A. C. (Albert Carlton) Whitehead.

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

. (page 9 of 16)
Online LibraryA. C. (Albert Carlton) WhiteheadThe standard bearer : a story of army life in the time of Caesar → online text (page 9 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


tion here to show the Roman nobles the importance of
the country and the real value of the victories Caesar
was winning in Gaul. Every one knew in a general
way that Caesar was here to meet the rich Crassus
and the famous Pompey, relative to some important
step that meant much to Rome. But neither Caius
nor those to whom he listened knew what or how.

Caius found that he had an hour before the time at
which he was to go to Caesar's quarters. As he was
already acquainted with such sights as he saw in the
forum, he wearied of them and pushed his way down
one of the streets. He had gone some distance when
he found that he had passed out of the crowd and was
in a part of the town where but few people were to be
seen. He had barely realized this when from behind
him he heard a scream and a clatter of hoofs. He
whirled and saw a pair of maddened horses dashing
down the street in his direction, while the chariot to
which they were attached rattled wildly behind them.
Boys yelled and dogs barked, and thus the animals'
fright was increased.

Just as the young soldier was stepping aside to be
well out of the way, he saw the face of a girl rise above



THE STANDARD BEARER CARRIES A MESSAGE



/



the side of the chariot. She was making a wild effort
to clutch the dragging reins. In a flash he saw that she
was helpless and likely to be killed. Just at that

moment, a baker ran from his
shop, and attempted to stop the
horses, but succeeded only in
scaring them to the opposite
side of the street. Caius saw
that a few steps further and the
chariot must be dashed against
the jutting corner of a house.
With a great bound, he sprang
out and grasped the reins and
the mane of one of the ani-
mals. He
was con-
scious of be-
ing knocked
and bruised
and finally
of a stop.
And then
he knew no
more.

When he
came to his
senses, he
lay on a
couch in a

rich apartment. He began to speak, but he was
checked by a hand gently laid on his mouth. As he
opened his eyes, he saw the face of the girl who had




152 THE STANDARD BEARER

been in the chariot. She was rather tall, had brown
eyes of wondrous luster, a tender mouth with full lips,
glossy black hair, and a complexion of that transparent
darkness which is lighter than any fairness. She
seemed kind, yet her features and expression were
withal haughty and dignified.

"The surgeon says you are only stunned a little
and will be able to walk in a short time," she said.
"My name is Trebonia. I am sure you saved my life.
A crowd of rollicking, roistering, young patricians
here from Rome stopped my chariot, and tried to kiss
me. I begged them to let me go, but they would not.
Before they knew what I was about, I slashed the
horse and he dashed away and ran over one or two of
them. But I got part of a bad bargain, for my driver
fell out and dropped the reins on the ground. And
that is how you came to save my life. I thank you,
and my father will thank you, too."

"That is strange," said Caius. "Are young men
allowed to loiter about the streets of Roman towns and
attack women and girls in that manner?"

"Why, that is their most choice amusement,"
laughed the girl. "Even at Rome, the young nobles
consider it fair sport to disguise themselves and go
about the streets, especially at night, overturning the
chairs of unarmed men, kissing the women, and some-
times even carrying them away."

Just then Trebonius, the tribune whom he had met
shortly before, entered the apartment.

"Welcome, my young soldier friend," he said. "I
had no dream of so soon having the honor of entertain-
ing you. I am also indebted to you for saving my



THE STANDARD BEARER CARRIES A MESSAGE 153

daughter's life. I pray you will rest quietly at this
house till you are recovered/'

"I give you thanks, sir, but I can decide nothing
until I see Caesar. I fear it is already past the time at
which I was to go to Caesar's," replied Caius. "I
must go at once."

"I shall be glad to send you to Caesar," said Tre-
bonius. It was so arranged, and as Caius passed out,
he saw the girl in the atrium. And she smiled on the
tall young soldier with something more than gratitude.

When he entered the room where Caesar was, the
Proconsul greeted him heartily. "How have you fared
in Gaul since going into winter quarters ? "

"I have been well, and I hope you have been also,"
replied Caius. "But I have just now had a hurt that
has kept me from coming to you as soon as I ought.
I beg your forgiveness for the delay."

"You are forgiven, Caius," said he. "I hope your
hurt was not serious."

"Not at all serious," said Caius. "I am well even
now. I was stunned and knocked senseless by a
running horse. I was carried to the house of the
tribune Trebonius, and he sent me here after my senses
returned. I am quite over it."

