Puck of Pook's Hill
Part 3 out of 4
(they were respectable householders), and then he
grunted across the laurels: "Listen, young sometimes-
one-thing-and-sometimes-another. In future call yourself
Centurion of the Seventh Cohort of the Thirtieth, the
Ulpia Victrix. That will help me to remember you. Your
Father and a few other people call me Maximus."
'He tossed me the polished stick he was leaning on,
and went away. You might have knocked me down with it!'
'Who was he?' said Dan.
'Maximus himself, our great General! The General of
Britain who had been Theodosius's right hand in the Pict
War! Not only had he given me my Centurion's stick
direct, but three steps in a good Legion as well! A new
man generally begins in the Tenth Cohort of his Legion,
and works up.'
'And were you pleased?' said Una.
'Very. I thought Maximus had chosen me for my good
looks and fine style in marching, but, when I went home,
the Pater told me he had served under Maximus in the
great Pict War, and had asked him to befriend me.'
'A child you were!' said Puck, from above.
'I was,' said Parnesius. 'Don't begrudge it me, Faun.
Afterwards - the Gods know I put aside the games!' And
Puck nodded, brown chin on brown hand, his big eyes still.
'The night before I left we sacrificed to our ancestors -
the usual little Home Sacrifice - but I never prayed so
earnestly to all the Good Shades, and then I went with
my Father by boat to Regnum, and across the chalk
eastwards to Anderida yonder.'
'Regnum? Anderida?' The children turned their faces
'Regnum's Chichester,' he said, pointing towards
Cherry Clack, 'and'- he threw his arm South behind him
'Pevensey again!' said Dan. 'Where Weland landed?'
'Weland and a few others,' said Puck. 'Pevensey isn't
young - even compared to me!'
'The headquarters of the Thirtieth lay at Anderida in
summer, but my own Cohort, the Seventh, was on the
Wall up North. Maximus was inspecting Auxiliaries - the
Abulci, I think - at Anderida, and we stayed with him, for
he and my Father were very old friends. I was only there
ten days when I was ordered to go up with thirty men to
my Cohort.' He laughed merrily. 'A man never forgets
his first march. I was happier than any Emperor when I
led my handful through the North Gate of the Camp, and
we saluted the guard and the Altar of Victory there.'
'How? How?' said Dan and Una.
Parnesius smiled, and stood up, flashing in his armour.
'So!' said he; and he moved slowly through the beautiful
movements of the Roman Salute, that ends with a
hollow clang of the shield coming into its place between
'Hai!' said Puck. 'That sets one thinking!'
'We went out fully armed,' said Parnesius, sitting
down; 'but as soon as the road entered the Great Forest,
my men expected the pack-horses to hang their shields
on. "No!" I said; you can dress like women in Anderida,
but while you're with me you will carry your own
weapons and armour."
"'But it's hot," said one of them, "and we haven't a
doctor. Suppose we get sunstroke, or a fever?"
"'Then die," I said, "and a good riddance to Rome! Up
shield - up spears, and tighten your foot-wear!"
"'Don't think yourself Emperor of Britain already," a
fellow shouted. I knocked him over with the butt of my
spear, and explained to these Roman-born Romans that,
if there were any further trouble, we should go on with
one man short. And, by the Light of the Sun, I meant it
too! My raw Gauls at Clausentum had never treated me so.
'Then, quietly as a cloud, Maximus rode out of the
fern (my Father behind him), and reined up across the
road. He wore the Purple, as though he were already
Emperor; his leggings were of white buckskin laced
'My men dropped like - like partridges.
'He said nothing for some time, only looked, with his
eyes puckered. Then he crooked his forefinger, and my
men walked - crawled, I mean - to one side.
"'Stand in the sun, children," he said, and they
formed up on the hard road.
"'What would you have done," he said to me, "if I had
not been here?"
"'I should have killed that man," I answered.
"'Kill him now," he said. "He will not move a limb."
"'No," I said. "You've taken my men out of my
command. I should only be your butcher if I killed him
now." Do you see what I meant?' Parnesius turned to Dan.
'Yes,'said Dan. 'It wouldn't have been fair, somehow.'
'That was what I thought,' said Parnesius. 'But
Maximus frowned. "You'll never be an Emperor," he
said. "Not even a General will you be."
'I was silent, but my Father seemed pleased.
"'I came here to see the last of you," he said.
"'You have seen it," said Maximus. "I shall never need
your son any more. He will live and he will die an officer
of a Legion - and he might have been Prefect of one of my
Provinces. Now eat and drink with us," he said. "Your
men will wait till you have finished."
'My miserable thirty stood like wine-skins glistening in
the hot sun, and Maximus led us to where his people had
set a meal. Himself he mixed the wine.
"'A year from now," he said, "you will remember that
you have sat with the Emperor of Britain - and Gaul."
"'Yes," said the Pater, "you can drive two mules -
Gaul and Britain."
"'Five years hence you will remember that you have
drunk" - he passed me the cup and there was blue borage
in it - "with the Emperor of Rome!"
"'No; you can't drive three mules. They will tear YOU
in pieces," said my Father.
"'And you on the Wall, among the heather, will weep
because your notion of justice was more to you than the
favour of the Emperor of Rome."
'I sat quite still. One does not answer a General who
wears the Purple.
"'I am not angry with you," he went on; "I owe too
much to your Father -"
"'You owe me nothing but advice that you never
took," said the Pater.
"'- to be unjust to any of your family. Indeed, I say you
may make a good Tribune, but, so far as I am concerned,
on the Wall you will live, and on the Wall you will die,"
"'Very like," said my Father. "But we shall have the
Picts and their friends breaking through before long.
You cannot move all troops out of Britain to make you
Emperor, and expect the North to sit quiet."
"'I follow my destiny," said Maximus.
"'Follow it, then," said my Father, pulling up a fern
root; "and die as Theodosius died."
"'Ah!" said Maximus. "My old General was killed
because he served the Empire too well. I may be killed,
but not for that reason," and he smiled a little pale grey
smile that made my blood run cold.
"'Then I had better follow my destiny," I said, "and
take my men to the Wall."
'He looked at me a long time, and bowed his head
slanting like a Spaniard. "Follow it, boy," he said. That
was all. I was only too glad to get away, though I had
many messages for home. I found my men standing as
they had been put - they had not even shifted their feet in
the dust, and off I marched, still feeling that terrific smile
like an east wind up my back. I never halted them till
sunset, and' - he turned about and looked at Pook's Hill
below him - 'then I halted yonder.' He pointed to the
broken, bracken-covered shoulder of the Forge Hill
behind old Hobden's cottage.
'There? Why, that's only the old Forge - where they
made iron once,' said Dan.
'Very good stuff it was too,' said Parnesius calmly. 'We
mended three shoulder-straps here and had a spear-head
riveted. The Forge was rented from the Government by a
one-eyed smith from Carthage. I remember we called
him Cyclops. He sold me a beaver-skin rug for my sister's room.'
'But it couldn't have been here,' Dan insisted.
'But it was! From the Altar of Victory at Anderida to the
First Forge in the Forest here is twelve miles seven
hundred paces. It is all in the Road Book. A man doesn't
forget his first march. I think I could tell you every station
between this and -! He leaned forward, but his eye was
caught by the setting sun.
It had come down to the top of Cherry Clack Hill, and
the light poured in between the tree trunks so that you
could see red and gold and black deep into the heart of
Far Wood; and Parnesius in his armour shone as though
he had been afire.
'Wait!' he said, lifting a hand, and the sunlight jinked
on his glass bracelet. 'Wait! I pray to Mithras!'
He rose and stretched his arms westward, with deep,
Then Puck began to sing too, in a voice like bells
tolling, and as he sang he slipped from Volaterrae to the
ground, and beckoned the children to follow. They
obeyed; it seemed as though the voices were pushing
them along; and through the goldy-brown light on the
beech leaves they walked, while Puck between them
chanted something like this:
'Cur mundus militat sub vana gloria
Cujus prosperitas est transitoria?
Tam cito labitur ejus potentia
Quam vasa figuli quae sunt fragilia.'
They found themselves at the little locked gates of the wood.
'Quo Caesar abiit celsus imperio?
Vel Dives splendidus totus in prandio?
Dic ubi Tullius -'
Still singing, he took Dan's hand and wheeled him
round to face Una as she came out of the gate. It shut
behind her, at the same time as Puck threw the memory-
magicking Oak, Ash and Thorn leaves over their heads.
'Well, you are jolly late,' said Una. 'Couldn't you get
'I did,' said Dan. 'I got away in lots of time, but - but I
didn't know it was so late. Where've you been?'
'In Volaterrae - waiting for you.'
'Sorry,' said Dan. 'It was all that beastly Latin.'
A British-Roman Song
My father's father saw it not,
And I, belike, shall never come
To look on that so-holy spot -
The very Rome -
Crowned by all Time, all Art, all Might,
The equal work of Gods and Man,
City beneath whose oldest height -
The Race began!
