time, in a realm, and at a court, where, for any word that we
speak or leave unspoken, we may fall into disgrace and be ruined. As
any word of mine may cause my death, I will at least die for words that
please me."

The Emperor smiled.

"You must confess, patrician, that I can bear a great deal of
plain-speaking."

"You are by nature great, O Justinianus, and a magnanimous ruler; else
Narses would not serve you. But Omphale rendered even Hercules small."

The eyes of the Empress shone with hatred.

Justinianus became uneasy.

"Go," he said, "I will consult with the Empress alone. To-morrow you
shall hear my decision."



                              CHAPTER XV.

No sooner were they gone, than Justinian went up to his wife, and
pressed a kiss upon her white forehead.

"Forgive him," he said, "he means well."

"I know it," she answered, returning the kiss. "It is for this reason,
and because he is indispensable as a foil to Belisarius, that he still
lives."

"You are right, as always," cried Justinian, putting his arm round her,
and thus walking with her up and down the room.

"What does he intend to do?" thought Theodora; "this tenderness
indicates a bad conscience."

"You are right," he repeated, "God has denied me the spirit which
decides the fate of battles, and, in compensation, has given me these
two men of victory---_fortunately_ two of them. Their jealousy of each
other secures my dominion better than their fidelity. Either of these
generals alone would be a continual danger to the state, and on the day
that they become friends, my throne will shake. You continue to excite
their mutual dislike?"

"It is easy to excite. There is as natural an antipathy between them as
between fire and water. And every spiteful remark of the eunuch I tell
with indignation to my friend Antonina, the wife and mistress of the
hero Belisarius."

"And I repeat every rudeness of this hero to the irritable cripple. But
to our consultation. Since receiving the report of Alexandros, I am
almost decided upon the expedition to Italy."

"Whom will you send?"

"Belisarius, of course. He promises to accomplish with thirty thousand,
that which Narses will scarcely undertake with eighty thousand."

"Do you think that so small a force will be sufficient?"

"No. But the honour of Belisarius is engaged. He will exert his utmost
strength, and yet will not quite succeed."

"That will be wholesome for him. For, since the war with the Vandals,
his pride has become insupportable."

"But," continued the Emperor, "he will accomplish three-fourths of the
work. Then I will recall him, march myself with sixty thousand, taking
Narses with me, and easily finish the remaining fourth of the task.
Then I, too, shall be called a great general and a conqueror."

"Finely thought out!" cried Theodora, with sincere admiration of his
subtlety: "your plan is ripe."

"However," said Justinian, sighing and stopping in his walk, "Narses is
right; I must confess it. It would be better for my empire if I
defended it from the Persians, instead of attacking the Goths. It would
be wiser and safer policy. For, at some time or other, destruction will
come from the East."

"Let it come! It may not be for centuries, when the only thing
remembered of Justinianus will be the fame of having reconquered Italy
as well as Africa. Is it your office to take thought for the future?
Those who come after you may care for their present; let yours be your
only care."

"But if it should then be said: had Justinian defended his kingdom
instead of making conquests, it would now be better? If they say:
Justinian's victories have destroyed the empire?"

"No one will speak thus. Mankind is dazzled by the glory of Fame. And
yet another thing--" and now the earnestness of deep conviction chased
the expression of cunning persuasiveness from the seductive features of
the Empress.

"I suspect what you are about to say; but continue."

"You are not only an Emperor, you are a man. Your salvation must be
dearer to you than even your kingdom. Many a bloody step was taken upon
the path, upon _our_ path--which led to the height to which we have
attained, to the glory of our empire. Many harsh deeds were necessary;
life and treasures, and many a dangerous foe were--enough! It is true
that, with part of these treasures, we are building a temple to the
glory of Christ, which alone will make our name immortal upon earth.
But for Heaven--who knows if that be sufficient! Let us"--and her eyes
glowed with fanatic fire--"let us destroy the unbelievers, and seek the
path to grace and pardon over the bodies of the enemies of Christ!"

Justinian pressed her hand.

"The Persians, too, are the enemies of Christ; they are even heathens."

"Have you forgotten the teaching of the Prophet: 'heretics are seven
times worse than heathens?' The true faith has been revealed to them
and they have despised it. That is the sin against the Holy Ghost,
which will never be forgiven on earth or in heaven. But you are the
sword which shall destroy these God-forsaken Arians! They are the most
hated enemies of Christ; they know Him, and still deny that He is God.
Already you have overthrown the heretic Vandals in Africa, and
smothered error in blood and fire. Now Italy calls upon you; Rome, the
place where the blood of the prince of Apostles was shed, the holy
city, must no longer be subject to the heretics. Justinian, recall her
to the true faith!"

She ceased.

The Emperor looked up at the golden cross and sighed deeply.

"You unveil the inmost depths of my heart. It is this feeling which,
mightier still than love of fame and victory, urges me to this war. But
am I capable, am I worthy of achieving such a holy work to the honour
of God? Will He consummate such a great deed by my sinful hand? I
doubt; I waver. Was the dream which came to me last night sent from
Heaven? What was its meaning? did it incite to the attempt or warn me
off? Well, your mother, Komito, the prophetess of Cyprus, had great
wisdom in interpreting dreams and warnings----"

"And you know that the gift is inherited. Did I not foretell the result
of the war with the Vandals from your dreams?"

"Then you shall also explain this last dream to me. You know that I
waver in my best plans, if an omen speaks against them. Listen then.
But"--and he cast an uneasy glance at his wife--"but remember that it
was but a _dream_, and no man can answer for his dreams."

"Certainly; God sends them.--What shall I hear?" she added to herself.

"Last night I fell asleep while meditating over the last reports about
Amala--about Italy. I dreamed that I was wandering in a landscape with
seven hills. Under a laurel-tree there reposed the most beautiful woman
I had ever seen. I stood before her and looked at her with delight.
Suddenly there rushed out of a thicket at my right hand a growling
bear, and, from the rocks to the left, a hissing snake, and darted at
the sleeping woman. She woke and called my name. I quickly caught her
up, and, pressing her to my bosom, fled. Looking back, I saw that the
bear crushed the snake, while the snake stung the bear to death."

"Well, and the woman?"

"The woman pressed a hasty kiss upon my forehead and suddenly vanished.
I awoke and stretched out my arms for her in vain. The woman," he
continued quickly, before Theodora had time to reflect, "is, of course,
Italy."

"Certainly," said the Empress quietly, but her bosom heaved. "Your
dream is most happy. The bear and the snake are barbarians and
Italians, who strive for the city upon the seven hills. You tear it
from their grasp, and let them mutually destroy each other."

"But she vanishes--she does not remain."

"She remains. She kisses you and disappears in your arms. So will Italy
be swallowed up in your empire."

"You are right!" said Justinian, springing up. "Thanks, my wise wife.
You are the light of my soul! I will venture. Belisarius shall march."
He was about to call the attendant, but suddenly stopped short. "One
thing more," and casting down his eyes he took Theodora's hand.

"Ah!" thought Theodora, "now it is coming."

"When we have destroyed the kingdom of the Goths, and have with the
Queen's help taken Ravenna--what--what shall be done with her, the
Princess?"

"What shall be done with her?" repeated Theodora with well-feigned
composure. "That which was done with the King of the Vandals. She shall
come here, to Byzantium."

Justinian breathed again.

"It rejoices me that you have at once interpreted my thought," and he
kissed her slender white hand with real pleasure.

"More than that," said Theodora. "She will enter into our plans all the
more willingly if she can look forward to an honourable reception here.
So I will myself write her a sisterly epistle inviting her to come. In
case of need she shall ever find an asylum in my heart."

"You do not know," interrupted Justinian eagerly, "how much you will
assist our victory by so doing. The daughter of Theodoric must be
completely weaned from her people. She shall herself lead us to
Ravenna."

"But if so, you cannot immediately send Belisarius with an army. It
would only awaken her suspicions and make her rebellious. She must
first be completely in our power and the barbarians must have begun an
internecine war, before the sword of Belisarius flies from its sheath."

"But at least he must henceforth be in the vicinity."

"Certainly, perhaps in Sicily. The disturbances in Africa afford the
best excuse for sending a fleet into those waters. And as soon as the
net is sunk Belisarius must draw it together."

"But who shall sink it?"

Theodora reflected for a few moments; then she said:

"The most gifted man in the West; Cethegus Cæsarius, the Prefect of
Rome, the friend of my youth."

"Quite right. But not he alone. He is a Roman, no subject of mine; and
I am not sure of him. Whom shall I send? Once again Alexandros?"

"No," said Theodora, "he is too young for such a task. No." And she
became thoughtfully silent. "Justinian," she said at last, "you shall
see that I can sacrifice my personal dislikes for the sake of the
empire, when it is necessary to choose the right man. I propose my
enemy, Petros, the cousin of Narses, the fellow-student of the Prefect,
the sly rhetorician--send him!"

"Theodora!" cried the Emperor, embracing her; "God himself has given
you to me! Cethegus--Petros--Belisarius. Barbarians! you are lost!"



                              CHAPTER XVI.

The morning following this conversation the beautiful Empress rose in
great good-humour from her swelling cushions, which were filled with
the delicate neck-feathers of the Pontian crane, and covered with pale
yellow silk.

Before the bed stood a tripod holding a silver basin, representing
Oceanus; in it lay a massive golden ball. The Empress lifted the ball
and let it fall clanging into the basin. The clear tone roused the
Syrian slave who slept in the ante-room. She entered, and, approaching
the bed of the Empress with her arms crossed upon her bosom, drew back
the heavy violet-coloured curtains of Chinese silk. Then she took a
soft Iberian sponge, which, soaked in asses' milk, lay in a crystal
dish, and carefully wiped off the coating of oily paste with which the
neck and face of her mistress were covered during the night.

Next she kneeled down before the bed, her face bent almost to the
earth, and stretched out her hand to the Empress, who, taking it,
slowly set her foot upon the neck of the kneeling girl, and sprang
elastically to the ground.

The slave rose and threw over her mistress, who, clad only in an
under-tunic of the finest lawn, sat upon the palm-wood frame of the
bed--a fine dressing-mantle of rose-coloured stuff. Then she made a
profound obeisance, turned to the door, cried "Agave!" and disappeared.

Agave, a young and beautiful Thessalian girl, entered the room. She
rolled a washstand of citrean-wood, covered with countless boxes and
bottles, close before her mistress, and began to rub her face, neck,
and hands with soft cloths dipped in different wines and essences. This
task completed, the Empress rose from the bedside and stepped on to a
couch covered with panther's skins.

"The large bath towards mid-day," she said.

Agave pushed an oval bath of terebinthus-wood, covered outside with
tortoise-shell and filled with deliciously-scented water, in front of
the divan, and lifted the little white feet of the Empress into it.
Afterwards she loosened the net of gold-thread which confined the
luxurious hair of her mistress during the night, letting the rich dark
coils fall over neck and shoulders, and departed in her turn, calling
"Galatea!"

Galatea was an aged slave, the nurse, attendant, and, we regret to add,
the procuress of Theodora, when the latter was only the bespangled
daughter of Acacius the lion-keeper, and, while yet almost a child, the
already deeply-corrupted favourite of the great Circus.

Galatea had faithfully shared all the humiliations and triumphs, the
vices and cunning of the adventuress's life until the latter had
attained to the imperial throne.

"How hast thou slept, my dove?" asked Galatea, handing to Theodora in a
vessel of amber the aromatic essence which the town of Adana, in
Sicily, was forced to send in large quantities for the Empress's use as
a yearly tribute.

"Well; I dreamt of him."

"Of Alexandros?"

"No, thou fool! of the handsome Anicius."

"But Alexandros has been waiting for some time already; outside in the
secret niche."

"He is impatient," said the Empress, smiling; "well then, let him in!"

And she leaned back upon the long divan, drawing a cover of purple silk
over her; but the delicate ankles of her beautiful feet remained
visible.

Galatea bolted the principal door, through which she had entered, and
crossed the room to the opposite corner, which was filled by a colossal
bronze statue of Justinian. She touched a spring, and the seemingly
immovable mass turned on one side, exposing a small opening in the
wall, which was completely hidden by the statue in its normal position.
A dark curtain was drawn before this opening. Galatea lifted the
curtain and Alexandros hurried in. He threw himself on his knees before
the Empress, caught her small hand and covered it with kisses.

Theodora gently drew it away.

"It is very imprudent, Alexandros," said she, leaning back her lovely
head, "to admit a lover to the toilet of his mistress. What says the
poet: 'All things serve beauty. Yet it is no pleasant sight to see that
in preparation which only pleases when complete.' But I promised, when
you left for Ravenna, to admit you to my toilet, and you richly deserve
your reward. You have ventured much for me. Fasten the braids tighter,"
she cried to Galatea, who had now commenced the task, entrusted to her
alone, of dressing the splendid hair of her mistress. "You have risked
your life for me, Alexandros!" and she gave him two fingers of her
right hand.

"Oh, Theodora!" cried the youth, "to gain but this one moment I would
die ten times over!"

"But," she continued, "why did you not send me a copy of the barbarian
Queen's last letter to Justinian?"

"It was not possible; there was no time. I could send no more
messengers from my ship. I barely succeeded, after landing, in sending
you word that her picture was among the presents. You came just at the
right moment!"

"Yes; what would become of me if I did not pay Justinian's door-keepers
twice as well as he? But, most imprudent of ambassadors! how stupid you
were about the date!"

"Oh, loveliest daughter of Cyprus! I had not seen you for months! I
could think of nothing but you and your wonderful beauty!"

"Well, I suppose I must forgive you.--Galatea, bring me the black
fillet.--You are a better lover than a statesman, Alexandros. Therefore
I have kept you here. Yes, you were to have gone once more to Ravenna!
But I think I will send an older ambassador, and keep the young one for
myself. Shall I?"

Alexandros, becoming bolder and more ardent, sprang up and pressed a
kiss upon her rosy lips.

"Hold, traitor!" she scolded, and struck his cheek lightly with a fan
of flamingo-feathers. "Enough for to-day. To-morrow you may come again,
and tell me about the barbarian beauties. I must have the next hour for
another."

"For another!" cried Alexandros, starting back. "So what they
whisper in the gymnasiums and baths of Byzantium is true! You ever
faithless----"

"Theodora's friends must never be jealous," laughed the Empress. It was
no sweet laughter. "But this time you may be quite easy; you shall meet
him yourself. Go."

Galatea took the reluctant lover by the shoulders, without ceremony,
and pushed him behind the statue and out of the secret door.

Theodora now seated herself upright, and fastened the loose folds of
her long under-garment with her girdle.



                             CHAPTER XVII.

Galatea appeared again immediately, accompanied by a little
round-backed man, who looked much older than his forty-years justified.
His wise, but pinched features, piercing eyes, and cunning mouth, made
a disagreeable impression on all who observed him.

Theodora returned his creeping salutation by a slight nod. Galatea
began to paint her eyebrows.

"Empress," the new-comer began, "I wonder at your courage. If I were
seen here! A moment's rashness would render vain the prudence of nine
years!"

"But you will not be seen, Petros," said Theodora quietly. "This is the
only hour in which I am secure from Justinian's importunate tenderness.
It is his hour of prayer. I must profit by it as much as I can. God
preserve his piety! Galatea, my wine. What! Surely, thou dost not fear
to leave me alone with this dangerous seducer?"

The old woman left the room with a hateful grin upon her lips, and soon
returned with a jug of sweet heated Chian-wine in one hand, and a cup
of honey and water in the other.

"I could not arrange our meeting in the church as usual, where, in the
dark confessional, you look exactly like a priest. The Emperor will
call you before church-time, and you must be thoroughly instructed
beforehand."

"What is then to be done?"

"Petros," answered Theodora, leaning comfortably back and sipping the
sweet mixture which Galatea now handed to her, "the day has come which
will reward all our years of patience, and make you a great man."



"It is time, indeed!" observed Petros.

"Do not be impatient, friend.--Galatea, a little more honey.--In order
to put you into the right humour for to-day's business, it will be well
to remind you of the past, of the manner in which our--friendship
originated."

"What mean you? Wherefore----"

"For many reasons. To begin. You were the cousin and adherent of my
deadly enemy, Narses. Consequently, you were my enemy too. For years
you acted against me in your cousin's service, hurting me but little,
and still less benefiting yourself. For Narses, your virtuous friend,
considers it a point of honour never to do anything for his relations;
so that, unlike other courtiers of the realm, he may never be accused
of nepotism. Out of pure friendship and virtue, he left you unpromoted.
You remained a simple writer and a poor man. But a clever man like you
knows how to help himself. You forged--you doubled the amount of the
Emperor's dues. Besides what was demanded by the Emperor, the provinces
paid another tax, which Petros and the tax-gatherers shared amongst
themselves. For a time all went on smoothly. But once----"

"Empress, I beseech you!"

"I shall soon have finished, friend. But once you had the misfortune to
have a new tax-gatherer, who valued the favour of the Empress more than
the share of booty which you promised him. He entered into your plans,
allowed you to forge the documents--and showed them to me!"

"The wretch!" murmured Petros.

"Yes, it was bad enough," said Theodora smiling, and setting down her
glass. "So I had the neck of my sly enemy, the confidant of the hated
eunuch, under my foot; and, I must confess, I had a great desire to
trample upon him. But I sacrificed a short revenge for a great and
enduring advantage. I called you to me, and told you to choose whether
you would die or serve me for life. You were kind enough to choose the
last, and, still the greatest enemies in the eyes of the world, we have
secretly worked together for years. No sooner has Narses formed a plan,
than you reveal it to me. I have rewarded you well. You are now a rich
man."

"Not worth mentioning."

"Oh, indeed, ungrateful man! My treasurer knows better. You are _very_
rich."

"Yes, but without dignity or rank. My fellow-students are patricians,
great men in the East and West; like Cethegus in Rome, and Procopius
here."

"Patience! From this day you will quickly climb the ladder of ambition.
It was necessary to keep something in reserve. Listen; to-morrow you go
as ambassador to Ravenna."

"As imperial ambassador!" cried Petros, rejoiced.

"Through my influence. But that is not all. You will receive
circumstantial directions from Justinian to undermine the kingdom of
the Goths, and smooth the path of Belisarius in Italy."

"Shall I obey these directions, or not?"

"Obey them. But you will receive another order, which Justinian will
particularly recommend to your notice; that is, to save the daughter of
Theodoric from the hands of her enemies at any price, and bring her to
Byzantium. Here is a letter from me to her, which presses her to take
refuge in my arms."

"'Tis well," said Petros, taking the letter. "I will bring her here
immediately."

Theodora, like an angry snake, started up on her couch with such
impetuosity, that Petros and Galatea retreated in affright.

"No, no, Petros! no!" she exclaimed. "For this reason I send you. She
must _not_ come to Byzantium! She must not live!"

Confounded, Petros let the letter fall.

"Oh, Empress!" he whispered; "murder?"

"Peace!" cried Theodora, in a hoarse voice; and her eyes sparkled
cruelly. "She must die!"

"Die? Oh, Empress! wherefore?"

"There is no need for you to know that. But stay; I will tell you, for
it will give the spur to your courage. Listen." She seized his arm
wildly, and whispered in his ear, "Justinian, the traitor, has
conceived a passion for her!"

"Theodora!" cried Petros, startled.

The Empress fell back upon her couch.

"But he has never seen her," stammered Petros.

"He has seen her portrait. He already dreams of her. He has fallen in
love with her picture."

"You have never yet had a rival."

"No; nor ever will."

"You are so beautiful."

"Amalaswintha is younger."

"You are so wise; you are Justinian's counsellor the confidant of his
most secret thoughts."

"It is just this which annoys him. And"--she again caught his
arm--"remember, she is a King's daughter, a born ruler; and I--am the
plebeian daughter of a lion-keeper! Ridiculous and insane though it be,
Justinian, in his purple, forgets that he is the son of a shepherd from
the Dardanelles. He has imbibed the madness of Kings; he, himself an
adventurer, chatters about innate majesty, about the mystery of royal
blood! I have no protection against such whims. I fear nothing from all
the women in the world. But this King's daughter----" She angrily
started up, and clenched her small fist. "Beware, Justinian!" she
cried, pacing the room. "With this eye and hand I have subdued lions
and tigers; let us see if I cannot keep this fox in royal purple at my
feet." She re-seated herself. "In short, Amalaswintha dies," she said,
suddenly becoming quite cool again.

"Yes," said Petros, "but not through me. You have bloodthirsty servants
enough; send them. I am a man who will talk----"

"You are a man who will die if you do not obey! You, my supposed enemy,
must do it. None of my friends can venture it without arousing
suspicion."

"Theodora," said Petros, forgetting himself, "take care! To murder the
daughter of Theodoric, a born Queen----"

"Ha, ha!" said Theodora, in a rage, "you, too, miserable man, are
dazzled by the 'born Queen!' All men are fools, still more than
rascals! Listen, Petros--the day when the news of her death arrives
from Ravenna, you shall be a senator and a patrician."

The man's eyes sparkled, but cowardice or conscience were still
stronger than ambition.

"No," he said decidedly, "I would rather lose the court and all my
plans."

"You will lose your life, wretch!" cried Theodora. "Oh, you think you
are safe, because I burnt the forged documents before your eyes! You
fool! they were false! Look here; here I hold your life in my hands!"

She dragged a yellow parchment from a roll of documents, and showed it
to Petros, who, completely subdued, fell upon his knees at her feet.

"Command me!" he stammered, "I obey." Just then a knocking was heard at
the principal door.

"Away!" cried the Empress, "take my letter to the Queen from the
ground, and think over what I have said: patrician if she dies, torture
and death if she lives. Go!"

Galatea pushed the bewildered man through the secret entrance, turned
the statue into its place again, and went to open the great door.



                             CHAPTER XVIII.

There entered a stately woman, taller and of coarser frame than the
small and delicate Empress; not so seductively beautiful, but younger
and more blooming, with a fresh complexion and natural manners.

"Welcome, Antonina, sister of my heart! Come to my arms!" cried the
Empress to the new-comer, who humbly bent before her.

Antonina obeyed in silence.

"How hollow her eyes have become," she thought, as she rose from the
embrace.

"How bony is the soldier's wife!" said the delicate Empress to herself,
and looked at her friend.

"You are as blooming as Hebe!" she said aloud, "and how well the white
silk becomes your fresh complexion. Have you anything to tell me of--of
him?" she asked indifferently, and took from the wash-stand a
much-dreaded instrument, a sharp lancet with an ivory handle, with
which clumsy, or even only unfortunate, slaves were often pricked by
their angry mistress.

"Not to-day," whispered Antonina, blushing. "I did not see him
yesterday."

"I believe it!" said Theodora to herself, with a hidden smile.

"Oh, how painfully I shall miss you soon!" she added aloud, stroking
Antonina's full round arm. "Perhaps Belisarius will sail next week, and
you, most faithful of all wives, will go with him. Which of your
friends will accompany you?"

"Procopius," answered Antonina, "and--" she added, casting down her
eyes--"the two sons of Boëthius."

"Ah, indeed," remarked the Empress, smiling, "I understand. In the
freedom of the camp you hope to please yourself with the handsome
youth, undisturbed; and while our hero, Belisarius, fights battles and
conquers cities----"

"You guess rightly. But I have a request to make. You are fortunate.
Alexandros, your handsome friend, has returned; he remains near you,
and is his own master; but Anicius, you know, is still under the strict
guardianship of his elder brother, Severinus. Never would he--who
thinks of nothing but fighting for freedom and revenge--suffer this
tender friendship. He would repeatedly disturb our intimacy. Therefore
do me a favour: do not let Severinus follow us! When we are on board
with Anicius, keep the elder brother in Byzantium, either by cunning or
by force. You can do it easily--you are the Empress!"

"That is not bad," laughed Theodora. "What stratagems! One can see that
you have learned from Belisarius."

Antonina blushed violently.

"Oh, do not name him! Do not mock me! You know best from whom I learnt
to do that for which I must blush."

Theodora shot a fierce glance at her friend, who, without noticing it,
continued: "Heaven knows that Belisarius himself was not more faithful
than I, until I came to this court! It was you, Empress, who taught me
that these selfish men, occupied with affairs of state, war, and
ambition, neglect us when they have become our husbands, and no longer
value us when they possess us. You taught me that it is no sin to
accept the innocent homage, the flattering devotion which is denied to
us by our husbands, from friends who court us because they still hope.
God is my witness, that it is nothing but this sweet incense which
Belisarius denies me, and which my vain weak heart sorely needs, that I
expect from Anicius."

"Fortunately for me, it will soon tire him out," said Theodora to
herself.

"And yet," continued Antonina, "even this, I fear, is a sin against
Belisarius. Oh, how great, how noble he is! If only he were not too
great for this little heart." And she buried her face in her hands.

"The pitiful creature!" thought the Empress, "too weak for vice, as for
virtue."

At this moment Agave, the beautiful Thessalian slave, entered the room
with a large bunch of splendid roses.

"From him," she whispered to her mistress.

"From whom?" asked Theodora.

But Antonina just then looked up, and Agave made a sign of warning. The
Empress, in order to occupy her, gave Antonina the roses.

