BETROTHAL Nero had, within a short time of Beric's establishment in the palace, spoken to him of his apprehension of the increasing power of the party who, having reverted to the opinions of the Stoic philosophers, were ever denouncing the luxury and extravagance of modern ways, and endeavouring, both by example and precept, to reintroduce the simplicity and severity of former times. "All this," Nero said angrily, "is of course but a cloak under which to attack me. Piso and Plautus, Seneca and Lucan, do but assume this severity of manners. They have plotted and intrigued against me. I shall never be safe while they live." "Caesar," Beric said gravely, "I am but a soldier, but born a free Briton and a chief. I cannot sell my service, but must give it loyally and heartily. You honour me with your favour and confidence; I believe that I am worthy of it. I do not serve you for money. Already I have begged you not to heap presents upon me. Wealth would be useless to me did I desire it. Not only have you offered to bestow estates upon me, but I have learned already that there are many others who, seeing that I am favoured by you, would purchase my friendship or my advocacy by large sums. I should despise myself if I cared for money. You would, I know honour me not only with your trust that I can be relied upon to do my duty as your guard, but by treating me as one in your confidence in other matters. At the risk, then, of exciting your displeasure and forfeiting your favour, I must again pray you not to burden me with state matters. Of these I know nothing, and wish to know nothing. Save that of Seneca, I scarce know the names of the others of whom you have spoken. I am wholly ignorant of the intrigues of court life, and I seek to know nothing of them, and am therefore in no position to give any opinion on these matters; and did I speak from only partial knowledge I should do these men great wrong. "In the next place, Caesar, I am not one who has a double face, and if you ask my opinion of a matter in which I thought that others had ill advised you, I should frankly say that I thought you were wrong; and the truth is never palatable to the great. I try, therefore, to shut my ears to everything that is going on around me, for did I take note of rumours my loyalty to you might be shaken." "Perhaps you are right," Nero said, after a long pause. "But tell me, once and for all, what you do think on general matters. It is good to have the opinion of one whom I know to be honest." "On one subject only are my convictions strong, Caesar. I think that the terrible persecution of the Christians is in itself horrible, and contrary to all the traditions of Rome. These are harmless people. They make no disturbances; they do injury to no one; they are guilty of no act that would justify in any way the tortures inflicted upon them. I am not a Christian, I know nothing of their doctrines; but I am unable to understand how one naturally clement and kind hearted as you are can give way to the clamour of the populace against these people. As to those of whom you speak, and others, I have no opinions; but were I Caesar, strong in the support of the Praetorian guards, and in the affection of the people at large, I would simply despise plotters. The people may vaguely admire the doctrines of the Stoics, but they themselves love pleasure and amusements and spectacles, and live upon your bounty and generosity. There can then be nothing to fear from open force. Should there be conspirators who would attempt to compass their ends by assassination, you have your guards to protect you. You have myself and my little band of countrymen ready to watch over you unceasingly." "No care and caution will avail against the knife of the assassin," Nero said gloomily. "It is only by striking down conspirators and assassins that one can guard one's self against their weapons. Julius Caesar was killed when surrounded by men whom he deemed his friends." Beric could not deny the truth of Nero's words. "That is true, Caesar, and therefore I do not presume to criticise or even to have an opinion upon acts of state policy. These are matters utterly beyond me. I know nothing of the history of the families of Rome. I know not who may, with or without reason, deem that they have cause of complaint against you, or who may be hostile to you either from private grievances or personal ambitions, and knowing nothing I wish to know nothing. I desire, as I said when you first spoke to me, to be regarded as a watchdog, to be attached to you by personal kindness, and to guard you night and day against conspirators and assassins. I beseech you not to expect more from me, or to deem it possible that a Briton can be qualified to give any opinion whatever as to a matter so alien to him as the intrigues and conspiracies of an imperial city. Did I agree with you, you would soon doubt my honesty; did I differ from you, I should incur your