"That is fortunate," returned Caesar. "You are
also fortunate to be here at this time. You may see
something of the people and the customs of our great
city, Rome. You may see senators, quaestors, praetors,
knights, lictors, and what not. It is all very different
from our camp life in Gaul. I have seen very little of
the like myself for the past few years. By the way,
Trebonius has a beautiful daughter. A marriage with



154 THE STANDARD BEARER

her might be a wise thing, as the family is influential
at Rome. Did you see her ? "

"I saw her, but I do not yet think of a marriage,"
replied Caius. "But I thank you for your thought
of me."

"Well, perhaps you will see more of Trebonia,"
continued the Proconsul. "Her father is not now a
tribune. But he loves power and appearance, and so
keeps up the guise of a tribune. He will perhaps go to
Gaul with me as a lieutenant."

Caius made no answer.

"Perhaps you would be interested to see Rome
itself while you are so near it," Caesar continued. "Or
perhaps you would like to visit your mother."

Then a great longing came into the youth's heart,
and the desire to go home shone clear on his face for
a moment.

But he restrained his feelings, and answered: "No;
I shall not go. My future lies in Gaul."



CHAPTER II
THE STANDARD BEARER HAS A GOOD SUPPER

CAIUS was to wait two days at Luca to rest. On the
night of the second day, Caesar furnished a great feast
for such Romans of note or importance as were in the
town. Caius was bidden by Caesar. "You may see
something of the customs of the city," he said to the
youth. "Besides, you may see Trebonia's bright eyes
again."

Caius flushed, for the beauty of the girl had appealed
to him, and, too, she had been kind when he was hurt.
So he found himself eager to attend the feast.

When he arrived, he entered the great hall of the
house. In the crowd gathered there, he saw Lanius
talking with Trebonia, but she seemed anxious to
leave him.

"Why, here is my rescuer," she cried when she saw
Caius. She immediately turned away from Lanius to
him. "I am so glad to see you. I feared you had
gone back to fight those horrible Gauls. Come,
Caesar has promised that you shall recline at the feast
with me. You shall tell me many stories of your
heroic deeds."

She laughed with unfeigned gladness, and Caius
followed her to the large hall in the second story of
the house.

Caesar had invited many guests, and, in order to have



156



THE STANDARD BEARER



room, the tables had been placed about all sides of
the apartment except one. Already many persons
were in their places. Caesar himself reclined at the
head of the tables, and on the same couch with him




were Pompey and Crassus. A number of Roman
senators and lesser dignitaries were present. Some
of them had brought their wives and daughters with
them from Rome.



THE STANDARD BEARER HAS A GOOD SUPPER 157

To the eyes of Caius, accustomed only to the rude
camp and the army, the noble-looking men and the
beautiful women, in the bright lights of the richly
furnished room, seemed a picture of unsurpassable
splendor. He was half bewildered, and scarcely knew
what to do. But Trebonia, still talking, led him to the
couch to which they had been appointed.

"Welcome, Caius/' called Caesar from his place.
"This looks little enough like the meals we bolt in our
tents in Gaul. Take your place with fair Trebonia,
and may you feast with gladness, and forget the hard-
ships of our camp life."

A quick glance at the Proconsul showed the young
soldier the position he must take on the couch. He
reclined at its head on the left side with his shoulders
raised on his left arm and supported by great cushions
of feathers. On the same couch, Trebonia reclined in
such manner that her head was even with his breast,
and her shoulders were also supported by cushions.

"Who is that slant-headed man over there on the
other side of the room opposite us ?" whispered Tre-
bonia as they bathed their hands in the basins brought
by a servant. "I do believe he is one of the ruffians
who attacked my chariot yesterday."

"That is Lanius, one of Caesar's followers in Gaul,"
answered Caius. "I saw you talk with him. I
thought you knew him."

"I do not," she said. "He was speaking with me
when you came, but I do not know him. He is an im-
pudent man."

But now slaves were passing and placing on the head
of each guest a garland of roses and lilies, and close



158 THE STANDARD BEARER

behind them others followed, anointing their heads with
sweet-smelling spikenard, while the soft strains of
flutes floated into the room.

"Let us pray the gods, friends," said Caesar. "It
is not fit that we should forget the gods of our fathers."
And he poured out a libation of rich Falernian wine on
the tesselated floor, and called briefly on the gods of
Rome to grant joy, protection, and guidance.

