A. C. (Albert Carlton) Whitehead.

The standard bearer : a story of army life in the time of Caesar online

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in your great threat."

"I remember that I am in command here, and have
given you warning," said Caius, and he walked away.

Lanius looked after him a moment, and then broke
into a loud jeering laugh. Caius half turned, but
recovered himself and went on to his hut.

The disturbance increased, and true to his threat,
Caius had Lanius and several of the most turbulent
of his companions put in chains. The others subsided
into quiet.

Late in the night, Lanius sent to beg that he might
see Caius. The latter, after some hesitation, went to
the hut where Lanius was confined.



208



THE STANDARD BEARER



"Sir, I earnestly beg your pardon for my conduct
to-day," said Lanius, throwing himself at Caius's feet.
"I am undone and ruined if you tell Caesar of my
doings. He suspects me already, and insulted me




cruelly on the day of the hunt. I have done my best
to be a faithful and useful man in Gaul, and yet he
does not trust me, and seems never to think me in



THE COMMANDER EXERCISES CLEMENCY 2O9

the least worthy of an office. A few nights ago I secured
his seal and had one made like it. When we left this
morning, I had grown desperate and did not care.
With my friends, we lagged behind, and plundered a
small group of Gallic merchants and farmers. They
vowed vengeance, and said they would appeal to Caesar.
Then we were afraid to follow Caesar further, and so we
came back here. I do not know what madness pos-
sessed us to behave as we did, except that you have
scorned all my efforts to be friendly. I do not know
why you have done so unless because I jested with
you at Spoletum before I knew that you were of any
consequence. I am undone and ruined. What shall
I do ? I can't go to Caesar. My acquaintances will
despise me if I go to Rome. I have made the Gauls
my enemies, and put myself at your mercy. I am
ruined, ruined, ruined!" And he groveled on the
earthen floor and moaned piteously.

Caius could but despise his contemptible meanness
and cowardice, nor could he help feeling pity for him.

"It is possible the Gauls will not report your act
to Caesar," said Caius. "If you give no further trouble
here, I will say nothing to him of your behavior in
camp. I am willing to help you to have one more
chance."

"By Pollux, will you?" exclaimed Lanius, leaping
up. "You are splendid. I promise you no further
trouble, and I will do more. If you ever come to Rome,
I will help you to have a great deal of pleasure."

"That is enough," said Caius, with a smile. "I may
never come to Rome. Guard, release this man and
guide him to his hut."



CHAPTER II
THE COMMANDER IS ATTACKED BY THE ENEMY

THE next morning Caius took about half his men and
went to collect grain. This was repeated for several
days. He left Lanius with reluctance, for he had never
brought himself to trust the intentions of the man.
But as Baculus was somewhat ill and remained in the
camp, and could be depended upon, Caius felt the less
hesitation. He usually took with him the greater
part of the strong well men, for he was anxious to finish
collecting stores before the cold of the winter should
be upon them.

On the fifth day, when Caius with the foraging party-
was returning, and had come within a mile of the camp
and stood upon the summit of a hill that overlooked
the country, he saw men in Gallic costume and with
Gallic standards, swarming around the camp. At
the same time hoarse shouts of derision and defiance
were borne to his ears through the distance. Almost
at the moment, he saw the Gauls attacking the camp,
and he could see only a few Romans on the ramparts,
making efforts to beat them back.

"Forward, men, at a forced gait. We must hasten.
We may be too late for the fighting," he said.

"Come, centurion Vorenus, you chicken," now
called out Titus. "You have long boasted that you
were the braver man and the better soldier. Let us
see who shall be first to the camp."

210



THE COMMANDER IS ATTACKED BY THE ENEMY 211

"Well enough," replied Vorenus, stoutly. "I am
sure I shall be there first and cut down a Gaul before you
reach the place."

There was time for no other clash between the two ;
for they had broken into a rapid run, closely followed J




by all the other soldiers, with their armor slapping
and jangling as they ran.

Vorenus and Titus had disputed time and again
as to who was the better man, and would first be pro-
moted. They had wrestled, boxed, and even fought,
almost daily. Neither ever let slip an opportunity
to jibe or taunt the other.

STANDARD BEARER 14



212 THE STANDARD BEARER

Vorenus was the more slender and lithe of the two
centurions. He and Titus now raced as for life.
Vorenus soon left Titus behind, and by the time the
latter and the other men came up, Vorenus had already
reached the enemies' rear, had engaged three or four
of the hindmost, and true to his prophecy, had stabbed
one to the death.