displeasure." Nero looked up at the frank countenance of the young Briton. "Enough," he said smiling, "you shall be my watchdog and nothing more." As time went on Nero's confidence in his British guard steadily increased. He had his spies, and knew how entirely Beric kept himself aloof from intimate acquaintanceship with any save the family of Norbanus, and learned, too, that he had refused many large bribes from suitors. For a time, although he knew it not, Beric was constantly watched. His footsteps were followed when he went abroad, his conversations with others in the baths, which formed the great centres of meeting, and stood to the Romans in the place of modern clubs, were listened to and noted. It was observed that he seldom went to convivial gatherings, and that at any place when the conversation turned on public affairs he speedily withdrew; that he avoided all display of wealth, dressed as quietly as it was possible for one in the court circle to do, and bore himself as simply as when he had been training in the ludus of Scopus. There he still went very frequently, practising constantly in arms with his former companions, preferring this to the more formal exercises of the gymnasium. Thus, after a time, Nero became confirmed in his opinion of Beric's straightforward honesty, and felt that there was no fear of his being tampered with by his enemies. One result of this increased confidence was that Beric's hours of leisure became much restricted, for Nero came to require his attendance whenever he appeared in public. With Beric and Boduoc among the group of courtiers that followed him, the emperor felt assured there was no occasion to fear the knife of the assassin; and it was only when he was at the baths, where only his most chosen friends were admitted, or during the long carousals that followed the suppers, that Beric was at liberty, and in the latter case Boduoc was always near at hand in case of need. Nero's precautions were redoubled after the detection of the conspiracy of Piso. That this plot was a real one, and not a mere invention of Nero to justify his designs upon those he hated and feared, is undoubted. The hour for the attempt at assassination had been fixed, the chief actor was prepared and the knife sharpened. But the executions that followed embraced many who had no knowledge whatever of the plot. Seneca was among the victims against whom there was no shadow of proof. After the discovery of this plot Beric found his position more and more irksome in spite of the favour Nero showed him. Do what he would he could not close his ears to what was public talk in Rome. The fabulous extravagances of Nero, the public and unbounded profligacy of himself and his court, the open defiance of decency, the stupendous waste of public money on the new and most sumptuous palace into which he had now removed, were matters that scandalized even the population of Rome. Senators, patricians, grave councillors, noble matrons were alike willingly or unwillingly obliged to join in the saturnalia that prevailed. The provinces were ruined to minister to the luxury of Rome. The wealth of the noblest families was sequestrated to the state. All law, order, and decency were set at defiance. To the Britons, simple in their tastes and habits, this profusion of luxury, this universal profligacy seemed absolutely monstrous. When they met together and talked of their former life in their rude huts, it seemed that the vengeance of the gods must surely fall upon a people who seemed to have lost all sense of virtue, all respect for things human and divine. To Beric the only bearable portions of his existence were the mornings he spent in reading, and in the study of Greek with Chiton, and in the house of Norbanus. Of Lesbia he saw little. She spent her life in a whirl of dissipation and gaiety, accompanying members of her family to all the fetes in defiance of the wishes of Norbanus, whose authority in this matter she absolutely set at naught. "The emperor's invitations override the authority of one who makes himself absurd by his presumption of philosophy. I live as do other Roman ladies of good family. Divorce me if you like; I have the fortune I brought you, and should prefer vastly to go my own way." This step Norbanus would have taken but for the sake of Aemilia. By his orders the latter never went abroad with her mother or attended any of the public entertainments, but lived in the quiet society of the personal friends of Norbanus. Lesbia had yielded the point, for she did not care to be accompanied by a daughter of marriageable age, as by dint of cosmetics and paint she posed as still a young woman. Aemilia had long since recovered her spirits, and was again the merry girl Beric had known at Massilia. One day when Beric called he saw that Norbanus, who was seldom put out by any passing circumstance, was disturbed in mind. "I am troubled indeed," he said, in answer to Beric's