"If you please, put them into that marble vase."

As Antonina turned her back upon them to obey, Agave whispered: "From
him whom you kept hidden here all day yesterday; from the handsome
Anicius," the pretty girl added, blushing.

But she had scarcely uttered the imprudent words, than she gave a loud
cry, and held her left arm to her lips.

The Empress struck her in the face with the still bloody lancet.

"I will teach you to notice whether men are handsome or ugly," she
cried furiously. "You will keep to the spinning-room for four weeks. Go
at once! and do not show yourself again in my ante-rooms."

The weeping girl left the room, hiding her face in her dress.

"What has she done?" asked Antonina, coming forward.

"She let the scent-bottle fall," answered Galatea quickly, and picked
one up from the floor. "Mistress, I have finished."

"Then let the dressers in, and whoever else waits in the ante-room.
Will you, meanwhile, look at these verses, Antonina? They are the
newest poems of Arator, 'The Deeds of the Apostles,' and very edifying.
This particularly, 'The Stoning of St. Stephen.' But read, and judge
for yourself."

Galatea opened wide the doors of the principal entrance. A whole troop
of slaves and freed-women streamed in. Some occupied themselves with
clearing away the articles of toilet hitherto used; others swung
censers with aromatic incense, or sprinkled balsam about the room from
narrow-necked flasks. But most of them were busy about the person of
the Empress, who now completed her toilet.

Galatea took off the rose-coloured tunic.

"Berenice," she cried, "bring the Milesian tunic, with the purple
stripe and gold tassels. To-day is Sunday ."

While the experienced old woman was artfully fastening into the knot of
the Empress's hair a costly gold needle, its head formed of a gem,
engraved with a head of Venus, the Empress asked: "What news, from the
city, Delphine?"

"You have won, mistress!" answered Delphine, kneeling down with the
gilded sandals; "your colours, the blue, have beaten the green; both
with the horses and the chariots!"

"What a triumph!" cried Theodora joyfully. "A bet of two centenaria of
gold; it is mine! News? Whence? from Italy?" she cried to a slave who
just entered with letters.

"Yes, mistress, from Florence; from the Gothic Princess, Gothelindis. I
know the Gorgon-seal; and from Silverius, the archdeacon."

"Give me them," said Theodora, "I will take them with me to church. The
mirror, Elpis."

A young slave came forward with an oval plate of brilliantly-polished
silver, in a gold frame, richly set with pearls, and standing on a
strong foot of ivory.

Poor Elpis had a hard service.

During the completion of the toilet she had to hold the heavy plate,
and, following every movement of her restless mistress, turn it, so
that the latter could always look at her own reflection, and woe to
Elpis if she were too late in turning!

"What is there to buy, Zephyris?" the Empress asked a dark-skinned
Lybian freed-woman, who just then brought her a tame snake to caress,
which lay in a small basket upon soft moss.

"Oh, nothing particular," answered the Lybian. "Come, Glauke," she
added, taking a snowy white chlamys, embroidered with gold, from a
clothes-press, and carefully spreading it out upon her arms, waited
until Glauke took it from her, and, at one throw, arranged it in
graceful folds upon the shoulders of the Empress, clasping it with the
white girdle, and fastening one end upon her pearly shoulder with a
golden brooch, which, formed in the shape of the dove of Venus, now
represented the sign of the Holy Ghost.

Glauke, the daughter of an Athenian sculptor, had studied the folds of
the chlamys for years, and for this reason had been bought by the
Empress at a cost of many thousand solidi. The whole day long this was
her sole occupation.

"Sweet-scented soap-balls," said Zephyris, "have just arrived from
Spain. A new Milesian fairy-tale has just come out. And the old
Egyptian is there again, with his Nile-water," she added in a low tone;
"he says it is unfailing. The Persian Queen, who was childless for
eight years----"

Theodora turned away sighing; a shadow passed across her smooth face.

"Send him away," she said; "this hope is past forever." And, for a
moment, it seemed as if she would have sunk into a melancholy reverie.

But she roused herself, and, beckoning to Galatea, she went back to her
bed, took a crushed wreath of ivy which lay upon the pillow, and gave
it to the old woman, whispering:

"For Anicius, send it to him. The jewels, Erigone!"

Erigone, with the help of two other slaves, brought forward, with great
trouble, a heavy bronze casket, the lid of which, representing the
workshop of Vulcan in embossed figures, was closed with the seal of the
Empress.

Erigone showed that the seal was intact, and then opened the lid. Many
a girl stood upon her tiptoes to catch a glance at the shining
treasures.

"Will you wear the summer rings, mistress?" asked Erigone.

"No," said Theodora, looking into the casket, "the time for those is
over. Give me the heavy ones, the emeralds."

Erigone handed to her rings, earrings, and bracelet.

"How beautifully," said Antonina, looking up from her pious verses,
"how beautifully the white of the pearls contrasts with the green of
the stones."

"It was one of Cleopatra's treasures," said the Empress indifferently;
"the Jew swore to its pedigree."

"But you linger long," said Antonina. "Justinian's litter was already
waiting as I came up."

"Yes, mistress," said a young slave anxiously, "the slave at the
sundial has already announced the fourth hour. Hasten, mistress!"

A prick with the lancet was the only answer.

"Would you teach your Empress!" but she whispered to Antonina: "We must
not spoil the men; they must always wait for us, never we for them. My
ostrich fan, Thais. Go, Ione, tell the Cappadocian slaves to come to my
litter." And she turned to go.

"Oh, Theodora!" cried Antonina quickly, "do not forget my request."

"No," answered Theodora, suddenly standing still, "certainly not! And
that you may be quite sure, I will give the order into your own hands.
My wax-tablets and the stylus!"

Galatea brought them in haste.

Theodora wrote, and whispered to her friend:

"The Prefect of the harbour is one of my old friends. He blindly obeys
me. Read what I write."


"To Aristarchus the Prefect, Theodora the Empress.

"When Severinus, the son of Boëthius, is about to go on board the ship
of Belisarius, keep him back, if necessary, by force; and send him to
my rooms. He is appointed my chamberlain."


"Is that right, dear sister?" she whispered.

"A thousand thanks!" said Antonina, with beaming eyes.

"But," said the Empress suddenly, putting her hand to her neck, "have
we forgotten the principal thing? My amulet! the Mercury. Please,
Antonina; there it hangs."

Antonina turned hastily to fetch the little golden Mercury, which hung,
by a silk cord, on the bed of the Empress.

Meanwhile Theodora quickly crossed out the word "Severinus," and wrote
instead "Anicius." She closed the tablets, tied them, and fastened the
string with her seal.

"Here is the amulet," said Antonina, returning.

"And here is the order," said the Empress, smiling. "You can give it to
Aristarchus yourself at the moment of departure. Now," she cried, "let
us go. To the church!"



                              CHAPTER XIX.

In Neapolis, that Italian city over which the tempest then gathering at
Byzantium was soon to burst in its first violence, no presentiment of
the coming danger was felt.

On the charming declivities of Posilippo, or on the shore to the
south-east of the city, there wandered, day by day, two handsome
youths, exchanging confidences with all the enthusiasm of youthful
friendship. They were the "Dioscuri," Julius and Totila.

Oh, happy time! when the uncorrupted soul, breathing the fresh morning
air of life, as yet untired and undeceived, and drunk with the ecstasy
of ambitious dreams, is urged to impart to an equally young, equally
rich and equally enthusiastic nature its overflowing sentiments!

The noblest resolves are strengthened, and imagination wings its way to
the very gates of heaven, in the happy certainty that he who listens
will understand.

When the wreath upon our brows is faded, and the harvest of our life is
ripe, we may smile at these dreams of youth and youthful friendship;
but it is no smile of mockery; it is tinged with the melancholy with
which we think of the sweet, exhilarating airs of spring, while
inhaling the breath of decay in autumn.

The young Goth and the young Roman had met at the age most favourable
to the formation of the bond of friendship. Totila's sunny soul had
preserved all the dewy bloom of youth; with smiling eyes he looked
forth into the smiling future. He loved his fellow-creatures, and won
all hearts by his amiability and the joyous frankness of his
disposition. He believed in the complete victory of good over evil.
Where meanness and wickedness met him in his path, he trod them into
the dust with the holy anger of an archangel; from the depths of his
gentle nature the latent heroic strength broke forth, and he did not
rest until the hated elements were destroyed. But the disturbance was
forgotten as soon as overcome, and life and the world again appeared to
him as harmonious as his own soul. He walked through the crowded
streets of Neapolis with a song upon his lips, the idol of the girls,
the pride of his brothers in arms.

With such a nature Totila was the favourite of all who knew him,
receiving and imparting happiness. Even his quiet friend imbibed
somewhat of the charm of his temperament.

Julius Montanus, of a sensitive and thoughtful disposition, of an
almost feminine nature, had been early left an orphan, and, awed by the
immense superiority of his guardian Cethegus, had grown up shy, lonely
and studious. More oppressed than elevated by the cheerless science of
his time, he was apt; to look upon life as earnest and almost sad. He
was inclined to subject all things to the severe test of superhuman
perfection, and his natural self-distrust might easily have darkened
into melancholy.

At a happy moment Totila's friendship shone into the inmost depths of
his heart, and penetrated it with such a sunny warmth that his noble
nature was thereby enabled to rise with elasticity from a severe shock
which it received by means of this very friendship.

Let us hear what he himself wrote about this circumstance to the
Prefect.


"To Cethegus the Prefect, Julius Montanus.

"The cold-hearted reply to my enthusiastic report of my newly-formed
friendship to Totila, at first--surely contrary to your wish--hurt me
sorely, but later it was the means of enhancing the happiness of this
friendship in a manner, however, which you could neither foresee nor
wish. Sorrow caused by you was soon changed into sorrow for _you_.
Though at first I felt hurt because you treated my deepest feelings
as the mere enthusiasm of a sickly boy, and tried to assail my
profoundest convictions with bitter mockery--only _tried_, for they are
unassailable--this feeling was soon changed into one of compassion for
you. It is sad that a man like you, so rich in intellect, should be
so poor in heart. It is sad that you do not know the happiness of
self-denial, or of that unselfish love, which is called in the language
of a belief--more laughed at than credited by you, but to which each
day of pain draws me closer--_caritas_! Forgive the freedom of my
words. I know I have never yet addressed such to you, but I have only
lately become _what_ I am. Perhaps it was not wholly with injustice
that, in your last letter, you blamed the traces of childishness which
you found in me. I believe that they have disappeared since then, and I
speak to you now as a _man_. Your 'medicine' has certainly accelerated
my development, but not in your sense of the word and not according to
your wish. It has brought me pain, holy and refining; it has put my
friendship to a severe test, and, God be thanked, the fire has not
destroyed it, but hardened it for ever. Read on and you will wonder at
the manner in which Heaven has carried out your plans! Though pained at
your letter, I very soon, with my habitual obedience, sought your
friend, Valerius Procillus, the trader in purple. He had already left
the town for his charming villa. There I followed him, and found a man
of much experience, and a zealous friend of freedom and of his country.
His daughter Valeria is a jewel! You prophesied truly. My intention of
being extremely reserved melted at her sight like mist before the sun.
It seemed to me as if Electra or Cassandra, Cl[oe]lia or Virginia,
stood before me! But still more than by her great beauty, I was charmed
by the grace of her mind as it unfolded itself before me. Her father at
once invited me to remain as his guest, and under his roof I have spent
the happiest days of my life. Valeria lives in the poetry of the
ancients. How her melodious voice lent splendour to the choruses of
Æschylus, and melancholy to Antigone's lament! We read together for
hours, and when she rose from her chair in her enthusiasm, when her
dark hair waved freely over her shoulders and her eyes flashed with an
almost unearthly fire, she looked indeed wonderfully beautiful. Her
character gains an additional charm from a circumstance which may cause
her much future grief, and which runs through her life like a cruel
rent. You will guess what I mean, for you know the history of her
family. You know better than I how it happened that her mother
dedicated Valeria at her birth to a lonely virgin life, passed in works
of piety, but that her rich father, more worldly than heavenly-minded,
bought her release from this vow at the cost of a church and a
cloister. But Valeria believes that Heaven will not accept dead gold
for a living soul; she does not feel released from this vow, of which
she thinks not with love but with fear. For you were right when you
wrote that she is a true child of the ancient heathen world. Not only
that, but she is the true child of her father, yet still she cannot
altogether renounce the pious Christianity of her mother; it lives
within her, not as a blessing, but as an overpowering curse; as the
inevitable fetter of that fatal vow. This strange conflict of feeling
tortures her, but it ennobles her also. Who knows how the struggle will
be ended? Heaven alone which will decide her fate. This inward strife
attracts me. You know that Christian faith and atheistic philosophy
struggle for the victory in my soul. To my astonishment, faith has
increased during these days of sorrow, and it almost seems to me that
happiness leads to heathen wisdom, and pain and misfortune to Christ.
But you have still to learn the cause of my suffering. When I became at
first aware of my growing passion, I was full of joyful hope. Valerius,
perhaps already influenced by you, observed my attention to Valeria
with no dislike; perhaps the only thing he disapproved in me was, that
I did not sufficiently share in his dreams of a renewed Roman Republic,
or his in hatred of the Byzantines; in whom he sees the deadly enemies,
not only of his family, but of Italy. Valeria, too, soon bestowed her
friendship upon me, and who knows if at that time this friendship and
her reverence to her father's wishes would not have sufficed to induce
her to accept my love. But I thank--shall I say God or Fate?--that this
did not happen. To sacrifice Valeria to a married life of indifference
would have been a sacrilege. I do not know what strange feeling
prevented me from speaking the word, which, at that time, would have
made her mine. I loved her deeply; but each time that I was about to
take courage and sue to her father for her hand, a feeling crept over
me as if I were trespassing on another's property; as if I were not
worthy of her, or not intended for her; and I was silent and controlled
my beating heart. One day, at the sixth hour--it was sultry and the sun
scorched both land and sea--I went to seek coolness and shade in the
grotto of the garden. I entered through the oleander-bushes. There
Valeria reposed upon a soft, mossy bank, one hand resting upon her
gently-heaving bosom, the other placed beneath her head, which was
still crowned with a wreath of asphodels worn during the evening meal.
I stood before her trembling; she had never looked so lovely. I bent
over her, lost in admiration; my heart beat quickly. I bent still
lower, and would have kissed her delicate rosy mouth, but all at once a
thought oppressed me: what you are about to do is a robbery! Totila! my
whole soul cried within me, and as gently as I had come I left her.
Totila! why had I never thought of him before? I reproached myself for
having almost forgotten the brother of my heart in my new happiness.
The next day I returned to Neapolis to fetch him. I praised the beauty
of the maiden, but I could not prevail on myself to tell him of my
love. I preferred that he should come and find it out for himself. On
our arrival at the villa we did not find Valeria in the house. So I led
Totila into the garden--Valeria is passionately fond of flowers--and as
we issued from an avenue, she appeared before us in all her dazzling
beauty. She was standing before a statue of her father and crowning it
with freshly-plucked roses, which she held heaped up in a fold of her
tunic.

"It was a surprisingly beautiful picture--this lovely girl, framed in
the dark green of the taxus-bushes, her right hand uplifted to the
white marble statue, the other pressing the corner of her robe to her
bosom--and the effect upon Totila was overpowering. With a cry of
astonishment, he remained rooted to the ground before her. She looked
up and started. The roses fell from her dress to the ground; she did
not notice it. Their eyes had met, and her cheeks were covered with
blushes. At a glance I saw that her and my fate was decided. They loved
each other at first sight! This certainly pierced my soul like a
burning arrow. But only for a moment did I feel this unmixed pain. The
next, as I looked at the two, I felt unselfishly glad that they had
found each other; for it seemed as if the Power which creates the souls
and bodies of mortals, had formed them of one material for each other.
They belonged to each other, like morning sunshine and morning flowers.
Now I knew what mysterious feeling had kept me apart from Valeria, and
caused me to pronounce his name. By the wisdom of God, or in the course
of the stars, it had been decided that Valeria should be Totila's, and
that I should not step in between them.

"Permit me to leave the rest untold; for my nature is still so selfish,
the holy precept of self-denial has still so little power over me,
that--I am ashamed to confess it--my heart often fails me, instead of
beating with happiness at the good fortune of my friends. As two flames
mingle inseparably together, so their hearts were united. They love
each other, and are as happy as the immortal gods. To me remains the
joy of witnessing their bliss, and helping them to conceal it from the
eyes of their father, who will scarcely give his child to the barbarian
as long as he sees in Totila _only_ the barbarian. But I keep my love
and its sacrificial death a secret from my friend; he does not guess,
nor shall he ever learn, that which would only disturb his happiness.
You see now, Cethegus, how far from your aim a god has turned your
plan. You would have given to me this jewel of Italy, and instead it is
laid at Totila's feet. You would have destroyed my friendship, and
have, instead, freed it, in the furnace of self-immolation, from all
earthly dross, and made it immortal. You would have made me a man
through the joy of love, and I have become a man through love's pain.
Farewell, and revere the guidance of Heaven!"



                              CHAPTER XX.

We will not attempt to describe the effect of this letter upon the
Prefect, but will rather accompany the two friends upon one of their
evening walks on the charming shores of the Gulf of Neapolis.

After an early c[oe]na, they wandered through the city, and out of the
Porta Nolana, which was still decorated with some half-ruined reliefs,
illustrating the victories of one of the Roman Emperors over the
barbarians.

Totila stood still and admired the beautiful sculpture.

"Who can be that Emperor," he asked his friend, "on the car of victory,
with the winged lightning in his hand, like a Jupiter Tonans?"

"That is Marcus Aurelius," said Julius, and would have walked on.

"Oh, stay a while! And who are those four prisoners in chains, with the
long waving hair, who drag the car?"

"They are Germanic Kings."

"But of what family?" asked Totila. "Look there, an
inscription--'_Gothi extincti!_'--the Goths annihilated!" and, laughing
loudly, the young Goth struck the marble column with the palm of his
hand, and walked quickly through the gate. "A lie in marble!" he cried,
looking back. "That Emperor never thought that one day a Gothic Count
in Neapolis would give his boast the lie!"

"Yes, nations are like the changing leaves upon the tree," said Julius
thoughtfully. "Who will govern this land after you?"

Totila stood still.

"AFTER US?" he asked in astonishment.

"What! You do not think that your Goths will endure for ever amongst
the nations?"

"I don't know that," said Totila, walking on.

"My friend, Babylonians and Persians, Greeks and Macedonians, and, as
it seems, we Romans also, had their appointed time. They flourished,
ripened, and decayed. Will it be otherwise with the Goths?"

"I do not know," answered Totila uneasily. "I never thought about it.
It has never occurred to me that a time might come when my nation----"
He hesitated, as if it were a sin even to express the thought. "How
can one imagine such a thing? I think as little about it as I do
about--death!"

"That is like you, my Totila."

"And it is like you, Julius, to tease yourself and others with such
dreams."

"Dreams! You forget that for me and for my nation it has already become
a reality. You forget that I am a Roman. I cannot deceive myself like
most men; it is all over with us. The sceptre has gone from us to you.
It was not without much painful thought that I learned to forget that
you, my bosom friend, are a barbarian, the enemy of my country."

"But it is not so, by the light of the sun!" interrupted Totila
eagerly. "Do I find this harsh thought in you too? Look around you!
When, tell me, when has Italy ever flourished more than under our
protection? Scarcely in the time of Augustus! You teach us science and
art; we give you peace and protection. Can one imagine a finer
correlation? Harmony amongst Romans and Goths may create an entirely
new era, more splendid than has ever existed."

"Harmony! But it does not exist. You are to us a strange people,
divided from us by speech and faith, by race and customs, and by
centuries of hatred. Once we robbed you of your freedom; now you have
robbed us of ours. Between us yawns a wide abyss."

"You reject my favourite idea."

"It is a dream!"

"No, it is truth. I feel it, and perhaps the time will come when I can
prove it. I would build all the fabric of my life upon it."

"Then were it built upon a noble delusion. No bridge between Romans and
barbarians!"

"Then," said Totila, with some heat, "I do not understand how you can
live--how you could take me----"

"Do not complete your sentence," said Julius gravely. "It was not easy;
it was most painful self-denial. Only after a sharp struggle with
selfish feelings did I succeed. But at last I have ceased to live only
in my nation. The faith which already unites Romans and barbarians as
nothing else could; which more and more powerfully conquered my
repugnant reason by grief and pain--pain which turned to joy--brought
peace to me in the conflict of my soul. In this one thing I may already
boast that I am a Christian; I live for mankind, not alone for my
nation. I am a man, and no longer a mere Roman. Therefore I can love
you, the barbarian, like a brother. Are we not brothers of one
family--that of humanity? Therefore I can bear to live, even after
seeing my nation die. I live for humanity; that is my people."

"No!" cried Totila vehemently; "that I could never do. I can, and will,
live only for my nation. My nationality is the air in which alone my
soul can breathe. Why should we not endure eternally, or as long as
this earth endures? Persians and Greeks? We are of better stuff! Need
we fall because they have decayed? We are still in the strength of our
youth. Ah, no! If the day should ever come when the Goths fall, may I
not live to see it! Oh, ye gods! let us not linger like these sickly
Greeks, who cannot live and cannot die. No; if it must be, send a
fearful tempest, and let us perish suddenly and gloriously all, all!
and I the foremost!"

He had excited himself to the warmest enthusiasm. He sprang up from the
marble bench upon which they had been seated, and shook his lance in
the air.

"My friend," said Julius, looking at him kindly, "how well this ardour
becomes you! But reflect; such a conflict could only be kindled against
_us_, against my nation, and should I----"

"If ever such a strife arose, you should cling to your nation, body and
soul, that is clear. You think that would interfere with our
friendship? Not in the least. Two heroes can cleave each other to the
marrow, and yet remain the best friends. Ha! I should rejoice to meet
you in battle, with spear and shield."

Julius smiled: "My friendship is not of so grim a nature, my savage
Goth! These doubts have tormented me for some time, and all my
philosophers together could give me no peace. Only since I learned, in
my sorrow, that I owe service to God in heaven alone, and must, on
earth, live for humanity, and not for a nation----"

"Softly, friend," cried Totila, "where is this humanity of which you
rave? I do not see it. I see only Goths, Romans, and Byzantines! I know
of no humanity somewhere up in the sky, above the existing peoples. I
serve humanity by serving my nation! I cannot do otherwise. I can not
strip off the skin in which I was born. I speak like a Goth, in Gothic
words, not in a language of general humanity: there is no such thing.
And as I speak like a Goth, so I feel like a Goth. I can appreciate
strange nations certainly; I can admire your art, your science, and, in
part, your state, in which everything is so strictly ordered. We can
learn much from you; but I could not and would not exchange, even with
a people of angels. Ah! my brave Goths! At the bottom of my heart their
faults are dearer to me than your virtues!"

"How differently I feel, and yet I am a Roman."

"You are no Roman! Forgive me, friend, it is long since a Roman
existed, else I could never be the Count of the Harbour of Neapolis. No
one can feel as you do, whose nation yet exists; and all must feel as I
do, who belong to a living people."

Julius was silent for a short time. "If it be indeed so, then happy I!
If I have lost the earth, I have gained heaven! What are nations, what
are states, what is the earth? Not here below is the home of my
immortal soul, which longs for a kingdom where all is divine and
eternal!"

"Stop, Julius," said Totila, standing still, and striking his lance
upon the ground. "Here upon earth have I a firm footing; here let me
stand and live, doing good, and enjoying what is beautiful. I will not
follow you into your heaven. I cannot. I honour your dreams and your
longing for holiness; but I do not share your feelings. You know," he
added, smiling, "that I am an inveterate heathen, like Valeria--my
Valeria! I remember her at the right moment. Your earth-forsaking
dreams make us forget the dearest things upon that earth! Look, we have
reached the city again; the sun sinks rapidly here in the south, and
before nightfall I must take some seeds to the garden of Valerius. A
fine gardener," he laughed, "to forget his flowers. Farewell. I turn to
the right."

"Farewell. Greet Valeria for me. I shall go home and read."

"What are you reading now? still Plato?"

"No, Augustinus. Farewell!"



                              CHAPTER XXI.

Totila, avoiding the more thickly populated parts of the inner town,
hurried through the suburbs towards the Porta Capuana and the tower of
Isaac, the Jewish gate-keeper.

This tower stood on the right of the gate, and had strong walls and a
massive arched roof. It was divided into different stories, each being
smaller than the one below it. In the top story, close to the
battlements, were two low but roomy chambers, intended for the dwelling
of the gate-keeper.

There lived the old Jew, with Miriam, his beautiful daughter.

In the largest of these two rooms--where, against the walls, hung
a row of heavy keys belonging to the principal and side doors of
this important gate, a curved signal-horn, and the spear of the
gate-keeper--sat Isaac, the aged warder, a tall, bony figure, with the
hooked nose and arched and bushy eyebrows of his nation. He sat upon a
reed mat, with his legs crossed, a long staff laid upon his knees,
listening attentively to the words of a young, ill-favoured-looking
man, evidently an Israelite, whose hard, sober features were expressive
of all the cunning of his race.

