THE WONDERFUL ADVENTURES
PHRA THE PHOENICIAN.
One day I was sitting in gloomy abstraction in the sunny garden, when,
looking up suddenly, a little maid stood by demurely and somewhat
compassionately regarding me. Grateful just then for any sort of
sympathy, I led her to talk, and presently found, as we thawed into good-
fellowship, drawn together by some mutual attraction; that she was of
British birth, and more -- from my old village! This was bond enough in
my then state; but think how moved and pleased I was when the comely
little damsel laughingly said: "Oh, yes! it is only you Roman lords who
come and go more often than these flowers. We British seldom move; I
and my people have lived yonder on the coast for ages!" So I let my lonely
fancy fill in the blanks, and took the little maid for a kinsman,
and was right glad to know some one in the void world into which four
hundred years' sleep had plunged me.
Strange, too, as you will take it, Numidea, who, now and then, to my mind
was so like the ancestress she knew naught of; Numidea, the slave-girl
who had stood before me by predestined chance in that hour of sorrow --
it was she who directed my destiny and saved and ruined me in this
chapter, just as her mother had done distant life-times before!
Between this fair little friend and my inexhaustible wallet I dried up
grief, and turned idle and reckless in that fascinating town of extravagance
and debauchery. It was not a time to boast much of. 'The degenerate
Romans had lost all their valor and most of their skill in the arts of
government. All their hardihood and strength had sunk under the evil
example of the debased capital by the Tiber; and, though some few
unpopular ones among them railed against the effeminate luxury of the
times, few heeded and none were warned. It shamed me to find that all
these latter-day Romans thought of was silks and linens, front seats at
theater, pageantry and spectacles, trinkets and scouts. It roused my disdain
to see the senators go by with gilded trains of servitors and the young
centurions swagger down the streets i~1 their mock armor -- their toy,
peace-time swords hanging in golden chains from their tender sides, and
the wind warning one of their perfumed presence even before they came
in sight. Such were not the men to win an empire, I thought, or to hold
As for the native British, a modicum of them had dropped the sagum for
the toga, and had put on with it all its vices, but few of its virtues.
witless, vain, incapable medley of arrogant fools never before was seen.
their countrymen they represented themselves as possessed of all the keys
of statecraft and government, stirring them up as far as they durst to
discontent and rebellion, while to their masters they stood acknowledged
sycophants and apes of all the meannesses of a degenerate time. All this
was the more the pity, for magnificent and wide were the evidences of
what Rome had done for Britain during the long years she had held it.
When I slept it was a chaotic wild, peopled by brave but scattered tribes;
when I awoke it was a fair, united realm -- a beautiful territory of fertility,
rich in corn and apple-yards, arteried by smooth white-paved roads and
ruled by half a dozen wonderful capitals, with countless lesser cities,
camps, and villas, wherein modern luxury, like a rampant, beautiful-
flowered parasite, had overgrown, and choked and killed the sturdy stuff
on which it grew.
Well, it is not my province to tell you of these things. The gilded fops
thronged the city ways I soon found were good enough for drinking-
bouts and revelry, and, by all Olympus! my sleep had made me thirsty and
my sorrow full of a moroseness which had to be constantly battened down
under the hatches of an artificial pleasure. All the old cautious, frugal,
merchant spirit had gone, and the Roman Phra, in his gold and turquoise
cincture, his belt full of his outlandish, never-failing coins, was soon
of the town, the life and soul of every reckless bout or folly, the terror
all lictors and honest, benighted citizens.
And, like many another good young man of like inclinations, his exit was
as sudden as his entry! Well I remember that day, when my ivory tablets
were crowded with suggestions for new idleness and vanities, and bore a
dozen or two of merry engagements to plays and processions and
carnivals, and all my new-found world looked like a summer sea of
pleasure. Under these circumstances I went to my hoard one evening, as
had done very often of late, and was somewhat chagrined to discover only
five pieces of money left. However, they were big plump ones, larger than
any I had used before, and, as all those had been good gold, these still
might mean a long spell of frolic for me -- when they were nearly spent
would be time to turn serious.
I at once sat down to rub the general green tint of age from one, noticing
was more verdant than any of its comrades had been, and rubbed with
increasing consternation and alarm moment after moment, until I had
reduced it at last to an ancient British copper token, a base, abominable
thing, not good enough to pitch to a starving beggar!
Another and another was snatched up and chafed, and, as I toiled on by
my little flickering earthen lamp in my bachelor cell, every one of those
traitor coins in an hour had shed its coating of time and turned out under
my disgusted fingers common plebeian metal. There they lay before me at
length, a contemptible five-pence wherewith to carry on a week's
carousing. Five-pence! Why, it was not enough to toss to a noisy beggar
outside the circus -- hardly enough for a drink of detestable British wine,
let alone a draught of the good Italian vintages that I had lately come
look upon as my prerogative. Horrible! and as I gazed at them stolidly,
that melancholy evening, the airy castle of my pleasure crumbled from
base to battlement.
As the result of long cogitation -- knowing the measure of my friends too
well to think of borrowing of them -- I finally
decided to make a retreat, and leave my acquaintance my still unblemished
reputation in pawn for the various little items owing by me. Taking a look
round, to assure myself every one in the house was asleep, I argued that
to-night, though a pauper, I was still of good account, whereas with
daylight I should be a discredited beggar; so that it was, in fact, a
meritorious action to leave my host an old pair of sandals in lieu of a
month's expenses, and drop through the little window into the garden, on
the way to the open world once more. Necessity is ever a sophist.
