A. C. (Albert Carlton) Whitehead.

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

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danger; for there was great unrest among the Gauls,
and rumors of a threatened revolt throughout the whole
country. Especially would his situation be precarious
if he should fall into the hands of the Nervian youth
whom he had vanquished in the battle of the Sabis -
the youth who had shown such hatred of him. Caius



had since learned that he was Carvillax, a noble of
highest rank among the Nervians, of great authority
since the death of King Boduagnotus, and himself a
suitor for the old king's daughter. Nevertheless, Caius
determined to go.

The next day was a holiday, and the Roman officers
and soldiers were relieved from all drill and camp duty.
Caius found a Gaul in the camp who would exchange
his garments and weapons for those of Roman style;
with the aid of Titus, in his tent, he was soon clad
in red and blue striped, tight-fitting trousers, a red
cloak over his shoulders, a brazen helmet adorned
with aurochs horns on his head, and about his waist
a broad leathern belt to which swung, by a chain, a
long Gallic sword of bronze.

"If your mother could see you, she would disown her
son," said Titus.

"So much the better," said Caius, looking at his
image in a small silver mirror, a present from Tre-
bonia. "If my own mother would not know me, I
am sure the Gauls will not find me out."

"What message shall I take to your mother when I
return home next year without you?" asked Titus,
who was strongly against so rash a venture.

"Do you really think it so dangerous as that?"
asked Caius, with some misgiving.

"Why, yes," answered Titus. "What if a Gaul
speaks to you ? Can you answer him in good Gallic
speech ? Do you think he would not know you were
a Roman ? What would you do ?"

"I'd have to take to my heels and run," answered
Caius, "for my Gallic is not good. I know only three


or four of their many dialects. But I am going, come
what may."

"Well, if you must, you must, But let's give your
disguise a trial." And Titus led the way out of the
tent, round a corner to where Baculus stood talking
with two or three other centurions. "Centurion
Baculus, can you tell me where to find centurion
Sannio ? " asked Titus. "This Gaul wishes to speak
with him."

"He commands a guard about the quaestorium," said
Baculus, looking closely at Caius, but showing no sign
of recognition. "Lead him on. We want no Gauls

"Good," said Caius as soon as they were out of
hearing. "If Baculus did not know me, it's all right.
I am away."

A walk of a few hours brought him to the walls
of Bagacum. The gate was open, and all who came
passed in freely. The Nervians had gathered from
all regions in great numbers, and although the place
was of considerable size, it was full to overflow-
ing. The narrow streets among their small, round,
wattled houses were gay with their many-colored gar-
ments. Here and there were Druidic bards who
chanted songs extolling the glory of their ancestors,
the death of their heroes, and the promise of the gods
for their future. The bards were surrounded by
groups of warriors, women, and children, all of whom
either joined in the song, listened with rapt attention,
or cheered by rattling their spears on their shields.
Caius walked among them, full of interest in the
curious throng.




Presently he saw a shouting procession following in
the rear of a big Gaul who was walking toward the center
of a large open space, a sort of market place. In the

center of this space several magistrates were standing
about a tall pole on the top of which was a huge shield,
and on this was fastened the skull and horns of an
aurochs a sort of national coat of arms.


"Bujorax to the measuring belt!" shouted a Gaul,
pointing to the big man in the lead. "He has grown
old and fat, but he thinks he can fight if war comes/'

"But he can't," said another. "He has much
money, and has lived too well on fat boar, sweet honey,
and good mead. The belt will never reach around
his big middle."

Caius followed, curious to know what they were
about. He saw one of the magistrates, with an orna-
mented belt in his hands, measuring the waists of the
men. "You are lean and strong, Segibo," said the
officer to one just measured. He passed the belt about
another. "It barely reaches around you, Turonix.
Be careful; eat a little less. And here is Bujorax,"
he continued, slipping the belt about the waist of the
big Gaul and drawing it tight. "What," he exclaimed.
"The belt will not meet about the noble Bujorax!
There was always enough of the belt and to spare
before, and I have measured you once every year for
the last thirty. You grow fat and lazy. Eat less
and exercise more." And Bujorax turned away, much
downcast because he had reached the time every Gaul
dreaded the age when he was too fat for the measur-
ing belt to meet about him.

