The Hour of Banquet

The remainder of this memorable day lingered on with a tardiness beyond
description. The criminal who counts the watches of the night before
his execution has but a faint image of that hot and yet pining anxiety,
that loathing of all things unconnected with the one mighty event, that
mixture of hopelessness and hope, that morbid nervousness of every fiber
in his frame, which make up the suspense of the conspirator in even the
noblest cause.

When the hour of banquet came, I sat down in the midst of magnificence,
as was the custom of my rank. The table was filled with guests; all
around me was gaiety and pomp, high-born men, handsome women, richly
attired attendants; plate, the work of Tyrian and Greek artists, in its
massive beauty; walls covered with tissues; music filling the air cooled
by fountains of perfumed waters. I felt as little of them as if I were
in the wilderness. The richest wines, the most delicate fruits, palled
on my taste. If I had one wish, it was that for the next forty-eight
hours oblivion might amount to insensibility! At my wife and daughters I
ventured but one glance. I thought that I had never before seen them look
so fitted to adorn their rank, to be the models of grace, loveliness, and
honor, to society, and the thought smote my heart—how soon may all this
be changed!

My eyes sought Constantius; he had just returned from his preparations,
and came in glowing with the enthusiasm of the soldier. He sat down
beside Salome, and his cheek gradually turned to the hue of death.
He sat like myself, absorbed in frequent reverie, and to the playful
solicitations of Salome that he would indulge in the table after his
fatigue, he gave forced smiles and broken answers. The future was
plainly busy with us both; with all that the heart of man could love
beside him, he felt the pang of contrast, and when on accidentally
lifting his eyes, they met mine, the single conscious look interchanged
told the perturbation that preyed on both in the heart’s core.

[Sidenote: Constantius Seeks Salathiel]

I soon rose, and under pretense of having letters to despatch to our
friends in Rome, retired to my chamber. There lay the chart still
on the table, the route to Masada marked by pencil lines. With what
breathlessness I now traced every point and bearing of it! There, within
a space over which I could stretch my arm, was my world. In that little
boundary was I to struggle against the supremacy that covered the earth!
Those fairy hills, those scarcely visible rivers, those remote cities,
dots of human habitation, were to be henceforth the places of siege and
battle, memorable for the destruction of human life, engrossing every
energy of myself and my countrymen, and big with the fates of generations
on generations.

It was dusk, and I was still devouring with my eyes this chart of
prophecy when Constantius entered.

“I have come,” said he gravely, “to bid you farewell for the night. In
two days I hope we shall all meet again.”

“No, my brave son,” I interrupted, “we do not leave each other to-night.”

He looked surprised. “I must be gone this instant. Eleazar has done his
part with the activity of his honest and manly mind. Two miles off, in
the valley under the date-grove, I have left five hundred of the finest
fellows that ever sat a charger. In half an hour Sirius rises; then we
go, and let the governor of Masada look to it! Farewell, and wish me good
fortune.”

“May every angel that protects the righteous cause hover above your
head!” I exclaimed; “but no farewell, for we go together.”

[Sidenote: Constantius Departs]

“Do you doubt my conduct of the enterprise?” asked he strongly. “’Tis
true I have been in the Roman service, but that service I hated from the
bottom of my soul. I was a Greek and bound to Rome no longer than she
could hold me in her chain. If I could have found men to follow me, I
should have done in Cyprus what I now do in Judea. The countryman of
Leonidas, Cimon, and Timeleon was not born to hug his slavery. I am now a
son of Judea; to her my affections have been transplanted, and to her, if
she does not reject me, shall my means and my life be given.”

He relaxed the belt from his waist and dropped it with his simitar on the
ground. I lifted it and placed it again in his hand.

“No, Constantius,” I replied, “I honor your zeal, and would confide in
you if the world hung upon the balance. But I can not bear the thought
of lingering here while you are in the field. My mind, within these few
hours, has been on the rack. I must take the chances with you.”

“It is utterly impossible,” was his firm answer; “your absence would
excite instant suspicion. The Roman spies are everywhere. The natural
result follows, that our march would be intercepted, and I am not sure
but that even now we may be too late. That inconceivable sagacity by
which the Romans seem to be masters of every man’s secret has been
already at work; troops were seen on the route to Masada this very day.
Let it be known that the prince of Naphtali has left his palace, and the
dozen squadrons of Thracian horse which I saw within those four days at
Tiberias will be riding through your domains before the next sunset.”

This reflection checked me. “Well then,” said I, “go, and the protection
of Him whose pillar of cloud led His people through the sea and through
the desert be your light in the hour of peril!”

I pressed his hand; he turned to depart, but came back, and after a
slight hesitation said: “If Salome had once offended her noble father by
her flight, the offense was mine. Forgive her, for her heart is still
the heart of your child. She loves you. If I fall, let the memory of our
disobedience lie in my grave!”

His voice stopped, and mine could not break the silence.

“Let what will come,” resumed he with an effort, “tell Salome that the
last word on my lips was her name.”

[Sidenote: The Festal Scene]

He left the chamber, and I felt as if a portion of my being had gone
forth from me.

This day was one of the many festivals of our country, and my halls
echoed with sounds of enjoyment. The immense gardens glittered with
illumination in all the graceful devices of which our people were such
masters, and when I looked out for the path of Constantius, I was
absolutely pained by the sight of so much fantastic pleasure while my
hero was pursuing his way through darkness and danger.

At length the festival was over. The lights twinkled fainter among the
arbors, the sounds of glad voices sank, and I saw from my casement
the evidences of departure in the trains of torches that moved up the
surrounding hills. The sight of a starlit sky has always been to me
among the softest and surest healers of the heart, and I gazed upon that
mighty scene which throws all human cares into such littleness, until my
composure returned.

The last of the guests had left the palace before I ventured to descend.
The vases of perfumes still breathed in the hall of the banquet; the
alabaster lamps were still burning; but excepting the attendants who
waited on my steps at a distance, and whose fixed figures might have been
taken for statues, there was not a living being near me of the laughing
and joyous crowd that had so lately glittered, danced, and smiled within
those sumptuous walls. Yet what was this but a picture of the common
rotation of life? Or by a yet more immediate moral, what was it but a
picture of the desertion that might be coming upon me and mine? I sat
down to extinguish my sullen philosophy in wine. But no draft that ever
passed the lip could extinguish the fever that brooded on my spirit. I
dreaded that the presence of my family might force out my secret, and
lingered with my eyes gazing, without sight, on the costly covering of
the board.