Soon to send forth again a brood,
Unshakeable, we pray, that clings
To Rome's thrice-hammered hardihood -
In arduous things.
Strong heart with triple armour bound,
Beat strongly, for Thy life-blood runs,
Age after Age, the Empire round -
In us Thy Sons,
Who, distant from the Seven Hills,
Loving and serving much, require
Thee - Thee to guard 'gainst home-born ills
The Imperial Fire!
ON THE GREAT WALL
'When I left Rome for Lalage's sake
By the Legions' Road to Rimini,
She vowed her heart was mine to take
With me and my shield to Rimini -
(Till the Eagles flew from Rimini!)
And I've tramped Britain, and I've tramped Gaul,
And the Pontic shore where the snow-flakes fall
As white as the neck of Lalage -
(As cold as the heart of Lalage!)
And I've lost Britain, and I've lost Gaul,'
(the voice seemed very cheerful about it),
'And I've lost Rome, and, worst of all,
I've lost Lalage!'
They were standing by the gate to Far Wood when they
heard this song. Without a word they hurried to their
private gap and wriggled through the hedge almost atop
of a jay that was feeding from Puck's hand.
'Gently!' said Puck. 'What are you looking for?'
'Parnesius, of course,' Dan answered. 'We've only just
remembered yesterday. It isn't fair.'
Puck chuckled as he rose. 'I'm sorry, but children who
spend the afternoon with me and a Roman Centurion
need a little settling dose of Magic before they go to tea
with their governess. Ohe, Parnesius!' he called.
'Here, Faun!' came the answer from Volaterrae. They
could see the shimmer of bronze armour in the beech-
crotch, and the friendly flash of the great shield uplifted.
'I have driven out the Britons.' Parnesius laughed like a
boy. 'I occupy their high forts. But Rome is merciful! You
may come up.'And up they three all scrambled.
'What was the song you were singing just now?' said
Una, as soon as she had settled herself.
'That? Oh, Rimini. It's one of the tunes that are always
being born somewhere in the Empire. They run like a
pestilence for six months or a year, till another one
pleases the Legions, and then they march to that.'
'Tell them about the marching, Parnesius. Few people
nowadays walk from end to end of this country,' said Puck.
'The greater their loss. I know nothing better than the
Long March when your feet are hardened. You begin
after the mists have risen, and you end, perhaps, an hour
'And what do you have to eat?' Dan asked promptly.
'Fat bacon, beans, and bread, and whatever wine
happens to be in the rest-houses. But soldiers are born
grumblers. Their very first day out, my men complained
of our water-ground British corn. They said it wasn't so
filling as the rough stuff that is ground in the Roman
ox-mills. However, they had to fetch and eat it.'
'Fetch it? Where from?' said Una.
'From that newly invented water-mill below the Forge.'
'That's Forge Mill - our Mill!' Una looked at Puck.
'Yes; yours,' Puck put in. 'How old did you think it was?'
'I don't know. Didn't Sir Richard Dalyngridge talk
'He did, and it was old in his day,' Puck answered.
'Hundreds of years old.'
'It was new in mine,' said Parnesius. 'My men looked
at the flour in their helmets as though it had been a nest of
adders. They did it to try my patience. But I - addressed
them, and we became friends. To tell the truth, they
taught me the Roman Step. You see, I'd only served with
quick-marching Auxiliaries. A Legion's pace is altogether
different. It is a long, slow stride, that never varies from
sunrise to sunset. "Rome's Race - Rome's Pace," as the
proverb says. Twenty-four miles in eight hours, neither
more nor less. Head and spear up, shield on your back,
cuirass-collar open one handsbreadth - and that's how
you take the Eagles through Britain.'
'And did you meet any adventures?' said Dan.
'There are no adventures South the Wall,' said
Parnesius. 'The worst thing that happened me was
having to appear before a magistrate up North, where a
wandering philosopher had jeered at the Eagles. I was
able to show that the old man had deliberately blocked
our road; and the magistrate told him, out of his own
Book, I believe, that, whatever his Gods might be, he
should pay proper respect to Caesar.'
'What did you do?' said Dan.
'Went on. Why should I care for such things, my
business being to reach my station? It took me twenty days.
'Of course, the farther North you go the emptier are the
roads. At last you fetch clear of the forests and climb bare
hills, where wolves howl in the ruins of our cities that
have been. No more pretty girls; no more jolly magistrates
who knew your Father when he was young, and
invite you to stay with them; no news at the temples and
way-stations except bad news of wild beasts. There's
where you meet hunters, and trappers for the Circuses,
prodding along chained bears and muzzled wolves. Your
pony shies at them, and your men laugh.
'The houses change from gardened villas to shut forts
with watch-towers of grey stone, and great stone-walled
sheepfolds, guarded by armed Britons of the North
Shore. In the naked hills beyond the naked houses,
where the shadows of the clouds play like cavalry charging,
you see puffs of black smoke from the mines. The
hard road goes on and on - and the wind sings through
your helmet-plume - past altars to Legions and Generals
forgotten, and broken statues of Gods and Heroes, and
thousands of graves where the mountain foxes and hares
peep at you. Red-hot in summer, freezing in winter, is
that big, purple heather country of broken stone.
'Just when you think you are at the world's end, you
see a smoke from East to West as far as the eye can turn,
and then, under it, also as far as the eye can stretch,
houses and temples, shops and theatres, barracks and
granaries, trickling along like dice behind - always behind
- one long, low, rising and falling, and hiding and
showing line of towers. And that is the Wall!'
'Ah!' said the children, taking breath.
'You may well,' said Parnesius. 'Old men who have
followed the Eagles since boyhood say nothing in the
Empire is more wonderful than first sight of the Wall!'
'Is it just a Wall? Like the one round the kitchen-
garden?' said Dan.
'No, no! It is the Wall. Along the top are towers with
guard-houses, small towers, between. Even on the narrowest
part of it three men with shields can walk abreast,
from guard-house to guard-house. A little curtain wall,
no higher than a man's neck, runs along the top of the
thick wall, so that from a distance you see the helmets of
the sentries sliding back and forth like beads. Thirty feet
high is the Wall, and on the Picts' side, the North, is a
ditch, strewn with blades of old swords and spear-heads
set in wood, and tyres of wheels joined by chains. The
Little People come there to steal iron for their arrow-heads.
'But the Wall itself is not more wonderful than the
town behind it. Long ago there were great ramparts and
ditches on the South side, and no one was allowed to
build there. Now the ramparts are partly pulled down
and built over, from end to end of the Wall; making a thin
town eighty miles long. Think of it! One roaring, rioting,
cock-fighting, wolf-baiting, horse-racing town, from
Ituna on the West to Segedunum on the cold eastern
beach! On one side heather, woods and ruins where Picts
hide, and on the other, a vast town - long like a snake,
and wicked like a snake. Yes, a snake basking beside a
'My Cohort, I was told, lay at Hunno, where the Great
North Road runs through the Wall into the Province of
Valentia.'Parnesius laughed scornfully. 'The Province of
Valentia! We followed the road, therefore, into Hunno
town, and stood astonished. The place was a fair - a fair
of peoples from every corner of the Empire. Some were
racing horses: some sat in wine-shops: some watched
dogs baiting bears, and many gathered in a ditch to see
cocks fight. A boy not much older than myself, but I
could see he was an officer, reined up before me and
asked what I wanted.
"'My station," I said, and showed him my shield.'
Parnesius held up his broad shield with its three X's like
letters on a beer-cask.
"'Lucky omen!" said he. "Your Cohort's the next
tower to us, but they're all at the cock-fight. This is a
happy place. Come and wet the Eagles." He meant to
offer me a drink.
"'When I've handed over my men," I said. I felt angry
"'Oh, you'll soon outgrow that sort of nonsense," he
answered. "But don't let me interfere with your hopes.
Go on to the Statue of Roma Dea. You can't miss it. The
main road into Valentia!" and he laughed and rode off. I
could see the statue not a quarter of a mile away, and
there I went. At some time or other the Great North Road
ran under it into Valentia; but the far end had been
blocked up because of the Picts, and on the plaster a man
had scratched, "Finish!" It was like marching into a cave.
We grounded spears together, my little thirty, and it
echoed in the barrel of the arch, but none came. There
was a door at one side painted with our number. We
prowled in, and I found a cook asleep, and ordered him
to give us food. Then I climbed to the top of the Wall, and
looked out over the Pict country, and I - thought,' said
Parnesius. 'The bricked-up arch with "Finish!" on the
plaster was what shook me, for I was not much more than a boy.'
'What a shame!'said Una. 'But did you feel happy after
you'd had a good -'Dan stopped her with a nudge.