It is needless to say the gray dawn was not particularly cheerful as I
into the city fosse and struck out for the woods beyond. The fortune which
makes a man one day a gentleman of means and the next a mendicant is
more pleasant to hear of when it has befallen one's friends than to feel
first-hand. It was only the fear of the detestable city jail and the
abominable provender there, added to the ridicule of my friends, perhaps,
that sent me, scripless, thus afield. Gray as the prospect ahead might
behind it was black; so I plodded on, with my spear for a staff and
melancholy for a companion.
The leafy shades reached in an hour or so invited rest, and in their
seclusion an idle spell was spent watching through the green frame of
branches the fair, careless city below wake to new luxurious life; watching
the blue smoke rise from the temple court-yards, and the pigeons circling
up into the sky, and the glitter of the sun on the legionaries' arms as
wheeled and formed and reformed in the open ground beyond the
prefect's house. Oh, yes! I knew it all! And how pleasantly the water
spluttered in the marble baths after those dusty exercises; and how heavy
the lightest armor was after such nights as I and those jolly ones down
there were accustomed to spend! As I, breakfastless, leaned upon the top
of my staff, I recalled the good red wine from my host's coolest cellars
the hot bread from slaves' ovens in the street, and how pleasant it was
lie in silk and sandals, and drink and laugh in the shade and stare after
comely British maids, and lay out in those idle sunny hours the fabrics
fun and mirth.
On again, and by midday a valley opened before me, and at the head, a
mile or so from the river, was a very stately white villa. Thither, out
curiosity, my steps were turned, and I descended upon that lordly abode
by coppices, ferny brakes, and pastures, until one brambly field alone
separated us. An ordinary being whom the fates had not set themselves to
forever in their immortal hands would have gone round this inclosure, and
so taken the uneventful pathway, but not so I; I must needs cross the
brambles, and thus bring down fresh ventures on my head. In the midst of
the inclosure was an oak, and under the oak five or six white cows with
massive bull of the fierce old British breed. This animal resented my
trespass, and, shaking his head angrily as I advanced, he came after me
trot when half-way across. Now, a good soldier knows when to run no
less that when to stand, and so my best foot was put forth in the direction
of the house, and I presently slipped through a hole in the fence directly
into the trim gay garden of the villa itself.
So hasty was my entry that I nearly ran into a stately procession
approaching down one of the well-kept terraces intersecting the grounds;
a seneschal and a butler, a gorgeously arrayed mercenary or two, men and
damsels in waiting, all this lordly array attending a litter borne by two
negro slaves, whereon, with a languidness like that of convalescence,
belied, however, by the bloom of excellent health and the tokens of robust
grace in the every limb, reclined a handsome Roman lady. There was
hardly time to take all this in at a glance, when the gorgeous attendants
up a shout of consternation and alarm, and glancing over my shoulder to
see the cause, there was that resentful bull bursting the hedge a scanty
twenty paces away, with vindictive purpose in his widespread nostrils and
Down went the seneschal's staff of office, down went the base
mercenaries' gilded shields; the butler threw the dish of grapes he was
carrying for his lady's refreshment into the bushes; the waiting-maids
dropped their fans, and, shrieking, joined the general rout. Worse than
those base villains, the littermen, slipped their leather straps and in
general panic dropped the litter, and left to her fate that mistress who,
her sandaled feet wrapped in silks and spangled linens, struggled in vain
rise. There was no time for fear. I turned, and as the bull came down upon
us two in a snorting avalanche of white hide and sinew, I gave him the
spear, driving it home with all my strength just in front of the ample
shoulder as he lowered his head. The strong seven-foot haft of ash as thick
as a man's wrist bent between us like a green hazel wand, and then burst
into splinters right up to my grasp. The next moment I was hurled
backward, crashing into the flowers and trim parterres as though it were
by the fist of Jove himself I had been struck. Hardly touching the ground,
was up again, my short sword drawn and ready as ever --
though the gay world swam before me -- to kill or to be killed.
It was not necessary. There had been few truer or more forceful spears
than mine in the old times; and there lay the great white monster on his
side in a crimson pool of blood, essaying in vain to lift his head, and
in mighty tremors all among the pretty things the servants had thrown
down. The gush of red blood from his chest was wetting even the silken
fringes of the comely dame's skirts and wrappings, while she, now at last
on her feet, frowned down on him with angry triumph rather than fear in
Though there was hardly a change of color on her face or a tremor in the
voice with which she thanked me, yet I somehow felt her ladyship was in
fine passion behind that disdainful mask. But whether it were so or not,
she was civil enough to me, personally evincing a condescending interest
in the trifling wound that was staining my bare right arm with crimson,
and sending her "good youth" away in a minute or two to the house to get
it bound. As I turned to go the stately lady gathered up tunic folds and
skirts in her white fist and moved down upon the group of trembling
servants who were gathering their wits together slowly under the nervous
encouragement of the seneschal. What she said to them I know not, but,
ever the countenances of men truly reflected their sensations, her brief
fierce whispers must have been exceedingly unpleasant to listen to.
The damsel who bound the scratch upon my shoulder told me something
of this beautiful and wealthy dame. But, in truth, when she called her
Electra I needed to hear little more. It was a name that had circulated
in the city yonder, and especially when wine was sparkling best and
tongues at lightest! I knew without asking the lady was niece to an
emperor, and was reputed as haughty and cruel as though she had been
one of the worst herself; I knew her lawful spouse was away, like most
Romans, from his duty just then, and she stood in his place to tyrannize
over the British peasants and sweep the taxes into his insatiate coffers.
knew, too, why Rome was forbidden for a time to the vivacious lady, as
well as some stories, best untold, of how she enlivened the tedium of her
exile in these "savage" places.