[Sidenote: A Beautiful Group]

A sound of music from an inner hall to which Miriam and her daughters had
retired, aroused me. I stood at the door, gazing on the group within.
The music was a hymn with which they closed the customary devotions of
the day. But there was something in its sound to me that I had never
felt before. At the moment when those sweet voices were pouring out the
gratitude of hearts as innocent and glowing as the hearts of angels,
a scene of horror might be acting. The husband of Salome might be
struggling with the Roman sword; nay, he might be lying a corpse under
the feet of the cavalry, that before morn might bring the news of his
destruction in the flames that might startle us from our sleep, and the
swords that might pierce our bosoms.

And what beings were those thus appointed for the sacrifice? The lapse
of even a few years had perfected the natural beauty of my daughters.
Salome’s sparkling eye was more brilliant; her graceful form was molded
into more easy elegance, and her laughing lip was wreathed with a more
playful smile. Never did I see a creature of deeper witchery. My Esther,
my noble and dear Esther, who was perhaps the dearer to me from her
inheriting a tinge of my melancholy, yet a melancholy exalted by genius
into a charm, was this night the leader of the song of holiness. Her
large uplifted eye glowed with the brightness of one of the stars on
which it was fixed. Her hands fell on the harp in almost the attitude of
prayer, and the expression of her lofty and intellectual countenance,
crimsoned with the theme, told of a communion with thoughts and beings
above mortality. The hymn was done, the voices had ceased, yet the
inspiration still burned in her soul; her hands still shook from the
chords’ harmonies, sweet, but of the wildest and boldest brilliancy;
bursts and flights of sound, like the rushing of the distant waterfall at
night, or the strange, solemn echoes of the forest in the first swell of
the storm.

Miriam and Salome sat beholding her in silent admiration and love. The
magnificent dress of the Jewish female could not heighten the power
of such beauty; but it filled up the picture. The jeweled tiaras, the
embroidered shawls, the high-wrought and massive armlets, the silken
robes and sashes fringed with pearl and diamond, the profusion of
dazzling ornament that form the Oriental costume to this day, were the
true habits of the beings that then sat, unconscious of the delighted yet
anxious eye that drank in the joy of their presence. I saw before me the
pomp of princedoms, investing forms worthy of thrones.

My entrance broke off the harper’s spell, and I found it a hard task to
answer the touching congratulations that flowed upon me. But the hour
waned, and I was again left alone for the few minutes which it was my
custom to give to meditation before I retired to rest. I threw open the
door that led into a garden thick with the Persian rose and filling the
air with cool fragrance. At my first glance upward, I saw Sirius—he was
on the verge of the horizon.

[Sidenote: The Fate of Constantius]

The thoughts of the day again gathered over my soul. I idly combined
the fate of Constantius with the decline of the star that he had taken
for his signal. My senses lost their truth, or contributed to deceive
me. I fancied that I heard sounds of conflict; the echo of horses’ feet
rang in my ears. A meteor that slowly sailed across the sky struck me
as a supernatural summons. My brain, fearfully excitable since my great
misfortune, at length kindled up such strong realities that I found
myself on the point of betraying the burden of my spirit by some palpable
disclosure.

Twice had I reached the door of Miriam’s chamber to tell her my whole
perplexity. But I heard the voice of her attendants within and again
shrank from the tale. I ranged the long galleries perplexed with
capricious and strange torments of the imagination.

“If he should fall,” said I, “how shall I atone for the cruelty of
sending him upon a service of such hopeless hazard—a few peasants with
naked breasts against Roman battlements? What soldier would not ridicule
my folly in hoping success; what man would not charge me with scorn
of the life of my kindred? The blood of my tribe will be upon my head
forever. There sinks the prince of Naphtali! In the grave of my gallant
son and his companions is buried my dream of martial honor; the sword
that strikes him cuts to the ground my last ambition of delivering my
country.”

The advice of Constantius returned to my mind, but like the meeting of
two tides, it was only to increase the tumult within. I felt the floor
shake under my hurried tread. I smote my forehead—it was covered with
drops of agony. The voices within my wife’s chamber had ceased. But was
I to rouse her from her sleep, perhaps the last quiet sleep that she was
ever to take, only to hear intelligence that must make her miserable?

I leaned my throbbing forehead upon one of the marble tables, as if to
imbibe coolness from the stone. I felt a light hand upon mine. Miriam
stood beside me.

[Sidenote: Miriam’s Comfort]

“Salathiel!” pronounced she in an unshaken voice, “there is something
painful on your mind. Whether it be only a duty on your part to disclose
it to me, I shall not say; but if you think me fit to share your happier
hours, must I have the humiliation of feeling that I am to be excluded
from your confidence in the day when those hours may be darkened?”

I was silent, for to speak was beyond my strength, but I pressed her
delicate fingers to my bosom.

“Misfortune, my dear husband,” resumed she, “is trivial but when it
reaches the mind. Oh, rather let me encounter it in the bitterest
privations of poverty and exile; rather let me be a nameless outcast
to the latest year I have to live, than feel the bitterness of being
forgotten by the heart to which, come life or death, mine is bound
forever and ever.”

I glanced up at her. Tears dropped on her cheeks, but her voice was firm.

“I have observed you,” said she, “in deep agitation during the day, but I
forbore to press you for the cause. I have listened now, till long past
midnight, to the sound of your feet, to the sound of groans and pangs
wrung from your bosom; nay, to exclamations and broken sentences which
have let me most involuntarily into the knowledge that this disturbance
arises from the state of our country. I know your noble nature, and I say
to you, in this solemn and sacred hour of danger, follow the guidance of
that noble nature.”

I cast my arms about her neck and imprinted upon her lips a kiss as true
as ever came from human love. She had taken a weight from my soul. I
detailed the whole design to her. She listened with many a change from
red to pale, and many a tremor of the white hand that lay in mine. When I
ceased, the woman in her broke forth in tears and sighs.

“Yet,” said she, “you must go to the field. Dismiss the thought that
for the selfish desire of looking even upon you in safety here I should
hazard the dearer honor of my lord. It is right that Judea should make
the attempt to shake off her tyranny. The people can never be deceived
in their own cause. Kings and courts may be deluded into the choice of
incapacity, but the man whom a people will follow from their firesides
must bear the stamp of a leader.”

“Admirable being!” I exclaimed, “worthy to be honored while Israel has
a name! Then I have your consent to follow Constantius. By speed I may
reach him before he can have arrived at the object of the enterprise.
Farewell, my best-beloved—farewell!”

She fell into my arms in a passion of tears, but at length recovered and
said:

[Sidenote: Go, Prince of Naphtali!]

“This is weakness, the mere weakness of surprise. Yes; go, prince of
Naphtali. No man must take the glory from you. Constantius is a hero,
but you must be a king, and more than a king; not the struggler for the
glories of royalty, but for the glories of the rescuer of the people of
God. The first blow of the war must not be given by another, dear as he
is. The first triumph, the whole triumph, must be my lord’s.”