inquiry. "Lesbia has been proposing to me the marriage of Rufinus Sulla, a connection of hers, and, as you know, one of Nero's intimates, with Aemilia." Beric uttered an exclamation of anger. "He is one of the worst of profligates," he exclaimed. "I would slay him with my own hand rather than that Aemilia should be sacrificed to him." "And I would slay her first," Norbanus said calmly; "but, as Lesbia threatened when I indignantly refused the proposal, Rufinus has but to ask Nero's approval, and before his orders my authority as a father goes for nothing. I see but one way. It has seemed to me for a long time, Beric, that you yourself felt more warmly towards Aemilia than a mere friend. Putting aside our obligations to you for having risked your life in defence of Ennia, there is no one to whom I would more willingly give her. Have I been mistaken in your thoughts of her?" "By no means," Beric said. "I love your daughter Aemilia, but I have never spoken of it to you for two reasons. In the first place I shall not be for some years of the age at which we Britons marry, and in the second I am but a captive. At present I stand high in the favour of Nero, but that favour may fail me at any day, and my life at the palace is becoming unbearable; but besides, it is impossible that this orgy of crime and debauchery can continue. The vengeance of heaven cannot be much longer delayed. The legions in the provinces are utterly discontented and well nigh mutinous, and even if Rome continues to support Nero the time cannot be far off when the legions proclaim either Galba, or Vespasian, or some other general, as emperor, and then the downfall of Nero must come. How then could I ask you for the hand of Aemilia, a maiden of noble family, when the future is all so dark and troubled and my own lot so uncertain? "I cannot raise my sword against Caesar, for, however foul his crimes, he has treated me well. Had it not been for that I would have made for Praeneste, when the gladiators rose there the other day, and for the same reason I can do nothing to prepare the way for a rising here. I know the ludus of Scopus would join to a man. There is great discontent among the other schools, for the people have become so accustomed to bloodshed that they seem steeled to all pity, and invariably give the signal for the despatch of the conquered. As to your offer, Norbanus, I thank you with all my heart; but were it not for this danger that threatens from Rufinus, I would say that at the present time I dare not link her lot to mine. The danger is too great, the future too dark. It seems to me that the city and all in it are seized with madness, and above all, at the present time, I would not for worlds take her to the palace of Nero. But if Aemilia will consent to a betrothal to me, putting off the period of marriage until the times are changed, I will, with delight, accept the offer of her hand, if she too is willing, for in Briton, as in Gaul, our maidens have a voice in their own disposal." Norbanus smiled. "Methinks, Beric, you need not fear on that score. Since the day when you fought the lion in the arena you have been her hero and the lord of her heart. Even I, although but short sighted as to matters unconnected with my work, could mark that, and I believe it is because her mother sees and fears it that she has determined to marry her to Rufinus. I will call her down to find out whether she is ready to obey my wishes." In a minute or two Aemilia came down from the women's apartments above. "My child," Norbanus said, "I have offered you in marriage to Beric. He has accepted, saving only that you must come to him not in obedience to my orders but of your own free will, since it is the custom of his country that both parties should be equally free of choice. What do you say, my child?" Aemilia had flushed with a sudden glow of colour as her father began, and stood with downcast eyes until he had finished. "One moment before you decide, Aemilia," Beric said. "You know how I am situated, and that at any moment I may be involved in peril or death; that life with me can scarcely be one of ease or luxury, and that even at the best you may be an exile for ever from Rome." She looked up now. "I love you, Beric," she said. "I would rather live in a cottage with you for my lord and master than in a palace with any other. I would die with you were there need. Your wishes shall always be my law." "That is not the way in Britain," Beric said, as he drew her to him and kissed her. "The husband is not the lord of his wife, they are friends and equals, and such will we be. There is honour and respect on both sides." "It will be but your betrothal at present," Norbanus said. "Neither Beric nor I would like to see you in the palace of Caesar; but the sponsalia shall take place today, and then he can claim you when he will. Come again this evening, Beric. I will have the conditions drawn up, and some friends shall be