The Last of the Legions and Other Tales of Long Ago

       Arthur Conan Doyle / Actions & Adventure
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The Last of the Legions and Other Tales of Long Ago
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THE LAST OF THE LEGIONS _and Other Tales of Long Ago_

A. CONAN DOYLE

By SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE

_Novels and Stories_

DANGER! _And Other Stories_ THE DOINGS OF RAFFLES HAW HIS LAST BOW _Some Later Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes_ THE BLACK DOCTOR _And Other Tales of Terror and Mystery_ THE MAN FROM ARCHANGEL _And Other Tales of Adventure_ THE CROXLEY MASTER _And Other Tales of the Ring and Camp_ THE GREAT KEINPLATZ EXPERIMENT _And Other Tales of Twilight and the Unseen_ THE LAST OF THE LEGIONS _And Other Tales of Long Ago_ THE DEALINGS OF CAPTAIN SHARKEY _And Other Tales of Pirates_

_On the Life Hereafter_

THE NEW REVELATION THE VITAL MESSAGE THE COMING OF THE FAIRIES THE CASE FOR SPIRIT PHOTOGRAPHY THE WANDERINGS OF A SPIRITUALIST OUR AMERICAN ADVENTURE

_A History of the Great War_

THE BRITISH CAMPAIGN IN FRANCE AND FLANDERS--Six Vols.

_Poems_

THE GUARDS CAME THROUGH

NEW YORK GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

THE LAST OF THE LEGIONS _and Other Tales of Long Ago_

BY A. CONAN DOYLE

NEW YORK GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

COPYRIGHT, 1905, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1918, 1919, 1922 BY A. CONAN DOYLE

COPYRIGHT, 1910, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY ASSOCIATED SUNDAY MAGAZINES, INC.

COPYRIGHT, 1908, BY THE MCCLURE COMPANY

COPYRIGHT, 1900, 1902, BY THE S. S. MCCLURE COMPANY

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THE LAST OF THE LEGIONS AND OTHER TALES OF LONG AGO

----Q----

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Transcriber's Note:

Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note. Dialect spellings remain as printed. The oe ligature is represented by [oe].

CONTENTS

PAGE

I THE LAST OF THE LEGIONS 9

II THE LAST GALLEY 22

III THROUGH THE VEIL 37

IV THE COMING OF THE HUNS 47

V THE CONTEST 68

VI THE FIRST CARGO 83

VII AN ICONOCLAST 98

VIII GIANT MAXIMIN 112

IX THE RED STAR 141

X THE SILVER MIRROR 158

XI THE HOME-COMING 177

XII A POINT OF CONTACT 202

XIII THE CENTURION 215

THE LAST OF THE LEGIONS

THE LAST OF THE LEGIONS _and Other Tales of Long Ago_

I

THE LAST OF THE LEGIONS

Pontus, the Roman viceroy, sat in the atrium of his palatial villa bythe Thames, and he looked with perplexity at the scroll of papyrus whichhe had just unrolled. Before him stood the messenger who had brought it,a swarthy little Italian, whose black eyes were glazed with want ofsleep, and his olive features darker still from dust and sweat. Theviceroy was looking fixedly at him, yet he saw him not, so full was hismind of this sudden and most unexpected order. To him it seemed as ifthe solid earth had given way beneath his feet. His life and the work ofhis life had come to irremediable ruin.

”Very good,” he said at last in a hard dry voice, ”you can go.”

The man saluted and staggered out of the hall. A yellow-haired Britishmajor-domo came forward for orders.

”Is the General there?”

”He is waiting, your excellency.”

”Then show him in, and leave us together.”

A few minutes later Licinius Crassus, the head of the British militaryestablishment, had joined his chief. He was a large, bearded man in awhite civilian toga, hemmed with the Patrician purple. His rough, boldfeatures, burned and seamed and lined with the long African wars, wereshadowed with anxiety as he looked with questioning eyes at the drawn,haggard face of the viceroy.

”I fear, your excellency, that you have had bad news from Rome.”

”The worst, Crassus. It is all over with Britain. It is a questionwhether even Gaul will be held.”

”Saint Albus save us! Are the orders precise?”

”Here they are, with the Emperor's own seal.”

”But why? I had heard a rumour, but it had seemed too incredible.”

”So had I only last week, and had the fellow scourged for having spreadit. But here it is as clear as words can make it: 'Bring every man ofthe Legions by forced marches to the help of the Empire. Leave not acohort in Britain.' These are my orders.”

”But the cause?”