As Caius turned away he was attracted by a large
group of men seated upon wolf and bear skins spread
upon the ground. In their midst were smoking car-
casses of swine, human skulls filled with sweet mead,
and blazing fires to cheer the hardy men. With their
swords and knives they cut away huge morsels of meat
and ate them with greedy relish, washing them down
with liberal draughts from the skulls.


"Here is a bite of choice pork fit for a warrior of
the gods," cried a long-faced Gaul, with huge, stiff, red
mustaches. "Eat it, Bujorax. To the bravest we
always give the choicest morsels. And they say you
slew more Cimbrians years ago than all the Gauls
together." And he extended the dainty bit on the
point of his sword.

"No, no," said Bujorax, who now joined the group.
"The belt would not reach around me, and I shall eat no
more dainties till I grow lean again." And he pushed
away the morsel, though it was plain he wanted it.

"Well, drink mead then," urged another, pushing
toward Bujorax a human skull rimmed with gold.
"And better, drink from my best cup, made from the
round skull of a Roman I slew at Sabis. By the sacred
mistletoe, but I had a hard time to bring it off. I
thought I would bring away all the heads of the men I
killed, but the coming of the red-coated little man
changed things so I barely got away with this one arid
my own."

"No, no, no mead," said Bujorax. "I must grow
lean again. War comes on like a bright cloud over the
hills, and I am too fat to fight."

"Perhaps the brave Bujorax will drink some wine,"
said another as he extended a cup similar to the other,
filled with wine. " We bought it from a trader and gave
a stout boy for it. But we dare not tell the magis-
trates, for they would censure us for buying wine."

The wine Bujorax could not refuse. He had been
firm enough in refusing the everyday food of the Gauls,
but wine from Italy was a luxury which the fickleness
of Gallic character could never resist. The old Gaul


placed the skull to his lips and drank so greedily that
the other begged him to leave a drop for himself.

A brawl in another part of the group drew attention,
and Caius saw there several men pressing about another.
One of them was swearing and talking vigorously.
" Pay me my money," he was saying to the one who was
surrounded. "Pay me my money, or I shall demand
the penalty."

" I cannot pay," replied the other. " I have borrowed
your money, wagered it in play, and lost it but now.
I can by no means pay, and am ready to suffer the
penalty. So there ! "

And then, to the surprise of Caius, he saw this man
led out and placed on a long shield upheld by four
others, while a crowd pressed up from all parts.

"What cause for this deed?" asked a magistrate
who approached.

"He sold his life for money," shouted a half dozen
others. "He sold his life for money, lost the money
in gaming, and now he pays the penalty."

The magistrate walked away without further notice
of the matter. The victim lay stretched at his length
on the shield, his head thrown far back, no sign of fear
on his bold face. Then the man from whom the money
had been borrowed stepped briskly up, and with a
swing of his long sword smote the neck so dexterously
that the head dropped and rolled on the cold and muddy
ground. And now the three wives and servants of the
dead man came up, each clamoring and crying for the
honor of being buried with him.

Other groups of warriors stood here and there talking
in low tones. Caius at last ventured to approach one


of these groups. He found that they were talking of a
war against the Romans which was now being planned
throughout Gaul.

"And how stand you ?" asked a Gaul, turning to him.
" For submission to the Romans or for war with them ? "

"For war," boldly answered Caius as best he could
in the Nervian tongue. He at once turned quickly
away from the group lest he should be asked other
questions, but from the corner of his eye he saw that
his action had drawn attention to himself. This
gave him a fright. He now realized that he was
almost sure to be drawn into a discussion with some
Gaul, when his speech would betray him. The con-
sequences might be anything but pleasant.


BUT Caius was loath to leave. So far he had failed
to see the maiden, though he had searched in many
places. Now he was just giving up in disappointment
and turning away toward the town gate, when he felt
himself plucked by the edge of his Gallic cloak. He
wheeled quickly to grapple with his assailant, and
found himself face to face with the maiden. She was

"Are you not the Roman youth who helped a Nervian
prisoner walk to Caesar's camp after the battle of the
Sabis ?" she asked.