'Happy?' said Parnesius. 'When the men of the Cohort
I was to command came back unhelmeted from the
cock-fight, their birds under their arms, and asked me
who I was? No, I was not happy; but I made my new
Cohort unhappy too ... I wrote my Mother I was happy,
but, oh, my friends'- he stretched arms over bare knees -
'I would not wish my worst enemy to suffer as I suffered
through my first months on the Wall. Remember this:
among the officers was scarcely one, except myself (and I
thought I had lost the favour of Maximus, my General),
scarcely one who had not done something of wrong or
folly. Either he had killed a man, or taken money, or
insulted the magistrates, or blasphemed the Gods, and
so had been sent to the Wall as a hiding-place from shame
or fear. And the men were as the officers. Remember,
also, that the Wall was manned by every breed and race
in the Empire. No two towers spoke the same tongue, or
worshipped the same Gods. In one thing only we were all
equal. No matter what arms we had used before we came
to the Wall, on the Wall we were all archers, like the
Scythians. The Pict cannot run away from the arrow, or
crawl under it. He is a bowman himself. He knows!'
'I suppose you were fighting Picts all the time,' said Dan.
'Picts seldom fight. I never saw a fighting Pict for half a
year. The tame Picts told us they had all gone North.'
'What is a tame Pict?' said Dan.
'A Pict - there were many such - who speaks a few
words of our tongue, and slips across the Wall to sell
ponies and wolf-hounds. Without a horse and a dog, and
a friend, man would perish. The Gods gave me all three,
and there is no gift like friendship. Remember this' -
Parnesius turned to Dan -'when you become a young
man. For your fate will turn on the first true friend you make.'
'He means,' said Puck, grinning, 'that if you try to
make yourself a decent chap when you're young, you'll
make rather decent friends when you grow up. If you're a
beast, you'll have beastly friends. Listen to the Pious
Parnesius on Friendship!'
'I am not pious,'Parnesius answered, 'but I know what
goodness means; and my friend, though he was without
hope, was ten thousand times better than I. Stop
'Oh, Youth Eternal and All-believing,' cried Puck, as
he rocked on the branch above. 'Tell them about your Pertinax.'
'He was that friend the Gods sent me - the boy who
spoke to me when I first came. Little older than myself,
commanding the Augusta Victoria Cohort on the tower
next to us and the Numidians. In virtue he was far my superior.'
'Then why was he on the Wall?' Una asked, quickly.
'They'd all done something bad. You said so yourself.'
'He was the nephew, his father had died, of a great rich
man in Gaul who was not always kind to his mother.
When Pertinax grew up, he discovered this, and so his
uncle shipped him off, by trickery and force, to the Wall.
We came to know each other at a ceremony in our Temple
in the dark. It was the Bull-Killing,'Parnesius explained to Puck.
'I see, said Puck, and turned to the children. 'That's
something you wouldn't quite understand. Parnesius
means he met Pertinax in church.'
'Yes - in the Cave we first met, and we were both raised
to the Degree of Gryphons together.' Parnesius lifted his
hand towards his neck for an instant. 'He had been on the
Wall two years, and knew the Picts well. He taught me
first how to take Heather.'
'What's that?' said Dan.
'Going out hunting in the Pict country with a tame Pict.
You are quite safe so long as you are his guest, and wear a
sprig of heather where it can be seen. If you went alone
you would surely be killed, if you were not smothered
first in the bogs. Only the Picts know their way about
those black and hidden bogs. Old Allo, the one-eyed,
withered little Pict from whom we bought our ponies,
was our special friend. At first we went only to escape
from the terrible town, and to talk together about our
homes. Then he showed us how to hunt wolves and
those great red deer with horns like Jewish candlesticks.
The Roman-born officers rather looked down on us for
doing this, but we preferred the heather to their amusements.
Believe me,' Parnesius turned again to Dan, 'a
boy is safe from all things that really harm when he is
astride a pony or after a deer. Do you remember,
O Faun,' - he turned to Puck - 'the little altar I built
to the Sylvan Pan by the pine-forest beyond the brook?'
'Which? The stone one with the line from Xenophon?'
said Puck, in quite a new voice.
'No! What do I know of Xenophon? That was Pertinax -
after he had shot his first mountain-hare with an arrow -
by chance! Mine I made of round pebbles, in memory
of my first bear. It took me one happy day to build.'
Parnesius faced the children quickly.
'And that was how we lived on the Wall for two years -
a little scuffling with the Picts, and a great deal of hunting
with old Allo in the Pict country. He called us his children
sometimes, and we were fond of him and his barbarians,
though we never let them paint us Pict-fashion. The
marks endure till you die.'
'How's it done?' said Dan. 'Anything like tattooing?'
'They prick the skin till the blood runs, and rub in
coloured juices. Allo was painted blue, green, and red
from his forehead to his ankles. He said it was part of his
religion. He told us about his religion (Pertinax was
always interested in such things), and as we came to
know him well, he told us what was happening in Britain
behind the Wall. Many things took place behind us in
those days. And by the Light of the Sun,' said Parnesius,
earnestly, 'there was not much that those little people did
not know! He told me when Maximus crossed over to
Gaul, after he had made himself Emperor of Britain, and
what troops and emigrants he had taken with him. We
did not get the news on the Wall till fifteen days later. He
told me what troops Maximus was taking out of Britain
every month to help him to conquer Gaul; and I always
found the numbers were as he said. Wonderful! And I tell
another strange thing!'
He joined his hands across his knees, and leaned his
head on the curve of the shield behind him.
'Late in the summer, when the first frosts begin and the
Picts kill their bees, we three rode out after wolf with
some new hounds. Rutilianus, our General, had given us
ten days' leave, and we had pushed beyond the Second
Wall - beyond the Province of Valentia - into the higher
hills, where there are not even any of old Rome's ruins.
We killed a she-wolf before noon, and while Allo was
skinning her he looked up and said to me, "When you are
Captain of the Wall, my child, you won't be able to do this
'I might as well have been made Prefect of Lower Gaul,
so I laughed and said, "Wait till I am Captain."
"'No, don't wait," said Allo. "Take my advice and go home -
both of you."
"'We have no homes," said Pertinax. "You
know that as well as we do . We're finished men - thumbs
down against both of us. Only men without hope would
risk their necks on your ponies."
The old man laughed one of those short Pict laughs - like
a fox barking on a frosty night. "I'm fond of you two," he said.
"Besides, I've taught you what little you know about hunting. Take
my advice and go home."
"'We can't," I said. "I'm out of favour with my
General, for one thing; and for another, Pertinax has an uncle."
"'I don't know about his uncle," said Allo, "but the
trouble with you, Parnesius, is that your General thinks
well of you."
"'Roma Dea!" said Pertinax, sitting up. "What can you
guess what Maximus thinks, you old horse-coper?"
'Just then (you know how near the brutes creep when
one is eating?) a great dog-wolf jumped out behind us,
and away our rested hounds tore after him, with us at
their tails. He ran us far out of any country we'd ever
heard of, straight as an arrow till sunset, towards the
sunset. We came at last to long capes stretching into
winding waters, and on a grey beach below us we saw
ships drawn up. Forty-seven we counted - not Roman
galleys but the raven-winged ships from the North where
Rome does not rule. Men moved in the ships, and the sun
flashed on their helmets - winged helmets of the red-haired
men from the North where Rome does not rule. We watched, and we
counted, and we wondered, for though we had heard rumours
concerning these Winged Hats, as the Picts called them, never
before had we looked upon them.
"'Come away! come away!" said Allo. "My Heather
won't protect you here. We shall all be killed!" His legs
trembled like his voice. Back we went - back across the
heather under the moon, till it was nearly morning, and
our poor beasts stumbled on some ruins.
'When we woke, very stiff and cold, Allo was mixing
the meal and water. One does not light fires in the Pict
country except near a village. The little men are always
signalling to each other with smokes, and a strange
smoke brings them out buzzing like bees. They can sting, too!
"'What we saw last night was a trading-station," said
Allo. "Nothing but a trading-station. "
"'I do not like lies on an empty stomach," said
Pertinax. "I suppose" (he had eyes like an eagle's) - "I
suppose that is a trading-station also?" He pointed to a
smoke far off on a hill-top, ascending in what we call the
Picts' Call: - Puff - double-puff: double-puff - puff! They
make it by raising and dropping a wet hide on a fire.
"'No," said Allo, pushing the platter back into the bag.
"That is for you and me. Your fate is fixed. Come."
'We came. When one takes Heather, one must obey
one's Pict - but that wretched smoke was twenty miles
distant, well over on the East coast, and the day was as
hot as a bath.
"'Whatever happens," said Allo, while our ponies
grunted along, "I want you to remember me."
"'I shall not forget," said Pertinax. "You have cheated
me out of my breakfast."
"What is a handful of crushed oats to a Roman?" he
said. Then he laughed his laugh that was not a laugh.
"What would you do if you were a handful of oats being
crushed between the upper and lower stones of a mill?"
"'I'm Pertinax, not a riddle-guesser," said Pertinax.
"'You're a fool," said Allo. "Your Gods and my Gods
are threatened by strange Gods, and all you can do is to laugh."
"'Threatened men live long," I said.
"'I pray the Gods that may be true," he said. "But I ask
you again not to forget me."
