A. C. (Albert Carlton) Whitehead.

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

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than I, and his chains were taken off, though he was
kept under guard. I was dragged on foot by four
strong men the entire distance of the march. My
limbs were cut by the chains and dripped blood at
every step. I had no water and was almost starved.

"When the Germans at last camped for the night,
about six miles from Caesar's army, I dropped on the
ground, nearly dead with weariness and exhaustion.
I quickly fell into a feverish sleep. Soon I dreamed,
and it seemed a beautiful maiden was rescuing me from
scorching flames. Then a soft touch that was real
cooled my forehead and awoke me. In the half
shadows, just apart from the light of the camp fires, a
German maiden bent above me, offering me a horn of
water. I drank greedily the cooling draft. With a
smile she left me, and I slept again.

"But I was not to be allowed this luxury; for I was
soon dragged up by a big warrior and carried before a
sort of court of German women. It is the custom of
the Germans to consult their women whenever any
important business is to be undertaken, and the women


in their turn cast lots or try omens. The Germans
have the greatest respect for their women.

"These women coolly set about casting lots to
find out if the gods would decree that I should be burned

at once, or should be saved
for a future time. Even
as they began,
droves of boys

were prodding my
body with sticks

at my fate. As I
knowtheir language, I understood all that they said. * See
the big fire to burn you/ shouted one bull-necked youth.

"'That's what we will do for all the Romans we do
not kill in battle/ yelled another.

"'Yes, we'll cut off the food supplies of the Romans,
starve them, and leave not one alive/ shouted yet
another. And so I learned what they meant to be
my fate and also that of the Roman army.


"Soon all was ready for the trial. My gaze was
fixed on the quiet face of the maiden. Just before
they were to draw lots from a helmet filled with beans
of different colors, I saw her remove the helmet from
which they were to draw, and replace it with another
by a move so deft and swift as to escape all notice.
I did not understand the meaning of this action at once.
But as the lot was in my favor, I was sure she had placed
a helmet of beans all of the same color."

"What's that?" broke in Sannio, starting up, for-
getting to play with his plunder.. "Was our bold
Procillus made a double captive, fast in the iron chains
of the enemy, and in the silken bonds of Cupid ?"

"Oh, be quiet," snapped Baculus. "Didn't you get
to fight any of them, Procillus ?"

"Not fairly," answered Procillus. "One of these
women, a lean, stooped, wrinkled-faced old hag, now
stood forth, and in croaking tones, long and dolefully
drawn out, wailed to the men the decree of the lots :
'It is not the will of Woden, Thor, Friga, and all the
other gods that dwell in the bright city of Asgard
that this man, our foe, shall be burned this night/

"Then the men were enraged, and a great angry up-
roar swelled through the camp. One of my guards
struck me. I was so angered that I hurled myself upon
him, and slung my arm chains with all the force I could.
They struck on his head, and he went down, bloody and
groaning. But he was quickly up, and I think he
would have run me through, but his companions laughed
at him, and said, 'Good enough for you. Now don't
take advantage of a man loaded with chains, even
though he be an enemy.'


"I expected that they would kill me the next day,
because I knew we were so near Caesar's army. But
they did not, I suppose, because they were so sure of a
victory. 'If the gods are unwilling that he be put to
death now, so much the better. We shall have many
of his fellows to go with him after we beat Caesar's
army/ they said."

"Why did the Germans refuse the battle offered
them the next day ?" asked Caius.

"Because their women prophesied, and said that it
was not the will of the gods for them to conquer if they
fought before the new moon. So they were waiting
for the moon to change," answered Procillus.

"Well, Caesar couldn't change the moon for them,
but his army removed the light from thousands of
them," laughed Sannio.

"Did you see the maiden again ?" asked Caius, inno-

"Here's the bold youth who wants to know more of
the fair maiden," laughed Sannio again.

Caius colored deeply and said nothing.

"Yes, I saw her again," replied Procillus. "They
cast lots twice again to learn if I should be burned.
Twice again I saw the maiden, by the same movement,

save me."

"And is she the same maiden that you were so
determined to rescue from those two Roman soldiers
who had captured her, as we were going to Caesar's
tent after we found you ?" asked Sannio.