"No, I am a Gaul," answered Caius, awkwardly, but
his face belied his words, and he saw that he was clearly

"Yes, you are that Roman," she said, with gladness,
in a low tone. "But you must be gone," she con-
tinued, with disappointment spreading on her face.
"Already your actions have awakened suspicion and
distrust, and you are watched. Go quickly."

"Is this the. welcome you give me?" he asked
gloomily. "I came only to find you."

"Hush," she said, "and go. I do not want you to
lose your life. Pass between these houses here, and
hurry down the street you find on the other side. It
leads to a small gate that is unguarded."

Her evident fright coupled with his knowledge of the



situation constrained him to obey. With a farewell
glance at her, he hurried off between the houses she
had pointed out, and soon found himself in a narrow
street, which was almost deserted. Down this he
hastened as rapidly as he dared, fearing lest he should
attract too much attention to himself. He was nearing
the gate when the Gaul that he had heard called Segibo
joined him, coming into the street from a side passage.

"What! are you leaving so early?" asked Segibo.
"The assembly has not yet met."

"No, I am not leaving," invented Caius, in his best
effort at Gallic. "I am going to meet my brother at
the gate. He also comes to the assembly."

"As I expect to meet a friend at the gate, I will go
with you," said Segibo, walking on and talking of the
assembly, with frequent keen glances at Caius. The
latter answered in as few words as possible, conscious
that with every word he uttered he was increasing the
suspicion of the Gaul.

Arrived at the gate, Segibo remained with him, and
as no brother came, the Roman found his chance for
escape every moment growing less and less. Some
dozen other Gauls had soon gathered about the two,
and Caius felt none the easier when he recognized
Carvillax among them.

At last Carvillax stepped boldly before Caius and
said, "Declare yourself truly. Are you not a Roman

Realizing the desperateness of his plight and hoping
to pass through the gate and make a run for his life,
he reached for his short Roman sword, only to find the
long awkward Gallic one. Even before he could draw


it for a thrust, Segibo had seized him about the arms
from behind and held him helpless.

They dragged him with rude cuffs before the magis-
trate. As they went along a great throng gathered
about them. " A Roman spy !" "The Roman dog !"
"Kill him!" and like curses and execrations greeted
his ear. Indeed, many of them struck him, leaving
him bruised and sore

Then Carvillax mounted upon a large stone and began
to speak to the throng that had gathered, and they
fell silent and listened. "Of old, our fathers would not
have dallied with a Roman prisoner. Much less would
they have delayed in the case of a captive spy. Our
brave and noble ancestors would have sacrificed this
spy among the sacred oaks to the great gods of our
people before sunset. Now, since these Romans have
slain thousands of our heroes and also our good king,
Boduagnotus, let us make haste to please the gods^
by the quick sacrifice of this spy."

A great shout of assent arose, along with a deafening
rattle of the men's spears upon their shields. Then a
bard in long robe, his white beard falling to his waist,
stood forth and sang of the days of old, the bravery of
their ancestors, and the sacrifice of prisoners that had
won favor of their gods in former times. And soon the
great throng was in a frenzy of excitement, and the
demand for the sacrifice was loudly made from one
end of the town to the other.

The Ouadd, or sacrificing priest, could make no"
human sacrifice without the consent of the chief Druid.
So now Caius was led away into the depths of the sacred
forest to the abode of the priest.


As they went, the sun was falling low in the west,
and as they passed deeper and deeper into the dim
woods where the trees were larger and thicker, Caius
began to feel the force of the gloom and mystery of

Druidism. To increase his awe, the crowd, before
so noisy, now moved in silence, and only spoke in
hushed and solemn whispers.

At last they approached a grove of great oaks, thicker
than the others. On one side rose dimly a steep hill


near the top of which was a dark grotto. The throng
approached this with solemn step and perfect silence.
The Ouadd led the way. None were admitted except
the Ouadd and Caius. On a great stone seat the
Roman perceived, dimly outlined, an aged man with
long beard and hair, wearing a white robe reaching
to his feet. On his head was a chaplet of oak leaves.
About the sides of the cavern hung great branches of
the sacred mistletoe.

The Ouadd talked with the chief Druid in dread
and solemn tones and in words of mystic meaning,
not one of which Caius understood.