"Look here, father Isaac," he was saying, in a thin, unpleasant voice,
"my words are no vain words, and do not come only from the heart, which
is blind, but from the mind, which is sharp to discern. I have brought
letter and document for every word that I speak. Here is my appointment
as architect of all the aqueducts in Italy; fifty gold solidi yearly,
and ten more for every new undertaking. I have just reconstructed the
half-ruined aqueduct for this city of Neapolis; in this purse are the
ten solidi, money down. Thou seest I can keep a wife, and besides, I am
thy cousin Rachel's son, so do not let me speak in vain, but give me
Miriam, thy child, to wife, so that she may set my house in order."

But the old man stroked his long grey beard, and shook his head slowly.

"Jochem, son of Rachel, I say to thee, leave it alone, leave it alone."

"Why, what hast thou against me? Who in Israel can speak against
Jochem?"

"No one. Thou art just and peaceful and industrious, and increasest thy
substance, and thy work flourisheth before the Lord. But hast thou ever
seen the nightingale mated with the sparrow, or the slender gazelle
with the beast of burden? They do not suit each other; and now, look
there, and tell me thyself if thou art fitted for Miriam?"

He softly pushed aside the curtain which shut off the outer chamber. At
a large bow-window which commanded a view of the splendid city, the
blue sea, and the distant mountains, stood a young girl, holding a
strangely-shaped stringed instrument in her arms. The room was filled
with the glowing light of the setting sun, which bathed the white
garments and the noble features of the girl with a rosy lustre. It
played upon her shining black hair, which, stroked back behind the
small ears, exposed the delicate temples; and, like this sunshine, a
poetical harmony seemed to envelop her whole figure, accompanying her
every movement, and every dreamy look of her dark blue eyes, which,
filled with gentle thoughts, gazed out over sea and city. Piso, the
poet, had called these eyes "dark sea-blue."

As if in a half dream, her fingers touched the strings of her
instrument softly, while from her half-open lips there breathed an old
and melancholy song:

           "By the waters of Babylon
            We sat down and wept.
            When comes the day when Israel
            Shall cease to weep?"

"Shall cease to weep?" she repeated dreamily, and leaned her head upon
her arm, which, enclosing the harp, she rested upon the window-sill.

"Look there!" said the old man in a low voice, "is she not as lovely as
the rose of Sharon, or the hind upon the mountain, without spot or
fleck?"

Before Jochem could answer, there sounded from below three knocks upon
the small iron door. Miriam started from her reverie, and hurried down
the narrow winding staircase. Jochem went to the window, and his face
grew dark and frowning.

"Ha! the Christian! the cursed Christian!" he growled, and clenched his
fist. "That fair Goth again, with his insufferable pride! Father Isaac,
is that the stag that suits thee for thy hind?"

"Son, speak no mocking word against Isaac! Thou knowest that the youth
has set his heart upon a Roman girl; he thinks not of the Pearl of
Judah!"

"But perhaps the Pearl of Judah thinks of him!"

"With joy and gratitude, as the lamb thinks of the strong shepherd who
has saved it from the jaws of the wolf. Hast thou forgotten, that, when
last these cursed Romans hunted for the treasures and gold-heaps of
Israel, and burnt down the synagogue with unholy fire, a band of these
wicked men chased my poor child through the streets, like a pack of
wolves after a white lamb, and tore the veil from her face, and the
kerchief from her shoulders? Where was Jochem then, my cousin's son,
who had accompanied her? He had fled from danger with swift feet, and
had left the dove in the claws of the vulture!"

"I am a man of peace," said Jochem uneasily; "my hand holds not the
sword of force."

"But Totila held it, brave as the Lion of Judah; and the Lord was with
him. Alone he sprang amid the group of impudent robbers, struck the
boldest with his sharp sword, and drove away the others as a falcon
frighten crows. He covered my trembling child carefully with her veil,
and supporting her tottering footsteps, led her home, unhurt, to the
arms of her old father. May Jehovah the Lord bless him for this deed
with long life and happiness!"

"Well," said Jochem, taking up his papers, "then I will go: this time
for a long while. I must travel over the great waters to transact an
important business."

"An important business? With whom?"

"With Justinianus, the Emperor of the East. A portion of the great
church, which he is building to the glory of God, in the golden town of
Constantine, has fallen in. I have made a plan for the restoration of
the building."

The old man sprang up hastily, and struck his stick upon the ground.

"What, Jochem, son of Rachel! wilt thou serve the Romans? Wilt thou
serve the Emperor, whose forefathers destroyed the holy city of Zion,
and reduced the Temple of the Lord to ashes? Wilt thou build a house
for the erring faith, thou, the son of the pious Manasseh? Woe, woe to
thee!"

"Why callest thou 'woe,' and knowest not wherefore? Canst thou smell
whether a gold piece comes from the hand of a Jew or from that of a
Christian? Does it not weigh as heavily and shine as brightly?"

"Son of Manasseh, thou canst not serve God and Mammon."

"But thou thyself art a servant of the unbelievers! Do I not see the
warder's keys on the walls of thy chamber? Dost thou not keep them for
these Goths, and openest the doors for their outgoing and incoming, and
guardest the castle of their strength?"

"Yes, I do so," said the old man proudly; "and I will watch for them
faithfully, day and night, like a dog for its master; and as long as
Isaac lives, no enemy of their nation shall enter these gates. For the
children of Israel owe fervent thanks to them and to their great King,
who was as wise as Solomon and as mighty as Gideon! We owe them such
thanks as our forefathers owed to Cyrus, who freed them from the
Babylonian captivity. The Romans destroyed the Temple of the Lord, and
scattered His people over the face of the earth. They have mocked and
beaten us, and burnt our holy places, and plundered our towns, and
defiled our houses, and forced our wives, all over this land, and have
made many a cruel law against us. But there came this great King from
the North, whose seed may Jehovah bless! and he rebuilt our synagogues,
and where the Romans had destroyed them, they were obliged to rebuild
them with their own hands and their own money. He protected our homes,
and whoever injured an Israelite was punished as if he had offended a
Christian. He left us our God and our belief, and protected our
commerce, and we celebrated the Paschal in such joy and peace as we had
never known since the time when the Temple still stood upon Zion. And
when a Roman noble had taken my Sarah from me by force, King Theodoric
ordered that his proud head should be struck off that very day, and
gave me back my wife unhurt. This I will remember as long as my days
endure, and I will serve the nation faithfully till death, and once
again it shall be said far and wide: as faithful and true as a Jew!"

"Mayst thou not reap ingratitude where thou sowest gratitude," said
Jochem, preparing to go; "it seems to me that the time will come, when
I shall again sue for Miriam--for the last time. Perhaps, father Isaac,
thou wilt then be less proud." And he went through Miriam's chamber and
down the steps, where he met Totila.

With an ungracious bow and a piercing look, the little man pressed
past the slender Goth, who was obliged to stoop, as he entered the
warder's dwelling.

Miriam followed Totila immediately.

"There hangs your gardener's dress," said she in a melodious voice,
without raising her long lashes, "and here in the window I have placed
the flowers ready. You said lately that she loved the white narcissus.
I have taken care to procure some. They smell so sweet!"

"You are a good little maiden, Miriam," said Totila, taking off his
helmet with the silver-white swan's wings, and setting it upon the
table. "Where is your father?"

"The blessing of the Lord rest upon thy golden locks," said the old
man, as he entered the room.

"Good even, faithful Isaac!" cried Totila, taking off the long white
mantle which hung from his shoulders, and enveloping himself in a brown
cloak, which Miriam took down from the wall. "You good people! without
you and your faithful silence, all Neapolis would know of my secret.
How can I thank you!"

"Thank?" said Miriam, fixing her beaming eyes upon him, "you have
thanked us beforehand to all eternity!"

"No, Miriam," said Totila, pulling a broad-brimmed brown felt hat low
down upon his forehead, "that was nothing. Tell me, father Isaac, who
is that little man who just went away, and whom I have often met here?
It seems to me that he has cast his eyes upon Miriam. Speak frankly. If
a dowry is wanting--I would gladly be of use."

"Love is wanting--on her side," said Isaac quietly,

"Then I can certainly do no good! But if her heart has chosen
elsewhere--I should like to do something for my Miriam!" and he laid
his hand gently upon the maiden's shining hair.

The touch was but slight, but as if a flash of lightning had startled
her, Miriam fell suddenly upon her knees. Her head sank upon her bosom,
and, crossing her arms, she slipped down at Totila's feet like a flower
heavy with dew.

Totila drew back a step in surprise. But the next moment the girl had
risen.

"Forgive, it was only a rose--it fell at your feet," She placed the
flower upon the table, and seemed so composed, that neither her father
nor Totila thought further of the occurrence. "It is growing dark
already; make haste, sir!" she said quietly, and gave him a basket
containing flowers and plants.

"I go. Valeria is very thankful for all your kindness. I have told her
a great deal about you, and she has long wished to see you. Well,
perhaps we can soon manage it--to-day is, probably, the last time that
I shall need this disguise."

"Do you mean to carry off the daughter of Edom?" cried the old man.
"Bring her here! here she will be well hidden!"

"No," interposed Miriam, "not here! no, no!"

"Why not, thou strange child?" asked her father in a tone of annoyance.

"This is no place for a bride--this chamber--it would bring her no
blessing."

"Be not uneasy," said Totila, as he went to the door, "I shall soon
put an end to secrecy by sueing for her hand openly. Farewell!" He
hastened out.

Isaac took the spear, the horn, and several keys from the wall, and
followed in order to open the gate for Totila, and make the round of
all the doors of the great tower.

Miriam remained alone.

For a long time she stood with closed eyes motionless on the same spot.

At last she passed both hands over her forehead and cheeks, and looked
about her.

The room was very quiet; through the open window stole the first beam
of moonlight. It fell silvery upon Totila's white mantle, which hung in
long folds over a chair. Miriam ran and covered the hem of the mantle
with burning kisses. She took the glittering helmet, which stood near
her upon the table, and pressed it tenderly to her heart with both
arms. Then holding it a little way from her, she gazed upon it dreamily
for a few moments, and, at last--she could not resist--she lifted it up
and placed it upon her lovely head. She started as the heavy bronze
touched her forehead, and then, stroking back her dark braids, she
pressed the cold hard steel firmly upon her brow. She then took it off,
and set it, looking shyly round, in its former place, and going to
the window she looked out into the magic moonlight and the scented
night-air. Her lips moved as if in prayer, but the words of the prayer
were the same old song:

           "By the waters of Babylon
            We sat down and wept.
            O daughter of Zion, when comes the day
            Which stills thy heavy pain?"



                             CHAPTER XXII.

While Miriam was gazing silently at the first pale stars, Totila's
impatience soon brought him to the villa of the rich trader, which lay
at about an hour's distance from the Porta Capuana.

The slave who kept the gate told him to go to the old Hortularius,
Valeria's freedman, who had the care of the garden. This freedman had
been admitted to the lovers' confidence, and now took the plants from
the supposed gardener's boy, and led him into his sleeping-room, the
low windows of which opened into the garden. The next day before
sunrise--so taught the mysteries of ancient horticulture--the flowers
must be planted, so that the first sunlight which shone upon them in
the new soil should be that of the fresh morning. The young Goth waited
impatiently in the narrow chamber for the hour at which Valeria would
be able to leave her father after their evening meal.

He drew aside the curtain which covered the window and again and again
looked up at the sky, measuring the flight of time by the rising of the
stars and the progress of the moon. The large garden before him lay
bathed in its peaceful light.

In the distance, the plashing of a fountain could be heard, and the
cicadas chirped in the myrtles. The warm south wind blew sultry through
the night, at times bearing clouds of sweet odour upon its wings; and,
from the blooming grove at the end of the garden, the clear song of the
nightingale filled the air with melody.

At last Totila could wait no longer. He swung himself noiselessly over
the marble sill of the window; the white sand of the narrow path
scarcely grated beneath his rapid footsteps, as, avoiding the stream of
moonlight, he hurried along under the shrubbery.

On past the dark taxus-trees and the thick olive-groves; past the tall
statue of Flora, whose white marble shone ghostly in the moonlight;
past the large basin, where six marble dolphins spouted water high into
the air; into the thick shrubbery of laurels and tamarinds, and,
pressing through the oleanders, he stood before the stalactite grotto,
in which a marble nymph of the spring leaned upon a large dark urn. As
he entered, a white figure glided from behind the statue.

"Valeria, my lovely rose!" cried Totila, ardently embracing her.

"Leave me, leave me, my beloved!" she said, withdrawing from his arms.

"No, sweet one! I will not leave you. How long, how painfully, I have
missed you! Do you hear how sweetly and invitingly the nightingale
calls? Inhale the warm air of the summer night and the intoxicating
scent of the roses. All breathes joy and love! Oh, let us hold fast
these golden hours! My soul cannot contain all its bliss! All thy
beauty; all our youth; and this glowing, blooming summer night. Life
rolls in mighty waves through my heart, and bursts it with delight!"

"Oh, Totila, I would gladly lose myself, like you, in the happiness of
these hours! But I cannot. The intoxicating perfume, the luxurious
warmth of these summer nights are but transient; they breed misfortune.
I cannot believe in the happiness of our love!"

"Thou dear fool, why not?"

"I know not. The unhappy doubt which troubles all my life spreads its
curse even over our love. How gladly would I love and trust like you!
But a warning voice in my heart ever repeats: 'It will not last--thou
shalt not be happy!'"

"Then, even in my arms, you are not happy?"

"Yes, and no! The feeling of concealment from my noble father oppresses
me. See, Totila, what makes me love you most is not your youthful
beauty and strength, nor even your great love for me. It is my pride in
your character, in your frank, unclouded and noble character. I have
accustomed myself to see you walk through this dark world bright and
strong as the God of Light. The noble courage, sure of victory; the
enthusiasm and truth of your being, are my pride. That when you
approach, all that is mean, little, and unholy must vanish from before
you, is my delight. I love you as a mortal loves the Sun-god who
approaches him in the fulness of his glory, and therefore I can endure
nothing secret about you. Not even the delight of these hours--it is
enjoyed by stealth, and that must no longer be----"

"No, Valeria, and shall not! I feel exactly the same. I hate the lie
of this disguise; I can bear it no longer! To-morrow I will throw it
off and speak openly and freely to your father."

"This decision is the best, for----"

"For it saves your life, young man!" suddenly cried a deep voice, and
from the dark background of the grotto a man came forth, in the act of
sheathing his sword.

"My father!" cried Valeria, startled, but with courageous composure.
Totila put one arm round her.

"Away, Valeria! leave the barbarian!" cried Valerius, stretching out
his hand commandingly.

"No, Valerius," cried Totila, pressing Valeria close to his breast;
"henceforward her place is on my bosom!"

"Audacious Goth!"

"Hear me, Valerius, and be not angry with us for this deceit. You
yourself heard that it was to end tomorrow."

"Fortunately for you, I did. Warned by an old friend, I could still
scarcely believe that my daughter--would deceive me. When I was
compelled to believe my eyes, I was resolved that your life should pay
for her fault. Your words saved you. But now go; you will never again
see her face."

Totila would have retorted angrily, but Valeria was beforehand.

"Father," she said quietly, stepping between the two men, "listen to
your child. I will not excuse my love, it needs no apology. It is as
innocent and heavenly as are the stars. My love is the life of my life.
You know me; truth is the air I breathe. By my soul! I will never leave
this man!"

"Nor I her!" cried Totila, and took her right-hand.

The young couple stood erect before the old man in the bright
moonlight, their noble features filled with sacred enthusiasm. They
looked so beautiful that a softened feeling took possession of the
angry father.

"Valeria, my child!"

"Oh, my father! you have led all my childish steps with such untiring
love that till now I have scarcely missed, though I have deeply
regretted, my lost mother. At this moment I miss her for the first
time; for now I feel that I need her advocacy. At least let her memory
plead for me. Let me bring her picture before you, and remind you of
the time when, dying, she called you for the last time to her bedside,
and, as you have often told me, confided to you my happiness as a holy
legacy."

Valerius pressed his right hand to his forehead; his daughter ventured
to take the other; he did not repulse her. Evidently a struggle was
going on in his mind. At last he spoke.

"Valeria, without knowing it, you have pleaded strongly. It would be
unjust to withhold from you a fact upon which you have mysteriously
touched. Your mother's vow, which, however, we had long since annulled,
still oppressed her soul. 'If our child,' she said, 'is not to be the
bride of Heaven, at least swear to me to honour the freedom of her
choice. I know how Roman girls, particularly in our rank of life, are
given in marriage unasked, without love. Such an union is misery on
earth and a sin before God. My Valeria will choose nobly; swear to me
to give her to the husband of her choice, and to no other!'--and I
Swore it. But to give my child to a barbarian, to an enemy of Italy!
no, no!" And he broke from her grasp.

"Perhaps I am not so barbarous, Valerius, as you think," began Totila.
"At least I am the warmest friend of the Romans in all my nation.
Believe me, I do not hate you; those whom I abhor are your worst
enemies as well as ours--the Byzantines!"

It was a happy speech, for in the heart of the old republican the
hatred of Byzantium was the reverse side to his love of freedom and
Italy. He was silent, but his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the youth.

"My father," said Valeria, "your child could love no barbarian. Learn
to know Totila; and if you still call him a barbarian--I will never
become his. I ask nothing of you but this: learn to know him. Decide
for yourself whether my choice be noble. He is beloved by all the
Goths, and all men are friendly to him--surely you alone will not
reject him?"

Again she took her father's hand.

"Oh, learn to know me, Valerius!" begged Totila earnestly, taking his
other hand.

The old man sighed. At length he said: "Come with me to your mother's
grave, Valeria; there it is amongst the cypresses; there stands the urn
containing her heart. Let us think of her--the noblest woman who ever
lived--and appeal to her shade. And if your love prove to be true and
well placed, then I will perform what I have promised."



                             CHAPTER XXIII.

A few weeks later, we find Cethegus in the well-known room containing
the statue of Cæsar, together with our new acquaintance, Petros, the
ambassador of the Emperor Justinian, or rather of the Empress.

The two men had shared a simple meal and had emptied a flask of old
Massikian together, exchanging reminiscences of past times--they had
been fellow-students, as we already know--and had just left the
dinner-room for the study of Cethegus, in order, undisturbed by the
attendants, to talk over more confidential affairs.

"As soon as I had convinced myself," said Cethegus, concluding his
account of late events, "that the alarming reports from Ravenna were
only rumours--perhaps inventions, and, at all events, exaggerated--I
opposed the utmost coolness to the excitement and zeal of my friends.
Lucius Lucinius, with his fiery temper and foolish enthusiasm, almost
spoilt everything. He repeatedly demanded that I should accept the
office of Dictator, and literally put his sword to my breast, shouting
that I should be compelled to serve the fatherland. He let out so many
secrets, that it was fortunate the dark Corsican--who seems to stick to
the Goths, no one knows why--took him to be more drunk than he really
was. At last news came that Amalaswintha had returned, and so people
and Senate gradually became more calm."

"And you," said Petros, "have saved Rome for the second time from the
revenge of the barbarians--a service which can never be forgotten, and
for which all the world, but most of all the Queen, must thank you."

"The Queen--poor woman!" answered Cethegus, shrugging his shoulders.
"Who knows how long the Goths, or your imperial master at Byzantium,
will leave her upon her throne?"

"What! You mistake entirely!" interrupted Petros eagerly. "My embassy
was intended, above all other things, to support her government; and I
was just upon the point of asking your advice," he added cunningly, "as
to how this can best be done."

But the Prefect leaned back his head against the marble wall, and
looked with a smile at the ambassador.

"Oh, Petros! oh, Peter!" he said. "Why so secret? I thought we knew
each other better."

"What do you mean?" asked the Byzantine, embarrassed.

"I mean that we have not studied law and history together at Berytus
and Athens in vain. I mean that at that time we already, while working
together and exchanging our wise thoughts, came to the conclusion that
the Emperor must drive out these barbarians, and rule again in Rome as
he does in Byzantium. And as I think now just as I did then, you also
will surely not have become a different man."

"I must subject my views to those of my master; and Justinian----"

"Naturally burns to rule in Italy."

"But certainly," said Petros, much embarrassed, "cases might occur----"

"Peter," said Cethegus, now rising indignantly, "use no phrases and no
lies with me; they do no good. See, Petros, this is your old fault; you
are ever too cunning to be wise. You think that you must always lie,
and are never courageous enough to be truthful. How can you pretend to
me that the Emperor does not mean to have Italy again? Whether he will
uphold or overthrow the Queen depends upon whether he thinks he will
reach his goal more easily with or without her. What his opinion is I
am not to know. But, in spite of all your cunning, the next time we
meet I will tell you to your face what he intends to do."

A wicked and bitter smile played upon the ambassador's thin lips.

"Still as proud as ever you were in the schools of logic at Athens," he
said spitefully.

"Yes; and at Athens, you know, I was always the first, Procopius the
second, and you came third."

Syphax just then entered the room.

"A veiled woman, sir," he said, "awaits you in the Hall of Jupiter."

Glad that the conversation was thus interrupted, for he did not feel
capable of arguing with the Prefect, Petros said, with a grin:

"I wish you joy of such an interruption."

"Yes, for your own sake," answered Cethegus, smiling; and left the
room.

"You shall one day repent your sarcasm, haughty man!" thought the
Byzantine.

In the hall--which received the name of Jupiter from a beautiful
statue, sculptured by Glycon of Athens--Cethegus found a woman, clad
richly in the Gothic costume. On his entrance, she threw back the cowl
of her brown mantle.

"Princess Gothelindis!" cried the Prefect in surprise. "What leads you
to me?"

"Revenge!" she answered, in a hoarse voice, and advanced towards him.

Her features were sharp, but not plain; she would even have been called
beautiful, but that her left eye was utterly destroyed, and the whole
of her left cheek disfigured by a long scar. The wound seemed to bleed
afresh as her cheeks flushed while pronouncing the angry word. Such
deadly hatred shone from her grey eye, that Cethegus involuntarily
retreated.

"Revenge?" he asked. "On whom?"

"On--of that later. Forgive that I disturb you," she added, composing
herself. "Your friend Petros of Byzantium is with you, is he not?"

"Yes; but how do you know?"

"Oh! I saw him enter your door before supper," she answered, with
assumed indifference.

"That is not true," said Cethegus to himself; "for he was brought in by
the garden-gate. So they have made an appointment here, and I was not
to know it. What can they want with me?"

"I will not keep you long," continued Gothelindis. "I have only one
question to ask of you. Answer briefly, 'yes' or 'no.' I have the power
to ruin that woman--the daughter of Theodoric--and I have the will. Are
you for me in this, or against me?"

"Oh! friend Petros," thought the Prefect. "Now I already know what you
intend to do with Amalaswintha. But we will see how far you have
gone.--Gothelindis," he said aloud, "I readily believe that you wish to
ruin the Gothic Queen; but I doubt if you can do so."

"Listen to me, and then decide whether I can or no. The woman has
caused the three dukes to be murdered."

Cethegus shrugged his shoulders. "Many people think that."

"But I can prove it."

"You don't say so?" exclaimed Cethegus incredulously.

"Duke Thulun, as you know, did not die immediately. He was attacked on
the Æmilian Way, near my villa at Tannetum. My husbandmen found him and
brought him into my house. You know that he was my cousin--I belong to
the Balthe family. He died in my arms."

"Well, and what said the sick man in his fever?"

"Fever! Nothing of the sort! As Duke Thulun fell, he wounded his
murderer, who was not able to fly far. My husbandmen sought for him,
and found him dying in the nearest wood. He confessed everything to
me."

Cethegus imperceptibly compressed his lips.

"Well? What was he? What did he say?"

"He was an Isaurian mercenary," said Gothelindis sharply, "an
overlooker of the works on the ramparts at Rome, and he said,
'Cethegus, the Prefect, sent me to the Queen, and the Queen sent me to
Duke Thulun!'"

"Who heard his confession besides you?" asked Cethegus.

"No one. And no one shall know of this, if you stand by me. But if not,
then----"

"Gothelindis," interrupted the Prefect, "no threats! They are of no
use. You must comprehend that they can only aggravate, but not control
me. In case of need, I would allow it to come to an open accusation.
You are known as the bitter enemy of Amalaswintha, and your evidence
alone--you were imprudent enough to confess that no one else heard the
declaration of the dying man--would ruin neither her nor me. You cannot
force me to act against the Queen; at the most, you could persuade me,
if you can show that it would be to my advantage. And to do this, I
myself will propose an ally to you. You certainly know Petros, my
friend?"

"Very well; long since."

"Permit me to fetch him to this conference."

He returned to his study.

"Petros, my visitor is the Princess Gothelindis, the wife of Theodahad.
She wishes to speak to both of us. Do you know her?"

"I? oh no. I have never seen her," answered Petros quickly.

"'Tis well; follow me."

As soon as they entered the hall, Gothelindis cried out:

"Welcome, old friend! What a surprising meeting!"