here to witness the form of betrothal. This haste, child, is in order to give Beric power to protect you. Were you free, Rufinus might obtain an order from Nero for me to give you to him, but once the conditions are signed they cannot be broken save by your mutual consent; and moreover, Beric can use his influence with the emperor on behalf of his betrothed wife, while so long as you remain under my authority he could scarcely interfere did Nero give his promise to Rufinus." "Will my mother be here?" "She will not, nor do I desire her presence," Norbanus said decidedly. "She has defied my authority and has gone her own path, and it is only for your sake that I have not divorced her. She comes and she goes as she chooses, but her home is with her family, not here. She has no right by law to a voice in your marriage. You are under my authority and mine alone. It is but right that a good mother should have an influence and a voice as to her daughter's marriage; but a woman who frequents the saturnalia of Nero has forfeited her mother's rights. It will be time enough for her to hear of it when it is too late for her to cause trouble. Now do you two go into the garden together, for I have arrangements to make." At six o'clock Beric returned to the house. In the atrium were gathered a number of guests; some were members of the family of Norbanus, others were his colleagues in office -- all were men of standing and family. Beric was already known to most of them, having met them at suppers at the house. When all were assembled Norbanus left the room, and presently returned leading Aemilia by the hand. "My friends," he said, "you already know why you are assembled here, namely to be witnesses to the betrothal of my daughter to Beric the Briton. Vitrio, the notary, will read the conditions under which they are betrothed." The document was a formal one, and stated that Norbanus gave up his potestas or authority over his daughter Aemilia to Beric, and that he bound himself to complete the further ceremony of marriage either by the religious or civil form as Beric might select whenever the latter should demand it, and that further he agreed to give her on her marriage the sum of three thousand denarii, and to leave the whole of his property to her at his death; while Beric on his part bound himself to complete the ceremonies of marriage whenever called upon by Norbanus to do so, and to pay him at the present time one thousand denarii on the consideration of his signing the present agreement, and on his delivering up to him his authority over his daughter. "You have heard this document read, Norbanus," the notary said, when he had concluded the reading. "Do you assent to it? And are you ready to affix your signature to the contract?" "I am ready," Norbanus said. "And you, Beric?" "I am also ready," Beric replied. "Then do you both write your signatures here." Both signed, and four of the guests affixed their signatures as witnesses. Norbanus then placed Aemilia's hand in Beric's. "You are now betrothed man and wife," he said. "I transfer to you, Beric, my authority over my daughter; henceforth she is your property to claim as you will." A minute later there was a sudden movement at the door, and Lesbia entered in haste. "News has just been brought to me of your intention, Norbanus, and I am here to say that I will not permit this betrothal." "You have no voice or authority in the matter," Norbanus said calmly. "Legal right to interfere you never had. Your moral right you have forfeited. The conditions have been signed. Aemilia is betrothed to Beric." Lesbia broke out into passionate reproaches and threats, but Norbanus advanced a step or two towards her, and said with quiet dignity, "I have borne with you for her sake, Lesbia. Now that she belongs to Beric and not to me, I need not restrain my just indignation longer. I return your property to your hands." Lesbia stepped back as if struck. The words were the well known formula by which a Roman divorced his wife. She had not dreamed that Norbanus would summon up resolution to put this disgrace upon her, and to bring upon himself the hostility of her family. Her pride quickly came to her aid. "Thanks for the release," she said sarcastically; "far too much of my life has already been wasted on a dotard, and my family will see that the restitution of my property is full and complete: but beware, Norbanus, I am not to be outraged with impunity, and you will learn to your cost that a woman of my family knows how to revenge herself." Then turning she passed out of the door, entered her lectica and was carried away. "I must apologize to you, my friends," Norbanus said calmly, "for having brought you to be present at an unpleasant family scene, but I had not expected it, and know not through whom Lesbia obtained the news of what was doing here. I suppose one of the slaves carried it to her. But these things trouble not a philosopher; for myself