"Yes," returned Procillus. "She had saved my life,
and so I was eager to save her when I found her in the
hands of the soldiers. I have learned that she is Hilda,



the daughter of Ariovistus. She was most dear to the
old barbarian king, and it was at the risk of her own
life that she was so kind to me. She is now kept
among the hostages in the camp, under the care of the
wives of the Roman officers, who have dared to come to
Gaul with their husbands. Caesar has promised me
that she shall be sent beyond the Rhine to her kinsmen
among the Germans."

"So you expect to see Hilda again ?" asked Sannio.

"I may/' replied Procillus. "Now, as to the rest
of my adventures, you already know them."

And then, though the groans and shrieks of the
wounded, and the shouts of roving bands of plunderers,
and the call of the sentries still broke harshly upon the
night, the friends soon slept soundly.



THE Roman army remained here for three days for
the purpose of disposing of the dead. The bodies were
piled in long rows and their arms with them. Into
the mouth of each was placed a coin for Charon, the
ferryman of the Styx. The lines were piled with
branches of oak and laurel. On the third day Caesar
publicly eulogized the deeds of the slain, then the other
soldiers bewailed and lamented them. Next the bodies
were covered over with fagots and burned. The ashes
were sprinkled with wine and placed in long trenches
and covered with earth.

The thousands of German bodies lay unburied. At
night droves of snapping, snarling wolves gorged upon
the blackening flesh, sneaking and slinking here and
there like ghostly shadows. The morning of the
second day brought black clouds of vultures that fed
and croaked and made the scene too horrid for words.

As Caesar had finished two great wars in one summer,
he now determined to lead his army into quarters
for the winter. So upon the fourth day after the battle,
when the sickening scent and revolting scenes of the
field had become unbearable, the army marched
northward. The long line, undulating like the billows
of the sea, wound away through the hills, on which the
green of the trees was already giving place to the
brilliant hues of autumn.



After several days of march, a place was reached in
the country of the Sequanians, designed by Caesar as
a home for the army during the winter. Here Caesar
placed in command his most trusted lieutenant,
Labienus, while he himself with a small retinue set off
to Cisalpine Gaul to hold the courts of his province.

The greater number of the young friends of Caesar
who had come to Gaul for adventures now left for
Rome, not caring to forego the gayeties of the capital
to endure the rigors of a Gallic winter. Most de-
lighted in this number was Lanius. As Caius was busy
helping to build the log huts which were to shelter
the soldiers during the long nights of winter, he saw
Lanius among a troop of those passing forth, joy
showing on every feature. "Come, Caius," he shouted
as he reined in his horse. "You had best go with me
to the City. There, I am a free man among free men.
I owe no man and shame to face no man. I own three
villas there and much money. I feed twenty crops,
six dogs, and a couple of horses. Come with me. We
will have pleasant times there this winter."

"I give you thanks," replied Caius. "I care not to
go. I remain here in order to be a better soldier for
next summer's campaign."

"Every man to his taste," returned Lanius. "It
will be too dull here for me. There will be games and
shows and wine and women, all sorts of pleasure at
Rome for those who will take and as for me, next
summer may look to itself." And with that, he dashed
after his companions, his bright, bordered toga fluttering
in the breeze, while Caius continued laying the poles
to make his hut.


"He would most likely poison you, anyway/' grunted
Sannio. "I have heard it hinted that his father got
his wealth by murder in the times of Sulla."

Caius soon learned that winter in a Roman camp was
far from being a period of rest. He worked day after
day in helping to build a high wall and to dig a deep,
wide ditch about the camp. Then, too, Labienus
proved himself an unrelenting drillmaster. Though
it was customary for every Roman army to drill each
day during winter under long sheds built for the
purpose, Labienus had it done with such persistent
thoroughness that Caesar could write the next summer
that "the men understood as well how to direct
themselves as they knew how to take orders from their

Toward the last of the winter, it was necessary to
travel farther and farther from the camp to find forage
and provision. One day when the first tender green of
spring was softening the landscape, Caius was sent with
some twenty other soldiers commanded by Baculus to
make demand for supplies wherever they could be found.

