Charlotte Mary Yonge.

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Transcribed by David Price, email [email protected]




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Contents:

The Price of Blood
The Cat of Cat Copse
De Facto and De Jure
Sigbert's Guerdon
The Beggar's Legacy
A Review of the Nieces
Come to Her Kingdom
Mrs. Batseyes
Chops



THE PRICE OF BLOOD



Ab ira et odio, et omni mala voluntate,
Libera nos, Domine.
A fulgure et tempestate,
Libera nos, Domine.
A morte perpetua,
Libera nos, Domine.

So rang forth the supplication, echoing from rock and fell, as the
people of Claudiodunum streamed forth in the May sunshine to invoke
a blessing on the cornlands, olives, and vineyards that won vantage-
ground on the terraces carefully kept up on the slopes of the
wonderful needle-shaped hills of Auvergne.

Very recently had the Church of Gaul commenced the custom of going
forth, on the days preceding the Ascension feast, to chant Litanies,
calling down the Divine protection on field and fold, corn and wine,
basket and store. It had been begun in a time of deadly peril from
famine and earthquake, wild beast and wilder foes, and it had been
adopted in the neighbouring dioceses as a regular habit, as indeed
it continued throughout the Western Church during the fourteen
subsequent centuries.

One great procession was formed by different bands. The children
were in two troops, a motley collection of all shades; the deep
olive and the rolling black eye betraying Ethiopian or Moorish slave
ancestry, the soft dark complexion and deep brown eye showing the
Roman, and the rufous hair and freckled skin the lower grade of
Cymric Kelt, while a few had the more stately pose, violet eye, and
black hair of the Gael. The boys were marshalled with extreme
difficulty by two or three young monks; their sisters walked far
more orderly, under the care of some consecrated virgin of mature
age. The men formed another troop, the hardy mountaineers still
wearing the Gallic trousers and plaid, though the artisans and
mechanics from the town were clad in the tunic and cloak that were
the later Roman dress, and such as could claim the right folded over
them the white, purple-edged scarf to which the toga had dwindled.

Among the women there was the same scale of decreasing nationality
of costume according to rank, though the culmination was in
resemblance to the graceful classic robe of Rome instead of the last
Parisian mode. The poorer women wore bright, dark crimson, or blue
in gown or wrapping veil; the ladies were mostly in white or black,
as were also the clergy, excepting such as had officiated at the
previous Eucharist, and who wore their brilliant priestly vestments,
heavy with gold and embroidery.

Beautiful alike to eye and ear was the procession, above all from a
distance, now filing round a delicate young green wheatfield, now
lost behind a rising hill, now glancing through a vineyard, or
contrasting with the gray tints of the olive, all that was
incongruous or disorderly unseen, and all that was discordant
unheard, as only the harmonious cadence of the united response was
wafted fitfully on the breeze to the two elderly men who, unable to
scale the wild mountain paths in the procession, had, after the
previous service in the basilica and the blessing of the nearer
lands, returned to the villa, where they sat watching its progress.

It was as entirely a Roman villa as the form of the ground and the
need of security would permit. Lying on the slope of a steep hill,
which ran up above into a fantastic column or needle piercing the
sky, the courts of the villa were necessarily a succession of
terraces, levelled and paved with steps of stone or marble leading
from one to the other. A strong stone wall enclosed the whole,
cloistered, as a protection from sun and storm. The lowest court
had a gateway strongly protected, and thence a broad walk with box-
trees on either side, trimmed into fantastic shapes, led through a
lawn laid out in regular flower-beds to the second court, which was
paved with polished marble, and had a fountain in the midst, with
vases of flowers, and seats around. Above was another broad flight
of stone steps, leading to a portico running along the whole front
of the house, with the principal chambers opening into it. Behind
lay another court, serving as stables for the horses and mules, as
farmyard, and with the quarters of the slaves around it, and higher
up there stretched a dense pine forest protecting the whole
establishment from avalanches and torrents of stones from the
mountain peak above.

Under the portico, whose pillars were cut from the richly-coloured
native marbles, reposed the two friends on low couches.