At last an agreement seemed to have been reached.
The old Druid dismissed them with a wave of a mistletoe
branch, and the whole party returned to the town in

Caius knew not what decision had been made, but
from the downcast look he saw on the maiden's face
as he was led through the gate, back into the town, he
was convinced that he could hope for but little mercy
from his barbarian captors.


BY the command of Carvillax, Caius was placed in
one of the wattle-work huts of the town, and bound
to a stout post, with just freedom enough to lie down.
No one was left with him, but from the tramp of feet
back and forth before the door, he was in no doubt that
a guard had been placed.

Thus left alone, the young soldier's first impulse was
to rail at his fate and to rage at the foolish hardihood
of his adventure. Shame almost overcame him. He
was one of Caesar's trusted officers. Here he had stuck
himself into a nest of danger, from which he had small
hope of escape. He remembered that human sacrifice
used to be made by the Romans themselves, and he had
heard old Simmias tell how, once in the great wars
with Carthage, the Romans had buried alive in the
cattle market two Greeks and two Gauls. Much less
would the Nervians hesitate to sacrifice him. He was
now certain that he would be offered to the Nervian
gods on the morrow, with all the horrid rites of the
Druids, unless he could in some way contrive to escape.
But as he could in no way imagine how this was to be
done, he now wished that he had followed the advice
of Titus and, at the least, left a message for his mother.

Then he thought of the golden-haired, white-armed
beauty of the Nervian maiden, and of the solicitude
with which she had urged him to escape. And, too,



he thought of how unbecoming of a soldier of Caesar
to waste time in a quarrel with fate, -as long as there
was any hope to be placed in action of hand or brain.
And he was glad he had come, and with set jaws he
determined to invent a way of escape, and if he should
fail in that, he would meet his death as befitted a
Roman patrician.

As he could do nothing toward his escape at present,
he composed his mind and soon slept, dreaming of
the old shepherd days with his mother, Titus, Simmias,
and even the faithful dog, on the sunny slopes of the
Italian hills.

How long he slept, he did not know. He was
awakened by a touch and a soft voice calling, "Caius,
Caius," in a low whisper. He moved uneasily and sat

"Stir not; I am Bridiga," she said.

"What are you doing here?" he asked in astonish-
ment, as he recognized her.

"You know not much of maidens," she said. "Else
you would not ask that."

"You are the first maiden I have thought of," he
boldly returned, forgetful of Trebonia. "But why
are you here ?"

"Caius, I have come to try to save your life. The
young noble, Carvillax, is bent upon your death.
They have secured the consent of the chief Druid, and
will sacrifice you when morning comes. I have bribed
the guard there at the door and entered. Take now my
garments and give me yours. Dress quickly in mine
and pass forth without a word to the guard, and go by
the street to the left. Hasten, for the day is not far."



"But what will they do with you when they find
that you have aided me to escape?" he asked. For
a moment hope had come to him and then as quickly
departed ; for he knew without asking that she would
be offered to the gods in his stead.

"I do not know," she replied. "It is enough if
you are saved. Change garments and go quickly,
now, that you may be safely out of town before day

"I will not unless you go too," said Caius stoutly.
"I shall not leave you here to be killed in my stead.


Come, Bridiga, come with me. I came here to find
you because I love you ; and if you will, you shall be
my very own, and we shall dwell at Rome/'

"Oh, I cannot, Caius," she said. "The guard will
not let two of us forth from the door, for he expects only
me, and he is commanded to keep you even with his
life. But if you will dress in my garments and go
confidently, you may escape. Two of us cannot.
Do, do go. If you live, we may see each other again
in the future. If you stay here, you will surely die


"I will not go and leave you," said Caius. His tone
was so grim and firm that she knew she need urge the
young Roman no further.

"Then I must leave you," she said. "Even now the
guard grows restless for fear of discovery."

"Why not bribe the guard to let us both out and go
with us in safety to the Roman camp?" said Caius,
with a new hope springing up in his mind.

But just then they heard a shout and a rattle of arms
from the street. They both started with sudden dread.
Bridiga remained breathlessly waiting till the noise

"Farewell, Caius," she whispered, and tenderly
stroking his face with her hand, she slipped away
and was gone.

