A. C. (Albert Carlton) Whitehead.

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

. (page 15 of 16)
Online LibraryA. C. (Albert Carlton) WhiteheadThe standard bearer : a story of army life in the time of Caesar → online text (page 15 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


making most determined efforts to force all Gaul into
his army.

"O our master, because we refused to join the army
of Vercingetorix, he has thus maltreated us. We had
taken the oath for Caesar. Vercingetorix has maimed
hundreds of our people in this manner. Even the
Romans treat us not so. But food, give us food, or we



starve."



268 THE STANDARD BEARER

They were given bread and bacon from the small
store which Caius and Bridiga carried, but the one
whose tongue had been wrenched out could make only
pitiable efforts, and finally gave up, and lay on the
ground, wailing and crying.

"Tell me," said Caius, "where Caesar's army is
now. "

"We were told yesterday that Caesar had followed
Vercingetorix northward and now prepared to besiege
him in Alesia," one of the Gauls replied. "I hope
Caesar may capture him and do to him as he has done
to us. The curse of all the gods be upon the Arvernian
upstart !"

The Gauls readily told him how to find Caesar's army,
and then the four with all haste set out northwestward
to strike a road leading more directly to where Caesar
was reported to be. About dusk of the second day
afterwards, the party reached the Roman camp.
Caius asked to be led to the tent of the Imperator
himself.

"Well, Caius," said Caesar, "the Haeduans have
already repented of their rashness and sent me back
your cohort, safe and sound, but I thought you were
dead. A Gallic deserter told me, and I had no reason
to doubt it. But I see now that you have at least
rescued one of the hostages," he went on, glancing at
the blushing face of Bridiga.

Caius quickly told the tale of their escape and wander-
ings, and his own imprudence with regard to the co-
hort. Caesar saw in the faces of the two their story.

"Well, Caius, I regret that you were careless with
the cohort, but I think I understand the reason why,



THE MAN FORGETS HIS MOTIVE 269

and I can forgive you. Mars is often slighted when
Cupid calls. I am glad to see you back, for there is
great work to be done to take the city of Alesia. All
Gaul has at last united, and the hardest struggle we
have had is now before us. Even if I loved you but a
little, I need you much. But what is to be done with
the maid ?"

"I would marry her if I may," boldly answered Caius.

"You shall if you will," said Caesar. "And a right
good marriage, too, for she is a princess, the daughter
of King Boduagnotus, the ruler of the Nervians.
And by Venus, they are the bravest of all the Gauls.
They almost beat us in that battle on the Sabis."

"She has been a princess to me all the while since
I first saw her, even before I knew she was the daughter
of a king," said Caius.

"Well, then, Caius, you shall marry her if you wish,
at a more opportune time. But I really think you could
make a marriage at Rome that would be more help to
you. Nevertheless, since I see your mind is set, marry
her. Take your sweetheart now to the tent of Tre-
bonius and leave her with Trebonia, and say that Caesar
begs that she will keep her under her protection. Then
report to me for duty."

And Caius and Bridiga turned and started out of the
tent. At the door, Caius stopped and said, "I forgot,
Imperator, to tell you that Procillus also is here and
wants to speak with you."

"All neglect is forgiven you now, Caius," said
Caesar, laughingly. u Tell him to come to me." And
he waved Caius out.



CHAPTER III
THE MAN SEES A GREAT SIEGE BEGUN

ALESIA, where Vercingetorix had chosen to make a
stand against Caesar, was situated on a rocky eminence
lying between two small rivers. On the western
side of the town was a large plain, and on all other
sides were small valleys, beyond which swelled a chain
of hills, thus almost inclosing the town. Alesia itself
was strongly walled, and the greatest portion of the
eminence dropped sheer and perpendicular away
from the foot of the ramparts, thus offering little
promise of success in an effort at scaling.

As Vercingetorix had at least eighty thousand men
shut up in the town, and Caesar had only about fifty
thousand with which to combat them, the Imperator,
with his usual strategical foresight, determined to be-
siege the place rather than to risk an assault which
would be almost sure to prove a failure.

So he summoned old Lucius Cornelius Balbus,
his chief engineer, and gave his commands. Soon
this officer with his assistants were busy, laying out
camps on the hills and better points of vantage. Then
the legionaries, with pick, shovel, and earth baskets,
built the camp, strong walled and deep ditched, and
joined them each to the other with long trenches and
walls of earth. In some places the trench was twenty feet
deep and twenty feet wide, with its sides perpendicular.

