(per lineam murus.)
L. Sentius Castus—at one time an officer in the
'Domestici,' or Emperor's Guards—had volunteered for active
service, and was now a 'Vexillarius,' or Standard Bearer to the
first squadron of horse attached to the Sixth Legion—'the
Victorious and Faithful,' that had come over to Britain with the
Emperor Hadrian. He was sitting one August afternoon by the
fountain in the Forum of Corstopitum, engaged upon improving a
system of fire signals for use on the great wall, which Hadrian was
building from the Tyne estuary to the Solway Firth.
As he reflected he glanced occasionally up at the tall figure of
a youthful Briton beside him—a noble of the tribe of the
Brigantes—whom the soldiers had nicknamed 'Rufus' on account
of his auburn hair.
These two had become such close friends that the prefect of the
camp had likened them to Nisus and Euryalus, for they were
inseparable. 'His amor unus erat pariterque in bella
'Rufus' was employed as an 'explorator'—a pioneer, or
scout, along the wall, as he had an exact knowledge of the country,
but he was at the moment engaged upon a piece of
sculpture—having a natural gift for the chisel—and was
putting a final touch to the figure of a lion standing above a dead
He stooped and drew a stopper of clay from the lion's mouth, and
at once a stream of water broke through and flashed into the
'Euge! Macte virtute, puer!' cried Castus in delight;
''tis a superb fountain head! And the carving is wondrous, for
though thou hast seen the stag thou hast not the lion; yet there he
stands full of pride and challenge on his kill, just as I have seen
him in the Circus Maximus in Rome.
'By the way,' he continued, 'I have ordered Scaevola, the camp's
head mason, to cut that altar which we promised to set up to
Sylvanus when we brought down the famous Grindon stag—that
great hart o' grease—which every officer in Corstopitum had
hunted in vain.'
As he spoke he rose up and laid his tablet and style aside.
'How jealous they all were,' he continued. 'How the Prefect
doubted its weight and sneered at its tynes and the bay and
'I think,' replied his friend with a laugh, 'that he would
willingly himself have set up an altar to every god from Jupiter
Optimus Maximus to our local Mogon, had he had the luck to grass
'The Forum would have been lined with them,' assented his
friend, smiling also. 'Well, this is the inscription I gave to
Scaevola to cut on the one altar we promised—he was cheap at
L. Sentius Castus signifer Leg
Et Tetricus explorator murus
Ob cervum eximiae formae
Quem multi antecessores eorum
Praedari non potuerunt.
That is work for a mason, not for an artist like yourself, who
have embellished Cæsar's town in Ultima Thule with a
Mark this day with white chalk, for thou shalt behold Cæsar
himself, since he hath just ridden in from Pons Aelii, and will
shortly inspect his new town of Corstopitum. Think on the immensa
Romanae Pacis Majestas when thou seest him here!'
'I wish greatly to see him,' replied the young Briton, 'yet I
dread the eagle eye of our Imperator.'
'Nay,' said his friend, 'he will never affright thee, for though
he is the ruler of the broad universe he hath a human heart that
takes interest in all things under the sky, being soldier,
traveller, administrator, builder, student, and poet at once.'
There came a sudden shrilling of the tuba at this moment.
'See!' cried the Vexillarius. 'There he goeth into the
The twain stood watchful as sentinels, and very shortly they saw
Cæsar proceeding to the steps leading into the Forum, accompanied
by the Comes Brittanorum and the Clarissimus and the Consularis,
attended by his guard, on whose shields were blazoned as insignia
the forts upon the mighty wall.
Cæsar was clad, they noted, not in the long robe of Imperator,
but in the shorter tunic of the Consul, with heavy purple
The two young men stood stiff at the salute as Hadrian drew
near. Then the Emperor, recognising his former guardsman, spoke to
him kindly by name.