One was a fine-looking man, with a grand bald forehead, encircled
with a wreath of oak, showing that in his time he had rescued a
Roman's life. He also wore a richly-embroidered purple toga, the
token of high civic rank, for he had put on his full insignia as a
senator and of consular rank to do honour to the ceremonial. Indeed
he would not have abstained from accompanying the procession, but
that his guest, though no more aged than himself, was manifestly
unequal to the rugged expedition, begun fasting in the morning chill
and concluded, likewise fasting, in the noonday heat. Still, it
would scarcely have distressed those sturdy limbs, well developed
and preserved by Roman training, never permitted by him to
degenerate into effeminacy. And as his fine countenance and well-
knit frame testified, Marcus AEmilius Victorinus inherited no small
share of genuine Roman blood. His noble name might be derived
through clientela, and his lineage had a Gallic intermixture; but
the true Quirite predominated in his character and temperament. The
citizenship of his family dated back beyond the first establishment
of the colony, and rank, property, and personal qualities alike
rendered him the first man in the district, its chief magistrate,
and protector from the Visigoths, who claimed it as part of their
kingdom of Aquitania.

So much of the spirit of Vercingetorix survived among the remnant of
his tribe that Arvernia had never been overrun and conquered, but
had held out until actually ceded by one of the degenerate Augusti
at Ravenna, and then favourable terms had been negotiated, partly by
AEmilius the Senator, as he was commonly called, and partly by the
honoured friend who sat beside him, another relic of the good old
times when Southern Gaul enjoyed perfect peace as a favoured
province of the Empire. This guest was a man of less personal
beauty than the Senator, and more bowed and aged, but with care and
ill-health more than years, for the two had been comrades in school,
fellow-soldiers and magistrates, working simultaneously, and with
firm, mutual trust all their days.

The dress of the visitor was shaped like that of the senator, but of
somewhat richer and finer texture. He too wore the TOGA
PRAETEXTATA, but he had a large gold cross hanging on his breast and
an episcopal ring on his finger; and instead of the wreath of bay he
might have worn, and which encircled his bust in the Capitol, the
scanty hair on his finely-moulded head showed the marks of the
tonsure. His brow was a grand and expansive one; his gray eyes were
full of varied expression, keen humour, and sagacity; a lofty
devotion sometimes changing his countenance in a wonderful manner,
even in the present wreck of his former self, when the cheeks showed
furrows worn by care and suffering, and the once flexible and
resolute mouth had fallen in from loss of teeth. For this was the
scholar, soldier, poet, gentleman, letter-writer, statesman,
Sidonius Apollinaris, who had stood on the steps of the Imperial
throne of the West, had been crowned as an orator in the Capitol,
and then had been called by the exigences of his country to give up
his learned ease and become the protector of the Arvernii as a
patriot Bishop, where he had well and nobly served his God and his
country, and had won the respect, not only of the Catholic Gauls but
of the Arian Goths. Jealousy and evil tongues had, however,
prevailed to cause his banishment from his beloved hills, and when
he repaired to the court of King Euric to solicit permission to
return, he was long detained there, and had only just obtained
license to go back to his See. He had arrived only a day or two
previously at the villa, exhausted by his journey, and though
declaring that his dear mountain breezes must needs restore him, and
that it was a joy to inhale them, yet, as he heard of the
oppressions that were coming on his people, the mountain gales could
only 'a momentary bliss bestow,' and AEmilius justly feared that the
decay of his health had gone too far for even the breezes and baths
of Arvernia to reinvigorate him.

His own mountain estate, where dwelt his son, was of difficult
access early in the year, and AEmilius hoped to persuade him to rest
in the villa till after Pentecost, and then to bless the nuptials of
Columba AEmilia, the last unwedded daughter of the house, with Titus
Julius Verronax, a young Arvernian chief of the lineage of
Vercingetorix, highly educated in all Latin and Greek culture, and a
Roman citizen much as a Highland chieftain is an Englishman. His
home was on an almost inaccessible peak, or PUY, which the Senator
pointed out to the Bishop, saying -

"I would fain secure such a refuge for my family in case the tyranny
of the barbarians should increase."

"Are there any within the city?" asked the Bishop. "I rejoice to
see that thou art free from the indignity of having any quartered
upon thee."

"For which I thank Heaven," responded the Senator. "The nearest are
on the farm of Deodatus, in the valley. There is a stout old
warrior named Meinhard who calls himself of the King's Trust; not a
bad old fellow in himself to deal with, but with endless sons,
followers, and guests, whom poor Deodatus and Julitta have to keep
supplied with whatever they choose to call for, being forced to
witness their riotous orgies night after night."