270



THE MAN SEES A GREAT SIEGE BEGUN 271

This work was hastened day and night, and soon a
line of continuous fortifications encircled the whole
town. In such places as were most exposed to attack,
three trenches were dug. The earth taken from them
was built into walls parallel with the trenches, on the
side away from the town. The wall was strengthened
with hurdles and trees wattled in. At the top of these
walls there projected toward the town a continuous
line of bristling points formed of bushy-topped trees
with the limbs chopped off and brought to sharp
points, looking like stag's horns.

Outside of these main trenches and toward the walls
of Alesia, five rows of parallel ditches with slanting
sides were dug. In the bottom of these, sharpened
brush and limbs were fastened. These were of such
length that they could be interwoven above the ground
in such manner as to form a stout hedge of threatening
points. Still beyond this were dug eight rows of conical
pits, three feet deep and three feet apart, placed checker-
wise. In the bottom of each of these was sunk a stake
the thickness of a man's thigh, upright, sharpened,
and the point hardened with fire. Some of the soldiers
called these wolf pits in which the Gallic wolves were
to be caught. "No," said Titus. "They are lilies."
And the soldiers laughed, some one told Caesar, and
thenceforward they were lilies.

Beyond the rows of lilies, lines of stakes were driven
into the ground, and to the top of these were fastened
iron hooks with barbed points. These the soldiers
called "spurs." New names had to be found for these
objects, for they had never before Caesar's time been
used in the Roman army.



272



THE STANDARD BEARER



Before these works were finished, the Romans were
one night startled from their dreams by the thunder
of a great body of cavalry. A sentinel reported that it













was the cavalry of Vercingetorix, leaving Alesia before it
should be completely shut in. A deserter from Alesia
brought word the next morning that Vercingetorix
had sent away his cavalry to raise help among the



THE MAN SEES A GREAT SIEGE BEGUN 273

other Gallic nations for one final, stupendous effort
against the Romans.

"We shall soon have an army on each side of us,"
said Caesar. "Fellow soldiers, we must hasten our
fortifications."

And so the lilies and the spurs, the walls and the
trenches, the camp and the towers, were built with all
dispatch. The soldiers worked so willingly and with
such good results that Caesar said he could overturn
the heavens with such men. And, this word being
passed among them, they worked all the harder.

Then, as it was certain that an army of relief collected
from all Gaul would come to Alesia, a line of fortifica-
tions similar to the line next the town was built on
the outer side of the Roman army, so that the Romans
themselves lay between the two lines, one next to
Alesia, seven miles in circuit, and the other next to the
country, fourteen miles about.

On a day near the end of five weeks, when the Roman
fortifications were almost completed, at about the third
watch, the Roman soldiers heard a great noise of weep-
ing and lamenting, and looking up to the gates of the
city, they saw issue forth an army different from any
they had encountered. The old men, the women,
and the children were being sent away in order to save
the food supplies in the town for the fighting men.
On they came, down the slopes, with outstretched
hands, some of the women holding out their small
children, pleading with Caesar to take them as slaves
and give them food. Starvation stalked in the town,
they said, and one chief had even urged that the
women and children should be eaten.



274 THE STANDARD BEARER

Caesar saw in this condition one of the surest means
of helping to reduce Vercingetorix to submission by
forcing these useless consumers back upon the town.
So the Roman soldiers with spear and sword pricked
them back up the slopes to the gates, amid their doleful
cries and lamentations.

At the end of forty days the Roman works were com-
pleted. Hardly had the soldiers a breathing spell
from their labors when the Gallic army of relief ap-
peared upon the hills southeast of the town, a horde
250,000 strong. The Romans heard the shouts of
joy in Alesia, and knew that a final test was near at
hand. Each nerved himself, under Caesar's exhortation,
to do his best for the glory of the state and the Im-
perator.

Even the next day there was a cavalry battle,
though lasting but a short time, and the Gauls had the
worst of it.

Caesar was now inclosed by 330,000 Gauls. His
own army was less than one sixth of that number.
But in this case as in all others, the resources and
courage of Caesar seemed to increase with the magni-
tude of his opposition. He put the best face upon all
matters, and the soldiers were cheered and strengthened.



