THE WONDERFUL ADVENTURES
PHRA THE PHOENICIAN.
CHAPTER II.Nothing whatever have I to say against Blodwen, the beautiful British
princess, and many months we spent there happily in her town; and she
bore a son, for whom the black priest, at the accursed inspiration of his
own jealous heart and thwarted hopes, read out an evil destiny, to her
Going down one morning to the shore somewhat sad and sorry, for the
inevitable time of parting was near, my ship lying ready loaded by the
beach, I rubbed my eyes again and again to see that the felucca had gone
from the little inlet where she had lain so long. Nor was comfort at hand
when, rushing to a promontory commanding a better view, to my horror
there shone the golden speck of her sail in the morning sunlight on the
blue rim of the most distant sea.
I have often thought, since, the crafty princess had a hand in this desertion.
She was so ready with her condolence, so persuasive, that I should " bide
the winter and leave her in the spring " (the which was said with her most
detaining smile), that I could not think the catastrophe took my gentle
savage much by surprise.
I yielded, and the long black winter was worn through among the British,
until, when the yellow light came back again, I had married Blodwen
before all the tribe, and was rich by her constant favor, nor, need it be said,
more loath than ever to leave her. In truth, she was a good princess, but
very variable. Blodwen the chieftainess urging her clansmen to a tribal
fight, red-hot with the strong drink of war, or reeking with the fumes and
cruelty of a bloody sacrifice to Baal, was one thing, and, on the other hand,
Blodwen tending with the rude skill of the day her kinsmen's wounds,
Blodwen the daughter weeping gracious silent tears in the hall of her
fathers as the minstrels chanted their praises, or humming a ditty to the
listening blue-eyed little one upon her knee -- his cheek to hers -- was all
another sight; and I loved her better than I have ever loved any of those
other women who have loved me since.
But sterner things were coming my erratic way. The proud Roman Eagle,
having in these years long tyrannized over fertile Gaul, must needs swoop
down on our brothers along that rocky coast of Armorica that faces our
white shore, carrying death and destruction among our kinsmen as the
peregrines in the cliffs harry the frightened sea-mews.
Forthwith the narrow waters were black with our hide-sailed boats
rushing to succor. But it was useless. Who could stand against the Roman?
Our men came back presently -- few, wounded, and crestfallen, with long
tales of the foeman's deadly might by sea and shore.
Then a little later on, we had to fight for ourselves, though scantily we had
expected it. Early one autumn a friendly Veneti came over from Gaul and
warned the southern princes the stern Roman Consul Caesar was
collecting boats and men
to invade us. At once on this news we were all torn by divers counsels and
jealousies, and Blodwen hung in my arms for a tearful space, and then sent
me eastward with a few men -- all she could spare from watching her own
dangerous neighbors -- to oppose the Roman landing; while the priest
Dhuwallon, though exempt by his order from military service, followed
sullen behind my warlike clansmen.
We joined other bodies of British, until, by the beginning of the harvest
month, we had encamped along the Kentish downs in very good force,
though disunited. Three days later, at dawn, came in a runner who said
that Caesar was landing to the westward -- how I wished that traitor lie
would stick in his false throat and choke him! -- and thither, bitterly against
my advice, went nearly all our men.
Even now it irks me to tell this story. While the next young morning was
still but a yellow streak upon the sea, our keen watchers saw sails coming
from the pale Gaulish coast, and, by the time the primrose portals of the
day were fully open, the water was covered with them from one hand to
In vain our recalling signal-fires smoked. A thousand scythed chariots and
four thousand men were away, and by noon the great Consul's foremost
galley took the British ground where the beach shelved up to the marshy
flats, which again rose, through coppices and dingles, to our camp on the
overhanging hills. Another and another followed, all thronged with tawny
stalwart men in brass and leather. What could we do against this mighty
fleet that came headlong upon us, rank behind rank, the white water
flashing in tangled ribbons from their innumerable prows, and the
dreaded symbols of Roman power gleaming from every high-built stern?