I marvel at my long patience, and feel rejoiced that at last I shall be free to live my own life." "You have done well, Norbanus," one of his colleagues said, "though I know not what Nero will say when he hears of it, for severity among husbands is not popular at present in Rome." "I can open my veins as Seneca did," Norbanus said calmly; "neither death nor exile have any terrors for me. Rome has gone mad, and life for a reasoning being is worthless here." "I shall represent the matter to Nero," Beric said, "and as it is seldom that I ask aught of him, I doubt not he will listen to me. When he is not personally concerned, Nero desires to act justly, and moreover, I think that he can weigh the advantages of the friendship of a faithful guard against that of his boon companions. I will speak to him the first thing in the morning. He frequently comes into the library and reads for an hour. At any rate there is no chance of Lesbia being beforehand with me. It is too late for her to see Rufinus and get him to approach Nero tonight." "Let us talk of other matters," Norbanus said, "all these things are but transitory." He then began to talk on his favourite topic -- the religions of the world, while Beric drew Aemilia, who had been weeping since the scene between her parents, into the tablinum. "It is unlucky to weep on the day of your betrothal, Aemilia." "Who could help it, Beric? Besides, as it is not for my own troubles the omen will have no avail. But it is all so strange and so rapid. This morning I was in trouble, alarmed at what my mother told me of her intentions, fearful that my father, who has so long yielded to her, would permit her to have her own way in this also. Then came the great joy when he told me that he would give me to you -- that you, who of all men I thought most of, was henceforth to be my lord. Then, just when my happiness was complete, and I was formally bound to you, came my mother. Ennia and I always loved our father most, he was ever thoughtful and kind to us, while even as children our mother did not care for us. As we grew up she cared still less, thinking only of her own pleasures and friends, and leaving us almost wholly in charge of the slaves; but it was not until Ennia was seized as a Christian that I knew how little she loved us. Then she raved and stormed, lamented and wept, not because of the fate of Ennia, not because of the terrible death that awaited her, but because of the disgrace it brought upon herself. Even after she was brought here she scarce came in to see her, and loudly said that it would be best for her to die. Lately, as you know, I have seen little of her; she spends all her time abroad, has defied my father's authority; and brought grief and trouble upon him. Still, to a daughter it is terrible that her mother should be divorced." "Let us not think of it now, Aemilia. Your father has acted, as he always does, rightly and well. I know much more of what is going on than you do, and I can tell you that Lesbia, who was so jealous of the honour of her name when Ennia was concerned, is bringing far greater dishonour upon her name by her own actions. And now let us talk of ourselves. The act you have just done, dear, may bring all sorts of sacrifices upon you. At any moment I may be a fugitive, and, as you know, the families of those who incur Nero's wrath share in their disgrace; and if I am forced to fly, you too may be obliged to become a fugitive." She looked up brightly. "I shall not mind any hardships I suffer for your sake, Beric. Rome is hateful to me since Ennia stood in the arena. I would rather share a hut with you among the savage mountains of the north than a palace here." "I trust that trouble is still far distant, but I shall, as soon as I can, find a retreat where, in case I fall under Nero's displeasure, you can lie hid until I can send for you." "I have such a retreat, Beric. Since Ennia's death I have seen a good deal of the Christians. Lycoris, you know, was captured at the same time as Ennia, and was put to death by fire; but her daughter, married to a freedman who had purchased her liberty from my father, managed to escape with her husband when the place was surrounded. I have met her several times since. She and her husband are living hidden in the catacombs, where she tells me many of their sect have taken refuge from the persecutions. "The last time I saw her she said to me, 'No one's life is safe in this terrible city, and none, however high in station, can say that they may not require refuge. Should you need an asylum, Aemilia, go to the house of a freedman, one Mincius, living in the third house on the right of a street known as the Narrow one, close behind the amphitheatre at the foot of the Palatine Hill, and knock thrice at the door. When they open, say, 'In the name of Christ,' then they will take you in. Tell them that you desire to see me, and that you are the sister of Ennia, the daughter of