'We climbed the last hot hill and looked out on the
eastern sea, three or four miles off. There was a small
sailing-galley of the North Gaul pattern at anchor, her
landing-plank down and her sail half up; and below us,
alone in a hollow, holding his pony, sat Maximus,
Emperor of Britain! He was dressed like a hunter, and he
leaned on his little stick; but I knew that back as far as I
could see it, and I told Pertinax.
"'You're madder than Allo!" he said. "It must be the sun!"
'Maximus never stirred till we stood before him. Then
he looked me up and down, and said: "Hungry again? It
seems to be my destiny to feed you whenever we meet. I
have food here. Allo shall cook it."
"'No," said Allo. "A Prince in his own land does not
wait on wandering Emperors. I feed my two children
without asking your leave." He began to blow up the ashes.
"'I was wrong," said Pertinax. "We are all mad. Speak
up, O Madman called Emperor!"
'Maximus smiled his terrible tight-lipped smile, but
two years on the Wall do not make a man afraid of mere
looks. So I was not afraid.
"'I meant you, Parnesius, to live and die a Centurion of
the Wall," said Maximus. "But it seems from these," - he
fumbled in his breast - "you can think as well as draw."
He pulled out a roll of letters I had written to my people,
full of drawings of Picts, and bears, and men I had met on
the Wall. Mother and my sister always liked my pictures.
'He handed me one that I had called "Maximus's
Soldiers". It showed a row of fat wine-skins, and our old
Doctor of the Hunno hospital snuffing at them. Each time
that Maximus had taken troops out of Britain to help him
to conquer Gaul, he used to send the garrisons more wine
- to keep them quiet, I suppose. On the Wall, we always
called a wine-skin a "Maximus". Oh, yes; and I had
drawn them in Imperial helmets.
"'Not long since," he went on, "men's names were
sent up to Caesar for smaller jokes than this."
"'True, Caesar," said Pertinax; "but you forget that
was before I, your friend's friend, became such a
'He did not actually point his hunting-spear at
Maximus, but balanced it on his palm - so!
"'I was speaking of time past," said Maximus, never
fluttering an eyelid. "Nowadays one is only too pleased
to find boys who can think for themselves, and their
friends." He nodded at Pertinax. "Your Father lent me
the letters, Parnesius, so you run no risk from me."
"'None whatever," said Pertinax, and rubbed the
spear-point on his sleeve.
"'I have been forced to reduce the garrisons in Britain,
because I need troops in Gaul. Now I come to take troops
from the Wall itself," said he.
"'I wish you joy of us," said Pertinax. "We're the last
sweepings of the Empire - the men without hope.
Myself, I'd sooner trust condemned criminals."
"'You think so?" he said, quite seriously. "But it will
only be till I win Gaul. One must always risk one's life, or
one's soul, or one's peace - or some little thing."
'Allo passed round the fire with the sizzling deer's
meat. He served us two first.
"'Ah!" said Maximus, waiting his turn. "I perceive
you are in your own country. Well, you deserve it. They
tell me you have quite a following among the Picts, Parnesius."
"'I have hunted with them," I said. "Maybe I have a
few friends among the heather."
"'He is the only armoured man of you all who understands
us," said Allo, and he began a long speech about
our virtues, and how we had saved one of his grandchildren
from a wolf the year before.'
'Had you?' said Una.
'Yes; but that was neither here nor there. The little
green man orated like a - like Cicero. He made us out to
be magnificent fellows. Maximus never took his eyes off
"'Enough," he said. "I have heard Allo on you. I wish
to hear you on the Picts."
'I told him as much as I knew, and Pertinax helped me
out. There is never harm in a Pict if you but take the
trouble to find out what he wants. Their real grievance
against us came from our burning their heather. The
whole garrison of the Wall moved out twice a year, and
solemnly burned the heather for ten miles North.
Rutilianus, our General, called it clearing the country.
The Picts, of course, scampered away, and all we did was
to destroy their bee-bloom in the summer, and ruin their
sheep-food in the spring.
"'True, quite true," said Allo. "How can we make our
holy heather-wine, if you burn our bee-pasture?"
'We talked long, Maximus asking keen questions that
showed he knew much and had thought more about the
Picts. He said presently to me: "If I gave you the old
Province of Valentia to govern, could you keep the Picts
contented till I won Gaul? Stand away, so that you do not
see Allo's face; and speak your own thoughts."
"'No," I said. "You cannot remake that Province. The
Picts have been free too long."
"'Leave them their village councils, and let them
furnish their own soldiers," he said. "You, I am sure,
would hold the reins very lightly."
"Even then, no," I said. "At least not now. They have
been too oppressed by us to trust anything with a Roman
name for years and years."
'I heard old Allo behind me mutter: "Good child!"
"'Then what do you recommend," said Maximus, "to
keep the North quiet till I win Gaul?"
"'Leave the Picts alone," I said. "Stop the heather-
burning at once, and - they are improvident little animals -
send them a shipload or two of corn now and then."
"'Their own men must distribute it - not some
cheating Greek accountant," said Pertinax.
"'Yes, and allow them to come to our hospitals when
they are sick," I said.
"'Surely they would die first," said Maximus.
"'Not if Parnesius brought them in," said Allo. "I
could show you twenty wolf-bitten, bear-clawed Picts
within twenty miles of here. But Parnesius must stay
with them in hospital, else they would go mad with fear. "
"'I see," said Maximus. "Like everything else in the
world, it is one man's work. You, I think, are that one man."
"'Pertinax and I are one," I said.
"'As you please, so long as you work. Now, Allo, you
know that I mean your people no harm. Leave us to talk
together," said Maximus.
"'No need!" said Allo. "I am the corn between the
upper and lower millstones. I must know what the lower
millstone means to do. These boys have spoken the truth
as far as they know it. I, a Prince, will tell you the rest. I
am troubled about the Men of the North." He squatted
like a hare in the heather, and looked over his shoulder.
"'I also," said Maximus, "or I should not be here."
"'Listen," said Allo. "Long and long ago the Winged
Hats" - he meant the Northmen - "came to our beaches
and said, 'Rome falls! Push her down!' We fought you.
You sent men. We were beaten. After that we said to the
Winged Hats, 'You are liars! Make our men alive that
Rome killed, and we will believe you.' They went away
ashamed. Now they come back bold, and they tell the old
tale, which we begin to believe - that Rome falls!"
"'Give me three years' peace on the Wall," cried
Maximus, "and I will show you and all the ravens how
"'Ah, I wish it too! I wish to save what is left of the corn
from the millstones. But you shoot us Picts when we
come to borrow a little iron from the Iron Ditch; you burn
our heather, which is all our crop; you trouble us with
your great catapults. Then you hide behind the Wall, and
scorch us with Greek fire. How can I keep my young men
from listening to the Winged Hats - in winter especially,
when we are hungry? My young men will say, 'Rome can
neither fight nor rule. She is taking her men out of
Britain. The Winged Hats will help us to push down the
Wall. Let us show them the secret roads across the bogs.'
Do I want that? No!" He spat like an adder. "I would keep
the secrets of my people though I were burned alive. My
two children here have spoken truth. Leave us Picts
alone. Comfort us, and cherish us, and feed us from far
off - with the hand behind the back. Parnesius understands
us. Let him have rule on the Wall, and I will hold
my young men quiet for" - he ticked it off on his fingers -
"one year easily: the next year not so easily: the third
year, perhaps! See, I give you three years. If then you do
not show us that Rome is strong in men and terrible in
arms, the Winged Hats, I tell you, will sweep down the
Wall from either sea till they meet in the middle, and you
will go. I shall not grieve over that, but well I know tribe
never helps tribe except for one price. We Picts will go
too. The Winged Hats will grind us to this!" He tossed a
handful of dust in the air.
"'Oh, Roma Dea!" said Maximus, half aloud. "It is
always one man's work- always and everywhere!"
"And one man's life," said Allo. "You are Emperor,
but not a God. You may die."
"'I have thought of that too," said he. "Very good. If
this wind holds, I shall be at the East end of the Wall by
morning. Tomorrow, then, I shall see you two when I
inspect, and I will make you Captains of the Wall for this work."
"'One instant, Caesar," said Pertinax. "All men have
their price. I am not bought yet."
"'Do you also begin to bargain so early?" said
"'Give me justice against my uncle Icenus, the
Duumvir of Divio in Gaul," he said.
"'Only a life? I thought it would be money or an office.
Certainly you shall have him. Write his name on these
tablets - on the red side; the other is for the living!" and
Maximus held out his tablets.
"'He is of no use to me dead," said Pertinax. "My
mother is a widow. I am far off. I am not sure he pays her
all her dowry."
"'No matter. My arm is reasonably long. We will look
through your uncle's accounts in due time. Now,
farewell till tomorrow, O Captains of the Wall!"
'We saw him grow small across the heather as he
walked to the galley. There were Picts, scores, each side
of him, hidden behind stones. He never looked left or
right. He sailed away southerly, full spread before the
evening breeze, and when we had watched him out to
sea, we were silent. We understood that Earth bred few
men like to this man.