'Ha! Castus. Thou lookest right well. Art better employed here
than in trailing thy toga and neighing after the beautiful ladies
in Rome? Thou hast found soldiering on the confines of our Empire
to thy liking?'
'Yes, indeed, sire,' replied the standard-bearer, ''tis the sole
profession for a man.'
Hadrian looked upon the erect figure, keen eye, and sun-tanned
face of the speaker with evident approval. Then as he was about to
pass onward his eye was struck by the newly carved
'Who hath carved this fountain?' he inquired. 'I did not know we
had an artist in the camp.'
''Twould scarce disgrace the garden of the Palatine,' replied
Castus, overjoyed at the opportunity of praising his comrade in
Cæsar's presence; ''tis the handicraft of my friend here—a
pioneer upon thy wall—one who though born a Briton is now
more Roman than myself, and hath expended all his skill upon the
carving in the hope of pleasing the eye of Cæsar.'
Hadrian, ever a patron of the arts, glanced quickly at the
reddening cheeks of the young Briton, then stepped forward to the
fountain-head, and scrutinised it with close attention. 'He hath
the true eye of the artist, this friend of thine,' he said, with
evident appreciation, 'for the stag is admirably depicted—the
tongue hanging loose from the mouth as I have noted myself when a
beast is slain, and as for the lion, though he can scarce ever have
seen a lion in Britain, I suppose, 'tis admirable
in its decorative effect.' He turned to the blushing artist and
thanked him graciously for his accomplishment, adding that he would
send him a bronze ewer from his own table as a trifling
So saying he passed on, and the two comrades looked at each
'Now!' cried the Roman standard-bearer, 'thou hast seen, and
been addressed by, the Ruler of the world.
'Art thou not proud this day? Art not at least an inch taller?
Is Cæsar not like to one of the immortal gods, thinkest thou?'
'He is, indeed,' replied the young Briton. 'I knew not such
majesty and kindness could dwell together in mortal man. To die for
him would be no virtue but a pleasure. I have never seen so noble a
face; strength therein is sustained by intelligence as columns
uphold a mighty roof. His mouth speaks even when he utters no
words. He unites in himself the charm of a woman to the power and
dignity of a man.'
'Thou hast spoken it,' replied his companion; 'thou hast hit off
his strange and unique qualities. I had not thought of it before
like that, but thy observation, as Cæsar himself said, is
excellent, and thy description is true. The one
thing I like not,' he added, 'is the beard he hath grown; that is a
new thing in a Roman Emperor and, as I judge it, somewhat
The next day Hadrian set forth again to ride per lineam
murus across moor and fell to Luguvallum and the western
Castus and Rufus accompanied him as guides, and the Prefect with
his guard escorted the Emperor to the wall that was being swiftly
built on the brow of the hill above Corstopitum.
There Castus pointed out to Hadrian the track of Dere
Street—the road of Agricola—that seemed to flutter like
some white butterfly up the distant and opposite fell-side crowned
by the Wannys' heights—birthplace of the river Wansbeck.
'That track, sire, leads to Habitancum, Bremenium, Ad Fines, and
Trimontium beside Tweed,' said Castus. 'I would it might be
prolonged to Mons Grampius, and even to the Cimmerian sea, where I
would set up the Arae finium Imperii Romani on the very edge
o' the world.'
Hadrian smiled at his officer's enthusiasm, then he said
gravely: 'The Empire's weight is heavy enough already—Atlas
himself could scarce sustain it. Buttresses are needed, and my wall
and camps will furnish them on this furthest frontier.
Beyond is but a waste given over to wolves, wild boars, and painted
savages. But what a prospect is here! 'Tis like the sea stretching
away for ever in harvestless waves.'
On and westward they rode and along the windy crest of the fell,
then dipped down to the north Tyne river and the camp of Chesters
set thereby, thence through the limestone crags to Boreovicus on
the moorland—established on the edge of the basaltic outcrop
that frowns upon Bromlea Lough.