In fact, I knew I had fallen into the gilded hold of a magnificent outlaw,
of the worst productions of a debased and sinking state, and, being
wayward by predestination, I determined to play with the she-wolf in her
No fancy of mine is so rash but that Fate will countersign.
it. When Electra sent for me presently in the great hall where the fountains
played into basins of rosy marble, it was to inform me that the destruction
of the bull, and my bearing thereat, had caught her fancy, and I was to
"consider myself for the present in her private service, and attached to
body-guard." This decision was announced with an easy imperialness
which seemed to ignore all suggestion of opposition -- a suavity
Juno might use in directing the most timorous of servitors -- so, as my
wishes ran in unison, I bowed my thanks, and kissed the fringe of my
ladyship's cloak, and thought, as she lay there before me on her silken
couch in the tessellated hall of her stately home, that I had never before
seen so beautiful or dangerous-looking a creature.
Nor had I long to wait for a sight of the vice-prefect's talons. While
asked me of my history, the which I made up as I told it (and, having once
thus balked the truth, never afterward told her the real facts), a messenger
came, and, standing at a respectful distance, saluted his mistress.
"Ah!" she said, with a pretty look of interest in her face and rising on
elbow, "are they dead?"
"One is, Madame," the man responded; "one of your bearers fled, but the
other we secured. We took him into the field and tied him, as your
ladyship directed, to the horns of the strongest white cow. She dragged
him here and there, and gored him for full ten minutes before he died --
and now all that remains of him," with a wave of the hand toward the
vestibule, "most respectfully awaits your ladyship's inspection in the
-- and the messenger bowed low.
"It is well. Fling the dog into a ditch -- and my friend -- let my brave
henchmen know if they do not lay hands on the other villain before sunset
to-morrow, I shall come to them for a substitute."
The successful termination of this episode seemed to relieve my new
"Ah! my excellent soldier," she said, with a pretty sigh, "you can not
conceive what a vexation my servants are to me, or how rebellious and
unruly. Would there were but a man here, such as yourself, for instance,
protect and soften a lonely matron's exile."
This was very flattering to my vanity, more especially as it was
accompanied by a gracious look with more of condescension in it than I
fancied usually fell to the lot of those who met her handsome eyes. In
circumstances, under a lordly roof and careless again of to-morrow, a new
spell of experience was commenced in the Roman villa, and I learned
much of the ways of corrupt Roman government and a luxurious society
there which might amuse you were it not all too long to set down. For a
time, when her ladyship gave, as was her frequent pleasure, gorgeous
dinners, and all the statesmen and soldiers of the neighboring towns came
in to sup with her, I pleaded one thing and another in excuse for absence
from the places where I must have met many too well known before. But
Electra, as the time went on, was proud of her handsome, stalwart
centurion, and advanced me quicker than my modest ambition could
demand, clothed me in the gorgeous livery of her household troops, raised
me to the chief command, and finally, one evening, sat me at her side on
her own silken couch before all the lords and senators, and, deriding their
surprise and covert sarcasm, proclaimed me first favorite there with royal
Did I but say Electra was proud of her new find? Much better had it been
simply so; but she was not accustomed to moderation in any matters, and
perhaps my cold indifference to her overwhelming attractions, when all
else fawned for an indulgent look, excited her fiery thirst of dominion.
this as it may, no very long time after my arrival it was palpable her
manner was changing; and as the days went by, and she would have me
sit on the tiger-skin at her knee, a second Antony to this British Cleopatra,
telling wonderful tales of war and woodcraft, I presently found the
unmistakable light of awakening love shining through her ladyship's half-
shut lids. Many and many a time before and since has that beacon been
lighted for me in eyes of every complexion -- it makes me sad to think
how well I know that gentle gleam -- but never in all my life did I
experience anything like the concentrated fire that burned silently but
more strongly day by day in those black Roman eyes.
I would not be warned. More; I took a lawless delight in covertly piling
material and leading that reckless dame, who had used and spurned a
score of gallant soldiers or great senators according to her idle fancy,
pour out her over-ample affection on me, the penniless adventurer. And,
like one who fans a spark among combustible material, the blaze that
resulted was near my undoing.
The more dense I was to her increasing love, the more she suffered. Truly,
it was pitiful to see her who was so little accustomed to know any other
will, thwarted by so fine an agency -- to see her imperialness strain and
at the silken meshes of love, and fume to have me know; and answer to
her meaning yet fear to tell it, and at times be timorous to speak
and at others start up palely wrathful that she could not order in this
as elsewhere. Indeed, my lady was in a bad way, and now she would be
fierce and sullen and anon gracious and melancholy. In the latter mood
said one day as I sat by her bisellium:
"I am ill and pale, my centurion; I wonder you have not noticed it."
"Perhaps, madame," I said, with the distant respect that galled her so
"perhaps your ladyship's supper last night was overlarge and late -- and
those lampreys, I warned you against them that third time."
"Gross! Material!" exclaimed Electra, frowning blackly. "Guess again --
finer malady -- a subtler pain."
"Then, may be the valley air affects my lady's liver, or rheumatism,
perhaps, exacts a penalty for some twilight rambles."
Such banter as this, and more, was all the harder to bear since she could
not revenge it. I was sorry for the tyrantess, for she was wonderfully
attractive thus pensive-wise, and woefully in earnest as she turned away
the painted walls and sighed to herself.