'Presently Allo brought the ponies and held them for
us to mount - a thing he had never done before.
"'Wait awhile," said Pertinax, and he made a little altar
of cut turf, and strewed heather-bloom atop, and laid
upon it a letter from a girl in Gaul.
"'What do you do, O my friend?" I said.
"'I sacrifice to my dead youth," he answered, and,
when the flames had consumed the letter, he ground
them out with his heel. Then we rode back to that Wall of
which we were to be Captains.'
Parnesius stopped. The children sat still, not even
asking if that were all the tale. Puck beckoned, and
pointed the way out of the wood. 'Sorry,' he whispered,
'but you must go now.'
'We haven't made him angry, have we?' said Una. 'He
looks so far off, and - and - thinky.'
'Bless your heart, no. Wait till tomorrow. It won't be
long. Remember, you've been playing Lays of Ancient Rome.'
And as soon as they had scrambled through their gap
where Oak, Ash and Thorn grew, that was all they remembered.
A Song to Mithras
Mithras, God of the Morning, our trumpets waken the Wall!
'Rome is above the Nations, but Thou art over all!'
Now as the names are answered, and the guards are marched away,
Mithras, also a soldier, give us strength for the day!
Mithras, God of the Noontide, the heather swims in the heat,
Our helmets scorch our foreheads, our sandals burn our feet.
Now in the ungirt hour, now ere we blink and drowse,
Mithras, also a soldier, keep us true to our vows!
Mithras, God of the Sunset, low on the Western main,
Thou descending immortal, immortal to rise again!
Now when the watch is ended, now when the wine is drawn,
Mithras, also a soldier, keep us pure till the dawn!
Mithras, God of the Midnight, here where the great bull dies,
Look on Thy children in darkness. Oh, take our sacrifice!
Many roads Thou hast fashioned: all of them lead to the Light!
Mithras, also a soldier, teach us to die aright!
THE WINGED HATS
The next day happened to be what they called a Wild
Afternoon. Father and Mother went out to pay calls; Miss
Blake went for a ride on her bicycle, and they were left all
alone till eight o'clock.
When they had seen their dear parents and their dear
preceptress politely off the premises they got a cabbage-
leaf full of raspberries from the gardener, and a Wild Tea
from Ellen. They ate the raspberries to prevent their
squashing, and they meant to divide the cabbage-leaf
with Three Cows down at the Theatre, but they came
across a dead hedgehog which they simply had to bury,
and the leaf was too useful to waste.
Then they went on to the Forge and found old Hobden
the hedger at home with his son, the Bee Boy, who is not
quite right in his head, but who can pick up swarms of
bees in his naked hands; and the Bee Boy told them the
rhyme about the slow-worm:
'If I had eyes as I could see,
No mortal man would trouble me.'
They all had tea together by the hives, and Hobden
said the loaf-cake which Ellen had given them was almost
as good as what his wife used to make, and he showed
them how to set a wire at the right height for hares. They
knew about rabbits already.
Then they climbed up Long Ditch into the lower end of
Far Wood. This is sadder and darker than the Volaterrae
end because of an old marl-pit full of black water, where
weepy, hairy moss hangs round the stumps of the
willows and alders. But the birds come to perch on the
dead branches, and Hobden says that the bitter willow-
water is a sort of medicine for sick animals.
They sat down on a felled oak-trunk in the shadows of
the beech undergrowth, and were looping the wires
Hobden had given them, when they saw Parnesius.
'How quietly you came!'said Una, moving up to make
room. 'Where's Puck?'
'The Faun and I have disputed whether it is better that I
should tell you all my tale, or leave it untold,' he replied.
'I only said that if he told it as it happened you
wouldn't understand it,' said Puck, jumping up like a
squirrel from behind the log.
'I don't understand all of it,' said Una, 'but I like
hearing about the little Picts.'
'What I can't understand,' said Dan, 'is how Maximus
knew all about the Picts when he was over in Gaul.'
'He who makes himself Emperor anywhere must
know everything, everywhere,' said Parnesius. 'We had
this much from Maximus's mouth after the Games.'
'Games? What Games?' said Dan.
Parnesius stretched his arm out stiffly, thumb pointed
to the ground. 'Gladiators! That sort of game,' he said.
'There were two days' Games in his honour when he
landed all unexpected at Segedunum on the East end of
the Wall. Yes, the day after we had met him we held two
days' Games; but I think the greatest risk was run, not by
the poor wretches on the sand, but by Maximus. In the
old days the Legions kept silence before their Emperor.
So did not we! You could hear the solid roar run West
along the Wall as his chair was carried rocking through
the crowds. The garrison beat round him - clamouring,
clowning, asking for pay, for change of quarters, for
anything that came into their wild heads. That chair was
like a little boat among waves, dipping and falling,
but always rising again after one had shut the eyes.'
'Were they angry with him?' said Dan.
'No more angry than wolves in a cage when their
trainer walks among them. If he had turned his back an
instant, or for an instant had ceased to hold their eyes,
there would have been another Emperor made on the
Wall that hour. Was it not so, Faun?'
'So it was. So it always will be,' said Puck.
'Late in the evening his messenger came for us, and we
followed to the Temple of Victory, where he lodged with
Rutilianus, the General of the Wall. I had hardly seen the
General before, but he always gave me leave when I
wished to take Heather. He was a great glutton, and kept
five Asian cooks, and he came of a family that believed in
oracles. We could smell his good dinner when we
entered, but the tables were empty. He lay snorting on a
couch. Maximus sat apart among long rolls of accounts.
Then the doors were shut.
"'These are your men," said Maximus to the General,
who propped his eye-corners open with his gouty
fingers, and stared at us like a fish.
"'I shall know them again, Caesar," said Rutilianus.
"Very good," said Maximus. "Now hear! You are not
to move man or shield on the Wall except as these boys
shall tell you. You will do nothing, except eat, without
their permission. They are the head and arms. You are
"'As Caesar pleases," the old man grunted. "If my pay
and profits are not cut, you may make my Ancestors'
Oracle my master. Rome has been! Rome has been!"
Then he turned on his side to sleep.
"'He has it," said Maximus. "We will get to what I need."
'He unrolled full copies of the number of men and
supplies on the Wall - down to the sick that very day in
Hunno Hospital. Oh, but I groaned when his pen
marked off detachment after detachment of our best - of
our least worthless men! He took two towers of our
Scythians, two of our North British auxiliaries, two
Numidian cohorts, the Dacians all, and half the Belgians.
It was like an eagle pecking a carcass.
"'And now, how many catapults have you?" He
turned up a new list, but Pertinax laid his open hand there.
"'No, Caesar," said he. "Do not tempt the Gods too
far. Take men, or engines, but not both; else we refuse."'
'Engines?' said Una.
'The catapults of the Wall - huge things forty feet high
to the head - firing nets of raw stone or forged bolts.
Nothing can stand against them. He left us our catapults
at last, but he took a Caesar's half of our men
without pity. We were a shell when he rolled up the lists!
"'Hail, Caesar! We, about to die, salute you!" said
Pertinax, laughing. "If any enemy even leans against the
Wall now, it will tumble."
"'Give me the three years Allo spoke of," he
answered, "and you shall have twenty thousand men of
your own choosing up here. But now it is a gamble - a
game played against the Gods, and the stakes are Britain,
Gaul, and perhaps Rome. You play on my side?"
"'We will play, Caesar," I said, for I had never met a
man like this man.
",Good. Tomorrow," said he, "I proclaim you
Captains of the Wall before the troops."
'So we went into the moonlight, where they were
cleaning the ground after the Games. We saw great Roma
Dea atop of the Wall, the frost on her helmet, and her
spear pointed towards the North Star. We saw the
twinkle of night-fires all along the guard-towers, and the
line of the black catapults growing smaller and smaller in
the distance. All these things we knew till we were
weary; but that night they seemed very strange to us,
because the next day we knew we were to be their masters.
'The men took the news well; but when Maximus went
away with half our strength, and we had to spread
ourselves into the emptied towers, and the townspeople
complained that trade would be ruined, and the autumn
gales blew - it was dark days for us two. Here Pertinax
was more than my right hand. Being born and bred
among the great country houses in Gaul, he knew the
proper words to address to all - from Roman-born
Centurions to those dogs of the Third - the Libyans.
And he spoke to each as though that man were as
high-minded as himself. Now I saw so strongly what
things were needed to be done, that I forgot things
are only accomplished by means of men. That was a mistake.
'I feared nothing from the Picts, at least for that year,
but Allo warned me that the Winged Hats would soon
come in from the sea at each end of the Wall to prove to
the Picts how weak we were. So I made ready in haste,
and none too soon. I shifted our best men to the ends of
the Wall, and set up screened catapults by the beach. The
Winged Hats would drive in before the snow-squalls -
ten or twenty boats at a time - on Segedunum or Ituna,
according as the wind blew.