This great camp was already finished and garrisoned by Tungrian
auxiliaries; the great wall that was to link together the various
camps, trailed its length like a serpent till it mounted to
Winshields height. Across the valley rose the purple fells of South
Tyne, and in the distant haze Skiddaw's crest soared like an
On Winshields height Cæsar was met by the Prefect of Luguvallum
and his guard, and here Castus and Rufus bade him farewell, and
turned back towards Corstopitum.
As they rode eastward, and had gained the edge of a fir wood
beyond Boreovicus, a very beautiful girl stepped suddenly forward,
and laid a hand on the rein of Rufus's pony.
She is of an extraordinary beauty, thought Castus, as he noted
the wealth of hair, blue eyes, clear skin, and finely
chiselled features. Evidently of noble birth, for she wore a linen
shirt under her robe of fur, and carried a gold chain about her
neck. There was a look of arrogance about her—a disdain, as
it were, that set off her beauty like a jewel, and as she conversed
with Rufus she seemed, so Castus thought, to be eyeing himself not
'What dost thou think of me, O Roman?' she seemed to ask through
her disdainful eyes. 'Am I not more beautiful than all the women of
Rome? Wouldst like to possess me? I care for none that proves not
himself to be a conqueror.'
Castus moved his pony slowly onward, then pausing for his
comrade looked back upon this proud girl of the wood who had
aroused sensations he thought he had left behind him in Rome.
As she bade good-bye to Rufus she turned away, but her last
glance was not upon Rufus but upon Castus, as the latter delighted
'Who is this moorland beauty?' he inquired of his comrade, as
the two rode on again together.
'She is a cousin of mine,' Rufus replied carelessly. 'My mother
and her father and mother desire us to wed, but there is no hurry
for that. I long for more hunting with thee, O Castus, and to
be the complete soldier before I give myself to marriage.'
'How is she named?' inquired his friend further, unable to
subdue his interest.
'Penchrysa,' said Rufus, 'but for short I call her Pen.'
'Penchrysa,' repeated Castus to himself; ''tis a fit and most
romantic name.' Then aloud he asked, 'Did she look upon Cæsar as
he passed by this morning?'
'Yes,' replied Rufus, 'she heard he was to pass along the wall,
and she saw him from the shelter of the wood.'
'Does she then love Rome like yourself?' pursued Castus.
His companion hesitated a moment before he replied. 'She hath a
proud soul in her. She loves courage and prowess above all else,
and so will, I believe, love Rome even as I, at the last. The great
wall,' continued the young Briton, 'will prove to her Rome's might,
and Corstopitum with its stored granaries and streets of shops will
show her its civilisation. I have bid her come in to-morrow with
her small brother when the market is open and the country folk
bring in their mead and honey and fowls, and any grouse and salmon
they may have netted.'
'Good,' replied Castus, 'we will show her the sights of Rome's
Then fearing he might be playing false with his friend he thrust
away all idea of this disdainful beauty of the moors from him and
commenced to explain to his comrade his simplification of the then
method of sending five signals from turret to turret, from mile
castle to mile castle along the length of the wall, so as to ensure
Yet ever the challenge of the arrogant moorland princess
assailed his heart.
Proud as a stag she had stood regarding him; as graceful in all
her limbs—her breast curved like a breaking wave. She was
infinitely more fascinating than Lalage of Corinth, who had lately
devastated the youths of Rome. Her clear oval face, the bluebells
of her eyes, her auburn hair haunted him.
'Iam matura viro plenis jam nubilis
He began to weave sophistries whereby he proved to his own
satisfaction that Rufus cared not for his cousin, that she
disdained him, and consequently was fair game for himself. By
midday on the morrow the forum of Corstopitum was crowded; there
was a throng of British country-folk come in to sell, and
of Roman auxiliaries from diverse camps come in to
Castus and Rufus were acting as interpreters between buyers and
sellers when they saw their invited guest approaching in company
with a handsome boy of some fifteen years, whose hand she held in
'Welcome!' cried Rufus. 'Now what will you like best to see
first? The pottery shop with its wares—Samian and Castor and
rustic, or the great corn granaries, or the metal-worker's booth
where you can buy a fibula for yourself, or a boss for your horse's
His cousin hesitating, Castus suggested the metal-worker's booth
as being closest, and thither they repaired.