"Even so, we are far better off than our countrymen who have the
heathen Franks for their lords."

"That Heaven forbid!" said AEmilius. "These Goths are at least
Christians, though heretics, yet I shall be heartily glad when the
circuit of Deodatus's fields is over. The good man would not have
them left unblest, but the heretical barbarians make it a point of
honour not to hear the Blessed Name invoked without mockery, such as
our youths may hardly brook."

"They are unarmed," said the Bishop.

"True; but, as none knows better than thou dost, dear father and
friend, the Arvernian blood has not cooled since the days of Caius
Julius Caesar, and offences are frequent among the young men. So
often has our community had to pay 'wehrgeld,' as the barbarians
call the price they lay upon blood, that I swore at last that I
would never pay it again, were my own son the culprit."

"Such oaths are perilous," said Sidonius. "Hast thou never had
cause to regret this?"

"My father, thou wouldst have thought it time to take strong
measures to check the swaggering of our young men and the foolish
provocations that cost more than one life. One would stick a
peacock's feather in his cap and go strutting along with folded arms
and swelling breast, and when the Goths scowled at him and called
him by well-deserved names, a challenge would lead to a deadly
combat. Another such fight was caused by no greater offence than
the treading on a dog's tail; but in that it was the Roman, or more
truly the Gaul, who was slain, and I must say the 'wehrgeld' was
honourably paid. It is time, however, that such groundless
conflicts should cease; and, in truth, only a barbarian could be
satisfied to let gold atone for life."

"It is certainly neither Divine law nor human equity," said the
Bishop. "Yet where no distinction can be made between the
deliberate murder and the hasty blow, I have seen cause to be
thankful for the means of escaping the utmost penalty. Has this
oath had the desired effect?"

"There has been only one case since it was taken," replied AEmilius.
"That was a veritable murder. A vicious, dissolute lad stabbed a
wounded Goth in a lonely place, out of vengeful spite. I readily
delivered him up to the kinsfolk for justice, and as this proved me
to be in earnest, these wanton outrages have become much more rare.
Unfortunately, however, the fellow was son to one of the widows of
the Church - a holy woman, and a favourite of my little Columba, who
daily feeds and tends the poor thing, and thinks her old father very
cruel."

"Alas! from the beginning the doom of the guilty has struck the
innocent," said the Bishop.

"In due retribution, as even the heathen knew." Perfect
familiarity with the great Greek tragedians was still the mark of a
gentleman, and then Sidonius quoted from Sophocles -


Compass'd with dazzling light,
Throned on Olympus's height,
His front the Eternal God uprears
By toils unwearied, and unaged by years;
Far back, through ages past,
Far on, through time to come,
Hath been, and still must last,
Sin's never-changing doom.


AEmilius capped it from AEschylus -


But Justice holds her equal scales
With ever-waking eye;
O'er some her vengeful might prevails
When their life's sun is high;
On some her vigorous judgments light
In that dread pause 'twixt day and night,
Life's closing, twilight hour.
But soon as once the genial plain
Has drunk the life-blood of the slain,
Indelible the spots remain,
And aye for vengeance call.


"Yea," said the Bishop, "such was the universal law given to Noah
ere the parting of the nations - blood for blood! And yet, where
should we be did not Mercy rejoice against Justice, and the Blood of
Sprinkling speak better things than the blood of Abel? Nay, think
not that I blame thee, my dear brother. Thou art the judge of thy
people, and well do I know that one act of stern justice often, as
in this instance, prevents innumerable deeds of senseless violence."

"Moreover," returned the Senator, "it was by the relaxing of the
ancient Roman sternness of discipline and resolution that the
horrors of the Triumvirate began, and that, later on, spirit decayed
and brought us to our present fallen state."

By this time the procession, which had long since passed from their
sight, was beginning to break up and disperse. A flock of little
children first appeared, all of whom went aside to the slaves'
quarters except one, who came running up the path between the box-
trees. He was the eldest grandson and namesake of the Senator, a
dark-eyed, brown-haired boy of seven, with the golden bulla hanging
round his neck. Up he came to the old man's knee, proud to tell how
he had scaled every rock, and never needed any help from the
pedagogue slave who had watched over him.