Petros was dumb. Cethegus, his hands clasped behind his back, enjoyed
the confusion of the Byzantine.

"Do you see, Petros? always too cunning, always unnecessary subtleties!
But come, do not be so cast down by the discovery of a trick. So you
two have combined together for the Queen's ruin. You wish to persuade
me to help you. But before doing so, I must know your intentions
exactly. Whom will you place upon Amalaswintha's throne? For the way is
not yet open for Justinian."

Both were silent for some moments. His clear perception of the
situation surprised them. At last Gothelindis spoke:

"Theodahad, my husband, the last of the Amelungs."

"Theodahad, the last of the Amelungs," Cethegus repeated slowly.

Meanwhile, he considered all the advantages and disadvantages of this
plan. He reflected that Theodahad, unloved by the Goths, and raised to
the throne by Petros, would soon be entirely in the power of the
Byzantines, and that the catastrophe would be brought about in a
different manner and earlier than he intended. He reflected that he
must at all events keep the armies of the East Romans at a distance for
the longest possible time, and he decided to keep up the present state
of things and support Amalaswintha, because thus he would gain time for
his preparations. All this he had thought over, weighed, and decided
upon, in a few moments.

"And how will you commence proceedings?" he asked gravely.

"We shall desire the Queen to abdicate in favour of my husband,
threatening, in case of refusal, to accuse her of murder."

"And if she runs the risk?"

"We will carry out our threat," said Petros, "and raise a storm amongst
the Goths, which will----"

"Cost her her life!" cried Gothelindis.

"Perhaps cost her her throne," said Cethegus, "but hardly give it to
Theodahad. No, if the Goths are allowed to _choose_ a king, he will not
bear the name of 'Theodahad.'"

"That is too true," said Gothelindis angrily.

"Then there might easily come a king who would be much less welcome to
us all than Amalaswintha. And therefore I tell you openly, I am not on
your side; I will uphold the Queen."

"Then there is war between us," cried Gothelindis grimly, and turned
towards the door. "Come, Petros."

"Softly, friends," said the Byzantine. "Perhaps Cethegus will change
his mind when he has read this paper," and he gave the Prefect the
letter which Alexandros had brought from Amalaswintha to Justinian.

Cethegus read; his features darkened.

"Well," said Petros sarcastically, "will you still support the Queen,
who has vowed your ruin? Where would you be if she carried out her
plan, and your friends did not watch over you?"

Cethegus scarcely listened to him.

"Pitiful fellow," he thought, "as if it were that! as if the Queen were
not quite right! as if I could blame her for it! But the imprudent
woman has already done what I only feared from Theodahad. She has
ruined herself, and frustrated all my plans; she has already called the
Byzantines into the country, and now they will come, whether she will
or no. As long as Amalaswintha reigns, Justinian will play the part of
her protector." And now he turned, in seeming consternation, to the
ambassador, and, giving him the letter back, asked: "And if she carries
out her intention, when could your troops land?"

"Belisarius is already on the way to Sicily," said Petros, proud of
having abashed the Prefect; "in a week he can anchor before Portus."

"Unheard of!" cried Cethegus, this time in real dismay.

"You see," said Gothelindis, who had meanwhile read the letter, "those
whom you would uphold wish to ruin you. Be beforehand with them."

"In the name of my Emperor," said Petros, "I summon you to help me to
destroy this kingdom of the Goths, and to restore to Italy her freedom.
You and your talent are valued as they ought to be at the Emperor's
court, and, after the victory, Justinian promises you--the dignity of a
senator at Byzantium."

"Is it possible?" cried Cethegus. "But not even this highest; of
honours drives me with such eagerness into your plans as my indignation
against the ungrateful Queen, who in reward for all my services,
threatens my life.--But are you sure?" he asked anxiously, "that
Belisarius will not land at once?"

"Do not be uneasy," answered Petros; "it is my hand that will beckon,
when it is time. First, Amalaswintha must be replaced by Theodahad."

"That is well," thought Cethegus; "with time all is won, and the
Byzantines shall not land until I can receive them at the head of Italy
in arms.--I am yours," he added aloud, turning to Gothelindis, "and I
think I can bring Amalaswintha to set the crown upon your husband's
head with her own hands. She shall resign the sceptre."

"The Queen will never do that!" cried Gothelindis.

"Perhaps! Her generosity is still greater than her ambition. It is
possible to ruin one's enemies through their virtues," said Cethegus
thoughtfully. "I am now sure of the thing, and I greet you, Queen of
the Goths!" he concluded, with a slight bow.



                             CHAPTER XXIV.

After the removal of the three dukes, Amalaswintha had maintained an
expectant attitude. Although by the fall of the heads of the
aristocratic opposition she had obtained some freedom of action, yet
the National Assembly at Regeta, near Rome, was soon to be held, when
she must either completely exculpate herself from all suspicion of
murder, or lose her crown, and perhaps her life. Only until the
assembly had taken place did Witichis and his adherents promise her
their protection. She therefore made every effort to strengthen her
position before the decisive moment arrived. She hoped nothing more
from Cethegus; she had seen through his selfish motives.

But she hoped that the Italians and the conspirators of the Catacombs,
at the head of whose members her own name figured, would prefer her
rule, so friendly to the Romans, to that of a king who belonged to the
Gothic national party. She ardently longed for the arrival of the
body-guard from the Emperor, which would protect her in the first
moment of danger; and she was zealously employed in increasing the
number of her friends amongst the Goths themselves. She invited many of
her father's old followers--zealous adherents of the Amelungs, grey old
warriors of great influence with the people, brothers-at-arms and
almost play-fellows of old Hildebrand--to return to Ravenna;
particularly the white-bearded Grippa, Theodoric's cupbearer, whose
fame was scarcely less influential than that of the old master-at-arms.
She overwhelmed him and his comrades with honours, confided the castle
of Ravenna to their care, and made them swear to keep faith with the
Amelung family. As this connection with popular names was to form a
sort of counterbalance to the influence of Witichis, Hildebrand and
their friends--and Witichis could not justly prevent her from
distinguishing the old friends of Theodoric with honours--so the Queen
also looked about for aid against the family of the Balthes and their
revenge. With sharp discernment she perceived that this could best be
procured from the Wölfungs, whose family possessed great influence and
riches in central Italy. At that time the heads of this family were two
brothers, Duke Guntharis and Earl Arahad.

To win their alliance she had thought of a peculiarly effective means.
For the friendship of the Wölfungs she would offer no less a price than
the hand of her beautiful daughter.

In a richly decorated room at Ravenna the mother and daughter were
engaged in an earnest but not amicable conversation on this subject.

The Queen was measuring the narrow apartment with hasty steps; all her
usual repose of manner gone. She frequently threw an angry look at the
beautiful girl, who, leaning against a marble table, stood quietly
before her with downcast eyelids.

"Reflect well," cried Amalaswintha angrily, and suddenly standing
still, "reflect once more! I give you three days' time."

"It is in vain. I shall always speak as I have done to-day," said
Mataswintha without raising her eyes.

"Then tell me, what have you to say against Earl Arahad?"

"Nothing, except that I cannot love him."

The Queen did not seem to hear her.

"This is quite a different case from the other, when we would have had
you marry Cyprianus," she said. "He was old and--which perhaps in your
eyes was a greater disadvantage," she added bitterly--"a Roman."

"And yet I was banished to Tarentum because I refused him."

"I hoped that severity would have induced you to change your mind. For
months I kept you away from my court, from my motherly heart." A bitter
smile curled Mataswintha's lovely mouth. "In vain," continued the
Queen. "I now call you back----"

"You err. My brother Athalaric called me back!"

"I now offer you another husband. Young, handsome, a Goth of the purest
nobility, his rank is at this moment the second in the kingdom. You
know, at least you suspect, how sorely my throne, surrounded by
enemies, needs protection. He and his powerful brother promise us the
help of their whole army. Earl Arahad loves you, and you, you refuse
him! Tell me why?"

"Because I do not love him."

"A girl's stupid speech! You are a King's daughter; you ought to
sacrifice yourself to your rank, to your kingdom."

"I am a woman," answered Mataswintha, raising her sparkling eyes, "and
will sacrifice my heart to no power in heaven or on earth!"

"And thus speaks my daughter? Look at me, foolish child. I have striven
after great things, and have attained much. As long as men admire what
is great, they will name my name. I have won all that life can offer,
and yet I never----"

"Loved! I know it," sighed her daughter.

"You know it?"

"Yes; it was the curse of my childhood! I was indeed still a child when
my father died. I knew not how to express it, but even then I could
feel that his heart missed something, when, sighing deeply, he embraced
Athalaric and me, and sighed again. And I loved him all the more
tenderly because I felt that he sought love most where it was wanting.
Now indeed I know what then I could not explain to myself. You became
our father's wife, because, after Theodoric, he stood next to the
throne. Ambition, and not love, led you to his arms, and you could only
give cold pride in return for his warm affection."

Amalaswintha was startled, and stopped again in her restless walk.

"You are very bold!" she said.

"I am your daughter----"

"You speak of love so familiarly--you seem to know it at twenty better
than I at fifty. You love!" she cried suddenly, "and thence comes this
obstinacy!"

Mataswintha blushed and was silent.

"Speak," cried her angry mother; "confess it or deny it."

Mataswintha cast down her eyes and still kept silence. She had never
looked more beautiful.

"Will you deny the truth? Are you afraid, you, a daughter of the
Amelungs?"

The girl proudly raised her eyes.

"I am not afraid and I do not deny the truth. Yes, I love."

"And whom, unhappy girl?"

"Not even a god could force me to tell that!"

She looked so decided that Amalaswintha did not attempt to learn more.

"Well," she said, "my daughter has no common nature. So I demand of you
what is uncommon: to sacrifice all to the highest."

"Mother, I cherish a noble dream in my heart. To me it is the highest.
To it I will sacrifice all."

"Mataswintha," said the Queen, "how unqueenly! See, God has blessed you
above thousands with beauty of body and mind. You are born to be a
queen."

"I will be a queen of love. All praise my beauty. I have proposed to
myself, loving and beloved, happy and bestowing happiness, to be a true
woman!"

"A woman? is that all your ambition?"

"It is. Oh, would it had been yours!"

"And the realm is nothing to you, the grandchild of Theodoric? Your
nation, the Goths, are they of no account?"

"No, mother," said Mataswintha quietly; "it grieves me, it almost makes
me ashamed, but I cannot pretend what I do not feel. The word 'Goth'
arouses no sentiment in me. Perhaps it is not my fault; you have always
despised these Goths and valued these 'barbarians' lightly; that was my
first impression; it is enduring. And I hate this crown, this kingdom
of the Goths; it has taken the place of my father, of my brother, and
of myself in your heart! The Gothic crown has never been anything to me
but a hated and inimical power."

"Oh, my child, woe to me if I am guilty of this! If you will not do it
for the sake of our kingdom, oh, do it for my sake! I am lost without
these Wölfungs. Do it for the sake of my love!" And she took her
daughter's hand.

Mataswintha drew back with a bitter smile:

"Mother, do not blaspheme that holy name! Your love? You have never
loved me. Nor my brother, nor my father."

"My child! What should I have loved if not you?"

"The crown, mother, and the hated monarchy! How often have you repulsed
me before Athalaric's birth, because I was a girl, and you wished for a
crown-prince. Think of my father's grave and of----"

"Cease!" cried Amalaswintha.

"And Athalaric? Have you ever loved him? Have you not rather loved his
right to the throne? Oh, how often have we poor children wept, when we
sought the mother and found the Queen!"

"You never complained to me! you do it only now, when I ask you for the
sacrifice----"

"Mother, even now it was not for yourself, only for your crown and
throne. Put off the crown and you are free from all care. It has
brought us no happiness, only pain. You are not threatened--I would
sacrifice everything for you--but only your throne, only the golden
diadem, the idol of your heart, the curse of my life! Never will I
sacrifice my love to this hated crown, never, never, never!" And she
crossed her white arms over her bosom as if she would protect her love
thus from all assailers.

"Ha!" cried the Queen indignantly, "selfish, heartless child! you
confess that you have no feeling for your people, no pride in the crown
of your great ancestors! You will not voluntarily obey the voice of
honour; well then, obey force! You deny my love? then feel my severity!
You will leave Ravenna at once with your attendants. You will go to
Florentia, as the guest of Duke Guntharis; his wife has invited you.
Earl Arahad will accompany you on your journey. Leave me. Time will
bend your stubborn will!"

"No power can do that," said Mataswintha, proudly raising her head, and
she left the room.

The Queen looked after her silently. Her daughter's reproofs had made a
greater impression upon her than she was willing to allow.

"Ambition?" she said to herself. "No, it is not that which fills my
soul. I feel that I could protect my realm and render it happy, and
truly I could sacrifice my life, as well as my crown, if the well-being
of my nation demanded it. Could I not?" she asked herself, doubtfully
laying her hand upon her heart.

She was roused from her reverie by Cassiodorus, who entered with bent
head and slow steps.

"Well," said Amalaswintha, struck by the sad expression of his face,
"do you come to tell me of a misfortune?"

"No; only to ask a question."

"What question?"

"Queen," the old man solemnly commenced, "I have served you and your
father faithfully for thirty years. I, a Roman, have served the
barbarians, for I honoured your virtues, and believed that Italy, no
longer capable of self-government, would flourish best under your rule,
for your rule was just and mild. I continued to serve you, even when
the blood of my best friends--and, as I believe, the most innocent
blood--was shed. But they died by law, and not by treachery. I was
obliged to honour your father, even where I could not praise him. But
now----"

"Now? but now?" repeated the Queen proudly.

"I come now to beg from my friend, may I say my scholar----"

"You may," answered the Queen, softened.

"To beg great Theodoric's noble daughter to speak one single word, a
'yes.' If you can say this 'yes.'--and I pray to God that you can--then
I will serve you as faithfully as ever, so long as my grey hairs are
spared."

"And if not?"

"And if not, O Queen," answered the old man sadly--"oh, then farewell
to you, and to my last joy in this world!"

"What have you to ask?"

"Amalaswintha, you know that I was far away on the northern frontiers
of the realm, when the rebellion here broke out, when that terrible
rumour arose, and that fearful accusation was made. I believed
nothing--I hurried here from Tridentum--I arrived two days ago,
and not an hour passes, not a Goth do I meet, but a terrible doubt
falls heavily upon my heart. And you, too, are changed; restless,
inconstant--and yet I cannot believe it. One sincere word of yours will
dispel all these mists."

"Why use so many words?" she cried, supporting herself on the arm of
her chair. "Ask briefly what you have to ask."

"Say but one simple 'yes.' Are you guiltless of the death of the three
dukes?"

"And if I were not, have they not richly deserved their fate?"

"Amalaswintha--I beseech you--say 'yes.'"

"You take a very sudden interest in the Gothic rebels!"

"I beseech you," cried the old man, falling on his knees, "daughter of
Theodoric, say 'yes,' if you can!"

"Rise!" she cried, turning away with a frown. "You have no right to
question me thus."

"No," said the old man quietly, and rising from his knees. "No, not
now. From this moment I no longer belong to this world."

"Cassiodorus!" cried the Queen, alarmed.

"Here are the keys of my rooms in the palace. There you will find all
the gifts that I have received from you and Theodoric; the documents
which assert my dignities, and my seals of office. I go!"

"Whither, my old friend, oh, whither?"

"To the cloister which I founded at Squillacium, in Apulia.
Henceforward, far from kings and their deeds, I shall only do God's
work upon earth. My soul has long since panted for peace, and now I
have nothing left on earth that is dear to me. Accept once more my
advice at parting: put away the sceptre from your blood-stained hands.
You can bless this realm no longer, you can only bring a curse upon the
nation. Think of the salvation of your soul, and may God be gracious to
you!" And before the Queen could recover from her consternation, he had
disappeared.

She would have hurried after him to call him back but she was met at
the door by Petros, the ambassador.

"Stay, Queen," he said in a low and rapid voice, "stay and hear me. I
have no time to lose. I am followed."

"Who follows you?"

"People who do not mean so well by you as I do. Deceive yourself no
more; the fate of the kingdom is decided; you can hinder it no longer,
so save for yourself what you can. I repeat my proposal."

"What proposal?"

"You heard it yesterday."

"That treacherous advice! Never! I shall report it to your master, the
Emperor, and beg him to recall you. With you I will confer no more."

"Queen, this is not the moment to spare you. The next ambassador of
Justinian is called Belisarius, and he will come with an army!"

"Impossible!" cried the forsaken Queen. "I recall my petition."

"Too late. The fleet of Belisarius already lies off Sicily. The
proposal which you thought came from me you have rejected. Learn that
the Emperor, and not I, was the propounder, and meant it as a last
token of his favour."

"Justinian, my friend, my protector, would thus ruin me and my
kingdom!" cried Amalaswintha, who began to see the terrible truth.

"Not ruin you, but save you! He will re-conquer this Italy, the cradle
of the Roman Empire. This unnatural, impossible kingdom of the Goths is
condemned and lost. Leave the sinking ship. Justinian reaches out to
you a friendly hand, and the Empress offers you an asylum, if you will
deliver Neapolis, Rome, Ravenna, and all the fortresses into the hands
of Belisarius, and consent that the Goths shall be led, disarmed, over
the Alps."

"Wretched man! Shall I betray my people as you have betrayed me? Too
late I see your schemes; I came to you for help, and you will destroy
me!"

"Not you, only the barbarians."

"These barbarians are my people; they are my only friends! I see it
now, and will stand by them to the death."

"But they will not stand by you."

"Insolent! Out of my sight! Leave my court!"

"You will not listen? Reflect, O Queen! only on this condition can I
answer for your life."

"My people in arms shall answer for my life!"

"Hardly. For the last time I ask you----"

"Be silent! I will not give up my crown to Justinian without a
struggle."

"Well, then," said Petros to himself, "another must, do it. Enter!" he
called aloud at the entrance.

But Cethegus alone appeared from behind the curtain.

"Where is Gothelindis? Where is Theodahad?" whispered Petros.

"I left them outside the palace. The two women hate each other too
bitterly. Their passion would spoil all."

"You are not my good angel, Prefect of Rome," said Amalaswintha,
turning away from him gloomily, as he approached.

"This time perhaps I am," whispered Cethegus, going close up to her.
"You have rejected the proposals from Byzantium, as I expected you
would. Dismiss that false Greek."

At a sign from the Queen, Petros retired into an ante-room.

"What would you with me, Cethegus? I trust you no longer."

"You have trusted the Emperor instead of me, and you see the
consequences."

"I do indeed," she answered in deep grief.

"Queen, I have never deceived you in this: that I love Italy and Rome
more than the Goths. You will remember that I never concealed it from
you."

"I know it, and do not blame you."

"My dearest wish is to see Italy free. In order to keep the Emperor
off, I would uphold your government; but I tell you openly that there
is now no hope of this. If you proclaim war against Byzantium, the
Goths will no more obey or the Italians trust you."

"And why not? What separates me from the Italians and my people?"

"Your own acts: two unfortunate documents, which, are in Justinian's
hands. You yourself first called his arms into Italy--a body-guard from
Byzantium!"

Amalaswintha grew pale.

"You know----"

"Unfortunately not I alone, but my friends, the conspirators of the
Catacombs. Petros showed them, the letter, and they call down curses
upon you."

"Then my Goths, at least, remain to me!"

"No longer. Not alone do the adherents of the Balthes seek your life;
but the conspirators of Rome have sworn, as soon as war breaks out, to
announce to all the world that your name stands at the head of their
conspiracy against the Goths--against your own nation! The document,
with your signature, is in my hands no longer; it lies in the archives
of the conspirators."

"Faithless man!"

"How could I know that you treated with Byzantium behind my back, and
thus made enemies of my friends? You see that Byzantium, the Goths, and
Italy are all against you. If the war break out under your direction,
division will run rife in Italy. No one will obey you, and the kingdom
will fall helpless into the hands of Belisarius. Amalaswintha, there
must be a sacrifice! I demand it of you in the name of Italy, in the
name of your people and of mine."

"What sacrifice? I consent to any."

"The greatest sacrifice--your crown. Give it to a man who is capable of
uniting the Goths and Italians against Byzantium, and save both
nations."

Amalaswintha looked at him searchingly. A terrible struggle took place
in her soul.

"My crown? It is very dear to me," she said.

"I always held Amalaswintha capable of any sacrifice."

"Dare I place confidence in your advice?"

"If it were sweet, you might doubt it; if I flattered your pride you
might mistrust me. But I offer you the bitter cup of renunciation. I
appeal to your generosity and courage. Make me not ashamed."

"Your last advice was a crime," cried Amalaswintha, shuddering.

"I preserved your throne by every possible means as long as it could be
upheld, as long as it was necessary for Italy; and I now demand that
you should love your people more than your sceptre."

"By God! there you do not err. For my people I have not hesitated to
sacrifice the lives of others"--she gladly dwelt on this thought, which
appeased her conscience--"and I shall not refuse now to sacrifice my
personal ambition. But who will be my successor?"

"Your heir, to whom the crown belongs--Theodahad, the last of the
Amelungs."

"What! that feeble creature?"

"He is no hero, it is true; but heroes will obey the nephew of
Theodoric if you place him on the throne. And, consider, his Roman
education has won the Italians for him; they will stand by him. They
would both fear and hate a king after Hildebrand's heart."

"And rightly," answered the Queen reflectively. "But Gothelindis,
Queen!"

Cethegus came nearer, and looked keenly into her eyes.

"Amalaswintha is not so mean as to nourish a pitiful feminine enmity
when there is need of a noble resolve. You have ever appeared to me
nobler than your sex. Now prove it, and decide."

"Not now," said Amalaswintha. "My head burns and my brain is confused.
Let me alone to-night. You believe me capable of self-sacrifice. I
thank you for that at least. To-morrow I will decide."



                               BOOK III.
                               THEODAHAD.


"It seemed to Theodahad that to have neighbours was a kind of
misfortune."--_Procopius: Wars of the Goths_, i. 3.



                               CHAPTER I.

The morning after the events before described, a manifesto announced to
the astonished inhabitants of Ravenna that the daughter of Theodoric
had resigned the crown in favour of her cousin Theodahad, the last male
scion o£ the House of Amelung.

Italians and Goths were summoned to swear the oath of allegiance to
their new sovereign.

Cethegus had judged rightly. Amalaswintha had felt her conscience
oppressed by many a folly, and even by deadly sin. Noble natures seek
consolation and atonement in sacrifice and self-denial; and the unhappy
woman had been much affected by the reproaches of her daughter and
Cassiodorus; therefore the Prefect had found her in a mood favourable
for the reception of his advice. The very bitterness of this advice
induced her to follow it; indeed, to save her people and expiate her
guilt, she would even have endured much greater humiliation.

The change of dynasty was accomplished without difficulty. The Italians
at Ravenna were in nowise prepared for rebellion, and Cethegus fed them
with hopes of a more favourable opportunity. Besides this, the new King
was known and liked by them as a friend of Roman civilisation.

The Goths, however, did not seem inclined to submit to the change
without more ado. Prince Theodahad was certainly a man--that was in his
favour and an Amelung, which last circumstance weighed heavily; but he
was by no means esteemed. Cowardly and unmartial, effeminate in body
and mind, he had none of the qualities which the Germans require in
their kings. One sole passion filled his soul--avarice, insatiable love
of gold. Though very rich, he was constantly engaged in mean quarrels
with his neighbours in Tuscany. He well understood the art of
increasing his estates by force and cunning, and the weight of his
royal rank, and how to wrest their property from his neighbours; "for,"
says an author of that period, "it seemed to Theodahad that to have
neighbours was a kind of misfortune." At the same time, his weak nature
was entirely subject to that of his wicked but strong-minded wife.

For all these reasons, the worthiest members of the Gothic nation saw
the accession of such a man to the throne of Theodoric with great
dislike; and the manifesto had scarcely been published, when Earl Teja,
who had shortly before returned to Ravenna with Hildebad, summoned the
old master-at-arms and Witichis, and invited them to arouse and direct
the discontent of the people, and to set a more worthy man in
Theodahad's place.

"You know," he concluded his exhortation, "how favourable is the temper
of the people. Since the night of our meeting in the Temple of Mercury,
we have incessantly stirred up the nation, and have succeeded in many
of our efforts. The noble self-assertion of Athalaric, the victory of
the Feast of Epiphany, the prevention of Amalaswintha's escape was all
our work. Now a favourable opportunity offers. Shall a man who is
weaker than a woman step into a woman's place? Have we no more worthy
man than Theodahad amongst us?"

"He is right, by Thor and Woden!" cried Hildebad. "Away with these weak
Amelungs! Raise a hero upon our shield, and hit about on all sides!
Away with the Amelungs!"

"No," said Witichis calmly; "not yet. Perhaps it will come to that at
last; but it must not happen sooner than is necessary. The Amelungs
have a great party. Theodahad would never part with the riches, nor
Gothelindis with the power of the crown without a struggle; they are
strong enough, if not for victory, at least for battle. But strife
between brothers is terrible. Necessity alone can justify it; and, at
present, that does not exist. Theodahad may try; he is weak, and may
easily be led. There is time enough to act if he prove incapable."