'Now a ship coming in to land men must furl her sail. If
you wait till you see her men gather up the sail's foot,
your catapults can jerk a net of loose stones (bolts only cut
through the cloth) into the bag of it. Then she turns over,
and the sea makes everything clean again. A few men
may come ashore, but very few ... It was not hard work,
except the waiting on the beach in blowing sand and
snow. And that was how we dealt with the Winged Hats
'Early in the spring, when the East winds blow like
skinning-knives, they gathered again off Segedunum
with many ships. Allo told me they would never rest till
they had taken a tower in open fight. Certainly they
fought in the open. We dealt with them thoroughly
through a long day: and when all was finished, one man
dived clear of the wreckage of his ship, and swam
towards shore. I waited, and a wave tumbled him at my feet.
'As I stooped, I saw he wore such a medal as I wear.'
Parnesius raised his hand to his neck. 'Therefore, when
he could speak, I addressed him a certain Question
which can only be answered in a certain manner. He
answered with the necessary Word - the Word that
belongs to the Degree of Gryphons in the science of
Mithras my God. I put my shield over him till he could
stand up. You see I am not short, but he was a head taller
than I. He said: "What now?" I said: "At your pleasure,
my brother, to stay or go."
'He looked out across the surf. There remained one
ship unhurt, beyond range of our catapults . I checked the
catapults and he waved her in. She came as a hound
comes to a master. When she was yet a hundred paces
from the beach, he flung back his hair, and swam out.
They hauled him in, and went away. I knew that those
who worship Mithras are many and of all races, so I did
not think much more upon the matter.
'A month later I saw Allo with his horses - by the
Temple of Pan, O Faun - and he gave me a great necklace
of gold studded with coral.
'At first I thought it was a bribe from some tradesman
in the town - meant for old Rutilianus. "Nay," said Allo.
"This is a gift from Amal, that Winged Hat whom you
saved on the beach. He says you are a Man."
"'He is a Man, too. Tell him I can wear his gift," I answered.
"'Oh, Amal is a young fool; but ' speaking as sensible
men, your Emperor is doing such great things in Gaul
that the Winged Hats are anxious to be his friends, or,
better still, the friends of his servants. They think you
and Pertinax could lead them to victories." Allo looked at
me like a one-eyed raven.
"'Allo," I said, "you are the corn between the two
millstones. Be content if they grind evenly, and don't
thrust your hand between them."
"'I?" said Allo. "I hate Rome and the Winged Hats
equally; but if the Winged Hats thought that some day
you and Pertinax might join them against Maximus, they
would leave you in peace while you considered. Time is
what we need - you and I and Maximus. Let me carry a
pleasant message back to the Winged Hats - something
for them to make a council over. We barbarians are all
alike. We sit up half the night to discuss anything a
Roman says. Eh?"
"'We have no men. We must fight with words," said
Pertinax. "Leave it to Allo and me."
'So Allo carried word back to the Winged Hats that we
would not fight them if they did not fight us; and they (I
think they were a little tired of losing men in the sea)
agreed to a sort of truce. I believe Allo, who being a
horse-dealer loved lies, also told them we might some
day rise against Maximus as Maximus had risen against Rome.
'Indeed, they permitted the corn-ships which I sent to
the Picts to pass North that season without harm. Therefore
the Picts were well fed that winter, and since they
were in some sort my children, I was glad of it. We had
only two thousand men on the Wall, and I wrote many
times to Maximus and begged - prayed - him to send me
only one cohort of my old North British troops. He could
not spare them. He needed them to win more victories in Gaul.
'Then came news that he had defeated and slain the
Emperor Gratian, and thinking he must now be secure, I
wrote again for men. He answered: "You will learn that I
have at last settled accounts with the pup Gratian. There was no
need that he should have died, but he became confused and lost
his head, which is a bad thing to befall any Emperor. Tell your
Father I am content to drive two mules only; for unless my old
General's son thinks himself destined to destroy me, I shall rest
Emperor of Gaul and Britain, and then you, my two children,
will presently get all the men you need. just now I can spare none. "'
'What did he mean by his General's son?' said Dan.
'He meant Theodosius Emperor of Rome, who was the
son of Theodosius the General under whom Maximus
had fought in the old Pict War. The two men never loved
each other, and when Gratian made the younger
Theodosius Emperor of the East (at least, so I've heard),
Maximus carried on the war to the second generation. It
was his fate, and it was his fall. But Theodosius the
Emperor is a good man. As I know.' Parnesius was silent
for a moment and then continued.
'I wrote back to Maximus that, though we had peace on
the Wall, I should be happier with a few more men and
some new catapults. He answered: "You must live a little
longer under the shadow of my victories, till I can see what
young Theodosius intends. He may welcome me as a brother-
Emperor, or he may be preparing an army. In either case I
cannot spare men just now. "
'But he was always saying that,' cried Una.
'It was true. He did not make excuses; but thanks, as he
said, to the news of his victories, we had no trouble on
the Wall for a long, long time. The Picts grew fat as their
own sheep among the heather, and as many of my men
as lived were well exercised in their weapons. Yes, the
Wall looked strong. For myself, I knew how weak we
were. I knew that if even a false rumour of any defeat to
Maximus broke loose among the Winged Hats, they
might come down in earnest, and then - the Wall must
go! For the Picts I never cared, but in those years I learned
something of the strength of the Winged Hats. They
increased their strength every day, but I could not increase
my men. Maximus had emptied Britain behind us,
and I felt myself to be a man with a rotten stick standing
before a broken fence to turn bulls.
'Thus, my friends, we lived on the Wall, waiting -
waiting - waiting for the men that Maximus never sent.
'Presently he wrote that he was preparing an army
against Theodosius. He wrote - and Pertinax read it over
my shoulder in our quarters: "Tell your Father that my
destiny orders me to drive three mules or be torn in pieces by
them. I hope within a year to finish with Theodosius, son of
Theodosius, once and for all. Then you shall have Britain to
rule, and Pertinax, if he chooses, Gaul. Today I wish strongly
you were with me to beat my Auxiliaries into shape. Do not, I
pray you, believe any rumour of my sickness. I have a little
evil in my old body which I shall cure by riding swiftly into Rome. "
'Said Pertinax: "It is finished with Maximus. He writes
as a man without hope. I, a man without hope, can see
this. What does he add at the bottom of the roll? 'Tell
Pertinax I have met his late Uncle, the Duumvir of Divio, and
that he accounted to me quite truthfully for all his Mother's
monies. I have sent her with a fitting escort, for she is the mother
of a hero, to Nicaea, where the climate is warm.'
"'That is proof," said Pertinax. "Nicaea is not far by sea
from Rome. A woman there could take ship and fly to
Rome in time of war. Yes, Maximus foresees his death,
and is fulfilling his promises one by one. But I am glad my
uncle met him."'
"'You think blackly today?" I asked.
"'I think truth. The Gods weary of the play we have
played against them. Theodosius will destroy Maximus.
It is finished!"
"'Will you write him that?" I said.
"'See what I shall write," he answered, and he took
pen and wrote a letter cheerful as the light of day, tender
as a woman's and full of jests. Even I, reading over his
shoulder, took comfort from it till - I saw his face!
"'And now," he said, sealing it, "we be two dead men,
my brother. Let us go to the Temple."
'We prayed awhile to Mithras, where we had many
times prayed before. After that, we lived day by day
among evil rumours till winter came again.
'It happened one morning that we rode to the East
shore, and found on the beach a fair-haired man, half
frozen, bound to some broken planks. Turning him over,
we saw by his belt-buckle that he was a Goth of an
Eastern Legion. Suddenly he opened his eyes and cried
loudly, "He is dead! The letters were with me, but the
Winged Hats sank the ship." So saying, he died between
'We asked not who was dead. We knew! We raced
before the driving snow to Hunno, thinking perhaps Allo
might be there. We found him already at our stables, and
he saw by our faces what we had heard.
"'It was in a tent by the sea," he stammered. "He was
beheaded by Theodosius. He sent a letter to you, written
while he waited to be slain. The Winged Hats met the
ship and took it. The news is running through the
heather like fire. Blame me not! I cannot hold back my
young men any more."
"'I would we could say as much for our men," said
Pertinax, laughing. "But, Gods be praised, they cannot
"'What do you do?" said Allo. "I bring an order - a
message - from the Winged Hats that you join them with
your men, and march South to plunder Britain."
"'It grieves me," said Pertinax, "but we are stationed
here to stop that thing."
"'If I carry back such an answer they will kill me," said
Allo. "I always promised the Winged Hats that you
would rise when Maximus fell. I - I did not think he could fall."
"'Alas! my poor barbarian," said Pertinax, still
laughing. "Well, you have sold us too many good ponies
to be thrown back to your friends. We will make you a
prisoner, although you are an ambassador."
"'Yes, that will be best," said Allo, holding out a
halter. We bound him lightly, for he was an old man.