CHAPTER IV

THE MAN HEARS ANOTHER STORY

AT midnight of the second day after the relief army
had appeared before Alesia, Caius was awakened from
his slumber by a confusion of shouts and yells, mingled
with the rattle of arms, the steady call of the Roman
sentinels, and the hoarse blare of the trumpets. He knew
his place on the walls, as every Roman knew his place.
He hastened to it, and despite the darkness and con-
fusion, found there most of the men of his cohorts.
From the shouts on all sides, he could tell that an
attack was being made in the complete circuit of the
outer line of works.

The Romans stood stoutly to their posts, though
taken unawares. In the darkness Caius could dimly
discern, at the outer edge of the second trench, the
forms of thousands of Gauls, working like demons,
filling the ditch with bundles of brush and hurdles,
while beyond them pressed other thousands in solid
mass. They hurled upon the Romans a storm of
javelins, arrows, and stones. The Romans in their
turn cast javelins, pointed stakes, leaden balls, and
stones of a pound weight upon their assailants. Thus
the Romans used no shields, and many were killed
and wounded. The thuds of the stones as they struck,
the hissing and whirring of arrows and javelins, the
shouts and yells of attack and defense, were mingled
thick with the screams and groans of death.

STANDARD BEARER 1 8 2/5



276 THE STANDARD BEARER

But in spite of all, the Gauls were advancing. Now
they had filled a ditch and were leaping and scrambling
over it and right up to the wall, pulling away the
pointed tree tops which still held them back. The
Romans redoubled their efforts, and the Gauls were
checked only on the brink of the wall.

Just at this juncture the Roman fortifications next
to the town were attacked by the Gauls from within.
With shouts and yells more fearful than the others,
if possible, they pressed upon the ramparts. Caius
was thus forced to send half his men to defend the
inner wall. This so slacked the storm of missies his
men had been casting upon the outer assailants, that
the latter began once more with renewed efforts to
make headway.

Caius realized that the situation was extremely
desperate, and began to wonder why Caesar did not
send aid to this part. And just then Caesar himself
appeared.

"Why so few men, Caius?" he asked. "Have so
many been killed already? Where is Lanius?"

"I do not know, Imperator," replied Caius. " I have
not seen him."

"I ordered him to come to this part with three
cohorts," said Caesar. "I do not understand." And
he was gone.

Then Caius shouted a few words of encouragement
to his men, they fought with increased energy, other
cohorts came up, and soon the enemy was repulsed in
all parts.

Exhausted by this exertion, Caius at once retired
to his tent for a snatch of sleep. He was so weary,



THE MAN HEARS ANOTHER STORY



277



he threw himself down without removing any of his
armor except his helmet, and he was soon in a sound
sleep.

He was awakened by a jangling noise and a blow
upon his shoulders. He sprang up, clutching wildly.




He grasped the tunic of some one who was near, and
this was left in his hand as the wearer slipped away.
The noise within caused the guard at the door to place
his spear across the entrance of the tent. The intruder
was thus stopped.

When a light was brought, the guard pulled away the



278 THE STANDARD BEARER

cloak with which the captive covered his face, and there
stood Eredox, at last fairly caught.

At day, Caius carried the old Gaul before Caesar
and told of the several attempts that had been made
on his life, and of his belief that Eredox had made each
of them.

Caesar commanded that Eredox be led away to in-
stant crucifixion. "You have tried to take the life
of one of my best officers at a time when I most need
all I have. If you had given no other cause, I would
make you pay the penalty. Besides, I have some
recollection of your name as one of the chief of the cut-
throats in Sulla's butcheries of good Roman citizens.
Let him be led to crucifixion at once, Lictor," said
Caesar.

The face of Eredox showed no sign of emotion. "If
you would grant me the remnant of my life, I can tell
something that might be of value to this youth here,"
he said, pointing toward Caius. "I can also tell why
I tried to kill him and why I will never try again."

"Caius," said Caesar, "you have served me well and
may ask favors. Shall I spare the life of this fickle
and treacherous Gaul who has tried so often to kill
you and now claims to know things of value to you ? "

"Imperator, I much doubt him," said Caius. "Do
as you will with him without regard to my poor in-



terests."



"Then, I spare you, Gaul," said Caesar, "in the
case of your telling a straight tale. If you do not,
it may be the worse for you, yet. There is time to
hear you now. Your countrymen are not likely to
attack my camp this morning. So proceed."