We rushed down, disorderly to meet them, the Druids urging us on with
song and sacrifice, and waded into the water to our waists, for we were as
courageous as we were undisciplined, and they hesitated for some seconds
to leave their lurching boats. I remember at this moment, when the fate of
a kingdom hung in the balance, down there jumped a centurion, and,
waving a golden eagle over his head, drew his short sword, and, calling
out that "he at least would do his duty for the republic," made straight for
Brave youth! As he rushed impetuous through the water my ready javelin
took him true under the gilded plate that hung upon his chest, and the next
wave rolled in to my feet a lifeless body lapped in a shroud of crimson
But now the legionaries were springing out far and near,
and fighting hand to hand with the skin-clad British, who gave way before
them slowly and stubbornly. Many were the, who died, and the floating
corpses jostled and rolled about among us as we plunged and fought and
screamed in the shallow tide, and beat on the swarming impervious
golden shields of the invaders.
Back to the beach they drove us hand to hand and foot to foot, and then,
with a long shout of triumph that startled the sea-fowl on the distant cliffs,
they pushed us back over the shingles ever further from the sea, that idly
sported with our dead -- back, in spite of all we could do, to the marshland.
There they formed, after a breathing space, in the long stern line that had
overwhelmed a hundred nations, and charged us like a living rampart of
steel. And as the angry waves rush upon the immovable rocks, so rushed
we upon them. For a moment or two the sun shone upon a wild uproar;
the fierce contention of two peoples breast to breast, a glitter of caps and
javelins, splintered spears and riven shields, all flashing in the wild dust of
war that the Roman Eagle loved so well. and then the Britons parted into a
thousand fragments and reeled back, and were trampled under foot, and
broke and fled!
Britain was lost!
Soon after this all the coppices and pathways were thronged with our
flying footmen. Yet Dhuwallon and I, being mounted, had lingered behind
the rest, galloping hither and thither over the green levels, trying to get
some few British to stand again; but presently it was time to be gone. The
Romans, in full possession of the beach, had found a channel, and drawn
some boats up to the shelving shore. They had dropped the hinged
bulwarks, and, with the help of a plank or two, had already got out some
of their twenty or thirty chargers. On to these half a dozen eager young
patricians had vaulted, and, I and Dhuwallon being conspicuous figures,
they came galloping down at us. We, on our lighter steeds, knowing every
path and gully in the marshlands, should have got away from them like
starlings from a prowling sheep-dog; but treachery was in the black heart
of that high-priest at my elbow, and a ravening hatred which knew neither
time nor circumstance.
It was just at the scraggy foot-hills, and the shouting centurions were close
behind us; the last of our fighters had dashed into the shelter ahead, and I
was galloping down a grassy hollow, when the coward shearer of
mistletoe came up alongside. I looked not at him, but over my other
shoulder at the red plumes of the pursuers dancing on the sky-line. All in
instant something sped by me, and, shrinking in pain, my horse plunged
forward, missing his footing, and rolled over into the long autumn grass
with the scoundrel priest's last javelin quivering in his throat. I heard that
villain laugh as he turned for a moment to look back, and then he vanished
into the screen of leaves.
Amazed and dizzy, I staggered to my feet, pushed back the long hair and
the warm running blood from my eyes, and, grasping my sword, waited
the onset of the Romans. They rode over me as though I were a shock of
ripe barley in August, and one of them, springing down, put his foot to my
throat and made to kill me.
"No, no, Fabius!" said another centurion, from the back of a white steed --
"don't kill him. He will be more useful alive."
"You were always tender-hearted, Sempronius Faunus," grumbled the first
one, reluctantly taking his heel from me, and giving permission to rise
with a kick in the side. "What are you going to do with him? Make him
native prefect of these marshes, eh?"
"Or, perhaps," put in another gilded youth, whose sword itched to think it
was as yet as innocent of blood as when it came from its Tuscany smithy --
"perhaps Sempronius is going to have a private procession of his own
when he gets back to the Tiber, and wishes early to collect prisoners for his
Disregarding their banter, the centurion Sempronius, who was a comely
young fellow and seemed then extremely admirable in person and
principles to me, mounted again, and, pointing with his short sword to the
shore, bid me march, speaking the Gallic tongue, and in a manner there
was no gainsaying.
So I was prisoner to the Romans, and they bound me, and left me lying for
ten hours under the side of one of their stranded ships, down by the
melancholy afternoon sea, still playing with its dead men, and rolling and
jostling together in its long green fingers the raven-haired Etrurian and the
pale, white-faced Celt. Then, when it was evening, they picked me up, and
a low plebeian in leather and brass struck me in the face when, husky and
spent with fighting, I asked for a cup of water. They took me away
through their camp and a mile down the dingles, where the Roman
legionaries were digging fosses, and making their camp in the ruddy
flicker of watch-fires, under the British oaks, to a rising knoll.