"Fy! to be thus withstood by a fameless mercenary. Why must I thus,
unaccustomed, sue this one -- the least worthy of them all -- and lavish
his dull, plebeian ears the sighs that many another would give a province
or two to hear? -- I, who have slighted the homage of silk and scarlet,
imperial purple even. Lucullus was not half so dull -- or Palladius, or
Decius; and that last of many others, my witty Publius Torquatus, would
have diagnosed my disease and prescribed for it all in one whisper."
Poor lady! It was not within me -- though she did not know it to hold out
for long against the sunshine and storm of her impetuous nature. Neither
her abominable cruelties nor her reckless rapacity could suffice to dim
attractions -- many a time since, when that comely personage has been as
clearly wiped from the page of life, as utterly obliterated from the earth
the very mound of her final resting-place, have I regretted that she was
not born to better days, and then, perchance, her fine material might have
been run into a nobler mold.
She was jealous, too, and it came about in this way. Very soon after I
taken service with her, whom should I espy, one morning, feeding the
golden pheasants outside the veranda, but my little friend Numidea. Often
I had thought of that maid, and determined to discover that " big house"
she had told me she was bondwoman, and the "great lady" who sent her
tripping long journeys into the town for the powders and silk stuffs none
could better choose. And now, here she was on my path again, a roof-
mate by strange chance, with her graceful tender figure and her dainty
ways, and that chronic friendly smile upon her mouth that brought such
strange fancies to my mind every time I looked upon it. Of course, I
befriended the maid as though she were my own little one, not so many
times removed, and equally, of course, Lady Electra noticed and misread
our friendship. Poor Numidea! she had a hard life before I came, and a
harder, perhaps, afterward. You compassionate moderns will wonder
when I tell you that Numidea has shown me her white silk shoulders laced
with the red scars of old floggings laid on by Electra herself, and the
spotted dimples here and there where that imperious dame had thrust, for
some trivial offense, a golden bodkin from her hair deep into that innocent
flesh. No one knew better than my noble mistress how to give acute
torture to a slave without depreciating the market price of her property.
But when I became of more weight -- when, in brief, my comely tigress
was too fast bound to be dangerous -- I spoke up, and Electra grew to be
jealous, and to hate the small Christian slave-girl with all the unruly
strength that marked her other passions.
Thus one day, having discovered Numidea weeping over a new-made
wound, I sought out the offender, and as she sauntered up and down her
tessellated pavements, I shook my fist at her queenship, and said:
"By the bright flame of Vesta, Lady Electra, and by every deity, old or
in the endless capacity of the skies, if you get out your abominable flail
that girl again, or draw but once upon her one of your accursed bodkins,
will -- marry her among the smoking ruins of this white sty of yours!"
When I spoke to her thus under the lash of my anger, she would uprise to
the topmost reach of her height, and thence, frowning down upon me, her
shapely head tossed back and her draperies falling from her crossed arms
and ample shoulders to the marble floor, she would regard me with an
imperious stare that might have withered an ordinary mortal. So beautiful
and statuesque was her ladyship on these occasions, towering there in her
own white hall like an image of an offended Juno in the first flush of
queenly wrath, that even I would involuntarily step back a pace. But I
not lower or drop my eyes, and, when we had glowered at each
other so for a minute or two, the royal instinct within her was no match
for traitor Love. Slowly then the woman would come welling into her
proud face, and the glow of anger gave way upon her cheeks; her arms
dropped by her sides; she shrunk to mortal proportions, and, lastly, sunk
on the ebony and ivory couch in a wild gust of weeping, woefully asking
to know, as I turned upon my heels, why the slave's trivial scars were
more to me than the mistress's tears.
My vice-prefect was avaricious, too. There was, stored in the spacious
hollows below her villa, I know not how much bronze and gold squeezed
from those reluctant British hinds whose old-world huts cluster together
the oak clumps dotting the fertile vales as far as the eye could see from
roof-ledges on every hand. Had all the offices of the imperial government
been kept as she kept her duties of tax-collecting, the great empire would
have been further by many a long year from its ruin. And the closer
Electra made her accounts, the more deadly became her exactions, the
more angry and rebellious grew the natives round us.
Already they had heard whispers of how hard barbarians were pressing
upon Rome, day by day they saw Britain depleted of the stalwart
legionaries who had occupied the land four hundred years, and as phalanx
after phalanx went south through Gaul to protect the mother city on the
Tiber, their demagogues secretly stirred the people up to ambition and
Nor can it be denied the villains had something to grumble for. Society
was dissolute and debased, while the country was full of those who made
the good Roman name a byword. The British peasant had to toil and sweat
that a hundred tyrants, the rank production of social decay, might
squander and parade in the luxury and finery his labors purchased. Added
to this, the pressing needs of the emperor himself demanded the services
of those who had taken upon themselves for centuries the protection of
the country. As they retired, northern rovers, at first fitfully, but afterward
with increasing rigor, came down upon the unguarded coasts, and, sailing
up the estuaries, harried the rich English vales on either side, and rioted
amid the accumulated splendor and plenty of the luckless land to their
Saddled thus with the weight of luxurious conquerors who had lost nearly
every art but that of extortion, miserable at home and devastated from
abroad, who can wonder that the British longed to throw off the Roman
yoke and breathe the fresher air of a wholesome life again? And as the
the imperial wings was withdrawn from them their hopes ripened; they
thought they were strong and ruleworthy. Fatal mistake! I saw it bud, and
I saw it bitterly fruitful.
If you turn back the pages of history you will find these hinds did indeed
make a stand for a moment, and, when Honorius had withdrawn his last
legionaries and given the islanders their liberty, for a few brief years
was a shepherd government here -- the British ruled again in Britain. Then
came the next strong tide of northern invasion, and another conquest.