Meanwhile, the senator Coelius, on a couch near to
that of Caius and Trebonia, was muttering to himself.
"Little it is that Caesar believes in the old gods of
Rome or any other gods but himself. I wish I could
see which is to be the stronger, he or this Pompey who
looks so solemn and great. I believe that Caesar means
to make Trebonius one of his lieutenants. I have
asked for the same office."

But just then the libations and prayers were ended,
silence ensued for a moment, and Coelius was near to
being left talking alone.

"He is very jealous of my father," whispered Tre-
bonia, in explanation to Caius. "He now fears my
father is to be given an office in Gaul which he desires
for himself. That is well enough, but it is strange he
can never learn that he cannot by any means ever be
the equal of Trebonius."

The slaves now brought food. Eggs and sweetened
wine were served, and all appetites were sharpened
except those of Caius and Trebonia. They seemed
pleased only when they looked into each other's eyes.

Then peacocks, pheasants, guinea hens, thrushes,
and sausages were served in leisurely succession.
Next, a great boar stuffed with a seasoned mixture



THE STANDARD BEARER HAS A GOOD SUPPER 159

of other meats and roasted whole, was brought in.
The guests ate and drank and grew hilarious.

But Caius heard only snatches of the talk of Caesar,
Pompey, Crassus, and others of the senators and
officials. He listened only to Trebonia, and forgot
Gaul, and battles, and Caesar, too, until she spoke of him.

"Your Proconsul, Caesar, must be the greatest Roman
alive," she said, after a time. "Why, the senate has
decreed two great thanksgivings at Rome in honor of
the victories he has won in Gaul. One of fifteen days,
and one of twenty days. Such great honor was never
voted any Roman before. But I was glad, for every-
body forgave each other after the manner of thanks-
giving times. Why, Crispilla, one of my friends who
had a grudge against Publia for having brighter eyes
than herself, forgave her the crime. And would you
believe it ? She even kissed her at one of the great
festivals and continued her forgiveness for a full week
after the thanksgiving was over. Don't you think
that remarkable ?"

"I do not know," answered Caius, awkwardly. "I
know little of such things. Tell me more of the thanks-
givings and what is done at Rome."

"I will if you wish it," she said. "But first I wish
you would make your friend, or Caesar's, that Lanius,
leave off staring so hard at me. It frightens me."

Caius had been oblivious of the look of hate and envy
Lanius was darting upon them, but now he perceived
it. With a flush of long-repressed anger against him,
Caius, forgetful of all else, started up with the half-
formed intention of choking his enemy. But Trebonia
pulled him back.



160 THE STANDARD BEARER

"Come," she said. "I was only joking. Now see
what you have done ! You have upset a dish of your
bread, and it has fallen on the floor."

"Sweep the floor here, slave," called Caius. "My
bread has fallen on it.'

"No, no, you must not do that," cried Trebonia.
"That would bring you ill luck, don't you know it ?
I will pick it up and place it on the table, and you must
not brush those crumbs away, else you will offend the
household deities."

Caius fumbled awkwardly, forgetful of all omens he
had ever known.

"Come, get that savage frown off your face,"
she pleaded with mock severity. "I was only teasing.
I do not wish that poor man who stares so to be killed.
Anyway, he smiles and laughs, now. I believe he is
not dangerous."

And Caius was enraged almost beyond endurance
to see that Lanius smiled and talked with his com-
panions, while they looked meaningly in his direction,
evidently highly amused.

"Listen now," he heard Trebonia saying. "I will
tell you of the great thanksgivings at Rome. The
images of all the gods are crowned with garlands of
the most beautiful flowers and their heads are anointed
with richest perfumes. Their altars are wreathed with
laurel, olive, and myrtle. All the temples are thrown
open, and the prisons are emptied and the prisoners
go free and glad. No work is done, every house in the
city is thrown open, food and wine are given in plenty
to all comers, law courts are closed, and all give thanks
to the gods. Great bands of beautiful boys and



THE STANDARD BEARER HAS A GOOD SUPPER l6l

maidens wreathed with flowers march and sing and
dance in the streets. Oh ! it is all so pretty and sweet.
I wish you could see Rome at a thanksgiving. But I
am sure you will, for, of course, you mean to come
to Rome when Caesar has his triumph. That is the
greatest time. I have heard my mother tell of see-
ing triumphs. Will you not come then, Caius ?"

" Yes, I will," said Caius, with emphasis. Influenced
by the scene, the wine, Trebonia's eyes and beauty,
the description she had given, he was ready to promise
her anything. And thus she talked and smiled, and
Caius looked and listened, and grew more and more
forgetful of all else save Trebonia.

But now the slaves brought huge baskets of fruits.