Here the main body of the invaders were lying in a great
crescent toward the inland, and crowning the hillock was scarp, where a
rough pavilion of skins and sails from the vessels on the beach had been
As we approached this, all the noise and laughter died out of my guard,
who now moved in perfect silence. A bowshot away we halted, and
presently Sempronius was seen backing out of the tent with an air of the
greatest diffidence. Seizing me by manacled arms, he lead me to it. At the
very threshold he whispered in my ear:
"Briton, if you value that tawny skin of yours I saved this morning, speak
true and straight to him who sits within;" and without another word he
thrust me into the rough pavilion. At a little table, dark with usage and
scarred with campaigning, a man was sitting, an ample toga partly hiding
the close-fitting leather vest he wore underneath it. His long and nervous
fingers were urging over the tablets before him a stylus with a speed few
in those days commanded, while a little earthenware lamp, with a
flickering wick burning in the turned-up spout, cast a wavering light upon
his thin, sharp-cut features -- the imperious mouth that was shut so tight,
and the strong lines of his dark, commanding face.
He went on writing as I entered, without looking up; and my gaze
wandered round the poor walls of his tent, his piled-up arms in one place,
his truckle-bed in another, there a heap of choice British spoil, flags and
symbols and weapons, and there a foreign case, half opened, stocked with
bags of coins a and vellum rolls. All was martial confusion in the black and
yellow light of that strange little chamber, and as I turned back to him I felt
a shock run through me to find the blackest and most piercing pair of eyes
that ever shone from a mortal head fixed upon my face.
He rose, and, with the lamp in his hand, surveyed me from top to toe.
"Of the Veneti?" he said, in allusion to my dark un-British hair; and I
I told him I was a knight just now in the service of the British king.
"How many of your men opposed us to-day?" was the next question.
"A third as many as you brought with you where you were not invited.
"And how many are there in arms behind the downs and in this southern
"How many pebbles are there on yonder beach? How
many ears of corn did we pull last harvest?" I answered, for I thought I
should die in the morning, and this made me brave and surly.
He frowned very blackly at my defiance, but curbing, I could see, his
wrath, he put the lamp on the table, and, after a minute of communing
with himself, he said, in a voice over which policy threw a thin veil of
"Perhaps, as a British knight, and a good soldier, I have no doubt, you
could speak better with your hands untied?"
I thanked him, replying that it was so; and he came up, freeing, with a
beautiful little golden stiletto he wore in his girdle, my wrists. This kindly
slight act of soldierly trust obliged me to the Roman general, and I
answered his quick, incisive questions in the Gaulish tongue as far as
honestly might be. He got little about our forces, finding his prisoner more
effusive in this quarter than communicative. Once or twice, when my
answers verged on the scornful, I saw the imperious temper and haughty
nature at strife with his will in that stern, masterful face and those keen
But when we spoke of the British people, I could satisfy his curious and
many questions about them more frankly. Every now and then, as some
answer interested him, he would take a quick glance at me as though to
read in my face whether it were the truth or not, and, stopping by his little
table, he would jot down a passage on the wax, scan it over, and inquire of
something else. Our life and living, wars, religions, friendships, all seemed
interesting to this acute gentleman so plainly clad, and it was only when
we had been an hour together, and after he had clearly got from me all he
wished, that he called the guard and dismissed me, bidding Sempronius in
Latin, which the general thought I knew not, to give me food and drink,
but keep me fast for the present.
Sempronius showed the utmost deference to the little man in the toga and
leather jerkin, listening with bent head and backing from his presence;
while I but roughly gave him thanks for my freed hands, and stalked out
after my jailer with small ceremony.
Once in the starlight and out of earshot the centurion said to me, with a
"Briton, I feel somewhat responsible for you, and I beg the next time you
leave that presence not to carry your head so high or turn that wolf-
skinned back of yours on him so readily, or I am confident I shall have
orders to teach you manners. Did you cast yourself down when you
"Jove! And did not kneel while you spoke to him?"
"Not once," I said.
