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Marcus: the Young Centurion, Page 3

George Manville Fenn



  Serge had been standing leaning over his crook, but now, taking it inboth hands and holding it before him, he stepped quickly towards the biglad, who backed more and more away; but his effort to escape was invain, for, quick as thought, Serge brought down his crook as if tostrike the lad a violent blow, making him wince and bound aside, when,before he knew what was happening, he was hooked by the leg like anobstinate swine, and dragged, yelling and calling for help, out into themiddle of the stone shed.

  "Got you," said Serge, coolly. "There, it's no use to kick. Here, youother boys, close up and see fair."

  Satisfied at once that they were outside the trouble, the other ladsbegan to grin, and, obeying the old soldier, they closed in together,whispering to their companion who had just been hauled out, as theybelieved, to bear the brunt of the expected punishment.

  Their whispers were ill received by the selected victim, who, as soon ashis leg was released from the crook, made as if to back away again; buthis companions put a stop to this and began urging him on, trying toincite him to begin, he reluctant and resisting all the time, till hisire was roused by Marcus, who, at a word from the old soldier, dashed into make a beginning, using his fists upon his enemy so well that, at theend of two or three minutes, the latter threw himself down, howlingdismally and covering his face with his arms.

  "Here, you are not half done!" cried Serge, poking him in the ribs withthe butt end of his crook. "Get up, will you, or I'll make the otherfellows stand you in a corner to be thrashed."

  "Oh, let him be, Serge," cried Marcus. "I did give it him well, and hithim as hard as I could."

  "Oh, very well," said the old soldier, hooking the boy again anddragging him, resisting all he could, to the door.

  "Just hold it open, Marcus, my lad. That'll do. No, no, Lupe, we don'twant you. Now then, young fellow, off you go, and if ever I see youhere again I'll set the dog at you, and if he once gets hold he won'tlet you off so easily as I do."

  One minute the boy was resisting and tugging to get his leg free of thecrook; the next, as soon as he realised that he was being set free, hedashed off, yelling threats of what he meant to do, till the dog sprangup with a growl, and the yells gave place to a shriek of fear, utteringwhich he disappeared from view.

  "Oh, no, you don't!" cried Serge, as, taking advantage of the dog's backbeing turned, the others cautiously approached the door, and were aboutto make a dash for liberty.

  As the old soldier spoke he thrust his crook across the doorway, and, asthe boys fell back again, the dog resumed its watchful position and thedoor was closed.

  Directly after, to Marcus' great enjoyment, there was a repetition ofthe previous proceedings, Serge selecting another victim with his crookfrom the five prisoners, dragging him out into the middle, where Marcus,who now thoroughly enjoyed his task, attacked him as Serge fell back,and, between him and the other lads, the second prisoner was forced tofight; but it was a sorry exhibition of cowardice, resulting in acertain amount of punishment, before he too lay down and howled, and wasthen set at liberty.

  The proceedings were repeated till the other four had received athrashing, and the last had clashed off, shamming terrible injury oneminute till he was outside the door, and yelling defiance the next; andthen, as the footsteps died out, Marcus threw himself upon the groundunder the shady vines.

  "Hallo!" cried Serge, anxiously. "Have they hurt you, boy?"

  "No," was the reply; "but I hurt myself a good deal against their thickheads. But I say, Serge, do you think that was fair?"

  "Fair? Of course it was!"

  "But it seemed so one-sided, and as if I had it all my own way. Theycouldn't fight because they were afraid of you."

  "Of you, you mean, boy, when it was man to man."

  "No," said Marcus; "they'd have fought better if you and the dog hadn'tbeen here."

  "Yes, and they could all have come on you at once. A set of mongrelyoung hounds--half savages, that's what they are. You didn't thrashthem half enough."

  "Quite as much as I wanted to," cried the boy, "for my knuckles are assore as sore. But oh, I say, Serge, it was comic!"

  "They didn't think it was, my lad."

  "I mean, to see you hooking them out one after another with your oldcrook, yelling and squealing like pigs."

  "Humph!" grunted the old soldier, with his grim face relaxing. "Well,it has given them a pretty good scaring, and I don't suppose that theywill come after our grapes again."

  "Yah-h-ah!" came in a defiant chorus from a distance, where the youngmarauders had gathered together, and the dog sprang upon his feet,growling fiercely, before bursting into a deep, baying bark.

  "Hear that?" cried Marcus.

  "Hear it, yes! And it would not take much to make me set old Lupe afterthem. He'd soon catch them up, and then--"


  "Fetch them down, boy!" shouted the old soldier, and, with a fierceroar, the dog dashed off in a series of tremendous bounds, but only tobe checked by a shrill whistle from Marcus, which stopped the fiercebeast and brought him trotting slowly back, to crouch down at his youngmaster's feet.

  "Why did you do that, lad?" cried the old soldier, staring.

  "Because I didn't want Lupe to get amongst them, worrying and tearing.What would my father have said?"

  The old soldier let his crook fall into the hollow of his left arm andpushed off his battered straw hat, to let it slide down between hisshoulders, where it hung by its string, while, with his grim sun-tannedface as full of wrinkles as a walnut shell, he slowly swept the drops ofmoisture from his brow.

  "Hah, yes," he said; "I didn't think of that. He wouldn't have likedit. He's got so soft and easy with people since he took to volumes andskins covered with writing. Why, his sword would be all rusty if itwasn't for me. It's all waste of time, for he'll never use it again,but I don't like to see a good blade such as his all covered with spots.Yes, boy," added the man, thoughtfully, "I'm glad you stopped old Lupe.Haw-haw-haw! I should rather liked to have seen him, though, nibblingtheir heels and making them run."