"Sawest thou any barbarians, my Victorinus?" asked his grandfather.

"They stood thickly about Deodatus's door, and Publius said they
were going to mock; but we looked so bold and sang so loud that they
durst not. And Verronax is come down, papa, with Celer; and Celer
wanted to sing too, but they would not let him, and he was so good
that he was silent the moment his master showed him the leash."

"Then is Celer a hound?" asked the Bishop, amused.

"A hound of the old stock that used to fight battles for Bituitus,"
returned the child. "Oh, papa, I am so hungry."

He really did say 'papa,' the fond domestic name which passed from
the patriarch of the household to the Father of the Roman Church.

"Thy mother is watching for thee. Run to her, and she will give
thee a cake - aye, and a bath before thy dinner. So Verronax is
come. I am glad thou wilt see him, my father. The youth has grown
up with my own children, and is as dear to me as my own son. Ah,
here comes my Columba!"

For the maidens were by this time returning, and Columba, robed in
white, with a black veil, worn mantilla fashion over her raven hair,
so as to shade her soft, liquid, dark eyes, came up the steps, and
with a graceful obeisance to her father and the Bishop, took the
seat to which the former drew her beside them.

"Has all gone well, my little dove?" asked her father.

"Perfectly well so far, my father," she replied; but there was
anxiety in her eyes until the gate again opened and admitted the
male contingent of the procession. No sooner had she seen them
safely advancing up the box avenue than she murmured something about
preparing for the meal, and, desiring a dismissal from her father,
disappeared into the women's apartments, while the old man smiled at
her pretty maidenly modesty.

Of the three men who were advancing, one, Marcus AEmilius, about
seven or eight and twenty years of age, was much what the Senator
must have been at his age - sturdy, resolute, with keen eyes, and
crisp, curled, short black hair. His younger brother, Lucius, was
taller, slighter, more delicately made, with the same pensive
Italian eyes as his sister, and a gentle, thoughtful countenance.
The tonsure had not yet touched his soft, dark brown locks; but it
was the last time he would march among the laity, for, both by his
own desire and that of his dead mother, he was destined to the
priesthood. Beside these two brothers came a much taller figure.
The Arvernii seem to have been Gael rather than Cymri, and the
mountain chief, Titus Julius Verronax, as the Romans rendered his
name of Fearnagh, was of the purest descent. He had thick, wavy
chestnut hair, not cut so short as that of the Romans, though kept
with the same care. His eyebrows were dark, his eyes, both in hue
and brightness, like a hawk's, his features nobly moulded, and his
tall form, though large and stately, was in perfect symmetry, and
had the free bearing and light springiness befitting a mountaineer.
He wore the toga as an official scarf, but was in his national garb
of the loose trousers and short coat, and the gold torq round his
neck had come to him from prehistoric ages. He had the short Roman
sword in his belt, and carried in his hand a long hunting-spear,
without which he seldom stirred abroad, as it served him both as
alpenstock and as defence against the wolves and bears of the
mountains. Behind him stalked a magnificent dog, of a kind
approaching the Irish wolfhound, a perfect picture of graceful
outline and of strength, swiftness, and dignity, slightly shaggy,
and of tawny colouring - in all respects curiously like his master.

In language, learning, and manners Verronax the Arvernian was,
however, a highly cultivated Roman, as Sidonius perceived in the
first word of respectful welcome that he spoke when presented to the
Bishop.

All had gone off well. Old Meinhard had been on the watch, and had
restrained any insult, if such had been intended, by the other
Goths, who had stood watching in silence the blessing of the fields
and vineyards of Deodatus.

The peril over, the AEmilian household partook cheerfully of the
social meal. Marina, the wife of Marcus, and Columba sat on carved
chairs, the men of the family reclining on the couches constructed
to hold three. The bright wit of Sidonius, an eminent
conversationalist, shone the more brightly for his rejoicing at his
return to his beloved country and flock, and to the friend of his
youth. There were such gleams in the storms that were overwhelming
the tottering Empire, to which indeed these men belonged only in
heart and in name.

The meal was for a fast day, and consisted of preparations of eggs,
milk, flour, and fish from the mountain streams, but daintily
cooked, for the traditions of the old Roman gastronomy survived, and
Marina, though half a Gaul, was anxious that her housekeeping should
shine in the eyes of the Bishop, who in his secular days had been
known to have a full appreciation of the refinements of the table.