"Who knows if then there will be time?" said Teja warningly.

"What dost thou advise, old man?" asked Hildebad, upon whose mind the
remarks of Witichis had not been without effect.

"Brothers," answered Hildebrand, stroking his long beard, "you have the
choice, and therefore are plagued with doubt. I am spared both, for I
am bound. The King's old followers have sworn an oath that, as long as
a member of his House lives, they will allow no stranger to occupy the
throne."

"What a foolish oath!" cried Hildebad.

"I am old, and yet I do not call it foolish. I know what a blessing
rests upon the great and sacred law of inheritance; and the Amelungs
are descended from the gods!" he added mysteriously.

"Theodahad is a fine child of the gods!" laughed Hildebad.

"Be silent!" cried the old man angrily. "You modern men understand this
no longer. You think you can fathom everything with your miserable
reason. The mystery, the secrecy, the magic that lies in blood--for
this you have lost all sense. Therefore I have held my peace about such
things. But you cannot change me, with my near a hundred years. Do what
you like; I shall do what I must."

"Well," said Earl Teja, yielding, "upon thy head be the responsibility.
But when this last Amelung is no more----"

"Then the followers of Theodoric are free from their oath."

"Perhaps," said Witichis, "it is fortunate that your oath spares us the
choice, for we certainly wish for no ruler whom thou canst not
acknowledge. Let us then go and pacify the people; and let us bear with
this King as long as it is possible."

"But not an hour longer!" cried Teja, and went away in anger.



                              CHAPTER II.

The very same day Theodahad and Gothelindis were crowned with the
ancient crown of the Goths.

A splendid banquet, at which all the Roman and Gothic dignitaries of
the court and city were present, enlivened the old palace and the
usually quiet gardens, with which we have become acquainted as the
scene of Athalaric's and Camilla's loves.

The revel lasted until deep into the night.

The new King, no friend of the cup, or of barbaric revelry, had retired
early.

Gothelindis, on the contrary, sunned herself in the glory of her new
rank. Proudly she sat upon her high seat, the golden circlet on her
dark hair. She seemed all ear for the loud hurrahs with which, again
and again, her own and her husband's names were greeted. But most of
all she enjoyed the thought that these shouts would penetrate into the
royal vault, where Amalaswintha, her hated and conquered rival, sat
mourning by the sarcophagus of her son.

Among the crowd of such guests as need only a full cup to make them
merry, many a grave face was to be seen; many a Roman who would rather
have seen the Emperor Justinian upon the throne at the head of the
table; many a Goth who, in the present precarious condition of affairs,
could not do homage to such a King as Theodahad without anxiety.

To these last belonged Witichis, whose thoughts seemed far absent from
the splendid scene around him. The golden cup before him stood
untouched, and he scarcely noticed the loud exclamations of Hildebad,
who sat opposite him.

At last--the lamps were long since lit, and the stars stood in the
sky--he rose and went into the greeny darkness of the garden. He slowly
wandered through the taxus-walks, his eyes fixed upon the sparkling
luminaries. His heart was with his wife, with his child, whom he had
not seen for months.

He wandered on unconsciously, until at last he came to the little
Temple of Venus by the quay, with which we are already acquainted.

He looked out over the gleaming sea. All at once something shining at
his feet attracted his attention. It was the glittering of the
moonlight upon a small Gothic harp, and upon a suit of mail. A man lay
before him upon the soft grass, and a pale face was uplifted towards
him.

"Thou here, Teja? Thou wert not at the banquet?"

"No; I was with the dead."

"My thoughts, too, were absent; at home with wife and child," said
Witichis.

"With wife and child," repeated Teja, sighing.

"Many asked after thee, Teja."

"After me? Should I sit by Cethegus, who has robbed me of my honour, or
by Theodahad, who took inheritance?"

"Thine inheritance?"

"At least he possesses it. And over the place where once stood my
cradle he now drives his ploughshare."

His head sank upon his breast, and both were silent.

"And thy harp," at last said Witichis, "will it never be heard again?
They praise thee as our nation's best minstrel!"

"Like Gelimer, the last King of the Vandals, who was also the best
singer of his nation.--But they shall never lead _me_ in triumph to
Byzantium!"

"Thou singest but seldom now?"

"Seldom or never. But it seems to me time is coming when I shall sing
again."

"A time of joy?"

"A time of deep and final sorrow."

Again a long pause ensued.

"My Teja," resumed Witichis, "I have ever found thee, in all trouble of
peace or war, as true as steel. And although thou art so much younger
than I--and an elder man does not lightly bind himself to a youth--I
may call thee my best and bosom-friend. I know that thy heart cleaves
to me more than to thy youthful companions."

Teja took the speaker's hand and pressed it. "Yes, even when my ways
perplex thee, thou withholdest not thy respect and sympathy. The
others---- And yet, _one_ of them I love much!"

"Whom?"

"He whom all love."

"Totila?"

"Yes. I love him as the night loves the morning star. But he is so
frank, that he cannot understand when others are, and must be,
reserved."

"Must be! Why? Thou knowest that curiosity is not my failing. And if,
at this earnest moment, I beg thee to lift the veil from thy grief, I
ask it only because I would gladly help and comfort thee, and because a
friend's eye often sees more clearly than one's own."

"Help? Help me? Canst thou awaken the dead? My pain is irrevocable as
the past! Whoever has, like me, seen the unmerciful wheel of Fate roll,
crushing everything before it, blind and dumb to all tenderness and
nobleness; yea, even crushing what is noble more easily and readily,
because it _is_ tender; whoever has acknowledged that a dull necessity,
which fools call the wise providence of God, rules the universe and the
life of mankind, is past all help and comfort! If once he has caught
the sound, he hears for ever, with the sharp ear of despair, the
monotonous rumble of the cruel, insensible wheel in the centre of the
universe, which, at every revolution, indifferently produces or
destroys life. Whoever has felt this, and lived through it, renounces
all and for ever. For evermore, nothing can make him afraid. But
certainly--he has also for ever forgotten the sweetness of a smile."

"Thou makest me shudder! God forbid that I should ever entertain such a
delusion! How hast thou acquired, so young, such terrible wisdom?"

"Friend, by thought alone the truth cannot be reached; only the
experience of life can teach it. And in order to understand what and
how a man thinks, it is necessary to know his life. Therefore, that I
may not appear to be an erring dreamer, or an effeminate weakling, who
delights in nursing his sorrow--and in honour of thy trust and
friendship--thou shalt hear a small portion of the cause of my grief.
The larger part, by far the larger, I will keep to myself," he added,
in evident pain, and pressing his hand to his heart. "The time for that
will come too. But now thou shalt only hear how the Star of Misfortune,
even at my birth, shone over my head. And amidst all the million stars
above, this one alone remains faithful. Thou wert present--thou wilt
remember--when the false Prefect taunted me before the whole assembly
with being a bastard, and refused to fight with me. I was obliged to
endure the insult. I am even worse than a bastard. My father, Tagila,
was a famous hero, but no noble. Poor, and of low birth. He had loved,
ever since his beard sprouted, the daughter of his father's brother,
Gisa. She lived far away on the outermost eastern frontier of the
realm; on the cold Ister, where continued battles raged with the Gepidæ
and the wild Sarmatian hordes, and where a man has little time to think
of the Church, or of the changing laws promulgated by her Conclaves.
For a long time my father was not able to lead Gisa to his home; ha had
nought but his helm and spear, and could not pay the tax, nor prepare a
home for his wife. At last fortune smiled upon him. In the war against
the Sarmatians, he conquered the king's stronghold on the Alutha, and
the rich treasures which the Sarmatians had gained by years of plunder,
and had there amassed, became his booty. In reward of his valour,
Theodoric gave him the rank of earl, and called him to Italy. My father
took with him Gisa, now become his wife, and all his treasure, and
bought a large and beautiful estate in Tuscany, between Florentia and
Luca. But his good fortune did not last long. Shortly after my birth,
some miserable fellow, some cowardly rascal, accused my parents of
incest before the Bishop of Florentia. They were Catholics, and not
Arians--and brothers' children; their marriage was null in the eyes of
the Church--and the Church ordered them to part. My father pressed his
wife to his heart, and laughed at the order. But the secret accuser did
not rest----"

"Who was he?"

"Oh, would that I knew it! I would reach him, even if he lived amid all
the horrors of Vesuvius! The priests tormented my mother without
cessation, and tried to alarm her conscience. In vain; she stood fast
by her God and her husband, and defied the bishop and his messengers.
And whenever my father met one of the priests upon his estate, he gave
him such a welcome that he took care never to come again. But who can
strive with those who speak in God's name! A last term was appointed;
if, by that time, the disobedient couple had not separated, they were
to be excommunicated, and their property forfeited to the Church. My
father now hurried in despair to the King, to beg for the abolition of
the terrible sentence. But the verdict of the Conclave was too clear,
and Theodoric did not dare to offend the rights of the Orthodox Church.
When my father returned from Ravenna, he stared in horror at the place
where once his house had stood: the time had elapsed, and the threat
had been fulfilled. His home was destroyed, his wife and child had
disappeared. He madly sought for us all over Italy, and at last,
disguised as a peasant, he discovered Gisa in a convent at Ticinum.
They had torn her boy from her arms, and taken him to Rome. My father
arranged everything for her flight from the convent; at midnight they
escaped over the wall of the cloister garden. But the next morning the
sisters missed their prisoner at the _hora_--her cell was empty. The
convent servants followed the track of the horses--they were overtaken.
Fighting desperately, my father fell; my mother was taken back to the
convent. The pain of her loss and the severe discipline of the order
had such a terrible effect upon her brain, that she went mad and died.
Such was the fate of my parents."

"And thou?"

"I was discovered in Rome by old Hildebrand, who had been a
brother-at-arms of my grandfather and father. With the King's
assistance, he took me from the care of the priests, and brought me up
with his own grandchildren in Regium."

"And thy estate, thine inheritance?"

"Was forfeited to the Church, which sold it, almost as a gift, to
Theodahad. He was my father's neighbour; he is now my King!"

"My poor friend! But what happened to you later? I have heard only
rumours--thou hast been in Greece----"

Teja rose.

"Let me keep silence on that subject; perhaps another time. I was once
fool enough to believe in happiness and the beneficence of a loving
God. I have repented it bitterly. I shall never believe again.
Farewell, Witichis, and do not blame Teja, if he be different from
other men." He pressed the hand of his friend warmly; and quickly
disappeared into the dark avenues of the garden.

Witichis sat for a long time in silent thought. Then he looked up at
the sky, seeking in the bright stars a contradiction of the gloomy
thoughts which his friend's words had aroused in his mind. He longed
for their peaceful and clear light. But during the conversation, clouds
had risen rapidly from the lagoons, and covered the sky. All around was
dark and dismal. With a sigh, Witichis arose, and filled with sad
thoughts, sought his lonely couch.



                              CHAPTER III.

While Italians and Goths feasted and drank together in the halls on the
ground-floor of the palace at Ravenna, they little suspected that above
their heads, in the King's apartments, a negotiation was going on which
was to determine the fate of the kingdom.

The King had left the banquet early, and had retired to his rooms with
the Byzantine ambassador, and, for a long time, the two were occupied
in writing and consulting together.

At last they seemed to have come to an agreement, and Petros was about
once more to read what he had written, when the King interrupted him:

"Stop," said the little man, who seemed almost lost in his royal robes,
"stop--there is yet another thing."

And he rose from his seat, softly crossed the room, and looked behind
the curtain at the entrance to see if any were listening.

Having reassured himself, he returned, and gently pulled the sleeve of
the Byzantine. The light of the bronze lamp flickered in the draught,
and fell upon the withered yellow cheeks of his ugly face, as he
cunningly screwed up his already small eyes.

"Yet another thing. If these wholesome changes are to be made, it would
be well, indeed it is necessary, that some of the most daring of my
barbarian subjects should be rendered incapable of opposition."

"I have already thought of that," answered Petros. "There is that old
half heathen, Hildebrand, that coarse Hildebad, and wise Witichis."

"You seem to know men well," said Theodahad, "you have looked sharply
about you. But," he added, "there is one whom you have not mentioned,
one who must be got rid of more than any other."

"And he?"

"Is Earl Teja, the son of Tagila."

"Is the melancholy dreamer so dangerous?"

"More so than any of the others. Besides, he is my personal enemy, as
was his father before him."

"How so?"

"His father was my neighbour at Florentia, I wanted his acres. In vain
I pressed him to give them up. Ha, ha!" and Theodahad laughed, "they
became mine at last! The holy Church dissolved his criminal marriage,
confiscated his property, and let me have it cheap. I had deserved well
of the Church during the process--your friend, the Bishop of Florentia;
can tell you the particulars."

"I understand," said Petros. "Why did not the barbarian give his acres
up with a good will? Does Teja know?"

"He knows nothing. But he hates me merely because I bought his
inheritance. He looks black at me, and the gloomy dreamer is just the
man to strangle an enemy at the very feet of God Himself."

"Indeed?" said Petros, suddenly becoming very thoughtful. "Well, enough
of him! He shall not hurt us. Let me read the treaty once more, point
by point; afterwards you can sign it. 'First: King Theodahad resigns
the sovereignty of Italy, and the subject islands and provinces of the
Gothic kingdom, namely: Dalmatia, Liburnia, Istria, the second
Pannonia, Savia, Noricum, Rhætia, and the Gothic provinces in Gaul, in
favour of Emperor Justinian, and of his successors. He promises to
deliver Ravenna, Rome, Neapolis, and all the fortresses in the kingdom,
into the hands of the Emperor.'"

Theodahad nodded.

"'Secondly: King Theodahad will use all the means in his power to the
end that the Gothic army shall be disarmed and led away, in small
parties, over the Alps. The women and children will follow the army, or
be taken as slaves to Byzantium, according to the decision of the
imperial generals. The King will take care that any resistance on the
part of the Goths shall be without result. Thirdly: in return, the
Emperor Justinian leaves the titles and honours of royalty to King
Theodahad and his spouse for their lifetime. And fourthly----'"

"I will read this paragraph myself," interrupted Theodahad, and held
out his hand for the document.

"'Fourthly: the Emperor leaves to the King of the Goths not only all
the lands and treasures which the latter possesses as private property,
but the whole of the royal Gothic treasury, which alone is valued at
forty thousand pounds of minted gold. Further, the Emperor assigns to
Theodahad, as his property and inheritance, the whole of Tuscany, from
Pistoria to Cære, from Populonia to Clusium; and lastly, he makes over
to him for life the half of all the public revenues of the kingdom thus
restored to its rightful sovereign.' Tell me, Petros, do not you think
that I might demand three-fourths?"

"You might certainly ask it, but I doubt exceedingly that Justinian
would grant it. I have already overstepped the utmost limits of my
power."

"We will demand it, at all events," said the King, altering the
figures, "then Justinian must either bargain for less, or grant
additional privileges."

A false smile played over the thin lips of the ambassador.

"You are a clever negotiator, O King," he said. "But in this case you
reckon wrongly," he added to himself.

Just at this moment the rustle of trailing garments was heard in the
marble corridor, and Amalaswintha entered, dressed in a long black
mantle and a black veil sowed with silver stars. She was deadly pale,
but composed and dignified; a Queen in spite of having lost her crown.
Intense sorrow ennobled the expression of her countenance.

"King of the Goths," she began, "forgive if a dark shadow suddenly
rises from the realm of the dead to dim your joyous feast. It is for
the last time."

Both the men were struck by her appearance.

"Queen," stammered Theodahad.

"'Queen!' oh, would that I had never borne the name. I come, cousin,
from the grave of my noble son, where I have acknowledged my
infatuation, and repented of all my sins. I come to you, King of the
Goths, to warn you against similar infatuation and similar guilt."

Theodahad's unsteady eyes avoided her grave and searching looks.

"It is an evil guest," she continued, "that I find here as your
confidant at the hour of midnight. There is no safety for a prince
except in his people. Too late I have found this out; too late for
myself; not too late, I hope, for my people. Do not trust Byzantium; it
is a shield that crushes him whom it should protect."

"You are unjust," said Petros, "and ungrateful."

"I beg you, my royal cousin," continued Amalaswintha, unheeding the
remark, "not to consent to what this man demands. Do not grant him that
which I refused. We were to surrender Sicily, and furnish three
thousand warriors to the Emperor for each of his wars. I rejected the
shameful proposal. I see," she went on, pointing to the document on the
table, "that you have already concluded your business. Retreat before
it is too late; they will deceive you always."

Theodahad uneasily drew the document towards him, and cast a suspicious
look at Petros. The latter went up to Amalaswintha.

"What do you want here, you queen of yesterday? Would you control the
ruler of this realm? Your time is past and your power at an end."

"Leave us," said Theodahad, taking courage. "I will do what I think
good. You shall not succeed in parting me from my friends at Byzantium.
Look here, before your very eyes our treaty shall be concluded," And he
signed his name.

"Well," said Petros with a smile, "the Princess comes just at the right
moment to sign as a witness."

"No!" cried Amalaswintha, "I have come at the right moment to frustrate
your plan. I will go straightway to the army, to the National Assembly,
which will soon take place at Regeta. There, before all the nation, I
will expose your proposals, the plans of the Emperor, and the treachery
of this feeble man."

"That will do no good," said Petros quietly, "unless you accuse
yourself."

"I _will_ accuse myself. I will confess all my folly, all my guilt, and
gladly suffer the death I have deserved. But my self-accusation shall
warn and alarm the whole nation from Etna to the Alps. A world in arms
shall be opposed to you, and I will save my Goths by my death, from the
dangers to which my life has exposed them!" And, filled with noble
enthusiasm, she hurried out of the room.

Theodahad looked with dismay at the ambassador. For some time he could
not find a word to say.

"Advise me, help--" he stammered out at last.

"Advise? At this moment there is but one advice to give. That insane
woman will ruin herself and us if we let her alone. She must not be
allowed to fulfil her threat. _You_ must take care of that."

"I?" cried Theodahad, alarmed. "I know nothings about such things!
Where is Gothelindis? She, and she alone, can help us."

"And the Prefect," added Petros; "send for both of them."

Gothelindis and Cethegus were summoned from the banquet. Petros told
them what the Princess had said, but without mentioning the treaty as
the cause of her outburst. He had scarcely finished speaking, when
Gothelindis cried, "Enough! She must not go. Her every step must be
watched. She must speak neither to Goth nor Roman; she must not leave
the palace. That least of all!" And she hurried away to place
confidential slaves at the doors of Amalaswintha's apartments.
Presently she returned.

"She is praying aloud in her cabinet," she cried contemptuously. "Rouse
yourself, Cethegus, and let us thwart her prayers."

Cethegus, leaning against the wall, had observed all these proceedings,
and listened to all that was said in thoughtful silence. He saw how
necessary it was that he should once more take the reins into his own
hands, and hold them more firmly. He saw Byzantium pressing more and
more into the foreground--and that he could not suffer.

"Speak, Cethegus," Gothelindis repeated. "What is most necessary?"

"Clearness of purpose," he answered, standing erect. "In every
contract, the particular aim of each of the contracting parties must be
plain. If not, they will continually hinder each other by mistrust. You
have your aims, I have mine. Yours are evident--I have already told you
what they are. You, Petros, wish that Emperor Justinian should rule in
Italy in place of the Goths. You, Gothelindis and Theodahad, wish so
also, on condition that you receive a rich recompense in revenge, gold,
and honours. But I--I too, have my private aim. What is the use of
denying it? My sly Petros, you would not long believe that I was only
ambitious of serving as your tool, and of being a senator in Byzantium.
I, too, have my aim, and all your threefold cunning would never be able
to discover it, because it lies too close to your eyes. I must betray
it to you myself. My petrified heart still cherishes one ideal: Italy!
and I, like you, wish the Goths well out of this country. But I do not,
like you, wish that the Emperor should step unconditionally into their
shoes. I do not want the deluge instead of the shower. I, the
inveterate Republican, would like best--you know, Petros, that we were
both Republicans at eighteen years of age, and I have remained so; but
you need not tell it to your master, the Emperor; I have told him
myself long since--to cast out the barbarians, bag and baggage, but
without letting you in. Unfortunately, that is not now possible; we
cannot do without your help. But I will limit it to the unavoidable.
No Byzantine army shall enter this country, except--at the last
extremity--to receive it at the hands of the Italians. Italy must be
more a gift from the Italians than a conquest of the Emperor. The
blessing of generals and tax-gatherers, which Byzantium would bring
upon the land, must be spared us; we want your protection, but not your
tyranny."

Over the face of Petros crept a sly smile, which Cethegus seemed not to
observe. He continued:

"Hear my conditions. I know that Belisarius lies off Sicily with his
fleet. He must not land. He must return home. I cannot do with him in
Italy; at least, not until I call him myself. And if you, Petros, do
not at once send him the order to return to Byzantium, our ways
separate. I know Belisarius and Narses, and their military government,
and I know what mild masters these Goths make. I am sorry for
Amalaswintha; she was a mother to my people. Therefore choose--choose
between Belisarius and Cethegus. If Belisarius lands, Cethegus and all
Italy will stand by Amalaswintha and the Goths, and then we will see
whether you can wrest from us a single foot of this soil. If you choose
Cethegus, he will break the power of the barbarians, and Italy will
subject herself to the Emperor, not as his slave, but as his consort.
Choose, Petros."

"You proud man!" cried Gothelindis. "You dare to make conditions to me,
your Queen?" And she lifted her hand with a threatening gesture.

But Cethegus caught the hand in his iron grasp, and drew it quietly
down.

"Leave such antics, you Queen of a day! Here only Italy and Byzantium
negotiate. If you forget your want of power, you must be reminded of
it. You reign only so long as we uphold you."

He stood before the angry woman in an attitude of such quiet majesty,
that she was silenced, but her eyes flashed with inextinguishable
hatred.

"Cethegus," said Petros, who had meanwhile made up his mind, "you are
right. For the moment, Byzantium can gain nothing better than your
help; for without it she can gain nothing. If Belisarius returns to
Byzantium, will you be for us unconditionally?"

"Unconditionally."

"And Amalaswintha?"

"I abandon her."

"Well, then," said the Byzantine, "we are agreed."

He wrote upon a waxen tablet a briefly-expressed order for the return
of Belisarius to Byzantium, and gave it to the Prefect.

"You may send the message yourself."

Cethegus read it carefully.

"It is well," said he, putting the tablet into the bosom of his dress.
"We are Agreed."

"When will Italy proceed against the barbarians?" asked Petros.

"In the first days of the next month. I shall now go to Rome.
Farewell."

"You are going? Will you not help us to get rid of Amalaswintha? You
will take pity on her again?" asked the Queen, in a reproachful voice.

"She is condemned," said Cethegus, turning as he reached the door. "The
judge goes; the executioner will perform his duty." And he left them
with a proud mien.

Theodahad, who had listened to all that had passed in speechless
astonishment, now caught the hand of Petros in great alarm.

"Petros," he cried, "for God's sake, what have you done? Our contract,
and everything else, depends upon Belisarius; and you send him away?"

"And allow that insolent man to triumph?" added Gothelindis
indignantly.

But Petros laughed; his whole face beamed with the ecstasy of
victorious cunning.

"Be quiet," he said. "This time the invincible Cethegus is conquered by
Petros, at whom he has always scoffed."

He took Theodahad and Gothelindis each by the hand, drew them close to
him, looked round, and then whispered:

"At the commencement of the message to Belisarius I have placed a small
spot, which means: 'All that I have written is not meant in earnest,
and is null.' Yes, yes; one learns the art of writing at the court of
Byzantium!"



                              CHAPTER IV.

Amalaswintha passed the two days following this midnight interview in a
sort of real or imagined imprisonment. Whenever she left her chamber,
whenever she turned the corner of one of the passages of the palace,
she fancied that some one followed or accompanied her, now appearing,
now slipping past her, now disappearing, and seemingly as eager to
watch all her movements as to avoid her notice. She could not even
descend to the tomb of her son unobserved.

In vain she asked for Witichis or Teja; they had left the city the
morning after the coronation, by order of the King.

The feeling that she was alone, surrounded by lurking enemies, filled
her mind with vague alarms.

Heavily and darkly the autumn rain-clouds hung over Ravenna, as
Amalaswintha rose from her sleepless couch on the morning of the third
day. It affected her disagreeably when, upon going to the window of
sparry gypsum, a raven rose cawing from the marble sill, and flew
slowly over the garden with hoarse cries, heavily flapping its wings.
The Princess felt how much her nerves had been tried by the last few
days of pain, fear, and remorse; for she could not resist the dismal
impression made upon her by the early autumn mists, which rose from the
lagoons of the harbour city.

She looked at the grey and marshy landscape with a deep sigh. Her heart
was heavy with care and remorse. Her only hope lay in the thought of
saving the kingdom at the cost of her own life, by frankly accusing and
humiliating herself before the whole nation. She did not doubt that the
relations and blood-avengers of the murdered dukes would strictly
fulfil their duty.

Buried in such reflections, she went through the empty halls and
corridors of the palace--this time, as she believed, unobserved--to the
resting-place of her son, in order to confirm herself, with prayer and
penitence, in her pious resolution.