”They will let the limbs wither so that the heart be stronger. The oldGerman hive is about to swarm once more. There are fresh crowds ofBarbarians from Dacia and Scythia. Every sword is needed to hold theAlpine passes. They cannot let three legions lie idle in Britain.”

The soldier shrugged his shoulders.

”When the legions go no Roman would feel that his life was safe here.For all that we have done, it is none the less the truth that it is nocountry of ours, and that we hold it as we won it by the sword.”

”Yes, every man, woman, and child of Latin blood must come with us toGaul. The galleys are already waiting at Portus Dubris. Get the ordersout, Crassus, at once. As the Valerian legion falls back from the Wallof Hadrian it can take the northern colonists with it. The Jovians canbring in the people from the west, and the Batavians can escort theeasterns if they will muster at Camboricum. You will see to it.” He sankhis face for a moment in his hands. ”It is a fearsome thing,” said he,”to tear up the roots of so goodly a tree.”

”To make more space for such a crop of weeds,” said the soldierbitterly. ”My God, what will be the end of these poor Britons! Fromocean to ocean there is not a tribe which will not be at the throat ofits neighbour when the last Roman Lictor has turned his back. With thesehot-headed Silures it is hard enough now to keep the swords in theirsheaths.”

”The kennel might fight as they choose among themselves until the besthound won,” said the Roman Governor. ”At least the victor would keep thearts and the religion which we have brought them, and Britain would beone land. No, it is the bear from the north and the wolves from oversea,the painted savage from beyond the walls and the Saxon pirate from overthe water, who will succeed to our rule. Where we saved, they willslay; where we built, they will burn; where we planted, they willravage. But the die is cast, Crassus. You will carry out the orders.”

”I will send out the messengers within an hour. This very morning therehas come news that the Barbarians are through the old gap in the wall,and their outriders as far south as Vinovia.”

The Governor shrugged his shoulders.

”These things concern us no longer,” said he. Then a bitter smile brokeupon his aquiline clean-shaven face. ”Whom think you that I see inaudience this morning?”

”Nay, I know not.”

”Caradoc and Regnus, and Celticus the Icenian, who, like so many of thericher Britons, have been educated at Rome, and who would lay before metheir plans as to the ruling of this country.”

”And what is their plan?”

”That they themselves should do it.”

The Roman soldier laughed. ”Well, they will have their will,” said he,as he saluted and turned upon his heel. ”Farewell, your excellency.There are hard days coming for you and for me.”

An hour later the British deputation was ushered into the presence ofthe Governor. They were good, steadfast men, men who with a whole heart,and at some risk to themselves, had taken up their country's cause, sofar as they could see it. At the same time they well knew that under themild and beneficent rule of Rome it was only when they passed from wordsto deeds that their backs or their necks would be in danger. They stoodnow, earnest and a little abashed, before the throne of the viceroy.Celticus was a swarthy, black-bearded little Iberian. Caradoc and Regnuswere tall middle-aged men of the fair flaxen British type. All threewere dressed in the draped yellow toga after the Latin fashion, insteadof in the bracae and tunic which distinguished their more insularfellow-countrymen.

”Well?” asked the Governor.

”We are here,” said Celticus boldly, ”as the spokesmen of a great numberof our fellow-countrymen, for the purpose of sending our petitionthrough you to the Emperor and to the Roman Senate, that we may urgeupon them the policy of allowing us to govern this country after ourown ancient fashion.” He paused, as if awaiting some outburst as ananswer to his own temerity; but the Governor merely nodded his head as asign that he should proceed. ”We had laws of our own before ever Caesarset foot in Britain, which have served their purpose since first ourforefathers came from the land of Ham. We are not a child among thenations, but our history goes back in our own traditions further eventhan that of Rome, and we are galled by this yoke which you have laidupon us.”

”Are not our laws just?” asked the Governor.

”The code of Caesar is just, but it is always the code of Caesar. Our ownlaws were made for our own uses and our own circumstances, and we wouldfain have them again.”

”You speak Roman as if you had been bred in the Forum; you wear a Romantoga; your hair is filleted in Roman fashion--are not these the gifts ofRome?”

”We would take all the learning and all the arts that Rome or Greececould give, but we would still be Britain, and ruled by Britons.”

The viceroy smiled. ”By the rood of Saint Helena,” said he, ”had youspoken thus to some of my heathen ancestors, there would have been anend to your politics. That you have dared to stand before my face andsay as much is a proof for ever of the gentleness of our rule. But Iwould reason with you for a moment upon this your request. You know wellthat this land has never been one kingdom, but was always under manychiefs and many tribes, who have made war upon each other. Would you invery truth have it so again?”

”Those were in the evil pagan days, the days of the Druid and theoak-grove, your excellency. But now we are held together by a gospel ofpeace.”