"By the sacred standard, but I told you I would do
so," good-humoredly shouted Vorenus to Titus, as the
latter came up, panting and gasping for breath.

"I am not a horse to beat you running," retorted
Titus, forgetting that it was he who had challenged the
other to the race. " But I am the better fighter. Just
see me, now." And leaping to the ranks, he called to
his century and was soon in the thick of his fighting.

Caius had heard the two centurions, but with only
slight attention, for he knew that the camp was in the
greatest peril. Most of the men were the weaker
and the less bold of the legion. Several were sick.
Baculus was the only man in the camp that could be
depended upon for any spirit or energy, and he had
lain sick for five days without taking any food. The
young commander realized with a great gulp in the
throat how imprudent he had been to leave the camp
so defenseless.

He knew there would be hard fighting to win into
the camp through all that mass of Gauls ; for now he
saw the soldiers flying into the camp. Only in one
place near the gate was there for but a moment some
show of stout resistance to the attackers. And then
he saw Baculus fall as though dead. The other Romans
near the old centurion rallied for a moment, and



THE COMMANDER IS ATTACKED BY THE ENEMY 213

fought fiercely against the Gauls who surged around.
Baculus was lifted by the Roman nearest to him and
passed to the next man, and so on into the camp.

"By Hercules," exclaimed Caius. "He must have
been killed. He has eaten nothing for these five days."

The Gauls were taken somewhat unawares, but
they faced about and boldly attacked the Romans.
After a short time of stiff fighting, Caius and his party
broke through, and entered the camp.

Then the leader of the Gauls desired a parley. He
called for the commander of the camp to show himself
upon the ramparts. Caius demanded that the Gauls
retire to a javelin's throw from the camp. After they
had done so, Caius mounted the wall.

"What do you desire, worthy chief?" he asked.

"We have attacked the Romans because some of
our merchants and farmers were robbed a few days
ago. Caesar promised us safety and peace. We know
that those who robbed us are in your camp. If you
will give them up to us, we will go away."

The Roman youth felt that Lanius ought to be sur-
rendered. Yet it could not be suffered that a Roman
should deliver a Roman to a barbarian enemy. So he
refused. But he endeavored to appease the Gauls by
offering to pay for their loss at the hands of Lanius.

"We want his blood," shouted the leader. "He has
taken blood from our veins, and we will only be satisfied
with his. If you will not give him up to us, we will
send for our allies and besiege your camp."

"I will not give him up to you," said Caius, and he
went down from the ramparts into the camp.



CHAPTER III
THE COMMANDER HOLDS THE CAMP

THE Romans were busy late that night sharpening
their swords, piling stones on the ramparts for hurling
upon the enemy, and otherwise making ready for a
siege, spurred on by the shouts and threats of the be-
siegers.

Suddenly, as they worked, upon a hill near the camp,
they saw a tall bright flame shoot up, burn brightly for
some minutes, and then disappear.

"That is a signal for help," said Baculus. "The
Gauls send messages in that way for hundreds of miles
in a few hours. What see you from the top of the
tower, Statius?" he called to the watchman there
posted.

"A moment ago, I saw a tall flame shoot forth from
yonder hill," replied the watchman. "Now I see
others and still others farther and farther away.
They send a message of some sort."

"True, they send a message," said Caius. "By
to-morrow they will begin to flock here from all direc-
tions. Every cutthroat and every dissatisfied Gaul
for leagues about, as well as whole tribes, will come to
besiege us as they did Cotta and Cicero. We can
doubtless beat them off, but we must make ready."

And the Romans worked, while the Gauls made
merry over the prey that had fallen into their hands.
Ever and anon the Romans heard the greetings and

214



THE COMMANDER HOLDS THE CAMP 215

shouts of fresh recruits, and they knew that with the
coming of day there would be many a hard blow to strike.

With the first light, the Gauls began to press about
the camp and urge the Romans to give up, as there was
no hope for them. And indeed, it appeared as though
they spoke truly, for during the night their forces had
vastly increased by the new arrivals. Then they
taunted the Romans with cowardice and dared them
to come out in the open and fight like brave men.

"Only cowards and weaklings fight behind walls
or play some trick of strategy/' said their leader.
"The Romans never beat us except with walls and
tricks. Come out and fight if you be brave men."