"'Presently the Winged Hats may come to look for
you, and that will give us more time. See how the habit of
playing for time sticks to a man!" said Pertinax, as he tied
"'No," I said. "Time may help. If Maximus wrote us a
letter while he was a prisoner, Theodosius must have
sent the ship that brought it. If he can send ships, he can
"'How will that profit us?" said Pertinax. "We serve
Maximus, not Theodosius. Even if by some miracle of the
Gods Theodosius down South sent and saved the Wall,
we could not expect more than the death Maximus died. "
"'It concerns us to defend the Wall, no matter what
Emperor dies, or makes die," I said.
"'That is worthy of your brother the philosopher,"
said Pertinax. "Myself I am without hope, so I do not say
solemn and stupid things! Rouse the Wall!"
'We armed the Wall from end to end; we told the
officers that there was a rumour of Maximus's death
which might bring down the Winged Hats, but we were
sure, even if it were true, that Theodosius, for the sake of
Britain, would send us help. Therefore, we must stand
fast ... My friends, it is above all things strange to see
how men bear ill news! Often the strongest till then
become the weakest, while the weakest, as it were, reach
up and steal strength from the Gods. So it was with us.
Yet my Pertinax by his jests and his courtesy and
his labours had put heart and training into our poor
numbers during the past years - more than I should have
thought possible. Even our Libyan Cohort - the
Third - stood up in their padded cuirasses and did not whimper.
'In three days came seven chiefs and elders of the
Winged Hats. Among them was that tall young man,
Amal, whom I had met on the beach, and he smiled when
he saw my necklace. We made them welcome, for they
were ambassadors. We showed them Allo, alive but
bound. They thought we had killed him, and I saw it
would not have vexed them if we had. Allo saw it too,
and it vexed him. Then in our quarters at Hunno we came
'They said that Rome was falling, and that we must join
them. They offered me all South Britain to govern after
they had taken a tribute out of it.
'I answered, "Patience. This Wall is not weighed off
like plunder. Give me proof that my General is dead."
"'Nay," said one elder, "prove to us that he lives"; and
another said cunningly, "What will you give us if we read
you his last words?"
"'We are not merchants to bargain," cried Amal.
"Moreover, I owe this man my life. He shall have his
proof." He threw across to me a letter (well I knew the
seal) from Maximus.
"'We took this out of the ship we sank," he cried. "I
cannot read, but I know one sign, at least, which makes
me believe. " He showed me a dark stain on the outer roll
that my heavy heart perceived was the valiant blood of Maximus.
"'Read!" said Amal. "Read, and then let us hear whose
servants you are!"
'Said Pertinax, very softly, after he had looked through
it: "I will read it all. Listen, barbarians!" He read that
which I have carried next my heart ever since.'
Parnesius drew from his neck a folded and spotted
piece of parchment, and began in a hushed voice:
"'To Parnesius and Pertinax, the not unworthy Captains of
the Wall, from Maximus, once Emperor of Gaul and Britain,
now prisoner waiting death by the sea in the camp of Theodosius
- Greeting and Goodbye! "
"'Enough," said young Amal; "there is your proof!
You must join us now!"
'Pertinax looked long and silently at him, till that fair
man blushed like a girl. Then read Pertinax:
"'I have joyfully done much evil in my life to those who have
wished me evil, but if ever I did any evil to you two I repent, and
I ask your forgiveness. The three mules which I strove to drive
have torn me in pieces as your Father prophesied. The naked
swords wait at the tent door to give me the death I gave to
Gratian. Therefore I, your General and your emperor, send you
free and honourable dismissal from my service, which you
entered, not for money or office, but, as it makes me warm to
believe, because you loved me!"
"'By the Light of the Sun," Amal broke in. "This was in
some sort a Man! We may have been mistaken in his servants!"
'And Pertinax read on: "You gave me the time for which I
asked. If I have failed to use it, do not lament. We have gambled
very splendidly against the Gods, but they hold weighted dice,
and I must pay the forfeit. Remember, I have been; but Rome is;
and Rome will be. Tell Pertinax his Mother is in safety at
Nicaea, and her monies are in charge of the Prefect at Antipolis.
Make my remembrances to your Father and to your Mother,
whose friendship was great gain to me. Give also to my little
Picts and to the Winged Hats such messages as their thick heads
can understand. I would have sent you three Legions this very
day if all had gone aright. Do not forget me. We have worked
together. Farewell! Farewell! Farewell! "
'Now, that was my Emperor's last letter.' (The children
heard the parchment crackle as Parnesius returned it to
"'I was mistaken," said Amal. "The servants of such a
man will sell nothing except over the sword. I am glad of
it." He held out his hand to me.
"'But Maximus has given you your dismissal," said an
elder. "You are certainly free to serve - or to rule - whom
you please. Join - do not follow - join us!"
"'We thank you," said Pertinax. "But Maximus tells us
to give you such messages as - pardon me, but I use his
words - your thick heads can understand." He pointed
through the door to the foot of a catapult wound up.
"'We understand," said an elder. "The Wall must be
won at a price?"
"'It grieves me," said Pertinax, laughing, "but so it
must be won," and he gave them of our best Southern wine.
'They drank, and wiped their yellow beards in silence
till they rose to go.
'Said Amal, stretching himself (for they were barbarians):
"We be a goodly company; I wonder what the
ravens and the dogfish will make of some of us before this
"'Think rather what Theodosius may send," I
answered; and though they laughed, I saw that my
chance shot troubled them.
'Only old Allo lingered behind a little.
"'You see," he said, winking and blinking, "I am no
more than their dog. When I have shown their men the
secret short ways across our bogs, they will kick me like one."
"'Then I should not be in haste to show them those
ways," said Pertinax, "till I was sure that Rome could not
save the Wall."
"'You think so? Woe is me!" said the old man. "I only
wanted peace for my people," and he went out stumbling
through the snow behind the tall Winged Hats.
'In this fashion then, slowly, a day at a time, which is
very bad for doubting troops, the War came upon us. At
first the Winged Hats swept in from the sea as they had
done before, and there we met them as before - with the
catapults; and they sickened of it. Yet for a long time they
would not trust their duck-legs on land, and I think,
when it came to revealing the secrets of the tribe, the little
Picts were afraid or ashamed to show them all the roads
across the heather. I had this from a Pict prisoner. They
were as much our spies as our enemies, for the Winged
Hats oppressed them, and took their winter stores. Ah,
foolish Little People!
'Then the Winged Hats began to roll us up from each
end of the Wall. I sent runners Southward to see what the
news might be in Britain, but the wolves were very bold
that winter, among the deserted stations where the
troops had once been, and none came back. We had
trouble, too, with the forage for the ponies along the
Wall. I kept ten, and so did Pertinax. We lived and slept
in the saddle, riding east or west, and we ate our worn-out
ponies. The people of the town also made us some
trouble till I gathered them all in one quarter behind
Hunno. We broke down the Wall on either side of it to
make as it were a citadel. Our men fought better in close order.
'By the end of the second month we were deep in the
War as a man is deep in a snowdrift, or in a dream. I think
we fought in our sleep. At least I know I have gone on the
Wall and come off again, remembering nothing between,
though my throat was harsh with giving orders, and my
sword, I could see, had been used.
'The Winged Hats fought like wolves - all in a pack.
Where they had suffered most, there they charged in
most hotly. This was hard for the defenders, but it held
them from sweeping on into Britain.
'In those days Pertinax and I wrote on the plaster of the
bricked archway into Valentia the names of the towers,
and the days on which they fell one by one. We wished
for some record.
'And the fighting? The fight was always hottest to left
and right of the great statue of Roma Dea, near to
Rutilianus's house. By the Light of the Sun, that old fat
man, whom we had not considered at all, grew young
again among the trumpets! I remember he said his sword
was an oracle! "Let us consult the Oracle," he would say,
and put the handle against his ear, and shake his head
wisely. "And this day is allowed Rutilianus to live," he
would say, and, tucking up his cloak, he would puff and
pant and fight well. Oh, there were jests in plenty on the
Wall to take the place of food!
'We endured for two months and seventeen days -
always being pressed from three sides into a smaller
space. Several times Allo sent in word that help was
at hand. We did not believe it, but it cheered our men.
'The end came not with shootings of joy, but, like the
rest, as in a dream. The Winged Hats suddenly left us in
peace for one night and the next day; which is too long for
spent men. We slept at first lightly, expecting to be
roused, and then like logs, each where he lay. May you
never need such sleep! When I waked our towers were
full of strange, armed men, who watched us snoring. I
roused Pertinax, and we leaped up together.
"'What?" said a young man in clean armour. "Do you
fight against Theodosius? Look!"
'North we looked over the red snow. No Winged Hats
were there. South we looked over the white snow, and
behold there were the Eagles of two strong Legions
encamped. East and west we saw flame and fighting, but
by Hunno all was still.
"'Trouble no more," said the young man. "Rome's
arm is long. Where are the Captains of the Wall?"
'We said we were those men.
"'But you are old and grey-haired," he cried.
"Maximus said that they were boys."