I well remember how, in the throes of the first great change that heralded
a new era in Britain, the herdsmen and serfs were crushed between
waning Roman terrors, such as Electra wielded, and the growing horrors
of the Northmen.
Of these latter I saw something. On one occasion, when the storm was
brewing, I was away down in the coast provinces hunting wolves, and
thus, by chance, fell in with a "sea-king's" foray and a British reprisal.
that occasion the spoilers were spoiled, and we taught the northern
ravishers a lesson which, had they been more united, so that such a blow
might have been better felt by the whole, would have damped their ardor
for a long time. As it was, to rout and destroy their scattered parties
but like mopping up the advancing tide of those salt waves that brought
them on us.
Those down there by the Kentish shore had been unmolested for some
years; they had lived at their leisure, had got their harvests in, had
their villages out in the open, and set up forges and hammered spearheads
and bosses, rings for the women, of silver and brass, and chains and
furniture for their horses, of gold, shearing their flocks, and living
though such things as Norsemen were not -- when one day the infliction
came upon them again.
t was a gusty morning in early summer -- I remember it well -- and most
of the men were from the villages hunting, when, away toward the coast
went up to the brightening sky a thin curl of smoke, followed by another
and another. The sight was understood only too well. Line after line crept
up, in the silence of the morning, over the green tree-tops and against
gray of the sea, while groups of black figures (flying villagers we knew
them to be) went now and then over the sky-line of the wolds into the
security of the valleys to right and left. As the wail went up from the
where I rested, a mounted chief, his toes in the iron rings of his stirrups
and his wolfskins flying from his bare shoulders, came pounding
through the woods with the bad news that the raiders were close behind.
Rapid packing was a great feminine accomplishment in those days, and,
while the women swept their children and more portable valuables into
their cloths and disappeared into the forest, we sent the quick-footed
youths that were with us to call back the hunters, and made our first stand
there round the huts and mounds of the old village of Caen Edron.
And we kept its thatch and chattels inviolate, for, by this time, the country-
side was all in arms, and, as the sea was far behind them, the despoilers
showed themselves on the fringe of the open, exchanged a javelin or two,
Hot on their track that morning of vengeance we went after them; over
the scrubby open ground and down through the tangles of oak and hazel.
We pressed them back past the charred and smoking remnants of the
villages they had burned, back by the streams that still ran streaky in
places with blood, back down the red path of ruin and savagery they had
trodden, back by the cruel finger-posts of dead women, back by the
halting-places of the ravishers -- ever drawing new recruits and courage
we outnumbered them by six to one -- and thus we trampled that day on
the heels of those laden pirates from the valley-head down to the shore.
It was a time of vengeance, and our women and children crowded, singing
and screaming, after us to kill and torture the wounded. Every now and
then those surly spoilers turned, and we fled before them as the dogs fly
from a big boar who goes to bay; but each time we came on again, and
their standing-places by the coverts and under the lichened rocks were
littered with dead, and all bestrewn amid the ferns in the pink morning
light were the glittering spoil they disgorged. Truly that was all hour
victory, and the Britons were drunk with success. They followed like
starving wolves after a herd of deer, leaping from rock to rock, crowding
every point of vantage, and running and yelling through the underwood
until surely the Northmen must have thought the place in possession of
legion of devils.
But all this noise was as nothing to the frightful yell of savage joy which
went up from us when we saw the raiders draw together on the shingle
ridge of the beach and knew instinctively, by their pale, tideward faces
hesitation, that they were trapped -- the sea was out, and their ships
high and dry!
Somehow, I scarcely know how it was, when those men turned, grimly,
and prepared to make their last stand under
their ships, a strange silence fell upon both hands, and for a minute or
the long, wild rank of our warriors halted at the bottom of the slope,
man silent and dumb by a strange accord, while opposite, against the sky-
line, were the mighty Norsemen clustered together, and looking down
with fierce, sullen brows, equally silent and expectant, while the sun
on their rustling arms and tall peaked casques.
We stood thus a minute or two, and I heard the thumpings of my heart,
like an echo of the low wash of the far-away sea -- a plover piping
overhead, and a raven croaking on the distant hills, but not another sound
until -- suddenly some British women, who had come red-handed to a
mound behind, broke out into a wild war-song. Then the spell was loosed,
and we were again at them, sweeping the sea-kings from the ridge into the
tangle of long grass and sand and stunted bushes that led to the shore,
there, separated, but dying stubbornly, powerless against our numbers,
we pulled them down, and killed them one by one, lopping their armor
from them and stripping their clothes, till the pleasant lichen alleys
sea-shore wood and the green footways of the moss were stamped full of
crimson puddles and littered with the naked bodies of those tawny giants.
The last man to fall was a chief. Twice I had seen him hard pressed, and
had lifted my javelin to slay him, but a touch of silly compunction had
time held my hand, and now he stood with his back to his ship like some
fierce, beautiful thing of the sea. His plated brass and steel cuirass
hacked and dinted, his white linen hung in shreds about him; his arms
were bare, and blood ran down them, while his long fair hair lifted to
salt wind that was coming in freshly with the tide, and the sun shone on
cold blue eyes, and his polished harness, and his tall and comely
proportions standing out there against the dark side of his high-sterned
But what cared the Britons for flaxen locks or the goodliness of a young
Thor? He had in his hands a broken spear, his own sword being snapped
in two; and with this weapon he lay about fiercely every now and then as
the men edged in upon him. Luckless Viking! there is no retreat or rescue,
he was bleeding heavily, and even as I watched his chin sunk upon his
chest. At once the Britons ran in upon him; but the life flared up again,
the gallant robber crushed in a pair of heads with his stave and sent the
others flying back, still glaring upon the wide circle of his enemies with
death and defiance struggling for mastery in his eyes in a way wonderful
to behold. Again. and again the yellow head of the
young Thor nodded and sunk, and again and again he started up and
scowled upon them, as each savage cry of joy, to see him thus bleeding
death, fell upon his ears. Presently he wavered for a moment and leaned
his shoulder against the black side of his ship, and his lids dropped wearily;
at once the Britons rushed, and, when I turned my face there again, they
were hacking and stripping the armor from a mutilated but still quivering
A few such episodes as this repulse of the Northmen, magnified and
circulated with all the lying exaggeration that a coward race ever wraps
about its feats of arms, made the Britons bold, and their boldness brings
me to the end of my chapter.
