Traditions of Lancashire Volume II Part 71

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"This leaden-heeled Mercury should have a largess," said the chief, "but in this den we have not wherewithal to give him. Hold! here is a good recompense, methinks," continued he, taking the crystal goblet from a recess. "Take this to thy mistress, and tell her to buy it from thee. We will see her anon. That charmed cup hath foiled me once, but I will foil thee now, and the powers thou servest. Thou shall not again cross my path!"

Cedric took the gift, wrapping it beneath his cloak.

"Thou mayest depart."

The dumb sentinel again took charge of him, and led him away by many intricate passages towards the entrance, where it seems the goldsmith had directed him on presenting the signet of Caracalla. The person who took charge of him was a dumb eunuch, a slave in the service of the empress.

But the terrors of death were upon the wretched victim. He knew the centurion would assuredly be at hand to receive his report, and he could not escape. He had not brought back one word of intelligence; and being blindfolded, he knew not whither he had been taken. The writing he carried would assuredly be unintelligible save to those for whom it was intended. His mission, he could perceive, had utterly failed. The centurion would not be able to profit by anything he had brought back, and must inevitably, according to his pledge, at once render him up to the soothsayer. Whilst ruminating on his hard fate a sudden thought crossed him. There was little probability of success, but at all events it might operate as a diversion in his favour, and the design was immediately executed. Skulking for a moment behind the slave, he tore off the bandage, and tripped up the heels of his conductor. Before the latter could recover himself the Briton's gripe was on his throat.

"Now, slave, thou art my prisoner! Lead on, or by this good sword, thou diest!"

The torch he carried was luckily not extinguished in the fall. The eunuch, almost choking, made a sign that he would obey. With the drawn blade at his throat, the slave went on; but Cedrick, ever wary, and with that almost instinctive sagacity peculiar to man in his half-civilised state, kept a tiger-like watch on every movement of his prisoner, which enabled him to detect the fingers of the slave suddenly raised to his lips, and a shrill whistle would have consigned him over to certain and immediate destruction; but he struck down the uplifted hand with a blow which made his treacherous conductor crouch and cringe almost to the ground.

"Another attempt," said Cedric, "and we perish together!"

The wily slave looked all penitence and submission. Silently proceeding, apparently through the underground avenues of the palace, Cedric was momentarily expecting his arrival at the place where the centurion kept watch. A flight of steps now brought them to a spacious landing-place. Suddenly a lamp was visible, and beneath it sat a number of soldiers, the emperor's body-guard. They gave way as the eunuch passed by, followed by Cedric, his sword still drawn. Several of these groups were successively cleared: the guide, by a countersign, was enabled to thread his way through every obstacle that presented itself. The Briton's heart misgave him as they approached a vestibule, before which a phalanx of the guards kept watch. Here he thought it prudent to sheath his weapon, though he still followed the eunuch, as his only remaining chance of escape. Even here they were instantly admitted, and without any apparent hesitation. The door turned slowly on its pivot, and Cedric found himself in a richly-decorated chamber, where, by the light of a single lamp, and with the smell of perfumed vapour in his nostrils, he saw a figure in costly vestments reclining on a couch. The slave prostrated himself.

"What brings thee from thy mistress at this untimely hour? A message from the empress?"

Here the speaker raised himself from the couch, and the slave, with great vehemence, made certain signs, which the wondering Briton understood not.

"Ah!" said the emperor, his eyes directly levelled at the supposed culprit; "thou hast found the thief who, in the confusion of yesternight, bore away the magic cup. Bring him hither that I may question him ere his carcase be sent to the beasts."

The doomed wretch was now fairly in the paws of the very tyrant he had so long dreaded. The death which by every stratagem he had striven to avoid was now inevitable. He was betrayed by means of the very device he had, as he thought, so craftily adopted; but still his natural sagacity did not forsake him even in this unexpected emergency. As he prostrated himself, presenting the cup he had stowed away safely in his cloak, he still kept a wary eye on the slave who had betrayed him.

He saw him preparing to depart; and knowing that his only hope of deliverance lay in preventing his guide from giving warning to the conspirators they had just left, Cedric, with a sudden spring, leaped upon him like a tiger, even in the presence of the monarch.

The latter, astounded at this unexpected act of temerity, was for a few moments inactive. This pause was too precious to be lost.

Desperation gave him courage, and Cedric addressed the dread ruler of the world even whilst he clutched the gasping traitor.

"Here, great monarch, here is the traitor; and if I prove him not false, on my head be the recompense!"

He said this in a tone of such earnestness and anxiety that the emperor was suddenly diverted from his purpose of summoning his attendants. He saw the favourite slave of the empress writhing in the gripe of the barbarian; but the events of the last few hours had awakened suspicions which the lightest accusations might confirm. He remembered his son's guilt; the facility of his escape; and it might be that treason stood on the very threshold, ready to strike. He determined to sift the matter; and the guard now summoned, the parties were separated--each awaiting the fiat of the monarch.

"Where is Virius Lupus?" was the emperor's first inquiry.

"He hath not returned from the apartments of the empress."

"Let this slave be bound," cried Cedric. "Force him to conduct you even to the place whence, blindfold, he hath just led me; and if you find not a nest of traitors, my own head shall be the forfeit."

Dark and fearful was the flash that shot from the emperor's eye on the devoted eunuch. Pale and trembling he fell on his knees, supplicating with uplifted hands for mercy. He knew it was vain to dissemble.

"And what wert thou doing in such perilous company?" inquired the emperor, turning to Cedric, and in a voice which made him shrink.

"Let the centurion, Diogenes Verecundus, be sought out. He waits my return by the Forum gate. To him the city owes a discovery of this plot, and Rome her monarch!"

The faithful centurion was soon found. The eunuch conducted them secretly to the vault. The conspirators were seized in the very height of their anticipated success. The roll containing the names of the leaders, the plan of attack, and the disposition of the rebellious troops, was discovered; and the morning sun darted a fearful ray on the ghastly and bleeding heads uplifted on the walls and battlements of the imperial palace.

But with misplaced clemency the monster Caracalla was again pardoned.

The centurion Diogenes Verecundus was raised to the dignity of Sexumvir. The only reward claimed by the generous and sturdy Briton was an act of immunity for his master, who was merely dismissed from his post and banished the kingdom.

[22] This tale was written for the _Traditions of the County of York_. It appeared by permission in an Annual entitled _The White Rose of York_: but having only had a local circulation at the time, and having been carefully revised by the author during the last winter of his life, it finds a place here.

[23] Aldborough

[24] Lubinus in Juven. p. 294.

[i] Pile or Peel of Foundrey, both names are used.

[ii] This seems to be a slight misquote. Oliver Goldsmith's poem starts with "For still I tried each fickle art"

and not "And".

[iii] The usual present-day form seems to be: "Non omnes qui habent citharam sunt citharoedi."

[iv] According to the OED one definition of "prog" could conceivably apply: a slang term for food. It also may be a typo for "grog".

[v] Probably "coranto": a baroque/renaissance dance style according to Wikipedia.

[vi] The spelling of "ultima Thule" instead of "Ultima Thule"

has been noted, but not corrected.

END OF VOL. II.

Traditions of Lancashire Volume II Part 71

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Traditions of Lancashire Volume II Part 71 summary

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