The viceroy shook his head. ”If all the world were of the same way ofthinking, then it would be easier,” said he. ”It may be that thisblessed doctrine of peace will be little help to you when you are faceto face with strong men who still worship the god of war. What would youdo against the Picts of the north?”

”Your excellency knows that many of the bravest legionaries are ofBritish blood. These are our defence.”

”But discipline, man, the power to command, the knowledge of war, thestrength to act--it is in these things that you would fail. Too longhave you leaned upon the crutch.”

”The times may be hard, but when we have gone through them, Britain willbe herself again.”

”Nay, she will be under a different and a harsher master,” said theRoman. ”Already the pirates swarm upon the eastern coast. Were it notfor our Roman Count of the Saxon shore they would land to-morrow. I seethe day when Britain may, indeed, be one; but that will be because youand your fellows are either dead or are driven into the mountains of thewest. All goes into the melting pot, and if a better Albion should comeforth from it, it will be after ages of strife, and neither you nor yourpeople will have part or lot in it.”

Regnus, the tall young Celt, smiled. ”With the help of God and our ownright arms we should hope for a better end,” said he. ”Give us but thechance, and we will bear the brunt.”

”You are as men that are lost,” said the viceroy sadly. ”I see thisbroad land, with its gardens and orchards, its fair villas and itswalled towns, its bridges and its roads, all the work of Rome. Surely itwill pass even as a dream, and these three hundred years of settledorder will leave no trace behind. For learn that it will indeed be asyou wish, and that this very day the orders have come to me that thelegions are to go.”

The three Britons looked at each other in amazement. Their first impulsewas towards a wild exultation, but reflection and doubt followed closeupon its heels.

”This is indeed wondrous news,” said Celticus. ”This is a day of days tothe motherland. When do the legions go, your excellency, and what troopswill remain behind for our protection?”

”The legions go at once,” said the viceroy. ”You will doubtless rejoiceto hear that within a month there will be no Roman soldier in theisland, nor, indeed, a Roman of any sort, age, or sex, if I can takethem with me.”

The faces of the Britons were shadowed, and Caradoc, a grave andthoughtful man, spoke for the first time.

”But this is over sudden, your excellency,” said he. ”There is muchtruth in what you have said about the pirates. From my villa near thefort of Anderida I saw eighty of their galleys only last week, and Iknow well that they would be on us like ravens on a dying ox. For manyyears to come it would not be possible for us to hold them off.”

The viceroy shrugged his shoulders. ”It is your affair now,” said he.”Rome must look to herself.”

The last traces of joy had passed from the faces of the Britons.Suddenly the future had started up clearly before them, and they quailedat the prospect.

”There is a rumour in the market-place,” said Celticus, ”that thenorthern Barbarians are through the gap in the wall. Who is to stoptheir progress?”

”You and your fellows,” said the Roman.

Clearer still grew the future, and there was terror in the eyes of thespokesmen as they faced it.

”But, your excellency, if the legions should go at once, we should havethe wild Scots at York, and the Northmen in the Thames within the month.We can build ourselves up under your shield, and in a few years it wouldbe easier for us; but not now, your excellency, not now.”

”Tut, man; for years you have been clamouring in our ears and raisingthe people. Now you have got what you asked. What more would you have?Within the month you will be as free as were your ancestors before Caesarset foot upon your shore.”

”For God's sake, your excellency, put our words out of your head. Thematter had not been well considered. We will send to Rome. We will ridepost-haste ourselves. We will fall at the Emperor's feet. We will kneelbefore the Senate and beg that the legions remain.”

The Roman proconsul rose from his chair and motioned that the audiencewas at an end.

”You will do what you please,” said he. ”I and my men are for Italy.”

* * * * *

And even as he said, so was it, for before the spring had ripened intosummer, the troops were clanking down the via Aurelia on their way tothe Ligurian passes, whilst every road in Gaul was dotted with the cartsand the waggons which bore the Brito-Roman refugees on their wearyjourney to their distant country. But ere another summer had passedCelticus was dead, for he was flayed alive by the pirates and his skinnailed upon the door of a church near Caistor. Regnus, too, was dead,for he was tied to a tree and shot with arrows when the painted men cameto the sacking of Isca. Caradoc only was alive, but he was a slave toElda the red Caledonian and his wife was mistress to Mordred the wildchief of the western Cymri. From the ruined wall in the north to Vectisin the south blood and ruin and ashes covered the fair land of Britain.And after many days it came out fairer than ever, but, even as the Romanhad said, neither the Britons nor any men of their blood came into theheritage of that which had been their own.


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