She knelt down and poured out her soul to Heaven in eloquent supplication
for my safety. I listened in speechless homage.

“Now go,” sighed she, “and remember in the day of battle who will then be
in prayer for you. Court no unnecessary peril, for if you perish, which
of us would desire to live?”

She again sank upon her knees, and I in reverent silence descended from
the gallery.

My preparations were quickly made. I divested myself of my robes, led
out my favorite barb, flung a haik over my shoulders, and by the help
of my Arab turban might have passed for a plunderer in any corner of
Syria. This was done unseen by any eye, for the crowd of attendants that
thronged the palace in the day were now stretched through the courts,
or on the terraces, fast asleep, under the double influence of a day of
feasting and a night of tepid summer air. I rode without stopping until
the sun began to throw up his yellow rays through the vapors of the Lake
of Tiberias. Then to ascertain alike the progress of Constantius and to
avoid the chances of meeting with some of those Roman squadrons which
were continually moving between the fortresses, I struck off the road
into a forest, tied my barb to a tree, and set forth to reconnoiter the
scene.

[Sidenote: Salathiel Meets Strangers]

Traveling on foot was the common mode in a country which, like Judea,
was but little fitted for the breed of horses, and I found no want of
companions. Pedlers, peasants, disbanded soldiers, and probably thieves
diversified my knowledge of mankind within a few miles. I escaped under
the sneer of the soldier and the compassion of the peasant. The first
glance at my wardrobe satisfied the robber that I was not worth the
exercise of his profession, or perhaps that I was a brother of the
trade. I here found none of the repulsiveness that makes the intercourse
of higher life so unproductive. Confidence was on every tongue, and I
discovered, even in the sandy ways of Palestine, that to be a judicious
listener is one of the first talents for popularity all over the world.
But of my peculiar objects I could learn nothing, though every man whom
I met had some story of the Romans. I ascertained, to my surprise, that
the intelligence which Septimius brought from the imperial cabinet was
known to the multitude. Every voice of the populace was full of tales,
probably reckoned among the profoundest secrets of the state. I have made
the same observation in later eras, and found, even in the most formal
mysteries of the most frowning governments, the rumor of the streets
outruns the cabinets. So it must be while diplomatists have tongues and
while women and domestics have curiosity.

But if I were to rely on the accuracy of those willing politicians, the
cause of independence was without hope. Human nature loves to make itself
important, and the narrator of the marvelous is always great, according
to the distention of his news. Those who had seen a cohort, invariably
magnified it into a legion; a troop of cavalry covered half a province;
and the cohorts marching from Asia Minor and Egypt for our garrisons,
were reckoned by the very largest enumeration within the teller’s
capacity.

As I was sitting by a rivulet, moistening some of the common bread of
the country which I had brought to aid my disguise, I entered into
conversation with one of those unhoused exiles of society whom at the
first glance we discern to be nature’s commoners, indebted to no man for
food, raiment, or habitation, the native dweller on the road. He had some
of the habitual jest of those who have no care, and congratulated me on
the size of my table, the meadow, and the unadulterated purity of my
potation, the brook. He informed me that he came direct from the Nile,
where he had seen the son of Vespasian at the head of a hundred thousand
men. A Syrian soldier, returning to Damascus, who joined our meal, felt
indignant at the discredit thus thrown on a general under whom he had
received three pike-wounds and leave to beg his way home. He swore by
Ashtoreth that the force under Titus was at least twice the number.

A third wanderer, a Roman veteran, of whom the remainder was covered over
with glorious patches, arrived just in time to relieve his general from
the disgrace of so limited a command, and another hundred thousand was
instantly put under his orders; sanctioned by asseverations in the name
of Jupiter Capitolinus, and as many others of the calendar as the patriot
could pronounce. This rapid recruiting threw the former authorities into
the background, and the old legionary was, for the rest of the meal, the
undisputed leader of the conversation. They had evidently heard some
rumor of our preparations.

[Sidenote: A Conversation]

“To suppose,” said the veteran, “that those circumcized dogs can stand
against a regular-bred Roman general is sacrilege. Half his army, or a
tenth of his army, would walk through the land, north and south, east and
west, as easily as I could walk through this brook.”

“No doubt of it,” said the Syrian, “if they had some of our cavalry for
flanking and foraging.”

“Aye, for anything but fighting, comrade,” said the Roman with a laugh.

“No; you leave out another capital quality,” observed the beggar, “for
none can deny that whoever may be first in the advance, the Syrians will
be first in the retreat. There are two maneuvers to make a complete
soldier—how to get into the battle, and how to get out of it. Now, the
Syrians manage the latter in the most undoubted perfection.”

“Silence, villain,” exclaimed the Syrian, “or you have robbed your last
hen-roost in this world.”

“He says nothing but the truth for all that,” interrupted the veteran.
“But neither of us taxed your cavalry with cowardice. No; it was pure
virtue. They had too much modesty to take the way into the field before
other troops, and too much humanity not to teach them how to sleep
without broken bones.”

The beggar, delighted at the prospect of a quarrel, gave the assent that
more embroiled the fray.

“Mark Antony did not say so,” murmured the indignant Syrian.

“Mark Antony!” cried the Roman, starting upon his single leg, “glory to
his name! But what could a fellow like you know about Mark Antony?”

“I only served with him,” dryly answered the Syrian.

[Sidenote: Salathiel Hears of Masada]

“Then here’s my hand for you,” exclaimed the brave old man, “we are
comrades. I would love even a dog that had seen the face of Mark Antony.
He was the first man that I ever carried buckler under. Aye, there was
a soldier for you; such men are not made in this puling age. He could
fight from morn till night, and carouse from night till morn, and never
lose his seat on his charger in the field the day after. I have seen him
run half naked through the snows in Armenia, and walk in armor in the
hottest day of Egypt. He loved the soldier, and the soldier loved him.
So, comrade, here’s to the health of Mark Antony. Ah, we shall never see
such men again.”

He drew out a flask of ration wine, closely akin to vinegar, of which he
hospitably gave us each a cup, and after pouring a libation to his hero’s
memory, whom he evidently placed among his gods, swallowed the draft, in
which we devoutly followed his example.

“Yet,” said the beggar, “if Antony was a great man, he has left
little men enough behind him. There’s, for instance, the present gay
procurator—six months in the gout, the other six months drunk, or if
sober only thinking where he can rob next. This will bring the government
into trouble before long, or I’m much mistaken. For my part, I pledge
myself if he should take any part of my property——”

“Why, if he did,” said the Syrian, “I give him credit for magic. He could
find a crop of wheat in the sand or coin money out of the air. Where does
your estate lie?”