THE MAN HEARS ANOTHER STORY 279

At a signal from Caesar, all others retired except
Caius and Eredox. The latter then began: "To go
back so all will be understood, I was born a noble
of the Senones. At twelve years of age, I was given
as a hostage by my people to the Allobroges, and
they after a time treacherously sent me as a hostage
for themselves to Rome. There I was finally freed from
all restraint, saw something of a gladiator's life, and
at last enrolled as a soldier in the legions of Sulla. I
served through all his campaigns and came to be well
known for my bravery in the battle of Chaeronaea.
After Sulla's return to Rome, during his proscriptions,
I'was constantly engaged in aiding him to rid himself
of his enemies, receiving many and ample rewards.

"One day Lanius, a rough butcher, who lived near
the cattle market and who had saved a little money,
came to me and proposed to divide with me the rich
estate of this youth's father if I would safely get him
out of the way. I wanted to know of what crime we
could accuse him, so we would have at least a shadow
of an excuse in case any questions were asked. He
said we needed no excuse, except the wealth of the man,
and that he was guilty of no crime whatever. To kill
him and secure his property would be easy and safe in
the excitement of the times. I was not difficult to
convince, as I had already carried out two or three such
schemes, and really felt little fear. So I killed him in
his own house with the aid of two other Gauls, but
he fought more fiercely than we expected and he killed
both of my friends."

Caius had sought his sword and half drew it from its
scabbard.



280 THE STANDARD BEARER

"Hold, young man, and be quiet," said the old rogue,
coolly. "I have Caesar's promise of safety. Besides,
I have not yet told the thing that may be of help to
you."

"Yes, Caius, he has our promise," said Caesar, with
that calm that showed when his greatest rage was
suppressed. "Let him proceed."

"Under pretense of necessary legal delay of I know
not what sort, old butcher Lanius put off giving me my
share of the booty. I went to him for it time and again,
but always there was some reason why it was not
ready for me. Others for whom I had performed
similar services put me off in the same way. Mean-
while Sulla settled the legion in which I had served,
at Spoletum, and allotted me a considerable property
there. But I wished money so I could live at Rome.
I had grown too old to be a gladiator again, and had
worn out the bounty of Sulla. Soon he retired to his
villa and died. Then I had nothing further to depend
upon.

"So I went to old Lanius a last time and asked for
my due. Once again he tried to put me off with some
idle excuse. He was living in grandeur in the house
of Caius's father. I was angered beyond what I could
bear. So I slew him there and escaped to my little
farm at Spoletum, where I lived till Caesar's coming
to Gaul. All the time I was living there, this youth,"
indicating Caius, "dwelt near by, but I did not know
who he was.

"Now, why have I tried more than once to kill this
young man also ? you ask. At Spoletum, when I
tried to take his sheep, I had no care as to whether I



THE MAN HEARS ANOTHER STORY 28l

killed him or not, for I did not know him. I only wanted
a sheep or two. Later when I heard that there was a
young Lanius with the army of Caesar in Gaul, I knew
he must be the son of the old Lanius. So I went to
him and told him my story and demanded payment of
him. He said he had no clear title to the property
and might yet lose it. If I would kill young Caius,
he would divide. This I tried more than once to do,
but always failed. Every effort has been made in
the night after we had planned it well. When Caesar
prepared to embark for Britain, Lanius planned to decoy
Caius into the forest and force him to sign a deed to
him for all the property, and Fortune helped us, for
he rambled away into the woods just at dark. Lanius,
myself, and two hired Gauls followed him, and we were
sure we should succeed or kill him. But Fortune failed
us, and he was rescued at the last moment."

"Here, Imperator, is the very paper they tried to
force me to sign," said Caius, drawing the papyrus
from his belt. "They dropped it as they left, and I
found it and have kept it till now."

Qaesar ordered a lictor to bring Lanius before him.
"He proved a coward in not leading the cohorts last
night as I comrrianded him, and now I find he is an
assassin besides. I had hoped all the time to make
the fellow of some use to me."

"Now," went on Eredox, "you can see why I shall
never trouble young Caius more. There is no hope of
profit in it. Lanius will know that I have betrayed him
and that I have revenge upon him and his father
through the punishment you will wreak upon him. I
rejoice in that, and shall be glad to face him in a trial



282 THE STANDARD BEARER

before you, and to see his hateful face work and draw
with fear, and to see his cowardly cringing and pleading
for your mercy. I am old now and poor. If you
allow, I shall go to my people, and spend my last days
with them."