"'Yes, that was true some years ago," said Pertinax.
"What is our fate to be, you fine and well-fed child?"
"'I am called Ambrosius, a secretary of the Emperor,"
he answered. "Show me a certain letter which Maximus
wrote from a tent at Aquileia, and perhaps I will believe."
'I took it from my breast, and when he had read it he
saluted us, saying: "Your fate is in your own hands. If
you choose to serve Theodosius, he will give you a
Legion. If it suits you to go to your homes, we will give
you a Triumph."
"'I would like better a bath, wine, food, razors, soaps,
oils, and scents," said Pertinax, laughing.
"'Oh, I see you are a boy," said Ambrosius. "And
you?" turning to me.
"'We bear no ill-will against Theodosius, but in War-"
"'In War it is as it is in Love," said Pertinax. "Whether
she be good or bad, one gives one's best once, to one
only. That given, there remains no second worth giving
"'That is true," said Ambrosius. "I was with Maximus
before he died. He warned Theodosius that you would
never serve him, and frankly I say I am sorry for my Emperor."
"'He has Rome to console him," said Pertinax. "I ask
you of your kindness to let us go to our homes and get
this smell out of our nostrils."
'None the less they gave us a Triumph!'
'It was well earned,' said Puck, throwing some leaves
into the still water of the marlpit. The black, oily circles
spread dizzily as the children watched them.
'I want to know, oh, ever so many things,' said Dan.
'What happened to old Allo? Did the Winged Hats ever
come back? And what did Amal do?'
'And what happened to the fat old General with the
five cooks?' said Una. 'And what did your Mother say
when you came home? ...'
'She'd say you're settin' too long over this old pit, so
late as 'tis already,'said old Hobden's voice behind them.
He stood still, for not twenty paces away a magnificent
dog-fox sat on his haunches and looked at the children as
though he were an old friend of theirs.
'Oh, Mus' Reynolds, Mus' Reynolds!' said Hobden,
under his breath. 'If I knowed all was inside your head,
I'd know something wuth knowin'. Mus' Dan an' Miss
Una, come along o' me while I lock up my liddle henhouse.'
A Pict Song
Rome never looks where she treads,
Always her heavy hooves fall
On our stomachs, our hearts or our heads;
And Rome never heeds when we bawl.
Her sentries pass on - that is all,
And we gather behind them in hordes,
And plot to reconquer the Wall,
With only our tongues for our swords.
We are the Little Folk - we!
Too little to love or to hate.
Leave us alone and you'll see
How we can drag down the Great!
We are the worm in the wood!
We are the rot in the root!
We are the germ in the blood!
We are the thorn in the foot!
Mistletoe killing an oak -
Rats gnawing cables in two -
Moths making holes in a cloak -
How they must love what they do!
Yes - and we Little Folk too,
We are as busy as they -
Working our works out of view -
Watch, and you'll see it some day!
No indeed! We are not strong,
But we know Peoples that are.
Yes, and we'll guide them along,
To smash and destroy you in War!
We shall be slaves just the same?
Yes, we have always been slaves,
But you - you will die of the shame,
And then we shall dance on your graves!
We are the Little Folk, we, etc.
HAL O' THE DRAFT
Prophets have honour all over the Earth,
Except in the village where they were born,
Where such as knew them boys from birth
Nature-ally hold 'em in scorn.
When Prophets are naughty and young and vain,
They make a won'erful grievance of it;
(You can see by their writings how they complain),
But Oh, 'tis won'erful good for the Prophet!
There's nothing Nineveh Town can give
(Nor being swallowed by whales between),
Makes up for the place where a man's folk live,
That don't care nothing what he has been.
He might ha' been that, or he might ha' been this,
But they love and they hate him for what he is.
A rainy afternoon drove Dan and Una over to play pirates
in the Little Mill. If you don't mind rats on the rafters and
oats in your shoes, the mill-attic, with its trap-doors
and inscriptions on beams about floods and sweethearts,
is a splendid place. It is lighted by a foot-square window,
called Duck Window, that looks across to Little Lindens
Farm, and the spot where Jack Cade was killed.
When they had climbed the attic ladder (they called it
'the mainmast tree', out of the ballad of Sir Andrew
Barton, and Dan 'swarved it with might and main', as the
ballad says) they saw a man sitting on Duck Window-sill.
He was dressed in a plum-coloured doublet and tight
plum-coloured hose, and he drew busily in a red-edged book.
'Sit ye! Sit ye!' Puck cried from a rafter overhead. 'See
what it is to be beautiful! Sir Harry Dawe - pardon, Hal -
says I am the very image of a head for a gargoyle.'
The man laughed and raised his dark velvet cap to the
children, and his grizzled hair bristled out in a stormy
fringe. He was old - forty at least - but his eyes were
young, with funny little wrinkles all round them. A
satchel of embroidered leather hung from his broad belt,
which looked interesting.
'May we see?' said Una, coming forward.
'Surely - sure-ly!' he said, moving up on the window-
seat, and returned to his work with a silver-pointed
pencil. Puck sat as though the grin were fixed for ever on
his broad face, while they watched the quick, certain
fingers that copied it. Presently the man took a reed pen
from his satchel, and trimmed it with a little ivory knife,
carved in the semblance of a fish.
'Oh, what a beauty!' cried Dan.
''Ware fingers! That blade is perilous sharp. I made it
myself of the best Low Country cross-bow steel. And so,
too, this fish. When his back-fin travels to his tail - so - he
swallows up the blade, even as the whale swallowed
Gaffer Jonah ... Yes, and that's my inkhorn. I made the
four silver saints round it. Press Barnabas's head. It
opens, and then -'He dipped the trimmed pen, and with
careful boldness began to put in the essential lines of
Puck's rugged face, that had been but faintly revealed by
The children gasped, for it fairly leaped from the page.
As he worked, and the rain fell on the tiles, he talked -
now clearly, now muttering, now breaking off to frown
or smile at his work. He told them he was born at Little
Lindens Farm, and his father used to beat him for drawing
things instead of doing things, till an old priest called
Father Roger, who drew illuminated letters in rich
people's books, coaxed the parents to let him take the boy
as a sort of painter's apprentice. Then he went with
Father Roger to Oxford, where he cleaned plates and
carried cloaks and shoes for the scholars of a College
'Didn't you hate that?' said Dan after a great many
'I never thought on't. Half Oxford was building new
colleges or beautifying the old, and she had called to her
aid the master-craftsmen of all Christendie - kings in
their trade and honoured of Kings. I knew them. I
worked for them: that was enough. No wonder -' He stopped
'You became a great man, Hal,' said Puck.
'They said so, Robin. Even Bramante said so.'
'Why? What did you do?' Dan asked.
The artist looked at him queerly. 'Things in stone and
such, up and down England. You would not have heard
of 'em. To come nearer home, I rebuilded this little St
Barnabas' church of ours. It cost me more trouble and
sorrow than aught I've touched in my life. But 'twas a
'Um,' said Dan. 'We've had lessons this morning.'
'I'll not afflict ye, lad,' said Hal, while Puck roared.
'Only 'tis strange to think how that little church was
rebuilt, re-roofed, and made glorious, thanks to some
few godly Sussex ironmasters, a Bristow sailor lad, a
proud ass called Hal o' the Draft because, d'you see, he
was always drawing and drafting; and'- he dragged the
words slowly -'and a Scotch pirate.'
'Pirate?' said Dan. He wriggled like a hooked fish.
'Even that Andrew Barton you were singing of on
the stair just now.' He dipped again in the inkwell, and
held his breath over a sweeping line, as though he had
forgotten everything else.
'Pirates don't build churches, do they?' said Dan. 'Or
'They help mightily,' Hal laughed. 'But you were at
your lessons this morn, Jack Scholar.'
'Oh, pirates aren't lessons. It was only Bruce and his
silly old spider,' said Una. 'Why did Sir Andrew Barton
'I question if he ever knew it,' said Hal, twinkling.
'Robin, how a' mischief's name am I to tell these
innocents what comes of sinful pride?'
'Oh, we know all about that,' said Una pertly. 'If you
get too beany - that's cheeky - you get sat upon, of course.'
Hal considered a moment, pen in air, and Puck said
some long words.
'A,ha! that was my case too,' he cried. 'Beany - you say
- but certainly I did not conduct myself well. I was proud
of - of such things as porches - a Galilee porch at Lincoln
for choice - proud of one Torrigiano's arm on my
shoulder, proud of my knighthood when I made the gilt
scroll-work for the Sovereign - our King's ship. But Father
Roger sitting in Merton College Library, he did not forget
me. At the top of my pride, when I and no other should
have builded the porch at Lincoln, he laid it on me with a
terrible forefinger to go back to my Sussex clays and
rebuild, at my own charges, my own church, where us
Dawes have been buried for six generations. "Out! Son of
my Art!" said he. "Fight the Devil at home ere you call
yourself a man and a craftsman." And I quaked, and I
went ... How's yon, Robin?' He flourished the finished
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