In every part of the circuit of the walls, the soldiers
listened to similar taunts. They were only prevented
from leaping over the walls and fighting their tormentors
by a strict order from Caius not to hurl a single missile
nor leave their posts, unless the Gauls first attacked.
But a particularly provoking group of Gauls laughed
and shouted and hurled taunts and insults upon the
Romans where Titus was posted near the century of
Vorenus.

"Come over and fight if you be men," they called.
"But you dare not leave your walls. You are women
and cowards. Not one of you dare leave your walls."

This was continued. It was soon more than Titus
could endure. "By our wolfs head," he swore, "I
will show you what a Roman fighter will do without
walls or tricks. Now, Vorenus," he called aloud so all
the soldiers of their century could hear, "now this is
the time to prove our claims to manhood as well as to
teach these impudent vultures a lesson. Our conten-



2l6 THE STANDARD BEARER

tion has already been too long. Why should we this
morning hesitate to prove ourselves ? What better
place shall we ever find ? This day shall decide for us.
Come on, and follow me."

And before Caius could prevent him, Titus had
leaped from the wall, followed by Vorenus, and both
almost on the instant were scrambling up the outer
wall of the ditch. The next moment, Titus had hurled
his bull-like body upon the most closely packed part
of the Gallic line. He drove his heavy javelin clear
through a big Gaul, who fell with a screech of pain.
The Gauls protected their fallen comrade with their
shields, and cast a shower of javelins upon Titus, most
of which rattled harmlessly upon his strong, iron-
covered shield. But one of the shafts, more stoutly
hurled, pierced his shield, and clung in his belt, twisting
it far around his body, thus pulling his sword from
his side to his back. The Gauls pressed closer upon
him, with cut and thrust. He reached for his sword,
and missed it. The delay almost proved his ruin,
for at the moment when he finally secured it from his
back, the blows were falling so furiously upon him,
he could scarce stand. Vorenus was upon them with
such skill that he drove them back and still back,
until not one would come near him. But in his eager-
ness he dropped unexpectedly into a hole. Again
the Gauls rushed to kill him, but Titus, raging and
fighting like a madman, drove them away. So it was
the two were still safe and had each saved the life of
the other. And now in obedience to the commands of
Caius shouted from the ramparts, they slowly, with
faces to the enemy, returned within the walls.



THE COMMANDER HOLDS THE CAMP 217

The Gauls began and kept up an attack on the camp
on all sides for an hour or more, but it was fought
mostly with missiles. At the end of this time they
withdrew to a distance and built great fires. The
Romans saw them then busy making great numbers
of balls from stiff mud. These they cast into the fires.
They also burned to points great heaps of small poles,
cut from the surrounding woods.

When this work had gone on for some three hours,
the Romans were startled by the shouts and cheers of a
new band of arrivals. Looking out upon them, they
saw that the last comers were enough to more than
double the number of besiegers. They had soon dis-
posed themselves about the Roman camp, a solid mass
ten men deep.

Baculus, a little recovered from his wounds and
sickness, watched their movements with the light of
battle in his eyes, but still heavy doubt sat upon his
face.

"Caius, you are commander," he said, "and have
doubtless learned from Caesar many of the things that I
do not know. I have been in many a hard battle
from Spain to Gaul, and have always fought out.
But this looks the worst chance I ever saw. Why,
there are at least twenty of them to one of us. If
they had any artifice at all, they would hold our camp
inside of an hour."

"By Pluto," put in Sanhio, "it looks as though I
might never enjoy the spending of my treasure. I
wish my mother had it. I much begrudge it to yonder
speckled, spotted, striped barbarians."

But there was little time for talk as well as little



21 8 THE STANDARD BEARER

desire for it. Posted at some distance from the
camp, the Gauls now began to hurl upon it the red-hot
balls of clay which they had made. The Romans
dreaded them, for wherever they touched they scorched
and seared the flesh with cruel pain. A perfect storm
of the balls rained upon the camp. Soon one of the
huts had caught fire from them, and the flames leaped
forth and up with a threatening crackle. The soldiers
quickly extinguished them. But three more of the
huts burst into flame. They rushed to these, and
now a dozen were on fire, and the lurid flames were
lapping and licking in all directions, fanned by the stiff
breeze that began to sweep over the camp.

Then with a rush and a yell, the mass of the Gauls
dashed with horrid yells and a rumbling rush upon the
camp. Hundreds of them carried bundles of brush
with which they quickly filled the ditch. Then they
climbed and pushed right up the walls to the wooden
rampart.