Norbanus, and they will lead you to us. There is an entrance to the catacombs under the house. As the sister of Ennia you will be warmly received by all there, even although you yourself may not belong to us. The galleries and passages are of a vast extent and known only to us. There is no fear of pursuit there.'" "That is good news, Aemilia; it is sad that, but an hour betrothed, we are forced to think of refuges, but it will be happiness to me to know that if danger threatens, you have a place of retreat. You see this ring; Nero himself gave it me; mark it well, so that you may know it again. It is a figure of Mercury carved on an amethyst. When you receive it, by night or day, tarry not a moment, but wrap yourself in a sombre mantle like that of a slave, and hie you to this refuge you speak of; but first see your father, tell him where you are going and why, so that he may fly too, if he choose." "He will not do that," Aemilia said, "and how can I leave him?" "You must leave him because you belong to me, Aemilia, and because you are acting on my orders. The danger to you is far greater than to him. You are my wife, he only my father in law, and they would strike at me first through you. Besides, there are other reasons. Your father is a Roman of the old type, and like Seneca and Plautus, and others of the same school, will deem it no loss when the time comes to quit life. However, you will tell him of the danger, and he must make his own choice. I shall beg him to hand to you at once the money which I placed in his care now a year ago. Do you hand it over to the woman you speak of, and ask her to hide it away in the caves till you ask for it again; these Christians are to be trusted. I have much money besides, for Nero is lavishly generous, and it would anger him to refuse his bounty. This money I have placed in several hands, some in Rome, some elsewhere, so that if forced to fly I can at any rate obtain some of my store without having to run into danger." "One more question, Beric. Should I ever have to take refuge among the Christians, and like Ennia come to love their doctrines, would you be angered if I joined their sect? If you would I will not listen to them, but will tell them that I cannot talk or think of these things without my husband's consent." "You are free to do as you like, Aemilia. Since Ennia died I have resolved upon the first opportunity to study the doctrines of these people, for truly it must be a wonderful religion that enables those who profess it to meet a cruel death not only without fear but with joy. You know Ennia said we should meet again, and I think she meant that I, too, should become a Christian. Ask the woman if I also, as a last resource, may take refuge among them." "I will ask her, Beric; but I am sure they will gladly receive you. Have you not already risked your life to save a Christian?" The other guests having now left, Norbanus joined them, and Beric told him of the arrangements they had made in case of danger. He warmly approved of them. "It will be a relief to me as to you, Beric, to know that Aemilia's safety is provided for. As for myself, fate has no terrors for me; but for you and her it is different. She is yours now, for although but betrothed she is virtually your wife. You have but to take her by the hand and to declare her your wife in the presence of witnesses, and all is done. There is, it is true, a religious ceremony in use only among the wealthier classes, but this is rather an occasion for pomp and feasting, and is by no means needful, especially as you have no faith in the Roman gods. What are the rites among your own people, Beric?" "We simply take a woman by the hand and declare her our wife. Then there is feasting, and the bride is carried home, and there is the semblance of a fight, the members of her family making a show of preventing us; but this is no part of the actual rite, which is merely public assent on both sides. And now I must be going. Nero will be feasting for a long time yet; but Boduoc has been on guard for many hours and I must relieve him. Farewell, Norbanus; we have been preparing for the worst, but I trust we shall escape misfortune. Farewell, my Aemilia!" and kissing her tenderly Beric strode away to the palace of Nero. He had not seen Boduoc since early morning, and the latter, standing on guard outside the private entrance to Nero's apartments, greeted his arrival, "Why, Beric, I began to fear that some harm had befallen you. I came in this morning after the bath and found you had gone out. I returned again at six and found your chamber again empty, but saw that you had returned during my absence; I went on guard, and here have I been for four hours listening to all that foolish singing and laughter inside. How Caesar, who has the world at his command, can spend his time with actors and buffoons, is more than I can understand. But what has kept you?" As there was no fear of his voice