As, after some time had elapsed, she re-ascended from the vault and
turned into a gloomy arched passage, a man in the habit of a slave
stepped out of a niche--she thought that she had often seen his face
before--and put into her hand a little wax tablet, immediately
disappearing into a side passage.

She at once recognised the handwriting of Cassiodorus.

And now she guessed who was the secret messenger. It was Dolios, the
letter-carrier of her faithful minister.

Quickly concealing the tablet in her dress, she hastened to her
chamber, where she read as follows:


"In pain, but not in anger, I parted from you. I would not that you
should be called away from this world in an impenitent state, and lose
your immortal soul. Fly from the palace, from the city. You know how
bitter is the hatred of Gothelindis. Your life is not safe for an hour.
Trust no one except my secretary, and at sunset go to the Temple of
Venus in the garden. There you will find my litter, which will bring
you safely to my villa at the Lake of Bolsena. Obey and trust."


Much moved, Amalaswintha pressed the letter to her heart. Faithful
Cassiodorus! He had not, then, quite forsaken her. He still feared and
cared for her life. And that charming villa upon the lonely island in
the blue Lake of Bolsena! There, many, many years ago, in the full
bloom of youth and beauty, as the guest of Cassiodorus, she had been
wedded to Eutharic, the noble Amelung, and, surrounded by all the
splendour of rank and power, had passed the proudest days of her youth.

She was overcome with an intense longing to see once more the scene of
her greatest happiness.

This feeling powerfully induced her to listen to the warning of
Cassiodorus. Still more the fear--not for her life, for she longed to
die--but that her enemies would make it impossible for her to warn the
nation and save the kingdom.

And, finally, she reflected that the way to Regeta, near Rome, where
the great National Assembly was shortly--as was usual every autumn--to
take place, led past the Lake of Bolsena; and that it was therefore
only a furthering of her plan, should she start at once in this
direction.

But, in order to make sure in all cases, so that, even if she never
arrived at the end of her journey, her warning voice might reach the
ears of the nation, she decided to write a letter to Cassiodorus--whom
she could not be sure of meeting at his villa--in which she would
entrust him with her confession, and expose to him all the plans of the
Byzantines and Theodahad.

With closed doors she wrote the painful words. Hot tears of gratitude
and remorse fell upon the parchment; she carefully sealed it, and
delivered it to the most faithful of her slaves, with the strict
injunction to carry it speedily and safely to the monastery at
Squillacium in Apulia, the monastical foundation and usual abode of
Cassiodorus.

Slowly, slowly passed the dreary hours.

She had grasped the offered hand of her friend with all her heart.
Memory and hope vied with each other in painting the island in the lake
as a much-loved asylum. There she hoped to find repose and peace.

She kept carefully within her apartment, in order to give no cause for
suspicion to her spies, or any excuse to detain her.

At last the sun had set.

With light steps, Amalaswintha, forbidding the attendance of her women,
and only hiding a few jewels and documents in the folds of her mantle,
hurried from her room into the wide colonnade which led to the garden.

She feared to meet here as usual some lurking spy, and to be stopped,
and perhaps detained. She frequently looked back, and even glanced
carefully into the niches of the statues--all was empty and quiet, no
spy followed her footsteps. Thus, unobserved, she reached the platform
of the terrace which united the palace and the garden, and afforded an
open view of the latter.

Amalaswintha examined the nearest path leading to the Temple of Venus.
The way was open. Only the faded leaves fell rustling from the tall
pines on to the sandy path, where they were whirled about by the wind,
which drove the mist and clouds before it in ghostly shapes; it was
very dismal in the deserted garden, which looked grey and dim in the
twilight.

The Princess shivered. The cold wind tore at her veil and mantle. She
cast a shy glance at the heavy, gloomy mass of stone which she had left
behind--the building in whose precincts she had ruled so proudly, and
from which she was now escaping, lonely and fearfully as a criminal.

She thought of her son, who reposed in the vault of the palace. She
thought of her daughter, whom she herself had banished from these
walls.

For a moment her pain threatened to overpower the forsaken woman; she
tottered, and with difficulty supported herself by the broad balustrade
of the steps which she was descending. A feverish shudder shook her
frame, as the horror of despair shook her soul.

"But my people," she said to herself, "and my atonement---- I must and
will accomplish it."

Strengthened by this thought, she again hurried down the steps, and
entered an alley overhung by thick foliage, which led across the
garden, and ended at the Temple of Venus.

She walked rapidly forward, trembling whenever the autumn leaves, with
a sighing sound, were swept across her path from a side-walk.

Breathless she arrived at the little temple, and looked searchingly
around her.

But no litter, no slaves were to be seen; all around was quiet; only
the branches of the pines creaked in the wind.

All at once the neighing of a horse struck upon her ear.

She turned; around the corner of a wall a man approached with hasty
steps.

It was Dolios. He looked sharply about him, and then beckoned to her to
come.

The Princess hastened to follow him round the corner; there stood
Cassiodorus's well-known Gallic travelling carriage, the comfortable
and elegant _carruca_, closed on all sides with movable latticed
shutters of polished wood, and to which were harnessed three
swift-footed Flemish horses.

"We must hasten, Princess," whispered Dolios, as he lifted her into the
soft cushions. "The litter was too slow for the hatred of your enemies.
Quiet and speed; so that no one may notice us."

Amalaswintha looked back once more.

Dolios opened the garden-gate and led the horses out. Two men stepped
out of the bushes near. One took the driver's seat on the carriage, the
other mounted one of two saddle-horses which stood outside the gate.
Amalaswintha recognised the men as confidential slaves belonging to
Cassiodorus. Like Dolios, they were provided with weapons.

The latter carefully closed the garden-gate, and let down the shutters
of the carriage. Then he mounted the remaining horse and drew his
sword.

"Forward!" he cried.

And the little company galloped away as if Death himself were at their
heels.



                               CHAPTER V.

Amalaswintha at first revelled in the feeling of gratitude, freedom,
and safety. She made happy plans of reconciliation. She saw her people
saved from Byzantium by her warning voice--saved from the treachery of
their own King.

She already heard the enthusiastic shouts of the valiant army,
announcing death to the enemy, and pardon to herself.

Lost in such dreams, the hours, days, and nights passed rapidly.

The party hurried on without pause. Three or four times a day the
horses were changed, so that mile after mile was passed with the utmost
velocity.

Dolios carefully watched over the Princess. He stood at the door of the
carriage with drawn sword, while his companions fetched meat and drink
from the stations which they passed.

The speed at which they went, and the faithful attention of Dolios,
freed the Princess from an anxiety which she had not been able for some
time to get rid of--it seemed to her that they were pursued.

Twice, at Perusia and Clusium, where the carriage stopped, she had
thought she heard the rattle of wheels and the sound of horses' hoofs
close behind.

And, at Clusium, she had even fancied, as she looked through the
lattices, that she saw a second _carruca_, likewise accompanied by
outriders, turn into the gate of that town.

But when she had spoken of this to Dolios, he had at once galloped back
to the gate, and shortly returned with the assurance that there was
nothing to be seen.

From that time she had noticed nothing more; and the mad haste with
which she was being carried to the wished-for island, encouraged the
hope that her enemies, even if they had discovered her flight and had
followed her for a time, had soon become tired and remained behind.

An accident, insignificant in itself, but fraught with dread because of
accompanying circumstances, suddenly darkened the brightening hopes of
the fugitive Princess.

A desolate, treeless waste extended on all sides, farther than the eye
could reach. Only reeds and tall marsh-plants stood in the damp ditches
on both sides of the Roman high-road, nodding and whispering
mysteriously in the night wind.

The road was now and then bordered by walls grown over with vines; or,
in old Roman style, by monuments, which, however, were often sadly
ruined, and the scattered stones of which, fallen across the road,
hindered the progress of the horses.

Suddenly the carriage stopped with a violent shock, and Dolios tore
open the door.

"What has happened?" cried the Princess; "have we fallen into the hands
of our enemies?"

"No," said Dolios, who, though known to her as gloomy and reserved,
seemed, during the journey, almost alarmingly silent; "a wheel is
broken. You must descend and wait until it is mended."

A violent gust of wind just then extinguished his torch, and chilly
drops of rain lashed the face of the terrified Princess.

"Descend? here? whither shall I go? There is no house near, not even a
tree which might afford a shelter from the rain and wind. I shall
remain in the carriage."

"The wheel must be taken off. That monument will afford some shelter."

Shivering with fright, Amalaswintha obeyed, and walked over the
scattered stones to the right side of the road, where, across the
ditch, she saw a tall monument rise out of the darkness.

Dolios helped her over the ditch. All at once the neighing of a horse
was heard on the road behind the carriage. Amalaswintha stopped short
in alarm.

"It is our rear-guard," said Dolios quickly. "Come!" And he led her
through the wet grass up the hill upon which stood the monument.

Arrived at the top, she seated herself upon the broad slab of a
sarcophagus. Dolios all at once disappeared into the darkness; in vain
she called him back. Presently she saw the light of his torch on the
road below; it shone redly through the mist of the marsh, and the
stormy wind rapidly bore away the sound of the hammer-strokes of the
slaves who were working at the wheel.

Thus sat the daughter of the great Theodoric, lonely and in fear. The
cold rain slowly penetrated her clothing. The wind tore at her dress
and sighed dismally through the cypresses behind the monument; ragged
clouds drove across the sky and at intervals permitted a gleam of
moonlight to penetrate their folds, which only intensified the darkness
that followed.

Amalaswintha's heart was sick with fear. Gradually her eyes became
accustomed to the gloom, and, looking about her, she could distinguish
the outlines of the nearest objects. There!--her heart stood still with
horror--it seemed to her as if, close behind her on the raised corner
of the back of the sarcophagus, there sat a second figure--it was not
her own shadow--a shorter figure in a wide flowing garment, its arms
resting on its knees, its head supported on its hands, and its eyes
fixed upon her.

She could scarcely breathe; she thought she heard a whisper; she
feverishly tried to see, to hear.

Again there came a whisper.

"No, no; not yet!" this was what she thought she heard.

She raised herself gently, and the figure, too, seemed to move; she
distinctly heard the clang of steel upon stone. In mortal fear she
screamed out:

"Dolios! lights! help! lights!"

She turned to descend the hill, but her knees trembled too much; she
fell and hurt her cheek against the sharp stones.

All at once Dolios stood beside her, and silently lifted her up. He
asked no questions.

"Dolios," she said, trying to compose herself, "give me the light! I
must see what was there; what is there now."

She took the torch and walked with a firm step round the corner of the
sarcophagus. There was nothing to be seen, but by the light of the
torch she now perceived that the monument was not old like the others,
but newly erected; so unsoiled was the white marble, so fresh the black
letters of the inscription.

Irresistibly impelled by the strange curiosity which is inseparable
from terror, she held the torch to the socle of the monument, and by
its flickering light read these words:

"Eternal honour to the three Balthes, Thulun, Ibba, and Pitza. An
eternal curse upon their murderers!"

With a scream Amalaswintha staggered back.

Dolios led her, half fainting, to the carriage. She passed the
remaining hours of her journey in an almost unconscious state. She felt
ill in body and mind. The nearer she came to the island the more the
feverish joy with which she had looked forward to reaching it was
replaced by a mysterious fear. With apprehension she saw the shrubs and
trees at the road-side fly past her faster and faster.

At last the smoking horses stopped. She let down the shutters and
looked out. It was that cold and dreary hour in which the first grey of
dawn struggles for the mastery with the still pervading night. They had
arrived, it seemed, at the shore of the lake, but nothing was to be
seen of its waters.

A dismal grey mist lay, impenetrable as the future, before
Amalaswintha's eyes. Of the villa, even of the island, nothing could be
seen.

On the right side of the road stood a low fisher-hut, half-buried in
the tall, thick reeds, which bent their heads to the soughing of the
morning wind. Singular! they seemed to warn and beckon her away from
the hidden lake behind them.

Dolios had gone into the hut. He now returned and lifted the Princess
out of the carriage. Silently he led her through the damp meadow to the
reeds. Among them lay a small boat, which seemed rather to float on the
mist than on the water.

At the rudder sat an old man in a grey and ragged mantle; his long
white hair hung dishevelled about his face. He seemed to sit dreaming
with closed eyes, which he did not even open when the Princess entered
the rocking boat and placed herself in the middle upon a camp-stool.

Dolios entered the boat after her, and took the two oars; the slaves
remained behind with the carriage.

"Dolios!" cried Amalaswintha anxiously, "it is very dark. Can the old
man steer in this fog, and no light on either shore?"

"A light would be of no use, Queen. He is blind."

"Blind!" cried the terrified woman. "Let me land! Put back!"

"I have guided the boat for twenty years," said the aged ferryman; "no
seeing man knows the way as well as I."

"Were you born blind then?"

"No. Theodoric the Amelung caused me to be blinded, believing that
Alaric, the brother of Thulun, had hired me to murder him. I am a
servant of the Balthes, and a follower of Alaric, but I was innocent;
and so was my master, the banished Alaric. A curse upon the Amelungs!"
he cried with an angry pull at the rudder.

"Silence, old man!" said Dolios.

"Why should I not say to-day what I have said at every oar-stroke for
twenty years? It is the way I beat time. A curse upon the Amelungs!"

The Princess looked with horror at the old man, who, in fact, steered
the boat with complete security, and as straight as an arrow.

His wide mantle and dishevelled hair waved in the wind; all around was
fog and silence; only the regular beat of the oars could be heard.
Empty air and grey mist enveloped the slight boat.

It seemed to Amalaswintha as if Charon was rowing her over the Styx to
the grey realm of shades.

Shivering, she drew her mantle closely around her.

A few more strokes of the oar, and they landed.

Dolios lifted the trembling Queen on to the land; but the old man
silently turned his boat, and rowed as quickly and unerringly back as
he had come. With a sort of dismay Amalaswintha watched him disappear
into the thick mist.

Suddenly it seemed to her as if she heard the sound of oar-strokes from
a second boat, which approached nearer and nearer. She asked Dolios
what was the cause of this noise.

"I hear nothing," he answered; "you are over-excited. Come into the
house."

Supported by his arm she climbed the steps, hewn in the rock, which led
to the tower-like, loftily-situated villa. Of the gardens, which, as
she distinctly remembered, extended on both sides of the narrow path,
scarcely the outlines of the rows of trees could be distinguished in
the mist.

At last they reached the lofty entrance, a bronze door with posts of
black marble.

Dolios knocked upon it with the hilt of his sword; the stroke
reverberated dully through the vaulted halls--the door sprang open.

Amalaswintha remembered how she had once entered this door, then almost
choked with wreaths of flowers, at the side of her young husband; she
remembered with what friendly warmth they had been welcomed by the
door-keeper and his wife, at that time also a newly-married couple.

The dark-looking slave with tangled grey hair, who now stood before her
with a lantern and a bunch of keys, was a stranger to her.

"Where is Fuscina, the wife of the late ostiarius? Is she no more in
the house?" she asked.

"She was long since drowned in the lake," answered the door-keeper
indifferently; and went forward with the light.

The Princess followed shuddering; she could not help thinking of the
cold black waves which had so dismally licked the planks of the little
boat.

They went on through arched courts and pillared halls; all were empty,
as if the inhabitants were dead. Their footsteps echoed loudly in the
deserted rooms--the whole villa seemed one vast catacomb.

"The house is uninhabited? I need a female slave."

"My wife will attend you."

"Is no one else in the villa?"

"One other slave--a Greek physician."

"A physician? I will see him----"

But at this moment a violent knocking was heard at the outer door.

Amalaswintha started in terror.

"What was that?" she asked, catching Dolios by the sleeve.

She heard the banging of the heavy door as it was closed again.

"It was only some one demanding admittance," said the ostiarius, as he
returned and unlocked the door of the room intended for the fugitive
Princess.

The close air of a chamber which had not been opened for a long time
half suffocated her; but she recognised with emotion the tortoise-shell
lining of the walls; it was the same room which she had occupied twenty
years ago.

Overpowered by the recollection, she sank upon the small couch, which
was covered with dark-coloured cushions.

Dismissing the two men, she drew close the curtains of the couch, and
soon sank into an uneasy slumber.



                              CHAPTER VI.

Thus she lay, she knew not how long, half awake, half dreaming; picture
after picture arose in her excited mind.

Eutharic with the expression of constant pain upon his lips--Athalaric
as he lay stretched upon his bier, he seemed to sign to her--the
reproachful face of Mataswintha--then mist and clouds and leafless
trees--then three angry warriors with pale faces and bloody
garments--and the blind ferryman in the realm of shades.

At another time it seemed to her as if she lay on the steps of the
monument in the desolate waste, and again something rustled behind her,
and a shrouded figure bent over her, nearer and nearer, oppressing and
suffocating her.

Her heart was contracted by fear; she started up terrified, and looked
about her. There!--it was no dream-fancy--something really rustled
behind the curtains, and a shrouded shadow glided along the wainscoted
walls.

With a scream Amalaswintha opened the curtain wide--there was nothing
to be seen.

Was it, then, but a dream?

It was impossible to remain alone with her torturing thoughts. She
pressed a knob of agate on the wall, which set in motion a hammer
outside the room.

Very soon a slave appeared, whose features and costume betrayed a
higher education.

He introduced himself as the Greek physician. She told him of the
terrible dreams and the feverish tremblings by which she had been
tormented during the last few hours. He explained the symptoms as the
consequence of excitement, perhaps of cold taken during her flight,
recommended a warm bath, and left her to order its preparation.

Amalaswintha remembered the splendid baths, which, divided into two
stories, occupied the whole right wing of the villa.

The lower story of the large octagonal rotunda, designed for the cold
bath, was in immediate connection with the lake. The water was
conducted into the bath through sieves, which excluded every impurity.

The upper story, a smaller octagon, was erected over the bath-room of
the lower story, the ceiling of which, made of a large circular metal
plate, formed the floor of the upper bath, and could be pushed, divided
into two semicircles, into the walls; so that both stories then formed
an undivided space, which, for the purposes of cleansing or for games
of swimming and diving, could be completely filled with the water of
the lake.

Generally, however, the upper story was used only for the warm bath,
and was provided with hundreds of pipes, and innumerable dolphin,
triton, and Medusa-heads of bronze or marble, through which flowed the
scented waters, mixed with oils and essences; while from the gallery
all round, upon which the bathers undressed, ornamental steps led down
into the shell-shaped porphyry basin of the bath.

As the Princess was recalling these rooms to her memory, the wife of
the door-keeper appeared to lead her to the bath.

They passed through wide columned halls and libraries--where, however,
the Princess missed the capsulas and rolls of Cassiodorus--in the
direction of the garden; the slave carrying fine bath-cloths, oil
flasks, and the salve for anointment.

At last they arrived at the tower-like octagon of the bath-rooms, which
was completely lined and paved with pale grey marble.

They went through the halls and passages, which served for the
gymnastics and games of ball usually indulged in before and after the
bath, past the heating-rooms, undressing and anointing-rooms, directly
to the calidarium, or warm bath.

The slave silently opened the door in the marble wall. Amalaswintha
went in and stood upon the narrow gallery which ran round the basin.
Immediately before her was a flight of easy steps leading into the
bath, out of which warm and delicious odours already arose.

The light fell from above through an octagonal dome of artistically-cut
glass. Close to the entrance into the room a staircase of cedar-wood,
consisting of twelve steps, led on to a spring-board.

On the marble walls of the gallery, as well as of the basin, the
openings of the water-works and heating-pipes were concealed by marble
bas-reliefs.

Without a word, the attendant laid the various articles for the bath
upon the soft cushions and carpets which covered the gallery, and
turned to go.

"How is it that I seem to know you?" asked the Princess, looking
thoughtfully at her. "How long have you been here?"

"Eight days," answered the slave, turning the handle of the door.

"How long have you served Cassiodorus?"

"I serve, and have always served, the Princess Gothelindis."

At this name Amalaswintha started up with a cry and caught at the
woman's skirt--too late; she was gone and the door closed, and
Amalaswintha heard the key taken from the lock outside.

A great and unknown terror overcame her. She felt that she had been
fearfully deceived; that some shocking secret lay behind. Her heart was
full of unspeakable anxiety; and flight--flight from the rooms was her
only thought.

But flight seemed impossible. The door now appeared to be only a thick
marble slab like those on the right and left; even a needle could not
have penetrated into the junctures. She looked desperately round the
walls of the gallery, but met only the marble stare of the tritons and
dolphins. At last her eyes rested upon a snake-encircled Medusa's head
directly opposite and a scream of horror escaped her lips.

The face of the Medusa was pushed aside, and the oval opening beneath,
the snaky hair was filled with a living countenance! Was it a human
face?

The trembling woman clung to the marble balustrade of the gallery, and
bent, over it, staring at the apparition. Yes, it was the distorted
features of Gothelindis! A hell of hate and mockery flashed from the
eyes.

Amalaswintha fell upon her knees and hid her face in her hands.

"_You_--you here?"

A hoarse laugh was the reply.

"Yes, child of the Amelungs, I am here; to your ruin! Mine is this
island; mine the house--it will become your grave--mine is Dolios, and
all the slaves of Cassiodorus; bought by me eight days ago. I have
decoyed you here; I have followed you like your shadow. I have endured
the torture of my hatred for long days and nights, in order to enjoy
full revenge at last. I will revel for hours in your death-agony. I
will see your tender frame shaken as with fever-frost, and your haughty
features convulsed with terror. Oh, I will drink a sea of revenge!"

Amalaswintha rose from her knees wringing her hands.

"Revenge? For what? Why this deadly hatred?"

"Ah! can you ask? Certainly years have passed, and the happy easily
forget. But hate has a faithful memory. Have you forgotten how two
young girls once played under the shade of the plantains in the meadow
at Ravenna? They were the fairest among their play-fellows; both young,
beautiful, and amiable. A royal child the one, the other a daughter of
the Balthes. The girls were about to choose a queen of the games. They
chose Gothelindis, for she was still more handsome than you, and not so
tyrannical. And they chose her twice in succession. But the King's
daughter stood near, devoured by ungovernable pride and envy, and when
they chose me for the third time she took up a pair of sharp-pointed
gardener's scissors----"

"Stop! Oh! be silent, Gothelindis!"

"And hurled it at me. It hit me. Screaming' with pain and bleeding, I
fell to the ground, my whole cheek one yawning wound, and my eye, my
eye pierced through! Ah! how it still pains, even to-day!"

"Forgive, pardon me, Gothelindis!" cried Amalaswintha. "You have
pardoned me long ago."

"Forgive? I forgive you? Shall I forgive you when you have robbed me of
my eye, and of all my beauty? You conquered for life! Gothelindis was
no more dangerous as a rival. She lamented in secret; the disfigured
girl hid from the eyes of mankind. And years passed. Then there came to
the court of Ravenna a noble Amelung from Spain; Eutharic with his dark
eyes and tender soul. And he, himself sick, took pity upon the sick and
half-blind girl. He spoke to her with affection and kindness; spoke to
the ugly, disfigured creature whom all the others avoided. And it was
decided--in order to eradicate the ancient enmity between our families,
and to expiate old and new guilt--for Duke Alaric had been condemned in
consequence of a secret and unproved accusation--that the poor ill-used
daughter of the Balthes should become the wife of the noblest of the
Amelungs. But when you heard this, you, who had so terribly disfigured
me, were resolved to deprive me also of my lover! Not out of jealousy,
no; not because you loved him, no; but from mere pride. Because you
were determined to keep the first man in the kingdom and the heir to
the crown to yourself. And you succeeded; for your father could deny
you nothing, and Eutharic soon forgot his compassion for the one-eyed
girl, when the hand of the beautiful Amalaswintha was offered to him.
In recompense--or was it only in mockery?--they gave me, too, to an
Amelung; to Theodahad, that miserable coward?"

"Gothelindis, I swear to you, I never suspected that you loved
Eutharic. How could I----"

"To be sure! how could you believe that the disfigured girl could
place her heart so high? Oh, you cursed woman, if you had really loved
him, and had made him happy--I could have forgiven all! But you never
loved him; you are only capable of ambition! His lot with you was
misery. For years I saw him wasting by your side, oppressed, unloved,
chilled to the very soul by your coldness. Grief soon killed him. You!
you have robbed me of my lover and brought him to the grave with
sorrow--revenge! revenge for him!"

And the lofty dome echoed with the cry: "Revenge! Revenge!"

"Help!" cried Amalaswintha, and ran despairingly round the circle of
the gallery, beating the smooth walls with her hands.

"Aye! call! call! here no one can hear you but the God of Revenge! Do
you think I have bridled my hate for months in vain? How often, how
easily could I have reached you, with dagger or poison, at Ravenna! But
no; I have decoyed you here. At the monument of my murdered cousins; an
hour ago at your bedside; I with difficulty restrained my uplifted
hand--but slowly, inch by inch, shall you die. I will watch for hours
the growing agony of your death."

"Terrible! Oh, terrible!"

"What are hours compared with the long years during which I was
martyred by the thought of my disfigurement, of your beauty and your
possession of my lover! But you shall repent it!"