When the family rose and the benediction had been pronounced,
Columba was seen collecting some of the remnants in a basket.

"Thou surely dost not intend going to that widow of thine to-day,"
exclaimed her sister-in-law, Marina, "after such a walk on the
mountain?"

"Indeed I must, sister," replied Columba; "she was in much pain and
weakness yesterday, and needs me more than usual."

"And it is close to the farm of Deodatus," Marina continued to
object, "where, the slaves tell me, there are I know not how many
fresh barbarian guests!"

"I shall of course take Stentor and Athenais," said Columba.

"A pair of slaves can be of no use. Marcus, dost thou hear? Forbid
thy sister's folly."

"I will guard my sister," said Lucius, becoming aware of what was
passing.

"Who should escort her save myself?" said the graceful Verronax,
turning at the same moment from replying to some inquiries from the
Bishop.

"I doubt whether his escort be not the most perilous thing of all,"
sighed Marina.

"Come, Marina," said her husband good-humouredly, "be not always a
boder of ill. Thou deemest a Goth worse than a gorgon or hydra,
whereas, I assure you, they are very good fellows after all, if you
stand up to them like a man, and trust their word. Old Meinhard is
a capital hunting comrade."

Wherewith the worthy Marcus went off with his little son at his
heels to inspect the doings of the slaves in the farm-court in the
rear, having no taste for the occupation of his father and the
Bishop, who composed themselves to listen to a MS. of the letters of
S. Gregory Nazianzen, which Sidonius had lately acquired, and which
was read aloud to them by a secretary slave.

Some time had thus passed when a confused sound made the Senator
start up. He beheld his daughter and her escort within the lower
court, but the slaves were hastily barring the gates behind them,
and loud cries of "Justice! Vengeance!" in the Gothic tongue,
struck his only too well-accustomed ears.

Columba flung herself before him, crying -

"O father, have pity! It was for our holy faith."

"He blasphemed," was all that was uttered by Verronax, on whose
dress there was blood.

"Open the gates," called out the Senator, as the cry outside waxed
louder. "None shall cry for justice in vain at the gate of an
AEmilius. Go, Marcus, admit such as have a right to enter and be
heard. Rise, my daughter, show thyself a true Roman and Christian
maiden before these barbarians. And thou, my son, alas, what hast
thou done?" he added, turning to Verronax, and taking his arm while
walking towards the tribunal, where he did justice as chief
magistrate of the Roman settlement.

A few words told all. While Columba was engaged with her sick
widow, a young stranger Goth strolled up, one who had stood combing
his long fair hair, and making contemptuous gestures as the Rogation
procession passed in the morning. He and his comrades began
offensively to scoff at the two young men for having taken part in
the procession, uttering the blasphemies which the invocation of our
Blessed Lord was wont to call forth.

Verronax turned wrathfully round, a hasty challenge passed, a rapid
exchange of blows; and while the Arvernian received only a slight
scratch, the Goth fell slain before the hovel. His comrades were
unarmed and intimidated. They rushed back to fetch weapons from the
house of Deodatus, and there had been full time to take Columba
safely home, Verronax and his dog stalking statelily in the rear as
her guardians.

"Thou shouldst have sought thine impregnable crag, my son," said the
Senator sadly.

"To bring the barbarian vengeance upon this house?" responded
Verronax.

"Alas, my son, thou know'st mine oath."

"I know it, my father."

"It forbids not thy ransoming thyself."

Verronax smiled slightly, and touched the collar at his throat.

"This is all the gold that I possess."

The Senator rapidly appraised it with his eye. There was a regular
tariff on the lives of free Romans, free Goths, guests, and trusted
men of the King; and if the deceased were merely a LITE, or freeman
of the lowest rank, it was just possible that the gold collar might
purchase its master's life, provided he were not too proud to part
with the ancestral badge.

By this time the tribunal had been reached - a special portion of the
peristyle, with a curule chair, inlaid with ivory, placed on a
tesselated pavement, as in the old days of the Republic, and a
servant on each side held the lictor's axe and bundle of rods, which
betokened stern Roman justice, wellnigh a mockery now. The forum of
the city would have been the regular place, but since an earthquake


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