"Now, by the Sacred Flame! do you mean to say you stood the whole time
as I found you, towering in your ragged skins, your bare braceleted arms
upon your chest, and giving Caesar back stare for stare in his very tent?"
"Caesar himself. Why, who else? Caesar, whose word is life and death
from here to the Apennines, who is going to lick up this country of yours
as a hungry beggar licks out a porringer. Surely you knew that he to
whom you spoke so freely was our master, the great Proctor himself!"
Here was an oversight! I might have guessed so much; but, full of other
things, I had never supposed the little man was anything but a Roman
general sent out to harry and pursue us. Strange ideas rose at once, and,
while the Tyrian in me was awe-struck by the closeness of my approach to
a famous and dreaded person, the Briton moaned at a golden opportunity
lost to unravel, by one bold stroke -- a stroke of the poniard, of burning
brand from the fire, of anything -- the net that was closing over this
So strong rose these latter regrets at having had Caesar, the unwelcome,
the relentless, within arm's-length, and having let him go forth with his
indomitable blood still flowing in his lordly veins, that I stopped short,
clapped my hand upon my swordless scabbard, and made a hasty stride
back to the tent.
At once the ready Sempronius was on me like a wild cat, and with two
strong legionaries bore me to the ground and tied me hand and foot. They
carried me down to the camp, and there pitched me under a rock to reflect
until dawn on the things of a disastrous day.
But by earliest twilight the bird had flown! At midnight, when the tired
soldiers slept, I chafed my hempen bonds against a rugged angle of earth-
imbedded stone, and in four hours was free, rising silently among the
snoring warriors, and passing into the forest as noiselessly as one of those
weird black shadows that the last flashes of their expiring camp-fires made
at play on the background of the woods.
I stole past their outmost pickets while the first flash of day was in the east,
and then, in the open, turned me to my own people and ran like a hind to
her little one over the dewy grasslands and through the spangled thickets,
scaring the conies at their earliest meal, and frightening the merles and
mavis ere they had done a bar of their matin songs, throwing
myself down in the tents of my kinsmen just as the round sun shone
through the close-packed oak trunks.
But, curse the caitiff fools who welcomed me there! It would have been far
better had I abided Caesar's anger, or trusted to that martial boy
The British churls, angry and sullen at their defeat of yesterday, were
looking for a victim to bear the burden of their wrongs. Now, the priest
Dhuwallon, who had turned livid with fear and anger when I had come
back unharmed from the hands of the enemy, with a ready wit which was
surely lent him from hell, saw he might propitiate the Britons and gratify
his own ends by one more coward trick to be played at my expense. I do
not deny his readiness or grudge him aught, yet I hate him even now from
the bottom of my heart with all that fierce old anger which then would
have filled me with delight and pride if I could have had his anointed blood
smoking in the runnels of my sword.
Well, it was his turn again. He procured false witnesses -- not a difficult
thing for a high-priest in that discontented camp -- and by midday I was
bound once more, and before the priests and chiefs as a traitor and Roman
What good was it for me to stand up and tell the truth to that gloomy
circle while the angry crowd outside hungered for a propitiatory sacrifice?
In vain I lied with all the resources I could muster, and in vain, when this
was fruitless, denounced that pale villain, my accuser. When I came to tell
of his treachery in killing my horse the day before, and leaving me to be
slain by the enemy, I saw I was but adding slander in the judges' eyes to
my other crimes. When I declared I was no Roman, but a Briton -- an aged
fool, his long white locks filleted with oak leaves, rose silently and held a
polished brass mirror before me, and by every deity on the northern skies
I must own my black hair and dusky face was far more Roman than
So they found me guilty, and sentenced me to be offered up to Baal next
morning before the army as a detected spy.
When that silvery dawn came, it brought no relief or respite, for the laws
of the Druids, which enjoined slow and deliberate judgments, forbid the
altering of a sentence once pronounced. It was as fine a day as could be
wished for their infernal ceremonial, with the mellow autumn mist lying
wide and flat along the endless visits of oak and hazel that then hid almost
all the valleys, and over the mist the golden rays of the sun spread far and
near, kissing with crimson radiance the green knobs of upland that shone
above that pearly ocean,
and shining on the bare summits of the lonely grass hills around us, and
gleaming in rosy brilliancy upon the sea that flashed and sparkled in gray
and gold between the downs to the southward. Here in this fairy realm,
while the thickets were still beaded with the million jewels of the morning,
and the earth breathed of repose and peace, they carried out that
detestable orgy of which I was the center.