being heard through the heavy hangings, Beric, to Boduoc's intense surprise, related the events of the day. "So you have married a Roman girl, Beric! Well, I suspected what would come of it when you spent half your time at the house of Norbanus. I would rather that you had married one of our own maidens; but as I see no chance of our return to Britain for years, if ever, one could hardly expect you to wait for that. At any rate she is the best of the Roman maidens I have seen. She neither dyes her hair nor paints her face, and although she lacks stature, she is comely, and is always bright and pleasant when I have accompanied you there. I am inclined to feel half jealous that you have another to love you besides myself, but I will try and not grudge her a share of your affection." "Well, hand me your sword, Boduoc, and betake yourself to your bed. I will remain on guard for the next four hours, or until the feasting is over. Nero often opens the hangings the last thing to see if we are watchful, and he likes to see me at my post. I wish to find him in a good temper in the morning." The next morning, to Beric's satisfaction, Nero came into the library early. Chiton, as was his custom, retired at once. "I was inspired last night, Beric," the emperor said. "Listen to these verses I composed at the table;" and he recited some stanzas in praise of wine. "I am no great judge of these matters, Caesar," Beric said; "but they seem to me to be admirable indeed. How could it be otherwise, when even the Greeks awarded you the crown for your recitations at their contests? Yesterday was a fortunate day for me, also, Caesar, for Norbanus betrothed his daughter to me." The emperor's face clouded, and Beric hastened to say: "There is no talk of marriage at present, Caesar, for marriage would interfere with my duties to you. Therefore it is only when you have no longer an occasion for my services that the betrothal will be converted into marriage. My first duty is to you, and I shall allow nothing to interfere with that." Nero's face cleared. "That is right," he said graciously. "You might have married better, seeing that you enjoy my favour; but perhaps it is as well as it is. Norbanus is a worthy man and a good official, although his ideas are old fashioned; but it is reported of him that he thinks of nothing but his work, and mixes himself up in no way in politics, living the life almost of a recluse. It was one of his daughters you championed in the arena. She died soon afterwards, I heard. Has he other children?" "Only the maiden I am betrothed to, Caesar. He is now alone, for his wife has long been altogether separated from him, being devoted to gaiety and belonging to a family richer and more powerful than his, and looking down upon her husband as a mere bookworm. He has borne with her neglect and disobedience to his wishes for a long time, and has shown, as it seemed to me, far too great a weakness in exerting his authority; but his patience has at last failed, and when yesterday, in defiance of him, she would have interfered to prevent my betrothal to his daughter, he divorced her." "Divorce is the fashion," Nero said carelessly. "I know his wife Lesbia, she has frequently been present with members of her family at my entertainments. She is a fine woman, and I wonder not that she and the recluse her husband did not get on well together. She will soon be consoled." "I have mentioned it to you, Caesar, because she is a revengeful woman, and might cause rumours unfavourable to her husband to be reported to you. He is the most simple and single minded of men, and his thoughts are entirely occupied, as you say, with the duties of his office and with the learned book upon which he has long been engaged; but although a philosopher in his habits he holds aloof from all parties, and even in his own family never discusses public affairs. Had it been otherwise, you may be sure that I, your majesty's attendant and guard, should have abstained from visiting his house." "I know this to be the case, Beric. Naturally, when I first placed you near my person, I was interested in knowing who were your intimates, and caused strict inquiries to be made as to the household of Norbanus and his associates; all that I heard was favourable to him, and convinced me that he was in no way a dangerous person." Nero left the room, and returned shortly bearing a casket. "Give these jewels to your betrothed, Beric, as a present from Caesar to the wife of his faithful guard." Beric thanked the emperor in becoming terms, and in the afternoon carried the jewels, which were of great value, to Aemilia. "They are a fortune in themselves," he said; "in case of danger, take them from the casket and conceal them in your garments. No one could have been more cordial than Nero was this morning; but he is fickle as the wind, and when Rufinus and others of his boon companions obtain his ear his mood may change altogether."