Many a pleasant week and month did I live and enjoy all the best things
life has to give; the master of my Roman mistress; the foremost spearman
where the boar went to bay among the rocks on the hill-side; the jolliest
fellow that was ever invited to a lordly banquet; the penniless adventurer
whose fortune every one envied -- and then fate put me by again, and
wiped my tablets clean for another frolic epoch.
It came about this way. The British grew more and more unruly as time
went on, and legion after legion left us. At length, when the last of the
Romans were down to the coast, about to embark, Electra made up her
mind to go too -- and with all her hoard. But in this latter particular
new authorities in the neighboring town could not concur, and they sent
two brand-new civilian senators to expostulate and detain her, the last
representative of the old rule. Electra had those gentlemen stripped in
vestibule, and flogged within an ace of their lives, and then sent them
home, bound, in a mean country-cart.
All that afternoon we were busy sewing up the gold and bronze in bags,
and by dusk a long train of mules set out for the coast, in charge of a
of our mercenaries, who, having served a long apprenticeship to cruelty
and extortion, had more to fear from the natives than even we. Nor was
too soon. As the last of the convoy went into the evening darkness, Electra
and I ascended the flat, wide roof of her home, and there we saw,
westward, under the stormy red of the setting sun, the flashing of arms
and the dust-wreaths against the glow which hung above the bands of
people moving out and bearing down on us in a mood one well could
Her ladyship, having safely packed, was disdainful and angry. Her fine
curled as she watched the gray column of citizens swarming out to the
assault; but when her gaze
wandered over the fair valleys she had ruled and bled so long, she was,
perhaps, a little regretful and softened.
"My good and stalwart captain," she said, coming near to me, "yonder sun,
I fear, will never rise again on a Roman Briton! We must obey the Fates.
You know what I would do, had I the power, to yonder scum; but, since
we must desert this house to them (as I see too clearly we must), how can
we best insure the safety of the treasure?"
We arranged there and then, with small time for parley, that I should stay
with a handful of her mercenaries and make a stand about the villa, while
she, with the last of her servants, should go on and hurry up by every
means in her power the slow caravan of her wealth. In truth, my mistress
was as brave as she was overbearing, and, but for those endless shining
bags of gold, I do believe she would have stayed and fought the place with
As it was, she reluctantly consented to the plan, and bid me adieu (which
returned but coldly), and came back again for another kiss, and said
another good-bye, and hung about me, and enjoined caution, and held my
hands, and looked first into my eyes and then back into the darkness
where the laden mules were, as much in love as a rustic maid, as anxious
a usurer, and torn and distracted between these contending feelings.
At last she and all the women were gone, whereon with a lighter mind we
set ourselves down to cover their retreat. Here must it be confessed that,
for myself, I was ill at ease; treachery lurked within me. I had grown
somewhat weary of her ladyship, nor had longer a special wish to be
dragged in her golden chains, the restless spirit chance had bred within
moved, and I had determined to see my enamored vice-prefect safe to her
ships, and then -- if I could -- if I dared -- break with her! I well knew
wild tornado of indignation and love this would call up, and hence had
confessed my intentions earlier, but had been cold and distant. The dame,
you will see presently, had been sharper in guessing than I supposed.
We made such preparation as we could with the small time at our disposal,
barricading the white facade of the villa and losing all approaches. Then
pulled the winter stacks to pieces in the yard, making two great mounds
fagots in front of the porch, pouring oil upon each, and stationing a man
fire them, by way of torches, at a given signal. My hope was that, as the
wide Roman way ran just below the
villa, the avengers of the embassadors would not think of passing on until
they had demolished the house and us.
Of the loyalty of the few men with me I had little fear. They were brave
and stubborn, all their pay was on Electra's mules, and the British hated
them without compunction. There were in our little company that black
evening seven wild Welshmen, under a shaggy-haired, blue-eyed
princeling, Gwallon of the Bow, he called himself -- fifteen swarthy
lberians, all teeth and cimeters -- a handful of Belgic mercenaries, with
great double-headed axes -- but never a Roman among them all in this last
stand of Roman power in Britain!
Was I a Roman? I wondered, as I stood on the terrace waiting the onset
the liberated slaves. What was I? who was I? How came it that he who was
first in repelling the stalwart Roman adventurers of endless years before
was the last to lift a sword in their defense? And, more personally, was
night to be, as it greatly seemed, the last of all my wild adventures;
Fate infinite others in store for her bantling?
You will guess how I wondered and speculated as my golden Roman
armor clanked to my gloomy stride in Electra's empty corridors, and the
wet, fleecy clouds drifted fitfully across the face of a broad full moon,
thousand things of love or sorrow crowded on my busy mind.
We had not long to wait, however. In an hour the mob came scuffling
round the bend, shouting disorderly, With innumerable torches borne
aloft, and they set up a yell when they caught sight of our shining white
walls silently agleam in the moonlight.
