Children's Plutarch: Tales of the Romans - F. J. Gould

The White Fawn

"Hurrah!" shouted the Spaniards who were watching from the walls of a city. "Our brave fellows are coming back! They are waving their swords! They have beaten Sertorius and his Romans!"

"Open the gates!" cried others.

The citizens streamed out, raising joyful cheers. But what was their terror when, all of a sudden, their supposed friends fell upon them, killing and wounding right and left!

The leader, Sertorius, was a most wily man. He had disguised his soldiers in Spanish dress, and thus deceived the citizens. Soon the town was in the hands of the Romans, and many of the inhabitants were sold into slavery.

I said he was wily. But not cowardly. He faced danger without flinching. In one of his battles he lost an eye. He used to speak proudly of his loss.

"Ah," he said, "some warriors have chains and crowns as a reward for their victories. But they cannot always wear the chains and crowns, while I carry my token of battle about with me!"

For a while Sertorius stayed in Rome, hoping to rise to a place of power. But Sulla, the Red General, was his foe, and he deemed it wise to retire to Spain, where he held out against Sulla's rule. The Red General sent armies to subdue him, but Sertorius, as clever as he was brave, succeeded in escaping by sea. A violent storm nearly broke up his fleet of ships. He landed again in the south of Spain, near the water-passage now known as the Strait of Gibraltar. At this point he met a party of seamen, who had just come back from the western sea.

"Where have you been?" he asked these sailors.

"Sir," they said, "we have been on the great sea, as far as the Fortunate Islands, a thousand miles from here."

"What kind of islands are they?"

"Rain seldom falls there; the breeze blows soft; the air is sweet; the soil is rich. We think these islands must be the Happy Fields of which the poet Homer sings."

"I will go and see this happy land for myself," said Sertorius.

But his plan was never carried out. He crossed to Morocco, and helped the prince of the Moors to regain his lost throne; and while he was in Africa a message came to him from Spain.

"We look to you," was the message, "as our captain, to defend us against the Romans."

So here was a Roman, acting as leader of the Spanish people against his own republic. This was not because he hated his own country, but because he thought Rome had fallen into the power of men who would do no real good.

One day a Spaniard brought to General Sertorius a beautiful young deer. The little creature was white all over, and soon became attached to her Roman master, following him about like a dog, even amid the clash and bustle of the camp. At length the idea occurred to him that he might make great use of the white fawn. He told the Spaniards this creature had been given him by the huntress Diana, goddess of the crescent moon.

One day he brought out the white fawn covered with flowers.

"Victory! victory!" he cried to the Spanish folk who crowded round. "My troops have gained a victory over the army of Sulla."

"How do you know that, sir?"

"My friend the fawn has told me so."

"Can the creature speak?"

"Yes. The goddess Diana has given it the power to tell me secrets."

The simple Spaniards believed the story. As a matter of fact, news of the battle had been brought to him by a messenger; and he kept the tidings quiet till after he had led out the white fawn. Then the messenger appeared in public, as if he had only just arrived, and gave out the news of the victory! No doubt Sertorius found the fawn useful in making him seem very wise; but he was deceiving the poor Spaniards.

Four Roman generals were in the field against him; but so cunning and quick was Sertorius that he defeated each, though they had one hundred and twenty thousand footmen, six thousand horsemen, and two thousand bowmen and slingers. When the Spaniards were hard pressed by the enemy they took to the mountains, where the heavily armed Romans could not follow. Sertorius, like his Spanish soldiers, could bear much hardship. He could sleep on the bare ground, or even, if need be, could go without sleep several days and nights running; his food was very plain, and he drank no wine. He drilled the Spaniards after the Roman manner, and allowed them to use golden ornaments for their helmets and shields. In one city he set up a fine school, where the sons of Spanish chiefs were taught by Roman teachers to speak and read and write Latin and Greek. The pupils of the school wore coats with purple edging.

Some of his Spanish and Moorish troops did not fall in with his ideas about order and discipline. They wanted to rush into battle in their wild, native way, each fighting for himself, and thinking that the force of blows was sure to win, never troubling about moving at the general's command. One day these disorderly warriors were badly beaten by the steady-eyed and steady-handed Romans; and at the end of the day they sat round their camp-fires, unhappy and hopeless. A few days afterward Sertorius taught them a lesson. Before his assembled army he had two horses led out, one weak and old, the other strong and big, with a large tail. A small man stood by the big horse, and a tall, burly man stood by the weak horse.

"You two men," said Sertorius, "are each to pull out the tail of the horse you stand by."

The big man tugged at the little horse's tail with all his might, but could do nothing, and the crowd of warriors shrieked with laughter.

Meanwhile the small man was quietly picking out the tail of the big horse, one hair at a time, till the tail was all gone! Then Sertorius spoke:

"My friends, you who dash madly into battle, without heed and without sense, are like the big fellow who tugs and tugs and gains nothing. The other man has used less force of muscle, but he has used more intelligence; he has thought out a wise plan, and stuck to it till it succeeded."

The Spaniards understood, and paid more attention to his directions. They saw that wit was often more valuable than brute strength.

For instance, he led his troops against the hill-tribes who lived by robbing villages and cities. The robbers lived in caves, as some Spanish gypsies do to this day. The soldiers of Sertorius could not climb up the steep paths and capture the robbers, who retired like rabbits to their burrows. The general noticed that the clay in that district was light and crumbling and dusty. He also observed that, at certain times, the north wind blew. So he bade his men heap up clay, and stamp on it, and let the horses trample up and down it, until great clouds of dust arose, which was blown by the north wind into the robbers' caves. The hill-folk could scarcely breathe for the dust, and had to surrender.

Once the white hind was lost (for the fawn was now grown into a hind), and Sertorius was in much trouble. Some of his soldiers found her, and brought her to the general. He told these men to say nothing about it, and for a few days he kept the animal in hiding.

He called the Spaniards together for a public meeting about the business of the country. He seemed all smiles.

"I feel sure," he said to the Spanish chiefs, "that a great good-fortune will happen to me to-day. I have been told so in a dream."

Just then a servant let the hind loose. It ran out to its master, and licked his right hand. The Spaniards shouted themselves hoarse in their surprise and pleasure!

These tricks do not show Sertorius in the best light. He did what many clever people have done: he made a profit out of the ignorance of people less intelligent than himself.

But another story will show the nobler side of his nature. Sertorius had made himself so powerful, and he was so respected by the native chiefs, that they resolved to elect him Prince of the Spanish nation. They were about to offer him this honor in an assembly of the tribes. Just then news came to him that his mother had died. His father had died many years before, and the mother had brought him up with much loving care. Sertorius retired to his tent. For seven days he would not come forth. Each day his officers came to the door and begged him to come among the people. But he lay on the ground in sign of deep mourning, and would not appear in the assembly until the week was ended.

He had now a kind of council to assist him in the government, which he called a senate; and such was his fame that the King of Pontus, the great Mithridates, sent and offered him his friendship.

At length, however, his Roman officers and senators became jealous of his high rank and power. As he sat at supper one evening in 72 B.C., he was slain by the hands of assassins.

What happened to the white hind I do not know.