“Comrade,” said the veteran, laughing, “recollect; if the saying be true
that people are least to be judged of by the outside, the rags of our
jovial friend must hide many a shekel; and as to where his estate lies,
he has a wide estate who has the world for his portion, and money enough
who thinks all his own that he can lay his fingers on.”

The laugh was now loud against the beggar. He, however, bore all, like
one accustomed to the buffets of fortune, and, joining in it, said:

[Sidenote: Dreams of Beggars]

“Whatever may be my talents in that way, there is no great chance of
showing them in this company; but if you should be present at the sack
of Masada, and I should meet you on your way back——”

“Masada!” exclaimed I instinctively.

“Yes, I left the town three days ago. On that very morning an order
arrived to prepare for the coming of the great and good Florus, who in
his wisdom, feeling the want of gold, has determined to fill up the
hollows of the military chest and his own purse by stripping the armory
of everything that can sell for money. My intelligence is from the best
authority. The governor’s principal bath-slave told it to one of the
damsels of the steward’s department, with whom the Ethiopian is mortally
in love, and the damsel, in a moment of confidence, told it to me. In
fact, to let you into _my_ secret, I am now looking out for Florus, in
whose train I intend to make my way back into this gold-mine.”

“The villain!” cried the veteran; “disturb the arms of the dead! Why,
they say that it has the very corselet and buckler that Mark Antony wore
when he marched against the Idumeans.”

“I fear more the disturbance of the arms of the living,” said the Syrian;
“the Jews will take it for granted that the Romans are giving up the
business in despair, and if I’m a true man, there will be blood before I
get home.”

“No fear of that, fellow soldier,” said the veteran gaily; “you have kept
your two legs, and when they have so long carried you out of harm’s way,
it would be the worst treatment possible to leave you in it at last. But
there is something in what you say. I had a dream last night. I thought
that I saw the country in a blaze, and when I started from my sleep, my
ears were filled with a sound like the trampling of ten thousand cavalry.”

I drew my breath quickly, and to conceal my emotion, gathered up the
fragments of our meal. On completing my work, I found the beggar’s eye
fixed on me,—he smiled.

[Sidenote: Salathiel Discovered]

“I too had a dream last night,” said he, “and of much the same kind. I
thought that I saw a cloud of cavalry, riding as fast as horse could lay
hoof to ground; I never saw a more dashing set since my first campaign
upon the highways of this wicked world. I’ll be sworn that whatever
their errand may be, such riders will not come back without it. Their
horses’ heads were turned toward Masada, and I am now between two minds,
whether I may not mention my dream to the procurator himself.”

I found his keen eye turned on me again.

“Absurd!” said I; “he would recommend you only to his lictor.”

“I rather think he would recommend me to his treasurer, for I never had a
dream that seemed so like a fact. I should not be surprised to find that
I had been sleeping with my eyes open.”

His look convinced me that I was known! I touched his hand, while the
soldiers were busy packing up their cups, and showed him gold. He smiled
carelessly. I laid my hand on my poniard; he but smiled again.

“The sun is burning out,” said he, “and I can stand talking here no
longer. Farewell, brave soldiers, and safe home to you! Farewell, Arab,
and safe home to those that you are looking after!”

He stalked away, and as he passed me, said in a low voice, “Glory to
Naphtali!”

After exchanging good wishes with the old men, I followed him; he led the
way toward the wood at a pace which kept me at a distance. When I reached
the shade, he stopped, and prostrated himself before me.

“Will my lord,” said he, “forgive the presumption of his servant? This
day, when I first met you, your disguise deceived me. I bear intelligence
from your friends.”

I caught the fragment of papyrus from him, and read:

“All’s well. We have hitherto met with nothing to oppose us. To-morrow
night we shall be on the ground. If no addition be made to the force
within, the surprise will be complete. Our cause itself is victory.
Health to all we love!”

“Your mission is now done,” said I; “go on to Naphtali, and you shall be
rewarded as your activity has deserved.”

[Sidenote: An Enemy of Florus]

“No,” replied he, with the easy air of a licensed humorist; “I have but
two things to think of in this world—my time and my money; of one of
them, I have infinitely more than I well know how to spend, and of the
other infinitely less. I expected to have killed a few days in going up
to Naphtali. But that hope has been cut off by my finding you half-way. I
will now try Florus, and get rid of a day or two with that most worthy of
men.”

“That I forbid,” interrupted I.

“Not if you will trust one whom your noble son has trusted. I am not
altogether without some dislike to the Romans myself, nor something
between contempt and hatred for Gessius Florus.” His countenance darkened
at the name. “I tell you,” pronounced he bitterly, “that fellow’s
pampered carcass this day contains as black a mass of villainy as stains
the earth. I have an old account to settle with him.”

His voice quivered. “I was once no rambler, no outcast of the land. I
lived on the side of Hermon, lovely Hermon! I was affianced to a maiden
of my kindred, as sweet a flower as ever blushed with love and joy.
Our bridal day was fixed. I went to Cæsarea-Philippi to purchase some
marriage presents. When I returned, I found nothing but women weeping,
and men furious with impotent rage. My bride was gone. A Roman troop
had surrounded her father’s house in the night and torn her away. Wild,
distracted, nay, I believe raving mad, I searched the land. I kept life
in me only that I might recover or revenge her. I abandoned property,
friends, all! At length I made the discovery.”

To hide his perturbation, he turned away. “Powers of justice and
vengeance!” he murmured in a shuddering tone, “are there no thunders for
such things? She had been seen by that hoary profligate. She was carried
off by him. She spurned his insults. He ordered her to be chained, to be
starved, to be lashed!”

[Sidenote: The Slowness of Revenge]

Tears sprang to his eyes. “She still spurned him. She implored to die.
She called upon my name in her misery. Wretch that I was, what could I, a
worm, do under the heel of the tyrant? But I saw her at last; I made my
way into the dungeon. There she sat, pale as the stone to which she was
chained; a silent, sightless, bloodless, mindless skeleton. I called to
her; she knew nothing. I pressed my lips to hers; she never felt them. I
bathed her cold hands in my tears—I fell at her feet—I prayed to her but
to pronounce one word, to give some sign of remembrance, to look on me.
She sat like a statue; her reason was gone, gone forever!”

He flung himself upon the ground, and writhed and groaned before me. To
turn him from a subject of such sorrow, I asked what he meant to do by
his intercourse with Florus.

“To do?—not to stab him in his bed; not to poison him in his banquet; not
to smite him with that speedy death which would be mercy—no, but to force
him into ruin step by step; to gather shame, remorse, and anguish round
him, cloud on cloud; to mix evil in his cup with such exquisite slowness
that he shall taste every drop; to strike him only so far that he may
feel the pang without being stunned; to mingle so much of hope in his
undoing that he may never enjoy the vigor of despair; to sink him into
his own Tartarus inch by inch till every fiber has its particular agony.”