There could be no parley with such a leaderless rush, and we attempted
none. Without a thought of discipline they stormed the pastures and
swarmed into the garden, a motley, angry crowd, armed with scythes and
hooks and axes, and apparently all the town pressing on behind.
Well, we fired our fagots, and they gleamed up fiercely to welcome the
scullion levies to their doom. Never did you see such a ruddy, wild scene
such a motley parody of noble war! The bright flames leaped into the
tranquil sky in volcanoes of spark and hissing tongues, the British rushed
at us between the fires like imps of darkness, and we met them face to
and slew them like the dogs they were. In a few minutes we were
hemmed in the veranda, under whose columns we had some shelter, and
then my brave Welshmen showed me how they could pull their long
bows, which indeed they did in right good earnest, until all the trim
terraces were littered with writhing, howling foemen,
But again they drove us back, this time into the house, and there we soon
had a better light to fight by, for the sparks had caught the roof, and
everything far and near was ablaze. Every man with me that night fought
like a patrician, and Electra's polished floors were slippery with blood;
pretty walls, with their endless painted garlands of oak and myrtle, their
cooing doves and tender Cupids, were horribly besmeared and smudged;
and her marble pillars were chipped by flying javelins and gashed by
Ten times we hurled ourselves upon the invaders and drove them
staggering backward over the slippery pavements into the passages --
sixteen men had fallen to my own arm alone, and we crammed their
bodies into door-ways for barricade. But it would not do. The sheer weight
of those without made the men within brave against their will. Nothing
availed the stinging shafts of my Welshmen, the Iberian cimeters played
hopelessly (like summer lightning in the glare) upon a solid wall of
humanity, and the German axes could make no pathway through that
impenetrable civilian tangle.
Overhead and among us the smoke curled and eddied, and the names
behind it made it like a hot noonday in our fighting-place. And in the
wreaths of that pungent vapor, circling thick and yellow in the great open-
roofed hall of the noble Roman villa, her ladyship's statues of Faun and
satyrs still fluted and grinned imbecilely as though they liked the turmoil.
Niobe wept for new griefs as the marble little ones at her feet were
calcined before her eyes, and the Gorgon head wore a hundred frightful
snakes of flame; the pale, proud Pallas Athenae of the Greeks looked
disdainfully on the dying barbarians at her feet, and Pan, himself in
bronze, leered on us through the reek until his lower limbs grew white
-- and gave way, and down he came -- whereon a mighty Briton heaved
him up by his head, and with this hissing, glowing flail carried destruction
and confusion among us.
It was so hot in that flaming marble battle-place that foreigner and Briton
broke off fighting now and then to kneel together for a moment at the red
fountain basins where the jets still played (for the fugitives had forgotten
to turn them off), and quenched their thirst in hurried gasps, ere flying
again at each others' throats, and so wild the confusion and uproar, and
dense the smoke and flame, so red and slippery were the pavements, and
so thick the dead and dying, that hardly one could tell which were friends
and which foes.
For an hour we kept them at bay, and then, when my arms ached with
killing, all on a sudden the face of a man unknown
to me, whom I never had seen before or over since shone in the gleam at
"Phra the Phoenician," he said, calling me by an appellation no living
then knew, "I am bidden to get you hence. Come to the inner door-way --
I hardly knew what he meant, but there was that about him which I could
not but obey, so I turned and followed his retreating figure.
I ran with him across the court-yard, under the white marble pillars all
aglow, through the silent banquet-hall that had echoed so often to the
haughty laughter of my mistress, and then when we reached the cool,
damp outer air -- like a wreath of mist in November, like an eddy among
the dead leaves -- my guide vanished and left me!
Angry and surprised, but with no time for wonder, I turned back. .
Even as I did so there was a mighty crack, a groaning of a thousand
timbers, and there before my very face, with a resounding roar, Electra's
lordly mansion, and all the wings and buttresses and basements, the
rooms and colonnades and corridors of that splendid home of luxury and
power, lurched forward, and heaved and collapsed in one mighty red ruin
that tinctured the sky from east to west, and buried alike in one vast,
glowing hecatomb besiegers and besieged!
It had fallen, the last stronghold of Roman authority, and there was
nothing more to defend! I turned, and took me to the quiet forest
pathways, every nook and bend of which I knew. As I ran, the sweet,
moist air of the evening was like an elixir to my heated frame; now into
the black shadows I plunged, and anon brushing the silver moonlight dew
from bramble and bracken, while a thousand fancies of our stubborn fight
danced around me.
In a little time the road went down to a river that sparkled in flood under
the moonbeams. Here the laden mules had crossed into comparative
safety, and now I had to follow them with a singlc guide-rope to feel my
way alone across the dangerous ford. I struggled through the swollen
stream safely, though it rose high above my waist, and then who should
loom out of the dark on the far side but Electra, standing alone and
expectant at the brink.
Faithful, stately matron! She was so glad to see me again, I was really
I did not love her more. I told her something of the fight, and she a little
the retreat. Some time before the long train of mules and slaves had gone
on up the
steep sloping bank, and into the coppice beyond, and now I and the
Roman dame lingered a minute or so by the brink of the turgid stream to
see the last flickers of her burning home. We were on the point of turning;
indeed, Lady Electra seemed anxious to be gone, when, stepping out of the
dark pathway into a patch of moonlight on the further shore, a little silver
casket in her duteous hands, and those dainty skirts in which she took
much pride muddy and soiled, appeared the poor little slave Numidea.