The Romans had left the huts to burn, and now stood
on the walls to meet the enemy. Despite the knowledge
that all their baggage and property were being crumbled
to ashes, every soldier stood to his place and fought,
almost stifled by the billows of smoke and sparks that
rolled about them. The fire raged hotter and fiercer as
the Gauls pressed harder and nearer. Groans and
screams of men wounded unto death mingled with the
crackle and roar of the whisking flames. Many
Romans fell, overcome by the heat, and many Gauls
for the same cause dropped upon the earth, where they
were either rolled carelessly into the muddy waters
of the ditch or trampled to death where they lay.



THE COMMANDER HOLDS THE CAMP 219

For three hours the attack lasted. Finally, when the
flames had subsided, the Romans, breathing more
freely, fought more vigorously, and soon drove the
Gauls away.

The besiegers, thus beaten off, drew away out of
javelin cast, and, after the Roman manner, began to
build a wall and ditch about the Roman camp. As
they had no picks, spades, or dirt baskets, they dug
the earth with their swords, and carried it into place
with their thick heavy blankets. In an incredibly
short time, the thousands of Gauls had finished their
work, and the Romans found their own walls encom-
passed by a second wall, behind which lay an enemy,
seemingly determined to besiege them.

"They know our stores of provision were destroyed
by the fire," said Caius, "and they mean to set them-
selves dt)wn here and starve us out. We must make a
sally and drive them away."

"That will never do," said Baculus. "I love a
fight above all things ; but we can never cut our way
through those walls of men. We are already wearied
with fighting, and have had nothing to eat since the
morning. Now there is nothing for the men to eat,
so they will be strong enough to fight. Best try if
you can send a messenger to Caesar for help."

"Truly, Caius," said Sannio, "I believe for once
Baculus is right, especially about something to eat.
No matter how other things may press, I find it most
difficult to argue with my stomach, for it has no ears."

"I trust your experience, Baculus," said Caius. "If
a messenger must be sent, the sooner the better. Let
us call the men to an assembly."



22O THE STANDARD BEARER

As he passed on his way to the praetorium, he heard
three or four of the legionaries talking and laughing,
despite their burns and wounds. It seemed that they
had seen Lanius attempt to shelter himself in one of
the huts when the fighting began. They had seen him
run out with his tunic in a blaze soon after the fire
started. To them his dread of fight and fire had been
equally ridiculous.

"Poor wretch," said Caius to himself. "I wonder
why Caesar has allowed so useless a creature to follow
the army these years. But I guess he must expect
to have some use for him somewhere. Caesar makes
and holds friends everywhere he can, or I should have
publicly accused this scoundrel to him long before



now."



The trumpets sounded, and the men came dragging
themselves to the praetorium those who were able.
But even of these most were hurt, some with arrows
and javelins, others burnt with the red balls, and still
others blistered and scorched and half stifled by the
flames.

Caius** mounted the tribunal, and said : " Fellow
soldiers, not to deceive you, we are in a close place,
near our last extremes. You have fought like good
and brave men. But we are without food and shelter,
and cold and hunger fight against us as well as those
Gauls. We cannot long hold out against them all,
unless we have help. I wish a man who will undertake
to find his way through the lines of our enemy and carry
a message to Caesar. Who will go ?"

At once a dozen stepped forward. Among the num-
ber were Sannio, Baculus, Titus, and Vorenus.



THE COMMANDER HOLDS THE CAMP 221

"I cannot spare you, Baculus, for your advice is
needed by me," Caius said. "Sannio, you would
stop to joke with the first man you met. Titus and
Vorenus fight too well to be spared. But Baculus may
name a man of the other volunteers, and he in turn
may name a second after the manner of the good old
Roman custom. Who shall be named first, Baculus ?"

" Porcius, here, once carried such a message in Spain,"
said Baculus. "I name him."

A smile of joy arid pride spread over the face of
Porcius. "Right gladly will I go," he said. "I will
fool the Gauls and steal through their camp and they
will never know it."

"But you are to name another man, so that in case
you fail, the other may go," said Caius. "Who shall
he be?"

"I am willing to go alone," said Porcius. "But since
it is the custom and also your command, I choose
Lollius. He is sly as well as brave."