Their alarm had been caused by the first stir of
armed men with the coming of the day, which soon
dawned, clear and frosty. All the town was astir
early, men, women, and children swarming everywhere,
wild with excitement. After a time, a horn sounded
loudly and Caius was led from the hut. A procession


was formed, at the head of which rode a body of armed
men. These were followed by six brown-robed Bards,
chanting a Druidic hymn.

Caius, guarded by eight soldiers, came next, followed
by four Ouadds in their long robes. Last of all came
an army of men, women, children, and dogs, barking,
shouting, rejoicing, mocking, and jeering.

They conducted him into the depths of the same
oak wood into which they had gone the evening before.
Now, in the morning light, Caius thought he should
have been able to see the woods more clearly, but the
trees grew so thick and their limbs were so interlaced
above, that the sunlight only here and there broke
through the dead leaves still clinging to them and fell
upon the dark ground and its thick coat of swamp
ferns and rushy grasses. The air was damp and heavy,
the shade cold and dismal. No bees hummed among
the leaves, no butterflies gladdened the eye, and no
birds sang among the trees.

Soon they reached an open space, circular in form,
smooth and clean, about which the huge oaks stood
like a wall, their long gnarled limbs forming a dome
above. On one side of this space near one of the oaks
stood a wooden altar, its top flat and smooth. Propped
against others of the oaks, on rude pedestals of wood,
were images of the Gallic gods, sad-faced, devoid of
art, unsightly, covered with mold, and rotting. In
the midst of the circle lay a deep pool of black water.
From the huts and caverns about sounded the doleful
chanting of the Druids.

Armed men stripped Caius, bound his hands and
feet, and laid him at his length on the altar. The


young Roman did not struggle, he did not even speak.
He thought of the fortitude with which his country-
men had met pain and death in the service of Rome -
Mucius Scaevola, young Manlius Tarquinius, and
Regulus at Carthage. This gave him courage, and yet
he was hot with shame at the thought of his own
selfish purpose the pursuit of a Gallic maid. But
she had been willing to die in his stead. So he was

In a strangely calm way, he reflected that he had
not seen her in the throng that followed, though he had
looked for her, anxiously. Where could she be ?

He did see the haughty, sneering face of Carvillax
that seemed to mock him. "He will take my Bri-
diga," he said to himself, with a cruel pain at his heart.

He was roused from these thoughts by the voices
of the Bards, who now slowly chanted in doleful tones
this song : -

O our gods,

Tarann, maker and mover of the world ;
Bel, the bright sun; Heus,
The rough ruler of war ;
Ognius, the priest of poetry ; and all

The other gods of Gaul ;

O our gods,

In the forests, in the flames of the fire,
In the sun's round rim,
In the moon's mild light,
In the rough rumble of the thunder,
And in the flash of the fire from the sky,

Thee we see.



O our gods,

We know that thou art, and wast,
And will be, in time that is now,
In that to come, in all the years that are
Gone, living and being eternal,

Thee we know.

O our gods,

Thanks to thee we give.
A fell foe in war into our
Hands is come, a foe from the
Hosts of the king of the world ;

For this, our thanks to thee.

O our gods,

That thou mayst bless us,
Mayst drive from our troubled land
The foes that harry and harm and
Hinder and hurt us, we pray thee,
Crush them and kill them

And drive them apart.

O our gods,

Now to thee, under the mistletoe,
Emblem of man's soul eternal to be,
This man, our foe, a victim to thee,
To please thee and gladden thee,
. Him we sacrifice.

When this rude hymn was finished, the four Ouadds,
wearing garlands of oak, approached the altar with
stately tread, and solemnly took their places, one at
each of its corners. They sprinkled some small pieces
of bread on a fire at one side and poured out on the
ground a little wine. The Bards called once more upon


the gods to avenge the slaughter of their countrymen
in return for this sacrifice. The Ouadds at their
places, slowly, and with upturned eyes, each lifted
on high his knife, bright and keen, until the points
all aimed at the heart of the young Roman.

And then, from somewhere, a small sprig of bright-
berried mistletoe came fluttering down and dropped on
his breast and lodged there. A look of awe spread over
the faces of the Druids, and the knives were slowly

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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 13 of 16)