He yelled, suddenly rose from the ground, and rushed forward and threaded
the thickets with a swiftness that made my pursuit in vain.

The violence of the beggar’s anguish, and the strong probabilities of his
story, engrossed me so much that I at first regretted the extraordinary
flight which put it out of my power to offer him any assistance. I
returned with a feeling of disappointment to the spot where I had left
my horse, and was riding toward the higher country, to avoid the enemy’s
straggling parties, when I heard a loud outcry. On a crag so distant that
I thought human speed could scarcely have reached it in the time, I saw
this strange being making all kinds of signals, sometimes pointing to me,
then to some object below him, and uttering a cry which might easily be
mistaken for the howl of a wild beast.

[Sidenote: A Secluded Spot]

I reined up; it was impossible for me to ascertain whether he were
warning me of danger or apprising others of my approach. Great stakes
make man suspicious, and the prince of Naphtali, speeding to the
capture of the principal armory of the legions, might be an object well
worth a little treachery. I rapidly forgot the beggar’s sorrows in the
consideration of his habits; decided that his harangue was a piece of
professional dexterity, probably played off every week of his life, and
that if I would not be in Roman hands before night, I must ride in the
precisely opposite direction to that which his signals so laboriously
recommended. Nothing grows with more vigor than the doubt of human
honesty. I satisfied myself in a few moments that I was a dupe, and
dashed through thicket, over rock, forded torrent, and from the top
of an acclivity, at which even my high-mettled steed had looked with
repugnance, saw with the triumph of him who deceives the deceiver, the
increased violence of the impostor’s attitudes. He leaped from crag to
crag with the activity of a goat, and when he could do nothing else,
gave the last evidence of Oriental vexation by tearing his robes. I waved
my hand to him in contemptuous farewell, and dismounting, for the side
of the hill was almost precipitous, led my panting Arab through beds of
wild myrtle, and every lovely and sweet-smelling bloom, to the edge of a
valley that seemed made to shut out every disturbance of man.

A circle of low hills, covered to the crown with foliage, surrounded a
deep space of velvet turf, kept green as the emerald by the moisture of
a pellucid lake in its center, tinged with every color of heaven. The
beauty of this sylvan spot was enhanced by the luxuriant profusion of
almond, orange, and other trees that in every stage of production, from
the bud to the fruit, covered the little knolls below and formed a broad
belt round the lake.

Parched as I was by the intolerable heat, this secluded haunt of the very
spirit of freshness looked doubly lovely. My eyes, half-blinded by the
glare of the sands, and even my mind, exhausted by the perplexities of
the day, found delicious relaxation in the verdure and dewy breath of the
silent valley. My barb, with the quick sense of animals accustomed to the
travel of the wilderness, showed her delight by playful boundings, the
prouder arching of her neck, and the brighter glancing of her eye.

“Here,” thought I, as I led her slowly toward the steep descent, “would
be the very spot for the innocence that had not tried the world, or the
philosophy that had tried it and found all vanity. Who could dream that
within the borders of this distracted land, in the very hearing, almost
within the very sight, of the last miseries that man can inflict on man,
there was a retreat which the foot of man perhaps never yet defiled, and
in which the calamities that afflict society might be as little felt as
if it were among the stars!”

A violent plunge of the barb put an end to my speculation. She exhibited
the wildest signs of terror, snorted and strove to break from me; then
fixing her glance keenly on the thickets below, shook in every limb.
Yet the scene was tranquillity itself; the chameleon lay basking in the
sun, and the only sound was that of the wild doves, murmuring under the
broad leaves of the palm-trees. But my mare still resisted every effort
to lead her downward; her ears were fluttering convulsively; her eyes
were starting from their sockets. I grew peevish at the animal’s unusual
obstinacy, and was about to let her suffer thirst for the day, when I was
startled by a tremendous roar.

A lion stood on the summit which I had but just quitted. He was not a
dozen yards above my head, and his first spring must have carried me to
the bottom of the precipice. The barb burst away at once. I drew the only
weapon I had—a dagger—and hopeless as escape was, grasping the tangled
weeds to sustain my footing, awaited the plunge. But the lordly savage
probably disdained so ignoble a prey, and remained on the summit, lashing
his sides with his tail and tearing up the ground. He at length stopped
suddenly, listened, as to some approaching foot, and then with a hideous
yell, sprang over me, and was in the thicket below at a single bound.

[Sidenote: The Forest Kings]

The whole jungle was instantly alive; the shade which I had fixed on for
the seat of unearthly tranquillity had been an old haunt of lions, and
the mighty herd were now roused from their noonday slumbers. Nothing
could be grander or more terrible than this disturbed majesty of the
forest kings. In every variety of savage passion, from terror to fury,
they plunged, tore, and yelled; dashed through the lake, burst through
the thicket, rushed up the hills, or stood baying and roaring in
defiance, as if against a coming invader; their numbers were immense, for
the rareness of shade and water had gathered them from every quarter of
the desert.

[Sidenote: A Savage Conflict]

While I stood clinging to my perilous hold, and fearful of attracting
their gaze by the slightest movement, the source of the commotion
appeared, in the shape of a Roman soldier issuing, spear in hand, through
a ravine at the farther side of the valley. He was palpably unconscious
of the formidable place into which he was entering, and the gallant
clamor of voices through the hills showed that he was followed by others
as bold and as unconscious of their danger as himself. But his career
was soon closed; his horse’s feet had scarcely touched the turf, when
a lion was fixed with fang and claw on the creature’s loins. The rider
uttered a cry of horror, and for an instant sat helplessly gazing at the
open jaws behind him. I saw the lion gathering up his flanks for a second
bound, but the soldier, a figure of gigantic strength, grasping the
nostrils of the monster with one hand, and with the other shortening his
spear, drove the steel at one resistless thrust into the lion’s forehead.
Horse, lion, and rider fell, and continued struggling together.

In the next moment a mass of cavalry came thundering down the ravine.
They had broken off from their march, through the accident of rousing a
straggling lion, and followed him in the giddy ardor of the chase. But
the sight now before them was enough to appal the boldest intrepidity.
The valley was filled with the vast herd; retreat was impossible, for
the troopers came still pouring in by the only pass, and from the sudden
descent of the glen, horse and man were rolled head foremost among the
lions; neither man nor monster could retreat.