My memory is a little hazy. Perhaps, at the time, I was thinking of other
things -- a red-haired girl, for instance, playing with her little ones outside
her porch in a distant glen, my shekels of brass and tin and silver; my kine,
my dogs, and my horses, mayhap; such things will be -- and thus I know
little of how it came. But presently I was on the fatal spot.
A wide circle of green grass, kept short and close, in the heart of a dense
thicket of oak. Round this circle a ring of great stone columns, crowned by
mighty slabs of the same kind, and hung, to-day, with all the skins and
robes and weapons of the assembled tribesmen; so that the mighty
inclosure was a rude amphitheater, walled by the wealth of the spectators,
and in the center an oblong rock, some eight feet long, with a gutter down
it for the blood to run into a pit at its feet. This was the fatal slip from
which the Druids launched that poor vessel, the soul, upon the endless
ocean of eternity.
All round the great circle, when its presence and significance suddenly
burst upon me, were the British, to the number of many hundreds,
squatting on the ground in the front rows, or standing behind against the
gray pillars, an uncouth ring of motley barbarians, shaggy with wolf and
bear skins, gleaming in brass and golden links that glistened in the
morning light against mailed limbs and shoulders, traced and pictured in
blue woad with a hundred designs of war and woodcraft.
They forced me and two other miserable wretches to the altar, and then,
while our guards stood by us and the mounted men clustered among the
monoliths behind, a deadly silence fell upon the assembly. It was so still we
could hear the beat of our own hearts, and so intolerable that one of us
three fell forward in a swoon ere it had lasted many minutes. The din of
battle was like the murmur of a pleasant brook before that expectant hush;
and when the white procession of executioners came chanting up the
farther avenue of stones into the arena, I breathed again as though it was a
nuptial procession and they were bringing me a bride less grim than the
golden adze which shone at their head,
They sung round the circle their mystic song, and then halted before the
rude stone altar. Mixing up religion and justice as was their wont, the chief
Druid recited the crimes of the of the two culprits beside me, with their
punishment, and immediately the first one, tightly bound, was pitched
upon the stone altar; and while the Druids chanted their hymns to Baal the
assembled multitude joined in, and, clanging their swords in an infernal
tumult which effectually drowned his yells for mercy, the sacred adze fell,
and first his head and then his body rolled into the hollow, while twenty
little streams of crimson blood trickled down the sides of the altar stone.
The next one was treated in the same way, and tumbled off into the hollow
below, and I was hoisted up to that reeking slab.
While they arranged me, that black priest stole up and hissed in my ear, "Is
it of Blodwen you think when you shut your eyes? Take this, then, for
your final comfort," he said, with a malicious leer -- "I, even I, the despised
and thwarted, will see to Blodwen and answer for her happiness. Ah! --
you writhe -- I thought that would interest you. Let your last thought,
accursed stranger, be I and she; let your last conception be my near
revenge! Villain! I spit upon and deride you! " And he was as good as his
word, glowering down upon me helpless, with insatiate rage and hatred,
and then, stepping back, signed to the executioner.
I heard the wild hymn to their savage gods go ringing up again through
the green leaves of the oaks; I heard the clatter of weapons upon the
round brass-bound targets, the voices of the priests and the cry of a
startled kite circling in the pleasant autumn mist overhead. I saw the great
crescent of the sacred golden adze swing into the sky, and then, while it
was just checking to the fall which should extinguish me, there came a
hush upon the people, followed by a wild shout of fear and anger, and I
turned my head half over as I lay bound upon the stone.
I saw the British multitude seethe in confusion and then burst and fly like
the foam strands before the wind, as, out of the green thickets, at the run,
their cold, brave faces all emotionless over their long brass shields, came
rank upon rank of Roman legionaries. I saw Sempronius on his white
charger at their head, glittering in brass and scarlet, and finding my tongue
in my extremity, "Sempronius!" I yelled, "Sempronius to the rescue!" But
With a wavering, aimless fall the adze descended between my neck and
my shoulder, the black curtain of dissolution
fell over the painted picture of the world, there was a noise of a thousandrivers tumbling into a bottomless cavern, and I expired.
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