This search took the party beyond the territories of
the Sequanians, among the Senones. Toward night
of the sixth day after leaving camp, as they entered a
village, they saw a crowd of the townsmen collected
about three or four huge carts to each of which were
hitched two of the large, white, long-horned oxen
common in Gaul. The animals stood quietly chewing
their cuds, but the Gauls seemed much interested and
rather excited.

As the Romans oame up, they perceived that the
carts were those of a number of Roman traders who


were carrying a load of Gallic bacon to Massilia. The
inhabitants of the village had, according to the Gallic
custom, stopped the traders to ask questions as to
where they had been and what they had learned and
whom they had seen and what they whom they had
seen had told them.

The Gauls at once turned their attention to the
soldiers, fearlessly gathered about them when they
had halted, and began asking questions.

"Where have you come from?" asked a Gaul who
seemed to be a leader.

"We have come from the Roman camps of Caesar,"
answered Baculus.

"What news from there ?" asked the Gaul.

"All goes well, friend," answered Baculus, "except
provisions for Caesar's army grow scarce. Can we
depend upon the people of this noble city to peaceably
furnish us some supplies ?"

The Gaul was taken somewhat aback, though this
very request was what he had reason to expect, for
news of the foraging of the Romans had spread far and
wide, long earlier in the winter.

"That will have to be decided by our magistrates,"
replied the Gaul. " I will report your wants, and a
meeting will be called to answer you. Meanwhile, our
townspeople will feed and shelter you for the night."

As the Senones had previously made peace with
Caesar, Baculus had no fear of spending the night in
the town, and so he was just giving orders to the men
to disperse to the various houses, when Caius felt
himself plucked by the tunic. He turned and was
surprised to recognize the old merchant, Matho.


"Is Caius, the young soldier, well ?" he asked.

"All goes well," replied Caius. "And how fares
the good merchant of Ravenna ?"

"My health is
good," returned the
merchant, at

the same time
laying his finger
on his lip and
pulling Caius
aside. "Hush,
and come a little
apart. I wish to

speak with you." And while the men were being dis-
posed of, he continued rapidly in a low tone,
is trouble abroad, but I am sure it is useless to tell
Baculus, what I know, for he thinks he and Caesar can
overcome any difficulties whatsoever. It were not wise
to scatter this handful of Romans in the town, for
almost the whole of Gaul is now plotting against Caesar.
I have learned that an embassy of Belgians will arrive


in this town in a day or two for the purpose of persuad-
ing these people to join in the conspiracy. If these
Romans are separated from each other, it is likely
enough you will each be separated from his head
long before morning."

Already the soldiers were moving away in various
directions to their assigned quarters. Caius rushed
to Baculus and rapidly told him all he had heard.
"The old merchant, Matho!" snorted Baculus. "He
of the Ravenna inn ? He always finds danger. What
if these Gauls should try to harm us ? One good
Roman soldier can put to flight half a legion of Gauls."

Caius felt the rashness of this view, and argued
with the centurion, even against the rules of discipline.

Baculus tried to pretend anger, and asked, "Do you
know the first and last lesson a Roman soldier must

"Yes," replied Caius. "It is obedience, and I am
ready to yield obedience, but I am sure you have not
thought carefully of this matter."

"I am sure you have not thought at all," returned
Baculus, "else you would not stand arguing with me
instead of hastening to obey. If I report this conduct
to Caesar, your career as a soldier will be speedily
ended. He demands absolute obedience to officers
from every man. Nevertheless, I will recall the men
and we will all sleep in the frosty air of the public
square." And so he ordered the trumpeters who stood
near to sound a recall.

Baculus placed his men in a close knot and set a watch
of only one sentry. The soldiers knew nothing of what
the merchant had told Caius and soon they all slept.


BUT Caius could not rest, and lay long awake. He
seemed to hear a stealthy tread over all the town as
though its inhabitants were going about to plot the
Romans' death. Once, away on the outskirts of the
town, he heard a barking of dogs, and then a clamor of
voices. After a time all was still again, and he slept.
But not long, for he was awakened by a heavy groan.
Springing to his feet, he saw the sentinel fallen on his
face, writhing and kicking, while the form of a man
leaped away from him and ran for the shelter of a near-by
house. Caius shouted at the top of his voice. Then
a fearful uproar swelled on the night air, and from
behind the house where they had massed themselves,
hundreds of townsmen sprang out upon the little Roman
band. As the soldiers had slept armed, they quickly
sprang up to defend themselves, but they were stupid
with sleep and stricken with surprise and the terror of
the unknown.