"What will you do?" cried the terrified woman, again and again seeking
some outlet in the walls.

"I will drown you, slowly and surely, in the waterworks of this bath,
which your friend Cassiodorus built. You do not know what tortures of
jealousy and impotent rage I endured in this house when your wedding
with Eutharic was celebrated, and I was compelled to serve in your
train. In this room, you proud woman, I unloosed your sandals, and
dried your fair limbs--in this room you shall die?"

She touched a spring in the wall.

The floor of the basin, the round metal plate, divided into two halves,
which slid slowly into the walls on the right and left.

With horror the imprisoned woman looked down from the narrow gallery
into the chasm thus opened at her feet.

"Remember that day in the meadow!" cried Gothelindis; and in the lower
story the sluices were suddenly opened, and the waters of the lake
rushed in, roaring and hissing, and rose higher and higher with fearful
rapidity.

Amalaswintha saw certain death before her. She saw the impossibility of
escape, or of softening her fiendish enemy by prayers. At this crisis,
the hereditary courage of the Amelungs returned to her; she composed
herself, and was reconciled to her fate.

She descried, amid the numerous reliefs of mythological subjects near
her, a representation of the death of Christ on the right of the
entrance. The sight strengthened her mind; she threw herself upon her
knees before the marble cross, clasped it with both ands, and prayed
quietly with closed eyes, while the water rose and rose; it already
splashed upon the steps of the gallery.

"You pray, murderess? Away from the cross!" cried Gothelindis, enraged;
"think of the three dukes!"

Suddenly all the dolphin and triton heads on the right side of the
octagon began to spout streams of hot rater; white steam rushed out of
the pipes.

Amalaswintha sprang up and ran to the left side of the gallery.

"Gothelindis, I forgive you! Kill me, but forgive me also!"

And the water rose and rose; it already covered the topmost step of the
bath, and slowly wetted the floor of the gallery.

And now the streaming water-pipes spouted upon Amalaswintha from the
left also. She took refuge in the middle of the gallery, directly
opposite the Medusa, the only place where no steam from the hot-water
pipe could reach her.

If she mounted the spring-board, which was placed here, she could
respite her life for some time longer. Gothelindis seemed to expect
that she would do so, and to revel in the prospect of the lengthened
torture of the agonised woman.

The water already rushed over the marble flooring of the gallery and
laved the feet of Amalaswintha. She ran quickly up the brown and
shining wooden steps, and leaned over the railing of the bridge.

"Hear me, Gothelindis! my last prayer! not for myself, but for my
people, for _our_ people. Petros will destroy them, and Theodahad----"

"Yes, I know that the kingdom is your last anxiety! Despair. It is
lost! These foolish Goths, who have always preferred the Amelungs to
the Balthes, are sold and betrayed by the Amelungs. Belisarius
approaches, and there is no one to warn them."

"You err, satanic woman; they _are_ warned! I, their Queen, have warned
them! Hail to my people! Destruction to their enemies! and may God have
mercy on my soul!" and she suddenly leapt from the spring-board into
the water, which closed whirling over her head.

Gothelindis looked at the place which her victim had occupied a moment
before.

"She has disappeared," she said. Then she looked at the water--on the
surface floated Amalaswintha's kerchief.

"Even in death this woman conquers me," said Gothelindis slowly. "How
long was my hate, and how short my revenge!"



                              CHAPTER VII.

A few days after these occurrences, there were assembled in the
apartments of the Byzantine ambassador at Ravenna a number of
distinguished Romans of worldly and ecclesiastical rank. The Bishops
Hypatius and Demetrius from the Eastern Empire were also present.

Great excitement, mixed with alarm and anger, was visible on all faces,
as Petros, the rhetorician, concluded his address in these words:

"It is for this reason, reverend bishops of the East and West, and you,
noble Romans, that I have assembled you here. I protest loudly and
solemnly, in the name of the Emperor, against all secret acts of
cunning or force which may have been practised against the noble lady.
Nine days ago she disappeared from Ravenna; most likely taken by force
from your midst; she, who has ever been the friend and protector of the
Italians! On the same day, the Queen, her bitter enemy, also
disappeared. I have sent out expresses in all directions, but, until
now, am without news. But alas! if----"

He could not complete the sentence.

A confused tumult arose from the Forum of Hercules, and very soon hasty
footsteps were heard in the vestibule; the curtain was parted, and one
of the Byzantine slaves of the ambassador hurried into the room,
covered with dust.

"Sir," he cried, "she is dead! she is murdered!"

"Murdered!" repeated many voices.

"By whom?" asked Petros.

"By Gothelindis; at the villa in the Lake of Bolsena!"

"Where is the corpse? Where the murderess?"

"Gothelindis pretends that the Princess was drowned in the bath while
playing with the water-works, with which she was unacquainted. But it
is known that the Queen had followed her victim, step by step, ever
since she left the city. Romans and Goths have crowded by hundreds to
the villa to bring the corpse here in solemn procession. The Queen
escaped the fury of the people and fled to the fortress of Feretri."

"Enough," cried Petros indignantly. "I go to the King, and call upon
you all to follow me. I shall refer to your testimony of what passes in
my report to Emperor Justinian." And he at once hurried out at the head
of the assembly to the palace.

In the streets they found a throng of people rushing hither and
thither, full of rage and indignation. The news had arrived in the
city, and spread from house to house. On recognising the imperial
ambassador and the dignitaries of the city, the crowd gave way before
them, but immediately closed again behind them pressed after them to
the palace, and was with difficulty kept from entering the gates.

Every moment increased the number and excitement of the people. The
Roman citizens crowded together in the Forum of Honorius, and to their
grief for the fate of their protectress was added the hope that this
occurrence might cause the downfall of the barbarians. The appearance
of the ambassador encouraged this hope, and the feelings of the mass
took a direction which was by no means inimical alone to Theodahad and
Gothelindis.

Meanwhile Petros, with his companions, hastened to the apartments of
the helpless King, who, in the absence of his wife, had lost all
strength of resistance. He trembled at the excitement of the crowd
before the palace, and had already sent for Petros, to ask from him
help and counsel; for it was Petros himself who had decided upon the
murder of the Princess, and arranged with Gothelindis the manner of its
accomplishment. The King, therefore, now expected him to help to bear
the consequences.

When, then, the Byzantine appeared upon the threshold, Theodahad
hurried to him with open arms; but he suddenly stood still in
amazement, astonished to see what companions Petros had brought with
him, and still more astonished at his threatening aspect.

"I call you to account, King of the Goths!" cried Petros, even before
he had crossed the threshold. "In the name of Byzantium, I call you to
account for the disappearance of the daughter of Theodoric. You know
that Emperor Justinian had assured her of his particular protection;
every hair of her head is therefore sacred, and sacred every drop of
her blood. Where is Amalaswintha?"

The King stared at him in speechless astonishment. He admired this
power of dissimulation; but he did not understand its cause. He made no
answer.

"Where is Amalaswintha?" repeated Petros, advancing threateningly: and
his companions also came a step forward.

"She is dead," said Theodahad, who began to feel extremely anxious.

"She is murdered!" cried Petros. "So says all Italy. Murdered by you
and your wife. Justinian, my illustrious Emperor, was the protector of
this woman, and he will be her avenger. In his name I declare war
against you--war against you and all your race!"

"War against you and all your race!" repeated the Italians, carried
away by the excitement of the moment, and giving vent to their
long-cherished hatred; and they pressed upon the trembling King.

"Petros," he stammered in terror, "you will remember our treaty, and
you will----"

But the ambassador took a roll of papyrus out of his mantle, and tore
it in two.

"Thus I tear all bonds between my Emperor and this bloodthirsty house!
You yourselves by this cruel deed have forfeited all our former
forbearance, No treaties--war!"

"For God's sake!" cried Theodahad; "no fighting! What do you demand,
Petros?"

"Complete subjection. The evacuation of Italy. Yourself and Gothelindis
I summon to Byzantium, before the throne of Justinian. There----"

But his speech was interrupted by the sounding clang of the Gothic
alarum, and into the room hurried a strong troop of Gothic warriors,
led by Earl Witichis.

On hearing of Amalaswintha's death, the Gothic leaders had at once
summoned the most valiant men of the nation in Ravenna to meet before
the Porta Romana, and there they had agreed upon the best means of
security. They had appeared in the Forum of Honorius just at the right
moment--when the excitement was becoming dangerous. Here and there a
dagger flashed, and the cry arose, "Woe to the barbarians!"

These signs and voices ceased at once, as the hated Goths advanced in
close ranks from the Forum of Hercules through the Via Palatina.
Without resistance, they marched through the murmuring groups; and
while Earl Teja and Hildebad guarded the gates and terraces of the
palace, Witichis and Hildebrand arrived in the King's rooms just in
time to hear the last words of the ambassador.

Wheeling to the right, they placed their followers near the throne, to
which the King had just retreated; and Witichis, leaning on his long
sword, went close up to Petros, and looked keenly into his eyes.

A pause of expectation ensued.

"Who dares," asked Witichis quietly, "to play the master here in the
royal palace of the Goths?"

Recovering from his surprise, Petros answered,

"It does not become you, Earl Witichis, to interfere for the protection
of a murderer. I have summoned the King before the court at Byzantium."

"And for this insult thou hast no reply, Amelung?" cried old Hildebrand
angrily.

But his bad conscience tied the King's tongue.

"Then we must speak for him," said Witichis "Know, Greek, and
understand it well, you false and ungrateful Ravennites, the nation of
the Goths is free and acknowledges no foreign master or judge or
earth."

"Not even for murder?"

"If evil deeds occur amongst us, we ourselves will judge and punish
them. It does not concern strangers; least of all our enemy, the
Emperor of Byzantium."

"My Emperor will revenge this woman, whom he could not save. Deliver up
the murderers to Byzantium."

"We would not deliver up a Gothic hind, much less our King!"

"Then you share his guilt and his punishment, and I declare war against
you in the name of my master. Tremble before Justinian and Belisarius!"

A movement of joy amongst the Gothic warriors was the only answer.

Old Hildebrand went to the window, and cried to the Goths, who crowded
below:

"News! joyful news! War with Byzantium!"

At this a tumult broke loose below, as if the sea had burst its dams;
weapons clashed, and a thousand voices shouted:

"War! war with Byzantium!"

This repetition of his words was not without effect upon Petros or the
Italians. The fierceness of this enthusiasm alarmed them; they were
silent, and cast down their eyes.

While the Goths, shaking hands, congratulated each other, Witichis went
up to Petros with an earnest mien, and said solemnly:

"Then it is war! We do not shun it; that you have heard. Better open
war than this lurking, undermining enmity. War is good; but woe to him
who kindles it without reason and without a just cause! I see
beforehand years of blood and murder and conflagration; I see trampled
corn-fields, smoking towns, and numberless corpses swimming down the
rivers! Listen to our words. Upon your heads be this blood, this
misery! You have irritated and excited us for years; we bore it
quietly. And now you have declared war against us, judging where you
had no right to judge, and mixing yourselves in the affairs of a nation
which is as free as your own. On your heads be the responsibility! This
is our answer to Byzantium."

Silently Petros listened to these words; silently he turned and went
out, followed by his companions.

Some of them accompanied him to his residence, amongst them the Bishop
of Florentia.

"Reverend friend," Petros said to the latter at parting, "the letters
of Theodahad about the matter you know of, which you entrusted to me
for perusal, you must leave entirely at my disposal. I need them, and
they are no longer necessary to you."

"The process is long since decided," answered the Bishop, "and the
property irrevocably acquired. The documents are yours."

The ambassador then dismissed his friends, who hoped soon to see him
again in Ravenna with the imperial army, and went to his chamber, where
he at once despatched a messenger to Belisarius, ordering him to invade
the country. Then he wrote a detailed report to the Emperor, which
concluded in the following words:


"And so, my Emperor, you seem to have just reason to be contented with
the services of your most faithful messenger, and the situation of
affairs. The barbarian nation split into parties; a hated Prince,
incapable and faithless, upon the throne; the enemy surprised,
unprepared and unarmed; the Italian population everywhere in your
favour. We cannot fail! If no miracle occur, the barbarians must
succumb almost without resistance; and, as often before, my great
Emperor appears as the protector of the weak and the avenger of wrongs.
It is a witty coincidence that the trireme which brought me here bears
the name of _Nemesis_. Only one thing afflicts me much, that, with all
my efforts, I have not succeeded in saving the unhappy daughter of
Theodoric. I beg you, at least, to assure my mistress, the Empress, who
was never very graciously disposed to me, that I tried most faithfully
to obey all her injunctions concerning the Princess, whose fate she
entrusted to me as her principal anxiety during our last interview. As
to the question about Theodahad and Gothelindis, by whose assistance
the Gothic Kingdom has been delivered into our hands, I will venture to
recall to the Empress's memory the first rule of prudence: it is too
dangerous to have the sharers of our profoundest secrets at court."

This letter Petros sent on in advance with the two bishops, Hypatius
and Demetrius, who were to go immediately to Brundusium, and thence
through Epidamnos by land to Byzantium.

He himself intended to follow in a few days, sailing slowly along the
Gothic coasts of the Ionian Gulf, in order to prove the temper and
excite the rebellion of the inhabitants of the harbour towns.

He would afterwards sail round the Peloponnesus and Eub[oe]a to
Byzantium, for the Empress had ordered him to travel by sea, and had
given him commissions for Athens and Lampsacus.

Before his departure from Ravenna, he already calculated the rewards he
expected to receive at Byzantium for his successful operations in
Italy.

He would return twice as rich as he had come, for he had never
confessed to the Queen, Gothelindis, that he had come into the country
with the order to overthrow Amalaswintha.

He had rather, for some time, met her with representations of the anger
of the Empress and Emperor, and had, with great show of repugnance,
allowed himself to be bribed with large sums to connive at her plans,
when, actually, he but used her as his tool.

He looked forward with certainty to the proud rank of patrician in
Byzantium, and already rejoiced that he would be able to meet his
haughty cousin, Narses--who had never used his influence to advance
him--on equal terms.

"So everything has succeeded better than I could wish," he said to
himself with great complacency, as he set his papers in order before
leaving Ravenna, "and this time, my proud friend Cethegus, cunning has
proved truly excellent. The little rhetorician from Thessalonica, with
his small and stealthy steps, has advanced farther than you with your
proud strides. Of one thing I must be careful: that Theodahad and
Gothelindis do not escape to Byzantium; it would be too dangerous.
Perhaps the question of the astute Empress was intended as a warning.
This royal couple must be put out of our way."

Having completed his arrangements, Petros sent for the friend with whom
he lodged, and took leave of him. At the same time he delivered to him
a dark-coloured narrow vase, such as those which were used for the
preservation of documents; he sealed the cover with his ring, which was
finely engraved with a scorpion, and wrote a name upon the wax-tablet
appended to it.

"Seek this man," he said to his host, "at the next assembly of the
Goths at Regeta, and give him the vase; the contents are his. Farewell.
You shall soon see me again in Ravenna."

He left the house with his slaves, and was soon on board the
ambassador's ship; filled with proud expectations, he was borne away by
the _Nemesis_.

As his ship, many weeks after, neared the harbour of Byzantium--he had,
at the Empress's wish, announced his speedy arrival at Lampsacus, by
means of an imperial swift-sailer which was just leaving--Petros looked
at the handsome country houses on the shore, which shone whitely from
out of the evergreen shade of the surrounding gardens.

"Here you will live in future, amongst the senators of the Empire," he
thought with great contentment.

Before they ran into the harbour, the _Thetis_, the splendid
pleasure-boat of the Empress, flew towards them, and, as soon as she
recognised the galley of the ambassador, hoisted the purple standard,
as a sign to lay to.

Very soon a messenger from the Empress came on board the galley. It was
Alexandros, the former ambassador to the court of Ravenna. He showed to
the captain of the galley a writing from the Emperor, at which the
captain appeared to be much startled; then he turned to Petros.

"In the name of the Emperor Justinian! You are condemned for life,
convicted of long-practised forgery and embezzlement of the taxes, to
the metal-works in the mines of Cherson, with the Ultra-Ziagirian Huns.
You have delivered the daughter of Theodoric into the hands of her
enemies. The Emperor thought you excused when he read your letter; but
the Empress, inconsolable for the death of her royal sister, revealed
your former guilt to the Emperor, and a letter from the Prefect of Rome
proved that you had secretly planned the murder of the Princess with
Gothelindis. Your fortune is confiscated, and the Empress wishes you to
recollect--" here he whispered into the ear of Petros, who was
completely stunned and broken by this terrible blow--"that you
yourself, in your letter, advised her to get rid of all the sharers of
her secrets."

With this, Alexandros returned to the _Thetis_, but the _Nemesis_
turned her stern to Byzantium, and bore the criminal away for ever from
all civilised community with mankind.



                             CHAPTER VIII.

We have lost sight of Cethegus ever since his departure for Rome.

During the events which we have described, he had been extremely active
in that city, for he saw that things were coming to a crisis, and
looked forward with confidence to a favourable result.

All Italy was united in hatred against the barbarians, and who could so
well direct this hatred as the head of the conspiracy of the Catacombs,
and the master of Rome?

For now he was so in fact. The legions were fully formed and equipped,
and the fortifications of the city--the works of which had been carried
on for the last few months night and day--were almost completed.

And, as he thought, he had finally succeeded preventing an immediate
incursion of the Byzantine army into Italy, the greatest calamity which
threatened his ambitious plans. He had learned, through trustworthy
spies, that the Byzantine fleet--which, till now had been anchored off
Sicily--had really left that island, and sailed towards the African
coast, where seemed occupied in suppressing piracy.

Cethegus certainly foresaw that it would yet come to a landing of the
Greeks in Italy; he could not do without their help. But it was
material to his plans that the Emperor's assistance should be of
secondary importance, and, to insure this, he must take care that,
before a single Byzantine had set foot in Italy, a rebellion of the
Italians should have taken place spontaneously, and have been already
carried to such a point, that the later co-operation of the Greeks
would appear to be a mere incident, and could be easily repaid by the
acknowledgment of a light supremacy of the Emperor.

To this end he had prepared his plans with great nicety.

As soon as the last tower on the Roman walls was under roof, the Goths
were to be attacked on one and the same day all over Italy, and, at one
stroke, all the fortresses, castles, and towns--Rome, Ravenna, and
Neapolis foremost--were to be overpowered and taken.

If the barbarians were once driven into the open country, there was no
fear--considering their complete ignorance of the art of siege, and the
number and strength of the Italian fortresses--that they would be able
to take these last, and thereby again become masters of the peninsula.

Then an allied army from Byzantium might aid in finally driving the
Goths over the Alps; and Cethegus was resolved to prevent these allies
from entering the most important fortresses, so that, later, they also
might be got rid of without difficulty.

To ensure the success of this plan, it was necessary that the Goths
should be taken by surprise. If war with Byzantium were in prospect,
or, still worse, already broken out, it naturally followed that the
barbarians would not allow their fortified places to be wrested from
them by a mere stroke of the hand.

Now as Cethegus--since he had penetrated the motives of the embassy of
Petros--fully expected that Justinian would come forward at the first
opportunity, and as he had barely succeeded in preventing the landing
of Belisarius, he was resolved not to lose a moment's time.

He had arranged that a general meeting of the conspirators should take
place in the Catacombs on the day of the completion of the Roman
fortifications, when their successful termination should be celebrated,
the moment of the attack on the Goths decided, and Cethegus himself
designated as the leader of this purely Italian movement.

He hoped to overcome the opposition of the timorous or the bribed--who
were inclined to act only for and with the assistance of Byzantium--by
the enthusiasm of the Roman youth, whom he would promise to lead at
once to battle.

Before the day of meeting arrived, he had heard the news of
Amalaswintha's murder, and of the confusion and division of the Goths,
and he impatiently longed for the crisis.

At length the last tower of the Aurelian Grate was completed. Cethegus
himself gave the finishing stroke, and as he did so it seemed to him
that he heard the sound of the blow which would liberate Rome and
Italy.

At the banquet which he afterwards gave to thousands of labourers in
the theatre of Pompey, most of the conspirators were present, and the
Prefect made use of the opportunity to show them how unlimited was his
popularity. Upon the younger members the impression which he wished and
expected to make was produced, but a small party, headed by Silverius,
retired from the tables with discontented and gloomy looks.

The priest had lately seen that Cethegus would not consent to be a mere
tool, but that he contrived to carry out his own plans, which might
prove extremely dangerous to the Church and to his (the priest's)
personal influence. He was decided to overthrow his colleague as soon
as he could be spared, and it had not been difficult for him to excite
the jealousy of many Romans against Cethegus.

The wily archbishop had taken advantage of the presence of the two
bishops from the Eastern Empire, Hypatius of Ephesus and Demetrius of
Philippi--who secretly treated with the Pope in matters of faith, and
with King Theodahad in affairs of policy--to enter into a close and
secret alliance with Theodahad and Byzantium.

"You are right, Silverius," grumbled Scævola, as they issued from the
doors of the theatre, "the Prefect unites Marius and Cæsar in one
person."

"He does not throw away such immense sums for nothing," said the
avaricious Albinus warningly; "we must not trust him too far."

"Beloved brethren," said the priest, "see that you do not lightly
condemn a member of our community. Who should do this would be worthy
of hell-fire! Certainly Cethegus commands the fists of the workmen as
well as the hearts of his young 'knights;' and it is well, for he can
therewith break the tyranny----"

"But at the same time he could replace it by new despotism," interrupted
Calpurnius.

"That he shall not, if daggers can still kill, as in the time of
Brutus!" cried Scævola.

"Bloodshed is not necessary. Consider; the nearer the tyrant, the more
oppressive the tyranny; the farther the ruler, the more bearable his
government. The power of the Prefect must be balanced by the power of
the Emperor."

"Yes," affirmed Albinus, who had received large sums from Byzantium,
"the Emperor must become master of Italy."

"That is," said Silverius, restraining Scævola, who would have
interrupted indignantly, "we must keep down the Prefect by means of the
Emperor, and the Emperor by means of the Prefect. See, we have arrived
at the door of my house. Let us enter. I must tell you in confidence
what will be made known to the assembly to-night. It will surprise you;
but other people still more."

Meanwhile the Prefect had also hurried home from the banquet, to
prepare for his important work by lonely meditation.

He did not think over his speech; he knew long ago what he had to say;
and, a splendid orator, to whom words came as readily as thoughts, he
willingly left the mode of expression to the impulse of the moment,
knowing well that words which issue spontaneously from the heart, have
the liveliest effect.

But he sought for inward composure; for his passions were vividly
excited.

He thought over the steps which he had taken in order to reach his
goal, since first he had been drawn towards it with demoniac force. He
measured the short space which he had still to tread; he counted the
difficulties and hindrances which lay upon his path, and measured the
strength of mind with which he could overcome them; and the result of
all this examination awakened in him a certainty of victory which
filled him with youthful enthusiasm.

He measured his room with rapid strides; the muscles of his arms
swelled as if in the hour of battle; he girded himself with the broad
and victorious sword of his former campaigns, and convulsively grasped
the hilt as if he were about to fight for his Rome against two worlds:
against Byzantium and the barbarians.

He paused before the statue of Cæsar, and looked long at the silent
marble face.

"Farewell!" he cried, "give me thy good fortune upon my way. More I do
not need."

He turned quickly, and hurried out of the room and through the atrium
into the street, where the first stars were already shining. The
conspirators had assembled in the Catacombs on this evening in greater
numbers than ever, for urgent invitations had been sent through all
Italy.

According to the wish of the Prefect, all strategically important
places were represented at this meeting. Deputies had been sent from
the strong warders of the frontiers, Tridentum, Tarvisium, and Verona,
which behold the ice of the Alps; from Otorantum and Consentia, which
are laved by the tepid waves of the Ausonian Sea; from all the
celebrated towns of Sicily and Italy, with the proud, beautiful, and
historic names: Syracuse and Catana, Panormus and Messana, Regium,
Neapolis and Cumæ, Capua and Beneventum, Antium and Ostia, Reate and
Narnia, Volsinii, Urbsvetus and Spoletum, Clusium and Perusia, Auximum
and Ancona, Florentia and Fæsulas, Pisa, Luca, Luna and Genua;
Ariminum, Casena, Faventia, and Ravenna; Parma, Dertona and Placentia;
Mantua, Cremona, and Ticinum (Pavia); Mediolanum, Comum, and Bergamum;
Asta and Pollentia; and from the northern and eastern coasts of the
Ionian Gulf: Concordia, Aquileja, Iadera, Scardona, and Salona.

There were grave senators and judges, who had grown grey in the
councils of their towns, where their ancestors had been leaders for
centuries; wise merchants, broad-shouldered proprietors, disputing
jurists, mocking rhetoricians, and in particular a great number of
clergy of all ranks and all ages: the only firmly organised party, and
which was implicitly obedient to Silverius.

As Cethegus, still concealed behind the corner of the narrow entrance,
overlooked the groups assembled in the rotunda of the grotto, he could
not restrain a contemptuous smile, which, however, ended in a sigh.