"Oh, I am so sorry," cried Trebonia. "Here come
the apples, and that is the last of the feast. We have
gone from the egg to the apple. Be careful, now, and
do not rise from the table till all have finished. That is
a bad omen and might cause your departure from life.
I will burn the bread you dropped in order to propi-
tiate the gods of this household, so that you may not
come by ill luck in that way."

The flute players now struck a more lively air, and
the players and buffoons who had been busy during
the meal endeavored to outdo all their previous efforts.
But even now Caius and Trebonia were oblivious to
the entertainments and could only talk and look at
each other. At a signal from Caesar, all rose from the
table together, and began to pass from the room.

"Farewell, Caius," said the girl, in low pleading
tones. "Won't you come to Rome, some time ?"

"Yes, if you say for me to come, I will do so."



l62 THE STANDARD BEARER

"Come soon then," she said, and she was gone.

Left standing alone, forgetful of everything save. the
girl and what she had said and looked, Caius was re-
called to himself by a hand laid on his shoulder. "I
do believe my little hint is being taken in earnest,"
said Caesar. "Well, she is a beautiful girl, and she
would give you influence at Rome if you claimed her
as your wife. I shall ask Trebonius to become my
lieutenant in Gaul, and perhaps you may see her again
before long. But enough of that for the present. Take
some rest now, for at daylight I wish you to be at my
tent with your attendants, ready to set out on the
return to Gaul with dispatches for Labienus."

As Caius passed along a dark and deserted street
on his way to his lodging, two men sprang out upon
him. But just at that moment a window above them
was opened, letting out a dim light and a flood of slops
from a barrel in the hands of the occupants of the
house. He had barely braced himself, ready to fight,
when his attackers were overwhelmed with the thick
mass of ill-smelling stuff, so that though the light fell
full upon them, they were so besmirched, that he could
not clearly recognize either of them as they stumbled
blindly away, snorting and blowing their noses and
cursing their dirty luck.

"It is fortunate for me that the people of the city
empty their house slops in the streets," he said. "But
unfortunate that they poured it on so thick that I
could not tell who were my friends."

Nevertheless, he had a shrewd guess that he knew
who the two were.

In his quarters, he tried to rest. But as though the



THE STANDARD BEARER HAS A GOOD SUPPER 163

vision of Trebonia lay in his eyes and was too delicious
to close them upon, he slept not a wink. He rolled
from side to side, recalling her every lightest smile,
gesture, or word, living it all over and over again.

At the first light of the day, he set off to bear return
dispatches to Labienus.

On reaching the winter quarters in Gaul, Caius was
surprised to find Titus there. He had grown stouter
and thicker than ever, and his face showed no sign of
his temper having become any the milder.

"How come you here, Titus?" exclaimed Caius.
"Have you left the sheep alone to be lost ?"

"Do you think I intended to stay and watch your
sheep all my days ?" said Titus, doggedly. "I mean to
be a gladiator or a soldier. So here I am. My next
brother, Marcus, is keeping your sheep. He is dumb,
for a wolf once got the first look at him. But he can
guard your sheep as well as I can keep them. Here is
a letter for you."

Caius broke the seal and read, eagerly and hungrily :

Camilla to her son Caius :

I trust that you are well and happy. I and
Simmias and Chloe are well. The sheep and olives have
not prospered, but we have not suffered. Titus grew more
and more restless and wanted to come to ike army. Aid
him to a place in the ranks if you can. His brother keeps
our sheep. I shall hope to see you when you can well be
spared. But I pray you will not let your love for me draw
you away from the army in such a way that you may lose
any opportunity to advance your own fortunes or to retrieve
those of the family. " Come home with your shield or on

STANDARD BEARER II



164 THE STANDARD BEARER

it." Simmias and Chloe beg to be remembered. You
know I love you with all my heart.

Fare thee well.

Trebonius came to the army in Gaul as Caesar's
lieutenant, and Trebonia came with him. Caius saw
her often. And a whole winter had passed before he
ceased to think of her, even when he looked at her
beautiful face. For he had seen that she could be as
kind to others, even to Lanius, as to himself.