The conflict was horrible; the heavy spears of the legionaries plunged
through bone and brain; the lions, made more furious by wounds, sprang
upon the powerful horses and tore them to the ground, or flew at the
troopers’ throats, and crushed and dragged away cuirass and buckler.
The valley was a struggling heap of human and savage battle; man, lion,
and charger writhing and rolling in agonies until their forms were
undistinguishable. The groans and cries of the legionaries, the screams
of the mangled horses, and the roars and howlings of the lions, bleeding
with sword and spear, tearing the dead, darting up the sides of the hills
in terror, and rushing down again with the fresh thirst of gore, baffled
all conception of fury and horror. But man was the conqueror at last; the
savages, scared by the spear, and thinned in their numbers, made a rush
in one body toward the ravine, overthrew everything in their way, and
burst from the valley, awaking the desert for many a league with their
roar.

[Illustration: “The lions, made more furious by wounds, sprang upon the
powerful horses.”

[_see page 208._

Copyright, 1901, by Funk & Wagnalls Company, N. Y. and London.]

The troopers, bitterly repenting their rash exploit, gathered up the
remnants of their dead on litters of boughs, and leaving many a gallant
steed to feast the vultures, slowly retired from the place of carnage.

The spot to which I clung made ascent or descent equally difficult, and
during their extraordinary contest I continued embedded in the foliage,
and glad to escape the eye of man and brute alike. But the troop were now
gone; beneath me lay nothing but a scene of blood, and I began to wind my
way to the summit. A menace from below stopped me. A solitary horseman
had galloped back to give a last look to this valley of death; he saw me
climbing the hill, saw that I was not a Roman, and in the irritation of
the hour, made no scruple of sacrificing a native to the manes of his
comrades. The spear followed his words and plowed the ground at my side.
His outcry brought back a dozen of his squadron; I found myself about to
be assailed by a general discharge. Escape on foot was impossible, and I
had no resource but to be speared, or to descend and give myself up to
the soldiery.

[Sidenote: Salathiel Captured]

It was to warn me of this hazard that the signals of my strange companion
were made. He saw the advance of the Roman column along the plain. My
suspicions of his honesty drove me directly into their road, and the
chance of turning down the valley scarcely retarded the capture. On
my first emerging from the hills, I must have been taken. However, my
captors were in unusual ill-temper. As an Arab, too poor to be worth
plundering or being made prisoner, I should have met only a sneer or
an execration and been turned loose; but the late disaster made the
turban and haik odious, and I was treated with the wrath due to a fellow
conspirator of the lions. To my request that I should be suffered to
depart in peace on my business, the most prompt denial was given; the
story that I told to account for my travel in the track of the column
was treated with the simplest scorn; I was pronounced a spy, and fairly
told that my head was my own only till I gave the procurator whatever
information it contained.

Yet I found one friend, in this evil state of my expedition. My barb,
which I had given up for lost in the desert, or torn by the wild beasts,
appeared on the heights overhanging our march, and by snuffing the
wind, and bounding backward and forward through the thickets, attracted
general attention. I claimed her, and the idea that the way-sore and
rough-clothed prisoner could be the master of so noble an animal, raised
scorn to its most peremptory pitch. In turn I demanded permission to
prove my right, and called the barb. The creature heard the voice with
the most obvious delight, bounded toward me, rubbed her head against me,
and by every movement of dumb joy showed that she had found her master.

[Sidenote: A Jovial Captain]

Still my requests for dismissal were idle; I talked to the winds; the
rear squadrons of the column were in sight; there was no time to be
lost. I was suffered to mount the barb, but her bridle was thrown across
the neck of one of the troopers’ horses, and I was marched along to
death, or a tedious captivity. My blood boiled when I thought of what
was to be done before the dawn. How miserable a proof had I given of the
vigilance and vigor that were to claim the command of armies! I writhed
in every nerve. My agitation at length caught the eye of a corpulent old
captain, whose good-humored visage was colored by the deepest infusion
of the grape. His strong Thracian charger was a movable magazine of
the choicest Falernian; out of every crevice of his pack-saddle and
accouterments peeped the head of a flask; and to judge by his frequent
recourse to his stores, no man was less inclined to carry his baggage for
nothing. Popularity, too, attended upon the captain, and a group of young
patricians attached to the procurator’s court were content to abate of
their rank, and ride along with the old soldier, in consideration of his
better knowledge of the grand military science, providing for the road.

In the midst of some camp story, which the majority received with peals
of applause, the captain glanced upon me, and asking “whether I was not
ill,” held out his flask. I took it, and never did I taste draught so
delicious. Thirst and hunger are the true secrets of luxury. I absolutely
felt new life rushing into me with the wine.

[Sidenote: The Haughtiness of a Tribune]

“There,” said the old man, “see how the fellow’s eye sparkles. Falernian
is the doctor, after all. I have had no other those forty years. For
hard knocks, hard watches, and hard weather, there is nothing like the
true juice of the vine. Try it again, Arab.”

I declined the offer in civil terms.

“There,” said he, “it has made the man eloquent. By Hercules, it would
make his mare speak. And now that I look at her, she is as prettily made
a creature as I have seen in Syria; her nose would fit in a drinking-cup.
What is her price, at a word?”

I answered that “she was not to be sold.”

“Well, well, say no more about it,” replied the jovial old man; “I know
you Arabs make as much of a mare as of a child, and I never meddle in
family affairs.”

A haughty-looking tribune, covered with embroidery and the other
coxcombry of the court soldier, spurred his charger between us and
uttered with a sneer:

“What, captain, by Venus and all the Graces! giving this beggar a lecture
in philosophy or a lesson in politeness? If you will not have the mare, I
will. Dismount, slave!”

The officers gathered to the front, to see the progress of the affair. I
sat silent.

“Slave! do you hear? Dismount! You will lose nothing, for you will steal
another in the first field you come to.”

“I know but one race of robbers in Judea,” replied I.

The old captain reined up beside me, and said in a whisper: “Friend, let
him have the mare. He will pay you handsomely, and besides, he is the
nephew of the procurator. It will not be wise in you to put him in a
passion.”

“That fellow never shall have her, tho he were to coin these sands into
gold,” replied I.

“Do you mean to call us robbers?” said the tribune, with a lowering eye.

“Do you mean to stop me on the high-road and take my property from me,
yet expect that I shall call you anything else?” was the answer.

“Sententious rogues, those Arabs! Every soul of them has a point, or a
proverb, on his tongue,” murmured the captain to the group of young men,
who were evidently amused at seeing their unpopular companion entangled
with me.

[Sidenote: The Tribune’s Rage]

“Slave!” said the tribune fiercely, “we must have no more of this. You
have been found lurking about the camp. Will you be hanged for a spy?”

“A spy!” said I—and the insult probably colored my cheek; “a spy has no
business among the Romans.”

“So,” observed the captain, “the Arab seems to think that our proceedings
are in general pretty palpable: slay, strip, and burn.” He turned to the
patrician tribune. “The fellow is not worth our trouble. Shall I let him
go about his business?”