"We have heard you patiently, Eredox," said
Caesar. "The man whom you murdered, the father of
Caius here, was the best friend of my youth, almost a
father to me, and I find it hard to keep my word not
to do you harm. I shall send a guard with you to the
edge of the camp. Beware lest you ever trouble me or
any of mine again. Come, Balbus, and guide this
brute to the gates, and see him well without.

"I grieve that we let this old scoundrel go free,
said Caesar. "Your father was my dearest friend.
He favored me and helped me at a time when I most
needed it, and I could crucify his murderer with good
heart. Perhaps now you understand why I have
wished to aid you in some slight degree. We shall
see if we cannot recover your property, too."

At this moment the lictor returned to say that Lanius
was nowhere to be found in the camp.



CHAPTER V

THE MAN BECOMES A LIEUTENANT

THE relieving hordes of the Gauls had now been
defeated in two assaults on the outer fortifications of
the Romans. It soon became clear to the Gallic leaders
that their followers were becoming discouraged. Un-
less a victory were soon won, the men would lose heart
and leave for their homes. Hence the chiefs set to work
with cunning energy to discover if there might be some
weak point in the Roman fortifications which they
might attack with greater hope of success.

On the northwest of Alesia they found out there was a
large and high hill which on account of its extent old
Balbus had left entirely without the wall, which ran
at its base. The Gauls learned that this was the
weakest place in the Roman lines and that it had been
left not strongly guarded. They determined to storm
this point with sixty thousand of their best men picked
from all Gaul.

On the third day later, about noon Caius stepped from
his tent, which was placed near that of Caesar. Not
far away rose a tower used by the Imperator for a sort of
lookout over the entire line of fortifications. As there
had been no fighting during the morning, the tower was
occupied only by a few sentinels under the command
of Titus. Caius walked leisurely over toward the
tower.

283



284 THE STANDARD BEARER

"Hello, Titus/' he called. "What see you from your
high perch ? Do the Gauls bestir themselves to-day ?"

"Scarcely at all," returned Titus. "They seem
to have grown careless. I wonder if they have decided
to give up fighting and mean to besiege us."

Caius saw Titus whirl and look toward the northwest
hills, from which point now rose the shouts and yells of
attack, the rattle of spears and shields, and the clash
of swords.

"Awaken the Imperator, guard," shouted Titus.
"The Gauls are attacking the legions of Antistius and
Caninius at the northwest hill."

At the same instant, Caius saw thousands of the
besieging Gauls leap forth from their camps and rush
upon the Roman works in the plain, while their horns
called to battle from hill to hill. They were answered
by the blare of the Roman tubas, the Roman battle
shout, and the heavy running of the armor-clad
legionaries to their places on the ramparts.

Caesar, already mounting the tower whence he might
have an outlook over the whole field, was, even before
he reached the top, giving orders to his couriers and
officers, swarming at its foot.

The besieged Alesians came pouring down from the
town with weapons, movable pent houses, ladders,
hurdles, bundles of brush, wall hooks, and engines to
attack Caesar's inner lines of defense. At the same
time, thousands of women and children appeared on
the walls of the town, their hair streaming, hands
extended, wailing, crying, praying, urging the men to
fight stoutly, and not to give them over to Roman
slavery.



THE MAN BECOMES A LIEUTENANT 285

Caesar's army was thus attacked in strong force,
both front and rear. Cohort after cohort was hurried
to the point of assault, and each Roman knew that his
own life depended upon beating off the enemy. Mass
upon mass of Gauls pressed to the attack, feeling that
this was their last chance to crush the Romans and to
free themselves.

Where Caius was posted, there was little fighting for
more than an hour. He and his cohort were com-
pelled to hold their places and watch the struggle in
other parts.

"How goes the fight at the hill?" shouted Caius to
a messenger who hurried past.

"It is being fought hard and bravely," panted the
messenger as he dashed on to Caesar's tower. "The
missiles have given out."

A few moments later Caius saw Labienus hasten
past with six cohorts to the aid of Antistius and
Caninius.

"Hurrah, Caius, we are going to have a pretty fight
now," called out old Baculus as he marched past.
"They say these men at the hill are the best fighters
among the Gauls."

"Caius, if I don't get back alive, be so good as to see
that what plunder I have collected and my will are sent
to my mother by the cattle market at Rome," said


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15

Online LibraryA. C. (Albert Carlton) WhiteheadThe standard bearer : a story of army life in the time of Caesar → online text (page 15 of 16)