Rufus explained with evident delight the use of the various
articles set forth, and Castus, discerning that the fair visitor
had a little Latin, joined in the conversation.
'Here is a fibula,' he said, 'skilfully ornamented with the head
of Minerva. Take it,' he said, as he gracefully presented it to
her, 'as a memento of Rome's most northern town.'
Quietly she accepted the gift with a word of thanks, then added,
'but not from Rome,' with an enigmatic smile that strangely
attracted the Roman soldier. 'Not from
Rome!' repeated Castus to himself, with throbbing heart, 'then
from me she must mean,' he conjectured, and the passion in
his breast flamed hotter than before.
He watched her closely as they fared through the town, and
though she was quick to perceive, she did not seem surprised at the
novelties she saw, whereby Castus found himself more attracted by
her than ever. Barbarian she might be held in Rome, but there was a
beauty, pride, and strength in her he had never met with on the Via
When the time came for her to depart Castus eagerly suggested
that she should come again two days later when games for all comers
were to be held in the town.
'Yes,' added Rufus, 'you must come. The games will be superb.'
Then with a laugh, 'Castus and I are to box.'
Penchrysa's eye quickened; she shot one glance at Castus, then
promising to return she waved a hand and departed, leading her
small brother with the other. Castus waited long to see if she
would not look back over her shoulder, but no, she went steadily
forward, and this only whetted his appetite the more.
The afternoon set apart for the games was fair
and gay with a west wind that speeded like a greyhound over the
The little arena—dug out in the hollow below the
camp—was surrounded by a vast throng of eager spectators
drawn from along the wall and the moor beyond.
There was a holiday in camp; the rumour of a fighting with cocks
had brought in the Britons; some Spaniards had come over from
Chesters, sundry Gauls from Vindolana, and there were the Tungrian
auxiliaries from Boreovicus itself.
So it was amid a motley throng of spectators that Castus and
Rufus stood up to box together with the caestus that
afternoon, and a murmur of admiration rose up from the spectators
as the two handsome, graceful young men stepped lightly into the
grassy arena. Their right arms and fists were bound about with
thongs of bull's hide; the balls of lead and iron usually attached
thereto in the case of professional pugils were absent, as
the encounter was a friendly one, and meant to amuse and instruct
the soldiers. So, stripped for the match and smiling upon each
other, they took their places in the green arena, and, facing north
and south so as to avoid the sun, saluted the Prefect, after the
manner of gladiators, and at once began preluding to the
Rufus had been carefully instructed by Castus for some little
time past, and was now almost as skilful as his instructor. In
strength probably the Roman was the superior, but the Briton was
somewhat more alert and active on his feet.
The first round was devoted to a display of their art; the
second grew somewhat more intent in purpose, the applause of the
spectators stimulating the two boxers to put forth their whole
Castus had seen Penchrysa sitting in the amphitheatre to his
right hand, and had at once realised that she was really interested
in the fight and was applauding himself, not her cousin.
Inspired by this to renewed effort he deceived his friend by a
clever feint, then getting in a fine clean hit with his left on the
forehead, followed it up with a right-hander on the jaw. Rufus
staggered backward, swayed wildly on his feet, then fell
unconscious to the ground.
Applause broke out over the whole amphitheatre, and Castus was
proudly conscious that the white hands of Penchrysa were clapping
him vigorously, even as he ran forward to raise his friend's head
and assist him to his feet as he recovered from his faint.
After this some cock-fighting followed, and many of the
spectators left or changed their seats. Castus marked
Penchrysa rise and walk away with her brother, and he followed them
amid the crowd.