“Sir,” said the tribune angrily, “it is your business to command your
troop and be silent.”

The old man bit his lip, and fell back to the line of his men. My taunter
reined up beside me again.

“Do you know, robber, that I can order you to be speared on the spot for
your lies?”

“No, for I have told you nothing but the truth of both of us. Such an
order, too, would only prove that men will often bid others do what they
dare not touch with a finger of their own.”

The officers, offended at the treatment of their old favorite, burst into
a laugh. The coxcomb grew doubly indignant.

“Strip the hound!” exclaimed he to the soldiers; “it is money that makes
him insolent.”

“Nature has done it, at least for one of us, without the expense of a
mite,” replied I calmly.

“Off with his turban! Those fellows carry coin in every fold of it.”

The officers looked at each other in surprise; the captain hardly
suppressed a contemptuous execration between his lips. The very troopers
hesitated.

“Soldiers!” said I, in the same unaltered tone, “I have no gold in my
turban. An Arab is seldom one of those—the outside of whose head is
better worth than the inside.”

The perfumed and curled locks of the tribune, surmounted by a helmet,
sculptured and plumed in the most extravagant style, caught every eye;
and the shaft, slight as it was, went home.

[Sidenote: The Tribune’s Defeat]

“I’ll pluck the robber off his horse by the beard!” exclaimed the
tribune, spurring his horse upon me and advancing his hand.

I threw open my robe, grasped my dagger, and sternly pronounced: “There
is an oath in our line that the man who touches the beard of an Arab
dies.”

He was not prepared for the action, hesitated, and finally wheeled from
me. The old captain burst out into an involuntary huzza.

“Take the beggar to the camp,” said the tribune, as he rode away, “I hate
all scoundrels”; and he glanced round the spectators.

“Then,” exclaimed I, after him, as a parting blow, “you have at least one
virtue, for you can never be charged with self-love.”

This woman-war made me popular on the spot. The tribune had no sooner
turned his horse’s head than the officers clustered together in laughter.
Even the iron visages of the troopers relaxed into grim smiles. The old
jocular captain was the only one still grave.

[Sidenote: An Unpleasant Interview]

“There rides not this day under the canopy of heaven,” murmured he, “a
greater puppy than Caius Sempronius Catulus, tribune of the thirteenth
legion by his mother’s morals and the Emperor’s taste. Why did not the
coxcomb stay at home, and show off his trappings among the supper-eaters
of the Palatine? He might have powdered his ringlets with gold-dust,
washed his hands in rose-water, and perfumed his handkerchief with myrrh
as well there as here, for he does nothing else—except,” and he clenched
the heavy hilt of his falchion, “insult men who have seen more battles
than he has seen years, who knew better service than bowing in courts,
and the least drop of whose blood is worth all that will ever run in his
veins. But I have not done with him yet. As for you, friend,” said he, “I
am sorry to stop you on your way; but as this affair will be magnified by
that fool’s tongue, you must be brought to the procurator. However, the
camp is only a few miles off; you will be asked a few questions, and then
left to follow your will.”

He little dreamed how I recoiled from that interview.

To shorten the time of my delay, the good-natured old man ordered
the squadron to mend their pace, and in half an hour we saw the noon
encampment of my sworn enemy, lifting its white tops and scarlet flags
among the umbrage of a forest, deep in the valley at our feet.

The squadron drew up at the entrance of the procurator’s tent, and with
a crowd of alarmed peasants captured in the course of the day, I was
delivered over to be questioned by this man of terror. The few minutes
which passed before I was called to take my turn were singularly painful.
This was not fear, for the instant sentence of the ax would have been
almost a relief from the hopeless and fretful thwartings sown so thickly
in my path. But to have embarked in a noble enterprise, and to perish
without use; to have arrived almost within sight of the point of my
desires, and then, without striking a blow, to be given up to shame,
stung me like a serpent.

My heart sprang to my lips when I heard myself called into the presence
of Florus. He was lying upon a couch, with his never-failing cup before
him, and turning over some papers with a shaking hand. Care or conscience
had made ravages even in him since I saw him last. He was still the same
figure of excess, but his cheek was hollow; the few locks on his head had
grown a more snowy white, and the little pampered hand was as thin and
yellow as the claw of the vulture that he so much resembled in his soul.

With his head scarcely lifted from the table, and with eyes that seemed
half shut, he asked whence I had come and whither I was going. My voice,
notwithstanding my attempt to disguise it, struck his acute ear. His
native keenness was awake at once. He darted a fiery glance at me, and,
striking his hand on the table, exclaimed: “By Hercules, it is the Jew!”
My altered costume again perplexed him.

“Yet,” said he in soliloquy, “that fellow went to Nero, and must have
been executed. Ho! send in the tribune who took him.”

[Sidenote: Salathiel the Plunderer]

Catulus entered, and his account of me was, luckily, contemptuous in the
extreme. I was “a notorious robber, who had stolen a handsome horse,
perfectly worthy of the stud of the procurator.”

I panted with the hope of escape, and was gradually moving to the door.

“Stand, slave!” cried Florus, “I have my doubts of you still, and as the
public safety admits of no mistake I have no alternative. Tribune, order
in the lictors. He must be scourged into confession.”

The lictors were summoned, and I was to be torn by Roman torturers.

A tumult now arose outside, and a man rushed in with the lictors,
exclaiming: “Justice, most mighty Florus! By the majesty of Rome, and
the magnanimity of the most illustrious of governors, I call for justice
against my plunderer, my undoer, the robber of the son of El Hakim, of
his most precious treasure.”

Florus recognized the clamorer as an old acquaintance, and desired him to
state his complaint, and with as much brevity as possible.

“Last night,” said the man, “I was the happy possessor of a mare, fleet
as the ostrich and shapely as the face of beauty. I had intended her as
a present for the most illustrious of procurators, the great Florus,
whom the gods long preserve! In the hour of my rest, the spoiler came,
noiseless as the fall of the turtle’s feather, cruel as the viper’s
tooth. When I arose the mare was gone. I was in distraction. I tore my
beard; I beat my head upon the ground; I cursed the robber wherever he
went, to the sun-rising or the sun-setting, to the mountains or the
valleys. But fortune sits on the banner of my lord the procurator, and I
came for hope of his conquering feet. In passing through the camp, what
did I see but my treasure, the delight of my eyes, the drier up of my
tears! I have come to claim justice and the restoration of my mare, that
I may have the happiness to present her to the most renowned of mankind.”

[Sidenote: A Mare’s Wildness]

I had been occupied with the thought whether I should burst through
the lictors or rush on the procurator. But the length and loudness of
this outcry engrossed every one. The orator was my friend the beggar! He
pointed fiercely to me. If looks could kill, he would not have survived
the look that I gave the traitor in return.