She tripped fearfully forth from the shadows and down to the brink,
where the water was swirling against the stones in an ivory and silver
inlay; and when she saw (not perceiving us in the shadows) that all the
people had gone on and she was deserted to the tender mercies of the
foemen behind, she dropped her burden, and threw up her white, clasped
hands in the moonlight, and wailed upon us in a way that made my steel
cuirass too small for my swelling heart.
Surely such a pitiful sight ought to have moved any one, yet Electra only
cursed those nimble feet under her breath, and from this, though I may
her heavy injustice, I have since feared she had planned the desertion
sent the maid back to be killed or taken on some false errand which for
jealous purpose was too quickly executed.
That noble Roman lady pulled me by the hand, and would have had me
leave the girl to her fate, scolding and entreating; and when I angrily
shook myself free, turning her will, untutored passions into the channels
love, told me she had guessed my project of leaving her "for Numidea,"
and clung to me, and endeared me, and promised me "the tallest porch on
Palantina" (as I threw off my buckler and broadsword to be lighter in the
stream) and "the whitest arms for welcome there that ever a Roman
matron spread" (as I pitched my gilded helmet into the bushes and strode
down to the torrent), if I would but turn my back once for all upon my
Three times the white arms of that magnificent wanton closed round me,
and three times I wrenched them apart and hurled her back, three times
she came anew to the struggle, squandering her wild, queenly love upon
me, while, under the white light overhead, the tears shone in her
wonderful upturned eyes like very diamonds; three times she invoked
every deity in the hierarchy of the southern skies to witness her perjured
love, and cursed, for my sake, all those absent youths who had fallen
before her. Three times she knelt there on the black and white turf, and
wrung her fair hands and shook
out her long thick hair, and came imploring and begging down to the very
lapping of the water. And there I stood -- for I too was a southern, and
could be hot and fierce -- and spoke such words as she had never heard
before -- abused and scoffed and derided her; laughed at her sorrow and
mocked her grief, and then turned and plunged into the torrent.
The ford was not long; in a minute or two I struggled out on the further
shore, and Numidea, with a cry of pleasure and trustfulness, came to my
The British, hot on the track, were shouting to one another in the dark
pursuit, so the little maid was picked up securely, and, with her in my
arm upon my hip, her warm wrists about my neck, and my other hand on
the guide-rope, we went back into the stream again. By the sacred fane
Vesta, it ran stronger than a mill sluice, and tugged and worried at my
limbs like the fingers of a fury! I felt the pebble gravel sifting and
beneath my feet, and the strong lift of the water, as it swirled, flying
moonlight, hissing and bubbling at my heaving chest in a way that
frightened me -- even me. At last, with my every muscle on fire with the
strain and turmoil, and my head giddy with the dancing torrent all about
it, I saw the further bank loom over us once more, and, heaving a heavy
sigh of fatigue, collected myself for one more crowning effort.
But I had forgotten that royal harpy, my mistress; and even as I gathered
my last strength in the swirl of the black water below, she sprung to the
verge of the bank overhead, vengeance and hatred flashing in the eyes
that I had left full of gentleness and tears, and, gleaming there in her
wrath, her white robes shining in the moonlight against the ebony setting
of the night, glowered down upon us.
"Down with the maid!" she screamed, with all the tyrant in her voice.
"Down with her, centurion, or you die together!"
"Never! never!" I shouted, for my blood was boiling fiercely, and I could
have laughed at a hundred such as she. But while I shouted my heart sunk,
for Electra was terrible to behold -- an incarnation of beautiful cruelty,
reckless hatred ruling the features that had never turned upon me before
but in sweetness and love. For one minute the passion gathered head, and
then, while I stood still in the current with dread of the coming deed,
snatched my own naked sword from the ground. "Die, then!" she yelled;
"and many a thousand curses weigh down your souls!" As she said it the
blade whirled into the moonlight, descending on the guide.
rope just where it ran taut and hard over the posts, severing it clean
last strands with one blow of those effective white arms, and the next
minute the hempen cord was torn out of my grasp, and over and over in a
drowning, bewildering cascade of foam we were swept away down the
It was the wildest swim that ever a mortal took. So fiercely did we spin
fly that heaven and earth seemed mixed together, and the white clouds
overhead were not whiter than the sheets of foam that ran down seaward
with us. I am a good swimmer, but who could make the bank in such a
caldron of angry waters? and now Numidea was on top, and now I. It
went to my heart to hear the poor little Christian gasp out on "Good St.
Christopher!" and to feel the flutter of her breast against my leather
and then presently I did not feel it at all. Many an island of wreckage
passed us, but none that I could lay hold on, until presently a mighty
came foaming down upon us, laboring through that torrent surf like a full-
sailed ship. As it passed I threw an arm over a strong root, and thus,
hour, beheld that black midnight javelin, we flew downward, I know not
whither. Then it presently left the strong stream, and, towing me toward
soft alluvial beach, just as dawn was breaking in the east, deposited me
there, and slowly disappeared again into the void.
This is all I know of Roman Britain; this is the end of the chapter.
As I reeled ashore with my burden, some friendly fisherfolk came forward
to help, but I saw them not. Numidea was dead! my poor little slave-girl
the one speak of virtue in that tyrant world -- and I bent over her, and
her kindly eyes, and spread on the sand her long, wet braids, and
smoothed the modest white gown she was so careful of, with a heart that
was heavier than it ever felt yet in storm or battle!
Then all my grief and exertions came upon me in a flood, and the last thing
I remember was stooping down in the morning starlight to kiss the fair
little maid upon that pallid face that looked so wan and strange amid the
wild-spread tangles of her twisted hair.