'I am victorious,' he said, as he came up with them, 'but the
victory is yours, for had you not applauded I had not won.'
Penchrysa looked upon him with a glowing eye that seemed to
Castus to have lost its first hostility, as she said simply she was
pleased that he had been victorious.
She said she must go, and bending down her head, added in a low,
hurried voice, 'If thou wishest further converse with me meet me
as the moon rises by the limestone crags above Chesters to-morrow
night.' She laid her finger on her lip, and moved away with her
supple grace through the straggling crowd.
Castus, enraptured by the thought that he had captured this
proud beauty, could scarce contain himself for joy. He had no
difficulty in keeping his assignation, for he had a good pretext in
an old promise to advise with the Commander of the Chesters Camp.
Thus he rode out joyously next afternoon from Corstopitum, and as
dusk drew on and the time for the moon's rising came near, he
dismounted below the limestone crags and led his horse slowly up to
the highest point of the limestone outcrop where a monolith
stood dark and threatening. Tethering his horse to a tree
near by he advanced towards it, and the moon—now
risen—faintly touched it with light. Two figures moved from
it as he came up. The first was Penchrysa, the second an old,
'Welcome, O Roman!' said she gravely, then with more emotion,
'thy looks and actions tell me thou lovest me. If so I have a
proposal to make to thee; and as I know your tongue but ill this
old man, my friend, who has served with your armies, will set it
before thee, for I have no skill in the Roman language.'
Castus, carried away by his passion, seized her hand and kissed
it, and was about to put his arms about her, but she put up her
hand and bade him wait for her proposal from the interpreter's
'Thou art strong, O Roman,' said the old man earnestly, 'brave,
and canst command men, for my Princess has watched thee narrowly.
She is of royal birth, and royal amongst womankind. None surpasses
her. She will give thee herself if thou wilt command our hosts. The
Caledonii will avenge Mons Grampius and rise with the British race,
fling off the hated yoke of Rome, and make this island free as it
was of old. There are ten thousand within call of us now!'
He whistled thrice like a golden plover, and on all
sides dark forms showed themselves in response to his call. 'The
rule of Rome approacheth its doom. This wall proves their weakness.
The Emperor is in the western land and can be dispatched with ease.
We want a leader, and our Princess chooseth thee. Take her and be
Emperor of Britain.'
As he spake thus, Penchrysa leaned forward and whispered in the
ear of the astounded Roman, 'Come, and we will rule together!' Her
lovely face showing lovelier in the soft moonlight, her breath
honey-sweet upon his cheek, the vision of rule together had almost
intoxicated him. But then the shame of betrayal rose in him like a
flood. Lust dropped from him as a garment. In one second he had
drawn his sword and stabbed his temptress to the heart. 'So
perish!' he cried aloud, 'all enemies of Rome!'
He bounded to his horse, leapt on its back, and at breakneck
speed they hurtled down the fell. He was wounded by darts in
shoulder and right arm, and his horse's loins were gashed by a
spear, yet the camp at Chesters was but two miles away, and,
setting his teeth together, he gave his horse the rein and leaned
forward on its neck to take his weight off the loins.
The yells of the pursuers became fainter as he sped onward. Soon
he saw the dark outline of the camp on the haugh below, and in a
few minutes arrived at the western port.
'Who are ye?' inquired the sentry of the port.
'Castus, Vexillarius of the first squadron, Sixth Legion,' he
shouted hoarsely, 'the Britons have risen!'
The stone gate jarred on its hinge; Castus, thrusting through,
dismounted and wiped the foam from his gallant steed.
'What a fool I have been!' he murmured. 'Never again will I
traffic with a woman. Vale, O Femina—in eternum vale!
Henceforth I dedicate my life to Rome—
And, ratifying his vow by the head of Cæsar, he fell to the
ground, unconscious through loss of blood.