“There,” said Florus, “is your plunderer. Sabat, have you ever seen him
before?”

The beggar strode insolently toward me.

“Seen him before! aye, a hundred times. What! Ben Ammon, the most
notorious thief from the Nile to the Jordan! My lord, every child knows
him. Ha, by the gods of my fathers, by my mother’s bosom, by shaft and by
shield, he has stolen more horses within the last twenty years than would
remount all the cavalry from Beersheba to Damascus! It was but last night
that, as I was leading my mare, the gem of my eyes, my pearl——”

I now began to perceive the value of my eloquent friend’s interposition.

“An Arab horse-thief! That alters the case,” said the procurator. “Ho!
did you not say that the mare was intended for me? Lictor, go and bring
this wonder to the door.”

The voluble son of El Hakim followed the lictor, and returned, crying
out more furiously than before against me. His “pearl, the delight of
his eyes, was spoiled—was utterly unmanagable. I had put some of my
villainous enchantments upon her, for which I was notorious.”

The procurator’s curiosity was excited; he rose and went to take a view
of the enchanted animal. I followed, and certainly nothing could be
more singular than the restiveness which the son of El Hakim contrived
to make her exhibit. She plunged, she bounded, bit, reared, and flung
out her heels in all directions. Every attempt to lead or mount her was
foiled in the most complete yet most ludicrous manner. The young cavalry
officers came from all sides, and could not be restrained from boisterous
laughter, even by the presence of the procurator. Florus himself at
last became among the loudest. Even I, accustomed as I was to daring
horsemanship, was surprised at the eccentric agility of this unlucky
rider. He was alternately on the animal’s back and under her feet; he
sprang upon her from behind, he sprang over her head, he stood upon the
saddle, but all in vain; he had scarcely touched her when she threw him
up in the air again, amid the perpetual roar of the soldiery.

At length, with a look of dire disappointment, he gave up the task, and,
as scarcely able to drag his limbs along, prostrated himself before
Florus, praying that he would order the Arab thief to unsay the spells
that had turned “the gentlest mare in the world into a wild beast.” The
consent was given with a haughty nod, and I advanced to play my part
in a performance, the object of which I had no conception. The orator
delivered the barb to me with a look so expressive of cunning, sport, and
triumph, that perplexed as I was, I could not avoid a smile.

My experiment was rapidly made. The mare knew me, and was tractable at
once. This only confirmed the charge of my necromancy. But the son of El
Hakim professed himself altogether dissatisfied with so expeditious a
process, and demanded that I should go through the regular steps of the
art. In the midst of the fiercest reprobation of my unhallowed dealings,
a whisper from him put me in possession of his mind.

[Sidenote: The Accuser’s Warning]

I now went through the process used by the traveling jugglers, and if the
deepest attention of an audience could reward my talents, mine received
unexampled reward. My gazings on the sky, whisperings in the barb’s
ear, grotesque figures traced on the sand, wild gestures and mysterious
jargon, thoroughly absorbed the intellects of the honest legionaries. If
I had been content with fame, I might have spread my reputation through
the Roman camps as a conjurer of the first magnitude. I was, however,
beginning to be weary of my exhibition, and longed for the signal, when
Sabat approached, and loudly testifying that I had clearly performed my
task, threw the bridle over the animal’s head and whispered, “Now!”

My heart panted; my hand was on the mane; I glanced round to see that all
was safe, before I gave the spring, when Florus screamed out:

[Sidenote: A Lesson in Horse-Stealing]

“The Jew! by Tartarus, it is the Jew himself. Drag down the circumcised
dog.”

With cavalry on every side of me, forcible escape was out of the question.

“Undone, undone!” were the words of my wild friend, as he passed me. And
when I saw him once more in the most earnest conversation with Florus,
I concluded that the discovery was complete. I was in utter despair. I
stood sullenly waiting the worst, and gave an internal curse to the more
than malevolence of fortune.

The conversation continued so long that the impatience of those around me
began to break out.

“On what possible subject can the procurator suffer that mad fellow to
have so long an audience?” said a young patrician.

“On every possible subject, I should conceive, from the length of the
conference,” was the reply.

“Florus knows his man,” said a third; “that mad fellow is a regular spy,
and receives more of the Emperor’s coin in a month than we do in a year.”

The tribune now broke into the circle, and with a look of supreme scorn,
affectedly exclaimed: “Come, knight of the desert, sovereign of the
sands, let us have a specimen of your calling. Stand back, officers; this
egg of Ishmael is to quit plunder so soon that he would probably like to
die as he lived—in the exercise of his trade. Here, slave, show us the
most approved method of getting possession of another man’s horse.”

I stood in indignant silence. The tribune threatened. A thought struck
me; I bowed to the command, let the barb loose, and proceeded according
to the theory of horse-stealing. I approached noiselessly, gesticulated,
made mystic movements, and gibbered witchcraft as before. The animal,
with natural docility, suffered my experiments. I continued urging her
toward the thinner side of the circle.

“Now, noble Romans,” said I, “look carefully to the next spell, for it is
the triumph of the art.”

[Sidenote: The Tribune Outdone]

Curiosity was in every countenance. I made a genuflexion to the four
points of the compass, devoted a gesture of peculiar solemnity to the
procurator’s tent, and while all eyes were drawn in that direction,
sprang on the barb’s back and was gone like an arrow.

I heard a clamor of surprise, mingled with outrageous laughter, and
looking round, saw the whole crowd of the loose riders of the encampment
in full pursuit up the hill. Florus was at his tent door, pointing
toward me with furious gestures. The trumpets were calling, the cavalry
mounting; I had roused the whole activity of the little army.

The slope of the valley was long and steep, and the heavy horsemanship
of the legionaries, who were perhaps not very anxious for my capture,
soon threw them out. A little knot of the more zealous alone kept up a
pursuit, from which I had no fears. An abrupt rock in the middle of the
ascent at length hid them from me. To gain a last view of the camp, I
doubled round the rock and saw, a few yards below me, the tribune, with
his horse completely blown. I owed him a debt, which I had determined
to discharge at the earliest possible time, partly on my own account,
and partly on that of the old captain. I darted upon him. He was all
astonishment; a single buffet from my naked hand knocked the helpless
taunter off his charger.

“Tribune,” cried I, as he lay upon the ground, “you have had one specimen
of my art to-day, now you shall have another. Learn in future to respect
an Arab.”

I caught his horse’s bridle, gave the animal a lash, and we bounded away
together. The scene was visible to the whole camp; the troopers, who had
reined up on the declivity, gave a roar of merriment, and I heard the old
corpulent captain’s laugh above it all.