Excepting the general dislike to the barbarians--which, however, was by
no means strong enough to support the sacrifices and self-denial
necessary to the accomplishment of difficult political plans--what
different and often what small motives had led these men together!

Cethegus knew exactly the motives of each individual: had he not been
able to influence them by taking advantage of their foibles? And, after
all, he could not but rejoice at this, for he could never have brought
true Romans so completely under his influence as he had done these
conspirators.

But as he now looked at the assembled patriots, and reflected how one
had been induced to join the discontented, in the hope of a title from
Byzantium; another by bribery; another from revenge or on account of
some personal offence, or even from tedium, or debts, or some foolish
dilemma; and when he told himself that with _such_ colleagues he must
meet the warriors of the Gothic army--he almost shrank from the
temerity of his plan.

It was some relief to him, when the clear voice of Lucius Licinius
attracted his looks to the troop of young "knights," whose truly
martial courage and national enthusiasm were expressed on their
features; there at least he had a few trustworthy weapons.

"Welcome! Lucius Licinius," he said, as he stepped out of the darkness
of the passage, "Ha, ha! you are mailed and armed as if we were going
straight from hence to meet the barbarians!"

"I can scarcely contain myself for joy and hate!" cried the handsome
youth. "Look here, all these I have won for you, for the cause of the
fatherland."

Cethegus looked round and greeted the others.

"You here also, Kallistratos? you merry son of peace!"

"Hellas will not desert her sister Italia in the hour of danger," said
the Greek, and laid his white hand upon his elegant, ivory-hilted
sword.

Cethegus nodded to him and turned to the rest; Marcus Licinius, Piso,
Massurius, Balbus, who, completely won for the Prefect since the feast
of the Floralia, had brought with them their brothers, cousins, and
friends.

Cethegus looked searchingly through the groups; he seemed to miss some
one.

Lucius Licinius guessed his thoughts.

"You seek the dark Corsican, Furius Ahalla? You must not reckon upon
him. I sounded him thoroughly, but he said: 'I am a Corsican--no Roman.
My trade flourishes under Gothic protection. Leave me out your game.'
And when I pressed him further--for I would gladly win his brave sword
and the many thousands of hands which he commands--he said abruptly: 'I
will not fight against Totila.'"

"The Gods alone know what binds the wild tiger to that milksop," said
Piso.

Cethegus smiled, but frowned as well.

"I think we Romans will suffice," he said in a loud voice; and the
youths looked at him with beating hearts.

"Open the assembly," said Scævola impatiently to Silverius. "You see
how he talks over the young people; he will win them all. Interrupt
him; speak!"

"Immediately. Are you sure that Albinus will come?"

"He will; he waits for the messengers at the Appian gate."

"Well," said the priest, "God be with us!"

And he stepped into the middle of the rotunda, raised the black cross
which he held, and began:

"In the name of the Triune God! We have again assembled in the gloom of
night for the works of light. Perhaps for the last time; for the Son of
God, to whom the heretics refuse all honour, has wonderfully blessed
our endeavours. Next to God, our warmest thanks are due to the noble
Emperor Justinian and his pious spouse, who listen to the sighs of the
suffering Church with active sympathy; and, lastly, to our friend and
leader here, the Prefect, who zealously works for the cause of our
master the Emperor----"

"Stop, priest!" cried Lucius Licinius. "Who calls the Emperor of
Byzantium our _master_? We will not have the Greeks instead of the
Goths! We will be free!"

"We will be free!" echoed the chorus of his friends.

"We shall _become_ free!" continued Silverius. "Certainly! But that is
not possible unaided. The Emperor must help us. And do not think,
beloved youths, that the man whom you honour as your leader, Cethegus,
is of a different opinion. Justinian has sent him a costly ring--his
portrait in carneol--as a sign that he is contented with the Prefect's
services, and the Prefect has accepted the ring. Behold, he wears it on
his finger."

Startled and indignant, the youths looked at Cethegus, who silently
advanced into the middle of the room.

A painful pause ensued.

"Speak, General!" cried Lucius; "contradict him! It is not as he says
with the ring!"

But Cethegus nodded and drew off the ring.

"It is as he says. The ring is from the Emperor, and I have accepted
it."

Lucius Licinius fell back a step.

"As a sign?" asked Silverius.

"As a sign," cried Cethegus, in a threatening voice, "that I am not the
ambitious egoist for which many take me. As a sign that I love Italy
more than my ambition. Yes, I built upon Byzantium, and would have
given up the leadership to the mighty Emperor; therefore I took this
ring. I build no more upon Byzantium, for she hesitates everlastingly:
therefore I have brought the ring with me to-day, in order to return it
to the Emperor. You, Silverius, have proved yourself the representative
of Byzantium; here, return his pledge to your master; he delays too
long. Tell him Italy will help herself!"

"Italy will help herself!" shouted the young Romans.

"Reflect what you do!" cried the priest with restrained anger.
"I understand the hot courage of youth--but that my friend, the
ripe and experienced man, stretches forth his hand for what is
unattainable--_that_ surprises me! Remember the strength and ferocity
of the barbarians! Reflect that the Italians are unused to arms, that
all the fortresses of the country are in the hands----"

"Be silent, priest," thundered Cethegus. "You do not understand such
matters! Speak where the psalms have to be explained or souls led to
heaven, for that is your office; but where war and fighting are
concerned, let those speak who understand! We will leave you all
heaven--leave the earth to us. Roman youths, you have the choice. Will
you wait until this cautious Byzantium vouchsafes to take pity upon
Italy?--you may become weary old men before then!--or will you in old
Roman fashion, win freedom with your own swords? You will; I see it by
your sparkling eyes. How? They tell us we are too weak to liberate
Italy! Ha! were not your fathers Romans, who conquered the world?
If I call upon you, man by man, there is not a name which does not ring
with the fame of a hero. Decius, Corvinus, Cornelius, Valerius,
Licinius--will you free the fatherland with me?"

"We will! Lead us, Cethegus!" cried the youth with enthusiasm.

After a pause Scævola began:

"My name is Scævola. When the names of Roman heroes are cited, the race
which inherits the heroism of the Celts might have been remembered. I
ask you, Cethegus, have you more than dreams and wishes, like these
young fools? have you a plan?"

"More than that, Scævola, I have, and will keep, the victory! Here is a
list of all the fortresses in Italy. At the next Ides, that is in
thirty days, they will fall, at one blow, into my hands."

"What? must we still wait thirty days?" asked Lucius.

"Only till the deputies assembled here have again reached their towns.
Only till my expresses have flown through Italy. You have _had_ to wait
forty years!"

But the impatience of the youths, which he himself had excited, was not
to be subdued; they looked gloomy at the postponement--they murmured.

The priest was quick to take advantage of this change of humour.

"No, Cethegus," he cried; "we cannot delay so long! Tyranny is
unbearable to the noble-minded; shame upon him who endures it longer
than he must! I know of better comfort, youths! In a few days the
spears of Belisarius may flash in Italian sunshine."

"Or shall we, perhaps," asked Scævola, "refuse to follow Belisarius
because he is not Cethegus?"

"You speak of wishes," cried Cethegus, "not of realities. If Belisarius
land, I shall be the first to join him. But he will not land. It is
this which has disgusted me; the Emperor does not keep his word."

Cethegus played a very bold game. But he could not do otherwise.

"You may err," said Silverius, "and the Emperor may fulfil his promise
sooner than you think. Belisarius lies off Sicily."

"Not now. He has gone towards Africa, towards home. Hope nothing from
Belisarius."

Just then hasty steps were heard in the passage, and Albinus rushed in.

"Triumph!" he cried. "Freedom! freedom!"

"What news?" asked the priest.

"War! deliverance! Byzantium has declared war against the Goths!"

"Freedom! war!" shouted the Romans.

"It is impossible!" said Cethegus.

"It is certain!" cried another voice from the entrance--it was
Calpurnius, who had followed close upon Albinus. "And, more than this,
the war has commenced. Belisarius has landed in Sicily, at Catana;
Syracusæ and Messana have surrendered; Panormus he has taken with the
fleet. He has crossed to Italy, from Messana to Regium; he is upon
Italian soil!"

"Freedom!" cried Marcus Licinius.

"Everywhere the population joins him. The Goths, taken by surprise, fly
from Apulia and Calabria. Belisarius presses on without pause, through
Bruttia and Lucania, to Neapolis."

"It is all lies--lies!" cried Cethegus, more to himself than to the
others.

"You do not seem pleased at the success of the good cause! But the
messenger rode three horses to death. Belisarius has landed with thirty
thousand men."

"Who still doubts is a traitor!" cried Scævola.

"Now let us see," said Silverius to Cethegus sarcastically, "if you
will keep your word. Will you be the first to join Belisarius?"

At this bitter moment a whole world--_his_ world--sank before the eyes
of Cethegus. So, then, all had been in vain; worse than that--what he
had done, had been done for a hated enemy. Belisarius in Italy with a
strong army, and he deceived, powerless, conquered! Any other man would
have given up all further effort.

But not a shadow of discouragement crossed the mind of the Prefect. His
gigantic edifice was shattered; the noise of its fall still deafened
him, and yet at the same moment he had already resolved to begin again.

His world was destroyed, and he had no time even to sigh, for the eyes
of all were fixed upon him.

"Well, what will you do?" repeated Scævola.

Cethegus disdained to look at him.

He turned to the assembly, and spoke in a quiet voice:

"Belisarius has landed," he said; "he is now our leader. I shall at
once go to his camp."

With this he walked, with measured steps and a composed countenance,
past Silverius and his friends towards the exit.

Silverius would have whispered a word of sarcasm, but he was startled
at the glance which the Prefect cast upon him.

"Do not rejoice too soon, priest," it seemed to say; "you will repent
this hour!" And Silverius, the victor, was dumb.



                              CHAPTER IX.

The landing of the Byzantines had taken both Goths and Italians by
surprise; for the last move of Belisarius to the east had misled both
parties.

Of all our Gothic friends, Totila alone was in South Italy. He had, in
his office as commodore and Count of the Harbour of Neapolis, in vain
warned the Government of Ravenna of the impending danger, and begged
for the power and means of defending Sicily.

We shall see how he had been deprived of all possibility of preventing
the catastrophe which threatened to overwhelm his nation, and which was
to throw the first shadow upon the brilliant path of his own life, and
tear the web of good fortune which a happy fate had, until now, woven
about this favourite of the gods.

Valerius, who, though stern, had a noble and kindly nature, had soon
been won by Totila's irresistible amiability. We have seen how strongly
the prayers of his daughter, the memory of his wife's last words, and
Totila's frankness, had influenced the worthy man, even when he was
irritated at the discovery of the lovers' secret meetings.

Totila remained at the villa as a guest. Julius, with his winning
affection, was called upon to help the lovers, and to their united
influence the father gradually yielded.

But this was only possible because Totila assimilated to the Romans
more nearly in manners, education, and inclinations than any other
Goth: so that Valerius soon saw that he could not call a youth a
"barbarian" who knew and appreciated the language, wisdom, and beauty
of Hellenic and Roman literature better than most Italians, and
admired the culture of the ancient world no less than he loved his
fellow-countrymen.

And, in addition to all this, a common hatred of Byzantium united the
old Roman and the young German.

The Valerians had always belonged to the aristocratic Republican
opposition against the Cæsars, and, since the time of Tiberius, many a
member of this family had sealed with his blood his fidelity to the
cause of Old Republicanism.

The family had never really acknowledged the removal of the Empire of
the World from the city on the Tiber to that on the Bosphorus. In the
Byzantine imperial dignity Valerius beheld the acme of all tyranny,
and, at any cost, would gladly have saved his Latium from the avarice,
religious intolerance, and Oriental despotism of the Byzantine
Emperors.

Added to this, the father and brother of Valerius had been arrested at
Byzantium by an avaricious predecessor of Justinian, while passing
through that city, and, on pretence of participation in a conspiracy,
had been executed, and all their eastern possessions had been
confiscated; so that private loss considerably strengthened the
political hatred of the patriot. When Cethegus introduced him to the
conspiracy of the Catacombs, he had eagerly taken up the idea of an
Italian rebellion; but had repulsed all advances of the imperial party
with the words, "Rather death than Byzantium!"

So the two, Valerius and Totila, were unanimous in the resolution to
tolerate no Byzantine in their beloved country, which was scarcely less
dear to the Goth than to the Roman.

The lovers took care not to press the old man, at present, to make any
formal promise; they contented themselves with the freedom of
intercourse allowed by Valerius, and waited quietly until the influence
of habit should gradually accustom him to the thought of their ultimate
union.

Our young friends thus passed many happy days, and, added to the bliss
of their mutual love, they had the delight of witnessing the growing
affection of Valerius for Totila.

Julius was filled with the noble exaltation which lies in the sacrifice
of one's own passion for the sake of another's happiness. His soul,
unsatisfied by the wisdom of old philosophy, turned more and more
to the doctrine which teaches that peace is only to be found in
self-denial.

Valeria was of a very different nature. She was the true expression of
the Roman ideal of her father, who had conducted her education in place
of her early-lost mother, and had imbued her with the spirit of the
antique Pagans. Christianity--to which she hard been dedicated by an
outward form at the very commencement of her life, and from which she
had afterwards been wrested by an equally external formality--seemed to
her a fearful power, by no means loved or understood, but which,
nevertheless, she could not exclude from the circle of her thoughts and
feelings.

Like a true Roman, she noticed with joy and pride, not with dismay, the
martial enthusiasm with which Totila spoke to her father in their
conversations concerning Byzantium. She felt that he was born to be a
hero, and so, when duty suddenly called him away from love and
friendship, she bore the parting with noble self-control.

For as soon as the Byzantine fleet was known to be cruising off
Syracusæ, the young Goth was inflamed with an insatiable thirst for
war. It was his duty, as commodore of the South Italian squadron, to
watch the movements of the enemy and protect the coast. He promptly set
sail to meet the Grecian fleet, and demanded the reason of its
appearance in those waters. Belisarius, who had orders to avoid all
inimical proceedings until called upon to commence hostilities by
Petros, gave a peaceful and plausible answer, alleging as his pretext
the disturbances in Africa and the piracies of Mauritanian ships.
Totila was obliged to content himself with this reply, but in his heart
he was sure that the war would soon break out; perhaps only because he
so ardently desired it.

He therefore took all precautions: sent messengers with warnings to
Ravenna, and, above all, essayed to protect the city of Neapolis at
least towards the sea, for the inland fortifications had fallen into
decay during the long peace, and old Uliaris, the commander of the
city, was not to be shaken out of his proud security and contempt of
the Greeks.

The Goths in general cherished the dangerous delusion that the
Byzantines would never dare to attack them; and their treacherous King
did all in his power to strengthen this belief.

The warnings of Totila, therefore, were disregarded, and the zealous
commodore was even deprived of his whole fleet, which was ordered to
the Harbour of Ravenna, on the pretext of an exchange; but the ships
which should have replaced those which had sailed away never arrived.

So Totila had nothing left but a few small guardships, with which, as
he declared to his friends, he could not even sufficiently watch the
movements of the enemy, much less prevent their advance.

When apprised of all this, the merchant determined to leave his
villa at Neapolis, and to go to his rich estates and mercantile
establishments at Regium, on the south point of the peninsula, in order
to remove all his most valuable property from that neighbourhood--where
Totila feared the first attack of the enemy--and bring it to Neapolis;
and also to make his preparations in case of a prolonged war.

Julius was to accompany him on this journey; and Valeria was not to be
persuaded to remain behind in the empty villa; so, as Totila assured
them that no danger was to be feared for the next few days, the three,
accompanied by a few slaves, journeyed to the villa on the estate near
the Pass of Jugum, to the north of Regium, which, situated close to the
sea, was partly, with all the luxury already so severely blamed by
Horace, "daringly built out" into the very sea itself.

Valerius found things in a bad condition. His stewards, taking
advantage of the prolonged absence of their master, had made sad work,
and Valerius saw with indignation that, in order to repair the
mischief, his presence would be necessary, not for days, but for weeks.

Meanwhile the threatening symptoms increased. Totila sent many warning
messages; but Valeria decided that she could not leave her father while
in danger, and the latter scorned to fly before the "degenerate
Greeks," whom he still more despised than hated.

One day they were surprised by the arrival of two boats, which ran into
the little harbour of the villa at Regium almost at the same moment.
One brought Totila; the other the Corsican, Furius Ahalla.

The two greeted each other with surprise, but, as old acquaintances,
were well pleased to meet, and walked together through the taxus-hedges
and laurel walks to the villa. There they parted, Totila saying that he
wished to pay a visit to his friend Julius, while the Corsican had
business with the merchant, with whom he had for years been connected
in a commerce which was equally advantageous to both parties.

Valerius was therefore much pleased to see the clever, bold, and
handsome sailor enter his room, and after a hearty welcome, the two
business-friends turned to their books and accounts.

After some short discussion, the Corsican rose from his examination of
the books, and said:

"So you see, Valerius, that Mercurius has again blessed our connection.
My ships have brought you purple and costly woollen stuffs from
Ph[oe]nicia and Spain; and taken your exquisite manufactures of last
year to Byzantium and Alexandria, to Massilia and Antiochia. A
centenarius of gold more profit than last year! And so it will go on
rising from year to year, so long as the brave Goths uphold peace and
justice in the West."

He ceased, as if in expectation.

"So long as they _can_ uphold it!" sighed Valerius. "So long as these
Greeks keep the peace! Who can guarantee that to-night the sea-breeze
may not drive the ships of Belisarius towards these coasts!"

"So you, too, expect war? In confidence: it is more than probable, it
is certain."

"Furius!" cried the Roman, "how do you know that?"

"I come from Africa--from Sicily. I have seen the fleet of the Emperor.
One does not arm against pirates in such a manner. I have spoken to the
captains of Belisarius; they dream night and day of the treasures of
Italy. Sicily is ripe for defection, as soon as the Greeks land."

Valerius grew pale with excitement.

Furius remarked it, and continued.

"For this reason I have come here to warn you. The enemy will land in
this vicinity, and I know--that your daughter is with you."

"Valeria is a Roman."

"Yes, but these enemies are the most ferocious barbarians. For it is
Huns, Massagetæ, Scythians, Avari, Sclavonians, and Saracens which this
Emperor of the Romans lets loose upon Italy! Woe to your lovely child
should she fall into their hands."

"That she shall not!" cried Valerius, his hand upon his dagger. "But
you are right--she must go--she must be placed in safety."

"Where is safety in Italy? Soon the billows of the conflict will roll
over Neapolis--over Rome--and will scarcely break against the walls of
Ravenna!"

"Do you think so highly of these Greeks? Yet Greece has never sent
anything to Italy but mimes, pirates, and pickpockets!"

"But Belisarius is the favourite of fortune. At all events, a war will
be kindled, the end of which many of you will not outlive!"

"Of _us_, you say? Will not _you_ fight with us?"

"No, Valerius! You know that pure Corsican blood flows in my veins, in
spite of my adopted Roman name. I am no Roman, no Greek, and no Goth. I
wish the Goths the victory, because they keep order on land and sea,
and my trade flourishes under their sway; but were I to fight openly on
their side, the exchequer of Byzantium would swallow up all that I
possess in ships and goods in the harbours of the East: three-fourths
of my whole fortune. No, I intend so to fortify my island--you know
that half Corsica is mine--that neither of the disputants can molest
me. My island shall be an asylum of peace, while round about land and
water echo with the noise of battle. I shall defend this asylum as a
king defends his crown, or a bridegroom his bride; and therefore"--his
eyes sparkled, and his voice trembled with excitement--"therefore I
wish--now--to speak a word which for years I have carried hidden in my
heart----"

He hesitated.

Valerius saw beforehand what was coming, and saw it with deep regret.
For years he had pleased himself with the thought of entrusting his
daughter's happiness to this powerful merchant, the adopted son of an
old friend, of whose affection to Valeria he had long been aware.
Although he had learned to love Totila, he would far rather have had
his old friend for a son-in-law.

And he knew the ungovernable pride and irritable temper of the
Corsican; he feared, in case of refusal, that the old love and
friendship would be speedily changed to burning hate. Dark stories were
told of the wild rage of this man, and Valerius would gladly have
spared both him and himself the pain of a rejection.

But the other continued:

"I think we are both men who do business in a business-like manner.
And, according to old custom, I speak at once to the father, and not
first to the daughter. Give me your child to wife, Valerius! In part
you know my fortune--only in part--for it is far larger than you think.
I will match her dowry, be it never so splendid, with the double----"

"Furius!" interrupted the father.

"I think I am a man who can make his wife happy. At least, I can
protect her better than any one else in these dangerous times. I will
take her in my ships, should Corsica be threatened, to Asia or to
Africa. On every coast there awaits her, not a house, but a palace. No
queen could envy her. I will cherish, her more dearly--more dearly than
my life!"

He paused in extreme agitation, as if expecting a prompt reply.

Valerius was silent, he sought for an excuse--it was but a moment, but
the bare appearance of hesitation on the father's part revolted the
Corsican. The blood rushed to his handsome face, which, just before
almost soft and mild, suddenly assumed an aspect of ferocity; a vivid
red flush spread over his brown cheeks.

"Furius Ahalla," he said hastily, "is not accustomed to offer a thing
twice. Usually my wares, at the first offer, are snatched at with both
hands. I now offer myself--by God! I am not worse than my purple----

"My friend," began the old man, "we no longer live in ancient times.
The new belief has almost deprived a father of the right to dispose of
his daughter. My _will_ would give her to you and to no other, but her
heart----"

"She loves another!" cried the Corsican, "whom?"

And his hand caught at his dagger, as if he would gladly have killed
his rival on the instant.

There was something of the tiger in this movement, and in the glare of
his rolling eyes.

Valerius felt how deadly would be his hatred, and would not mention the
name.

"Who can it be?" asked Furius, in an under tone. "A Roman? Montanus?
No! Oh, only--only not _he_--say no, old man! not he----" and he caught
Valerius by the sleeve.

"Who? Whom do you mean?"

"He, who landed with me--the Goth! But yes it must be he--every one
loves him--Totila!"

"It is he," said Valerius, and kindly tried to take his friend's hand.
But he released it again in terror; a fearful convulsion shook the iron
frame of the strong Corsican. He stretched forth his hand stiffly, as
if he would strangle the pain which tortured him. Then he tossed back
his head, and, laughing wildly, struck his forehead repeatedly.

Valerius observed this mad fit with horror. At last the arms of the
enraged man slowly dropped, and revealed an ashy-pale face.

"It is over," said Furius in a trembling voice. "It is a curse that
lies upon me. I am never to be happy in a wife. Once before--just
before accomplishment! And now! I know that Valeria's influence and
quiet composure would have brought peace into my wild life--I should
have become different, better. And if this could not have been"--his
eyes again sparkled--"it would have been almost equally sweet to murder
the destroyer of my happiness. Yes, I would have wallowed in his blood,
and torn his bride away from his corpse! And now it is _he_! He, the
only being to whom Ahalla owes gratitude--and what gratitude!----"

He was silent, nodding his head as if lost in recollection.

"Valerius," he then said, suddenly rousing himself, "I would yield to
no man on earth--I could not have borne to give place to another--but
Totila! I will forgive her for not loving me, because she has chosen
Totila. Farewell, Valerius, old friend. I go to sea; to Persia, to
India--I know not whither--ah! everywhere I shall carry with me the
bitter pain of this hour!"

He went quickly out, and immediately afterwards his arrow-swift boat
bore him away from the little harbour of the villa.

Valerius left the room sighing, and went in search of his daughter.

In the atrium he met Totila, who was obliged to take leave at once. He
had only come to try to persuade them to return to Neapolis. For
Belisarius had left the African coast and was cruising near Panormus,
and any day a descent might be effected in Sicily or even Italy; and,
in spite of Totila's insistence, the King had sent no ships. He
himself was shortly going to Sicily to convince himself of the truth.
His friends, therefore, were here totally unprotected, and he begged
Valerius to return forthwith to Neapolis by land.

But it revolted the old soldier to fly before the Greeks; he could not
and would not leave his affairs before three days; and Totila could
scarcely persuade him to accept a small troop of twenty Goths as a poor
protection.

With a heavy heart Totila entered his boat and was taken back to his
guardship. It was almost dark when he arrived on board; a veil of mist
shrouded the nearest objects.

All at once the sound of oars was heard to the west, and a ship,
recognisable by the red light on the tall mast, turned the point of a
small promontory.

Totila listened, and asked his look-out:

"A sail to the left! what ship? what master?"

"It is already signalled from the mast-head," was the reply,
"merchant-ship--Furius Ahalla--lay at anchor here."

"Where bound?"

"For the East--for India!"



FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: A place for wrestling and other exercises.]

[Footnote 2: The most valued wood--not the modern citron-tree.]

[Footnote 3: Pine-wood.]

[Footnote 4: A Grecian rider's upper garment, worn by the Romans of
that time.]

[Footnote 5: An epocha of the Roman calendar instituted by Constantine
the Great.]



                             END OF VOL. I.



             BILLING AND SONS, PRINTERS, GUILDFORD, SURREY.
                                                      _H. L. & Co._





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