CHAPTER III
THE STANDARD BEARER HEARS OF A DISTANT LAND

ALONG a low sandy stretch of beach, facing the ocean,
on a day in the late summer of the fourth year of
Caesar's proconsulship in Gaul, there stood in groups, or




paced singly, numbers of legionaries, centurions, stand-
ard bearers, tribunes, lieutenants, and other officers
of the Proconsul's army. A stiff breeze flapped and

165



l66 THE STANDARD BEARER

fluttered the loose folds of their togas and the crests of
their helmets out to seaward. At the distance of an
arrow's flight, on the high, white-crested waves, rode a
Roman fleet of war vessels, extending for more than a
mile along the shore, in well-ordered rank and file.
The sun was just dropping behind the waves of this
Great Western Sea and tingeing with colors of the rain-
bow the sandy beach, the crashing surf, the fleet, and a
bank of low-lying clouds to the northward. On the
land side, upon the flank of a hill sloping seaward, stood
the friendly ramparts of a strongly entrenched camp
in which lay the Roman army.

In one of the groups on the beach, stood Baculus,
Sannio, Titus, Caius, old Matho, the merchant, and
two or three others more or less bound to them by ties
of friendship.

"I am glad all the baggage is loaded upon those
water traps, though I like not the thought of sea travel,
and much less do I like the idea of sea fighting," said
Baculus, glancing out toward the triremes rising and
falling roughly with the roll of the surf. "I like least
of all this voyage to Britain," he grumbled. "I have
always heard that it is a land of fierce savages, and they
do say that it is clear away on the edge of the world,
where one may drop off and fall down, down, down to
nowhere."

"I have always heard that it is near the land of the
Hyperboreans," said Sannio, "and if that be true, I
have a fear that booty will be scarce, even though we
should conquer them all. Besides, Coprax, my Gallic
slave, told me that his father had once gone to Britain
with a Gallic army. The Britains had many Druids



THE STANDARD BEARER HEARS OF A D^TANT LAND 167

and magicians with them to aid. Just as the Gauls
were ready to land their boats, a great British magician
clad all in white came out from the myriads of: British
warriors on the beach, and with raised hands uttered
a charm, and the whole island of Britain began to shrink
and become less and less till it was no bigger than a
shield. At the same time a great wind sprang up and
drove the Gallic ships far past the island into a great
waste of water where were only waves and big rocks."

"Oh," said Baculus, "do leave off your nonsense.
Who believes such stories ? Why don't you go and
tell Caesar and get him to give up the voyage ?"

"Tell Caesar!" exclaimed Sannio. "No use to tell
him. He believes not even in Jupiter, though he does
sacrifice to the gods. But Sannio believes. I grew up
on a farm in the country and saw many magicians in
Italy when I was but a boy. One night my friend and
I saw two haggard old women who dealt in magic
creep into a cemetery when the moon was new. They
came barefooted, with their robes tucked up, and hair
flying loose in the wind. They began to pick up toe
and knuckle bones, and to pluck poisonous herbs.
Then with their long black nails they clawed a hole in
the ground and tore a black lamb in pieces with their
ugly teeth, while they uttered a charm in their squeaky
voices, and the blood from the lamb flowed into the hole.
Then the manes and the shades of the dead, with chat-
tering cries and gibbering words, gathered around the
women, and the noise was so awful we ran away in



terror."



"I think these stories are all wrong," said the old
merchant. "Men have been wont in all ages to garb



1 68 THE STANDARD BEARER

i

the unknown in fantastic forms. I have never been
in Britain, but Hanno, the Phoenician, whom I see
every year when he comes to Rome to sell the tin he
buyj in Britain, told me he had found them to be,
indeed, savage people, huge in form, fierce in manner,
and wearing scant clothing of skins, but otherwise not
greatly different from these Gauls. He said that they
tattoo themselves and paint strange figures on their
bodies with a blue paint."

"At any rate, I do not like water fighting and un-
known dangers," persisted Baculus. "You all know
I love a tough fight with a bold enemy on land, one that
I can see face to face, and my body bears proof of it,
but this adventure ! Bah ! Just look yonder where
those cliffs come down to the sea ! Those huge white
waves are beating up their sides higher than Caius
could reach with the staff of his eagle. I wonder such
waves have not already sunk these ships. I wonder
more that Caesar should undertake such a chase after
pearls. That is what they say he is after in Britain.
All the pearls might turn to pebbles for what I care."

"Well, Caesar has determined upon this voyage, and
so there!" said Sannio. "He is not likely to make
any change to suit the judgment of the centurion,
Publius Sextius Baculus, or the beliefs of Sannio. As
for me, if any pearls are to be had in Britain, I hope a
few may fall to my lot. They sell well at Rome. But
I am afraid there is not a pearl in the whole land. It


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryA. C. (Albert Carlton) WhiteheadThe standard bearer : a story of army life in the time of Caesar → online text (page 9 of 16)