And so it was arranged. Late that night, when quiet
fell upon the Gallic camp as though they were all
asleep, probably weary with the day's labor and fight-
ing, the two Romans slid down from the Roman ram-
parts on opposite sides of the camp and disappeared like
ghosts into the shadows. But the men had hardly
time to breathe with the thought of relief to come, when
a jangle of armor and a shout among the Gauls broke
upon the stillness.

At day the Romans saw Porcius and Lollius hanging
head downward upon low crosses, while the Gauls
surrounded them and pricked them with their swords
or cut away their ears and noses. One Gaul gouged



222 THE STANDARD BEARER

out an eye for Porcius and then another cut out his
tongue. The two men bore their torture in silence,
till they died.

The Romans upon the walls were restrained only by
the knowledge that their hungry few had not the slight-
est chance to break over the Gallic walls and rescue
their comrades.

And so no message had gone. The Gauls did not
attack. They contented themselves with taunting
the Romans with cowardice and failure, secure in the
belief that the Romans could not escape.

At night, a hundred men offered to make another
effort to take a message. "As well we few die trying
to take a message as for all the garrison to starve
here," they said.

Caius selected Vertico, a Gallic slave of one of the
soldiers. "If you win your way to Caesar, you shall
have freedom and enough gold to buy a farm and a
hundred head of cattle to stock it with," said Caius to
him. "Dress in your Gallic garments and go."

The Gaul did as he was bidden, and through the
darkness passed silently out of the camp. Nothing
further was heard of him, and so the garrison had hopes
that he had escaped to Caesar.

Now, day after day, the men waited and suffered
with pain and hunger. Caius had all he could do to
keep them from breaking from the camp and making a
dash to escape through the enemy. At last, on the
fifth day, while in the tall four-story tower, which had
escaped the fire, he chanced to notice a Roman javelin
sticking in a beam. He wondered at this, and looked
more closely. Then he saw that a small roll of papyrus



THE COMMANDER HOLDS THE CAMP



223



was attached to it. He twisted the javelin free, and
unrolled the papyrus. A few words in Greek read,
"Be courageous, expect aid/'

He went down and summoned the men and told them
what he had found. "Let us wait," he said. "Caesar




will come. Vertico reached Caesar, and has returned
to hurl this into our camp."

Toward night of the next day, the Roman soldiers saw
the Gauls, without apparent reason, begin to scatter in



224 THE STANDARD BEARER

all directions, many even leaving their arms. Soon
not an enemy was in sight.

"They play us a trick," said Caius. "We must
stay in the camp."

"Not the Gauls to play a trick or perform a strata-
gem," said Baculus. "They have heard that Caesar
is coming. I am sure we shall be relieved before the
night is old."

And even as he spoke, the standards of three legions
appeared on the hills, the bugles sang cheerily, and
help was at hand.

Caesar himself had come. He praised the men for
their courage and fortitude and commended Caius and
Baculus most heartily. He heard the story of Titus
and Vorenus and promoted the former toward the right
and the front of the legion.

"I do not see why I too was not promoted," later
said Vorenus to Titus.

"Perhaps you never hunted with the Proconsul,"
stolidly replied Titus. And to the inquiries of Vorenus
as to what he meant, he would answer not another word.

That night when all had eaten and rested, as Caius
walked about the camp, he overheard Lanius telling
a group of soldiers how he had fought. They listened
with slight interest, for they had heard the story of his
hiding.

But no man was happier than Vertico. He was
already planning the management of his farm and
cattle.



CHAPTER IV
THE COMMANDER PLAYS THE SPY

DURING the following winter, the Tenth legion with
Labienus in command was stationed among the Ner-
vians. Caius happened to learn that Labienus had
ordered one of the Roman scouts to dress as a Gaul
and go to Bagacum, the chief city of the Nervians.
Here the men of that nation were about to have an
assembly, ostensibly to celebrate some Druidistic rite,
but Labienus had reason to believe that in fact it was
for the purpose of fomenting an uprising against the
Romans.

Caius saw the scout in his Gallic disguise as he left
the camp, and it set the young Roman to thinking.
He had never ceased to wish to see again the Nervian
maiden whom he had assisted. He could not forget
her, even during the time he thought so often of Tre-
bonia. But it was not safe for a Roman to venture
among these people, and chance had thrown in his way
no opportunity of meeting her. Why not disguise as
a Gaul and go among them ? The more he thought of
it, the more eager he was to go, though he knew the


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Online LibraryA. C. (Albert Carlton) WhiteheadThe standard bearer : a story of army life in the time of Caesar → online text (page 12 of 16)