"Steady, men, stand firm, and let them have your
sword points," shouted Baculus, as he stabbed the
nearest Gaul.

The legionaries made a great effort to stand, but they
were quickly rushed backward by force of numbers.
Four or five Romans were cut down, and though for each
of these at least five Gauls lay kicking in the dust, still



it was impossible for so few to stand against such

"Keep together and retreat slowly," Baculus ordered,
but the Gauls pressed up more and more, and soon the
Romans were scattered and running for life among the
huts of the town.

Caius found himself surrounded, and seemingly with
little chance to escape. A big Gaul had almost struck
him down with a heavy blow on the head, and it seemed
to him he was spinning around like a top. However,
he struck out boldly at the nearest of his enemies, and
by good fortune disarmed him. Taking quick advan-
tage of this, he ran into the man with such force as to
send him sprawling on the ground, while he himself
dashed straight ahead, not knowing where he went.
He was rapidly pursued, but he soon dodged, into the
shadows of a hut, and his pursuers passed by on the
farther side of the house. He stopped and stood close
in a corner, waiting and listening.

The whole place was a tremor with the barking of
dogs, the shouts and swift running of men, the groans
of the wounded, the screaming of women and children,
and a thousand other noises and echoes set flying on
the stillness of the night. Away on the outskirts of
the town, Caius heard the blare of the Roman tuba,
and he knew that a number of the Roman soldiers had
escaped in a body and were calling to any who were lost
or scattered to come to them. Then he heard it more
faintly and he realized that the little band was getting
farther away. But as men were still passing near him,
he feared to stir. So he remained quiet in his place,
waiting for the chase to go by.


Finally, when the noise had nearly subsided and he
was beginning to think of making a run for his life,
he heard men enter the hut, speaking in Gallic. His
hand sought his sword hilt, but it was not there; he
had dropped it in his dash through the line of Gauls.
He was helpless and defenseless. Since he could do
nothing else, he lay still. As he had learned to under-
stand many of the dialects of the Gallic tongue, he
began to listen.

"By Tarann, but we gave them a scare and a chase,
didn't we ?" said one.

"Yes, but this night's work will bring Caesar's army
upon us," said another, whose voice sounded strangely

"No, Caesar will not dare to lead his army this far
into Gaul," said the first speaker. "Even if he should,
did not these Belgian ambassadors who came in during
the night say that the Belgians are just ready to send
an army against Caesar ? and did they not say that all
Gaul has been secretly organized against the Romans ?
and if so be the case, what have we to fear ? If Caesar
should dare to lead his legions all these hundreds of
miles, we should, quicker than the lightning can
flash, cut them in pieces."

Caius listened intently now to this extravagant talk,
all thought of escape forgotten in the hope that he was
learning something of value to Caesar. He knew the
Proconsul was in Cisalpine Gaul, holding his pro-
vincial courts, in the belief that all Gaul had been

"No, you do not know these Romans," urged the
familiar voice. "A defeat stirs them only to more


determined efforts. This town will suffer for this
night's work before Caesar stops, mark me."

"Yes, but I tell you now what we have heretofore
kept secret from you, for our people thought your long
stay in Italy had Romanized you. Listen : all Gaul
has conspired with these Belgians against Rome.
Caesar will speedily be driven from Gaul. We may
even march against great Rome herself and camp on
her hills as did our ancestors under the brave old
Brennus, the greatest leader in the world."

"You need not have feared me," said the familiar
voice. "I was born in this town, a Gaul, and a Gaul I
remain, though Gaul, divided as it always is, has no
chance against the system and unity of Rome. Well,
I see I can't convince you of your folly, and you are
too mean and stingy to bring out your wretched mead
to wet a starving throat. I'll go and get a wink of
sleep before the day comes." And as Caius lay closer
in his corner and watched the man come out, and
swagger away, he recognized old Eredox.