  "Nibbling!" laughed Marcus. "Nibbling, Serge!" And the boy stoopeddown, raised the great dog's muzzle, and pulled up one of his lips toshow the great, white fangs. "Not much of nibblers, these."

  "Well, no, my lad," said the old soldier; "they don't look nibbley.Nibblers wouldn't do for him, would they, Lupe, old man? He wants goodtools to tackle the wolves in winter. There, it's all over, and I don'tfeel so savage now. Here, you had better go and have a good wash whileI see to the vine poles and put in a new un or two from the stack. Iexpect I shall have to prune a bit too, and tie, where those youngruffians have been at work. Let's get a bit tidy before the mastercomes back, though I don't suppose he'd take any notice if there wasn'ta grape bunch left. But he'd see the dirt and scratches on your facefirst thing."

  "Yes, of course," cried the boy, hastily, as he held up his knuckles,two of which were minus skin, and showing traces of dried blood. "But Isay, Serge, look at my face. Is it much knocked about?"

  "Well, pretty tidy, my lad. You look as if you had been in the wars.Nose is a little bit knocked on one side."

  "Oh, Serge!" cried the boy, showing real excitement now.

  "Left eye looks a bit sleepy, too."


  "Well, you asked me, my lad--and your bottom lip has been cut againstyour tooth."

  "Oh, what will he say?" cried the boy, wildly.

  "I dunno," growled the old soldier, grimly. "Yes, I do," and his eyestwinkled with satisfaction and pride in the prowess his young master haddisplayed.

  "What will he say?" cried the boy, anxiously, and as if he placed fullconfidence in the old servant's words.

  "Say you oughtn't to have been fighting, but been busy scratting aboutwith your stylus and making marks on that wax."

  "But I was busy, only it was so hot and one couldn't keep awake; andwhen I heard those fellow
s breaking down the vines--"

  "Why, you went out and walloped them, of course," cried the man. "Quitenat'ral. What boy wouldn't who had got any stuff in him at all? There,don't you fret yourself about it, lad. The master will grumble at you abit, of course, same as he does at me; but he's a right to, and it'sonly his way as he's got into now since he took to his books andwriting. But there was a time--ah! And not so very long ago, my lad--when if he'd caught those ragged young cubs tearing down his vines, he'dhave stood and laughed and enjoyed seeing you thrash 'em, and helped youwith his stick. And done them good too, made men of them, knowing whatwas right. But there, those days have all passed away. No moremarching in the legion with the men's plumes dancing in the sunshine,and every man's armour as bright and clean as hands can make it. Ah,Marcus, my boy, those were grand old days, when we marched out toconquer, and came back and made grand processions, and the prisonerscarrying all the spoil. I did hope to have seen you as fine a youngcenturion, growing into a general, as your father was before you. But--but--There, don't stand staring at me with your eyes shining, your facered, and your mouth half open like that. Be off at once and have a goodwash, and bathe those cuts and bruises till they look better."

  "Yes! I had better go," said the boy, with a sigh. "It was a greatbother for those boys to come. I meant when you came back for us tohave some practice with the shield and spear, and then for you to showme again how to use the sword."

  "Hah, yes," growled the old man, drawing a deep breath through hisdilating nostrils, and unconsciously he whirled up his crook with onehand, and as he dropped into a picturesque attitude with one footadvanced and let the stout staff drop into his extended left hand,"that's the way," he cried. "Fancy, boy, a thousand spears presentedall at once like that to the coming barbarians, and then the advanceslowly and steadily, driving them scattered back, while the trumpetssounded and the ground quivered like a coming earthquake beneath thearmy's tramp. That's how we conquered and made the fame of grand oldRome. Bah! What an old fool I am!" he cried, as he stamped the end ofhis crook down once more, "I forget I'm not a soldier now, boy, onlyCracis' man who tends his farm and keeps his swine."

  "Never mind, Serge; we are very nice and happy here. The place is sobeautiful. Father likes you."

  "Bah! Not he! He only looks upon me as a slave."

  "That he doesn't!" cried the boy, indignantly. "Why, only the other dayhe was talking about you."

  "About me?"

  "Yes, and saying what a happy, peaceful place this was."

  "Peaceful! Bah!"

  "And that it didn't matter what came to pass, he had me with him."

  "Of course! Spoken like a father."

  "And you," continued the boy, "a true old friend in whom he couldtrust."

  "What!" cried the old soldier. "What! Friend? Did he say that?"

  "Of course. He often talks like that."

  "A friend in whom he could trust!" muttered the old soldier. "And herehave I been listening to you and doing what I know he'd hate."

  He gripped the boy sharply by the wrist as he spoke.

  "Why, Serge, what do you mean?" cried the boy, wonderingly.

  "Mean! Why, what have I been doing? Doesn't he want you to grow up asone who hates fighting, and a lover of peace? And here have I beenteaching you how to use the sword and spear and shield, making of youone who knows how to lead a phalanx to the fight--a man of war. Whatwould he say if he knew?"

  Marcus was silent.

  "I have done wrong, boy," continued the old soldier, "and some day he'llfind us out."

  The boy was still silent for a few moments. Then quickly--

  "I must tell him some day, Serge, that it was all my doing--that Iwouldn't let you rest until you had taught me what I know."

  "That's true, boy," said Serge, in a sombre tone, "and it all comes ofletting you see me take so much care of his old armour and his sword andspear. Yes, like my own old arms and weapons, I have kept them allbright and ready for use, for it's always seemed to me as if the timemight come and bring the order for us to march to tackle some of Rome'sold enemies, or to make new conquests--perhaps to Gaul--and that we mustbe ready for that day. I oughtn't to have done it, boy, but I was anold soldier, one who loved to see his weapons ready for the fight, andsomehow I did. There, off you go! It's no use to think now of what isdone."