The Last Galley Impressions and Tales HTML version
The Last Of The Legions
Pontus, the Roman viceroy, sat in the atrium of his palatial villa by the Thames, and he
looked with perplexity at the scroll of papyrus which he had just unrolled. Before him
stood the messenger who had brought it, a swarthy little Italian, whose black eyes were
glazed with want of sleep, and his olive features darker still from dust and sweat. The
viceroy was looking fixedly at him, yet he saw him not, so full was his mind of this
sudden and most unexpected order. To him it seemed as if the solid earth had given way
beneath his feet. His life and the work of his 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 British major-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 military establishment, had
joined his chief. He was a large bearded man in a white civilian toga, hemmed with the
Patrician purple. His rough, bold features, burned and seamed and lined with the long
African wars, were shadowed 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 question whether even Gaul will be
"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 spread it. But here it is
as clear as words can make it: 'Bring every man of the Legions by forced marches to the
help of the Empire. Leave not a cohort in Britain.' These are my orders."
"But the cause?"