Everywhere, quiet had soon fallen. Then Caius,
gathering up all his courage, slipped quietly along in
the shadows of the houses, taking as near as he could
the direction in which he had heard the Roman tuba.
He had not gone far, before he found himself obliged
to cross a narrow street in order to continue in his
direction. In making a swift dash across in the dark-
ness, he stumbled over a dead body, lost his footing,
and tumbled heavily forward at his length upon the
ground. His hand fell upon a long Gallic sword. He
grasped it gladly, for even as he lay, he saw running
upon him a stout, armed man, as Caius thought, a


Gaul brought from a neighboring house by the noise

of his fall. He leaped quickly up, and thinking it

useless to run, he grasped the sword hilt in both his

hands and swung it at the other's head with all his

might, and so stretched him out on the ground. Then

taking to his heels, he ran

with all his might straight

ahead, he did not know

where nor how far. When

weariness at last forced him

to halt, he was in a forest

of oaks. At the foot of one

of the trees he

fell, gasping

and panting

for breath.

Birds were
the woods
were gray-
ing with the dawn.
The young soldier
had scarcely begun
to breathe with any
ease, when he saw through the dim light, at a little
distance away, a man skulking among the trees as
though he feared to be seen. Caius quickly rolled
behind the trunk of a giant oak, and peered at the
figure, now going past him at half a javelin's cast.
It was Baculus.

Caius leaped up and ran toward the centurion, but
Baculus gave him one wild look, and took to his heels,


making his best efforts to run. However, he moved but
slowly, winding and staggering as he went. Caius
followed more rapidly, calling to him.

"By Hercules, it is Caius," exclaimed he under his
breath, as Caius overtook him, seized his arm, and
whirled him around. "I thought a Gaul or a ghost
had me."

"What are you doing and why do you stagger so,
Baculus ? " asked Caius, in wonder.

"Well, when our little body got away and stopped
in those woods yonder, I found you were among the
missing," explained Baculus. "I feared you were lost
or dead and I went back to that cursed town to look
for you. I sneaked through all the place, hunting, and
just as I found you, and before I could speak, you swung
up your new Gallic sword and gave me a whack over
the head with it. I would have been a dead man had
it not been for my good steel helmet. As it was I lay
senseless for a time, I know not how long. Like a brave
soldier you ran away and left me, and here I am stagger-
ing like a winebibber. But I don't much blame you,
even if you had known it was I whom you swung at
so stoutly," he went on gloomily. "You tried to warn
me and I wouldn't listen. It would have served me
right if a Gaul had split my head with one of those big
long swords. Now I am in a pretty fix to report to
Labienus, and much more to report to Caesar."

Caius now began to understand. It was Baculus he
had struck down when he stumbled over the dead Gaul.
He remembered now that he had vaguely wondered
as he ran why a Gallic helmet of bronze had rung under
his blow like a Roman steel one.


"Well, Baculus," he said, "I am glad we are alive.
True, it was bad enough we were tricked by the towns-
men, and bad enough that we ran like rabbits, and bad
enough that I lost my sword, and worse that in my
fright I tried to kill my best friend. But perhaps you
will agree with me that none of it is as bad as it might
be. Besides, while you thought I was lost, I was hid
by a hut hearing one Gaul tell another of the conspiracy
which is being formed against Caesar." And Caius
briefly related what he had heard.

"By the legion's eagles," exclaimed Baculus.
"Caesar will think it more worth to know this than to
have all the provisions in the whole town. We must
hurry to camp and report this matter to Labienus."
And even as he spoke he led Caius away, down a narrow
hollow between the hills, and soon they came to where
a sorry remnant of the legionaries were awaiting the
return of Baculus.

Caius recognized his old friend, the merchant Matho,
sitting somewhat apart from the soldiers, with gloomy
downcast visage.

"I have lost all my goods and wagons, friend Caius,"
he exclaimed in reply to the inquiring look of the young
soldier. "And I am now an old man. I shall starve
in my age and helplessness." And he began to be-
moan his fortune.

"Never mind, my good fellow," said Baculus. " You
will never be the worse. Come now, and bethink
yourself. Is there not some near route by which we
may reach the camp of Labienus ?"

There was, and guided by the old merchant, the lit-
tle party set off at once, traveling at their best speed.

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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 7 of 16)