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- The Emperor, Part 2, Volume 7. - 3/10 -
But their prayers were brief, for the tumult came nearer and nearer; Apollodorus wrung his hands, and struck his fist against his forehead; his movements were violent--spasmodic. Terror had entirely robbed him of the elegant, measured demeanor which be had acquired among his Greek fellow-citizens, and mingling heathen oaths and adjurations with appeals to the God of his fathers, he flew first one way and then another. He searched for the key of the subterranean rooms of the house, but he could not find it, for it was in the charge of his steward, who, with all the other servants, was taking his pleasure in the streets, or over a brimming cup in some tavern.
Now the newly-purchased kitchen-slave--the Jew to whom the keeping of the Dionysian feast was an abomination--rushed into the room shrieking out, as he plucked at his hair and beard:
"The Philistines are upon us! save us Rabbi, great Rabbi! Cry for us to the Lord, oh! man of God! They are coming with staves and spears and they will tread us down as grass and burn us in this house like the locusts cast into the oven."
In deadly terror he threw himself at Gamaliel's feet and clasped them in his hands, but Apollodorus exclaimed: "Follow me, follow me up on to the roof."
"No, no," howled the slave, "Amalek is making ready the firebrand to fling among our tents. The heathen leap and rage, the flames they are flinging will consume us. Rabbi, Rabbi, call upon the Hosts of the Lord! God of the just! The gate has given way. Lord! Lord! Lord!"
The terrified wretch's teeth chattered and he covered his eyes with his hands, groaning and howling.
Ben Jochai had remained perfectly calm, but he was quivering with rage. His prayer was ended, and turning to Gamaliel he said in deep tones:
"I knew that this would happen, I warned you. Our evil star rose when we set forth on our wanderings.
"Now we must abide patiently what the Lord hath determined. He will be our Avenger."
"Vengeance is His!" echoed the old man, and he covered his head with his white mantle.
"In the sleeping-room--follow me! we can hide under the beds!" shrieked Apollodorus; he kicked away the slave who was embracing the Rabbi's feet, and seized the old man by the shoulder to drag him away with him. But it was too late, for the door of the antechamber had burst open and they could hear the clatter of weapons. "Lost, lost, all is lost!" cried Apollodorus.
"Adonai! help us Adonai!" murmured the old man and he clung more closely to his nephew, who overtopped him by a head and who held him clasped in his right arm as if to protect him.
The danger which threatened Apollodorus and his guests was indeed imminent, and it had been provoked solely by the indignation of the excited mob at seeing the wealthy Israelite's house unadorned for the feast.
A thousand times had it occurred that a single word had proved sufficient to inflame the hot blood of the Alexandrians to prompt them to break the laws and seize the sword. Bloody frays between the heathen inhabitants and the Jews, who were equally numerous in the city, were quite the order of the day, and one party was as often to blame as the other for disturbing the peace and having recourse to the sword. Since the Israelites had risen in several provinces--particularly in Cyrenaica and Cyprus--and had fallen with cruel fury on their fellow-inhabitants who were their oppressors, the suspicion and aversion of the Alexandrians of other beliefs had grown more intense than in former times. Besides this, the prosperous circumstances of many Jews, and the enormous riches of a few, had filled the less wealthy heathen with envy and roused the wish to snatch the possessions of those who, it cannot be denied, had not unfrequently treated their gods with open contumely.
It happened that just within a few days the disputes regarding the festival that was to be held in honor of the Imperial visit had added bitterness to the old grudge, and thus it came to pass that Apollodorus' unlighted house in the Canopic way had excited the populace to attack this palatial residence. And here again one single speech had sufficed to excite their fury.
In the first instance Melampus, the tanner, a drunken swaggerer, who had failed in business, had marched up the street at the head of a tipsy crew, and pointing with his thyrsus to the dark, undecorated house, had shouted:
"Look at that dismal barrack! All that the Jew used to spend on decorating the street, he is saving up now in his money chest!" The words were like a spark among tinder and others followed.
"The niggard is robbing our father Dionysus," cried a second citizen, and a third, flourishing his torch on high, croaked out:
"Let us get at the drachmae he grudges the god; we can find a use for them." Graukus, the sausage maker, snatched from his neighbor's hand the bunch of tow soaked in pitch, and bellowed out, "I advise that we should burn the house over their heads!"
"Stay, stay," cried a cobbler who worked for Apollodorus' slaves, as he placed himself in the butcher's way. "Perhaps they are mourning for some one in there. The Jew has always decorated his house on former occasions."
"Not they," replied a flute-player in a loud hoarse voice. "We met the old miser's son on the Bruchiom with some riotous comrades and misconducted hussies, with his purple mantle fluttering far behind him."
"Let us see which is reddest, the Tyrian stuff or the blaze we shall make if we set the old wretch's house on fire," shouted a hungry-looking tailor, looking round to see the effects of his wit.
"Ay! let us try!" rose from one man, and then, from a number of others:
"Let us get into the house!"
"The mean churl shall remember this day!"
"Fetch him out!"
"Drag him into the street!"
Such shouts as these rose here and there from the crowd, which grew denser every instant as it was increased by fresh tributaries attracted by the riot.
"Drag him out!" again shrieked an Egyptian slavedriver, and a woman shrieked an echo of his words. She snatched the deer-skin from her shoulders, flourished it round and round in the air above her tangled black hair, and bellowed furiously:
"Tear him in pieces!"
"In pieces, with your teeth!" roared a drunken Maenad who, like most of the mob that had collected, knew nothing whatever of the popular grudge against Apollodorus and his house.
But words had already begun to be followed by deeds. Feet, fists, and cudgels stamped, drubbed, and thumped against the firmly-bolted brazen door of the darkened house, and a ship's boy of fourteen sprang on the shoulders of a tall black slave and tried to climb the roof of the colonnade, and to fling the torch which the sausage-maker handed up to him into the open forecourt of the imperilled house.
The clatter of arms which Apollodorus and his guests had heard proceeded not from the Jew's besiegers, but from some Roman soldiers who brought safety to the besieged.
It was Verus, who as he was returning from the supper he had given his veterans, with an officer of the Twelfth Legion and his British slaves, had crossed the Canopic way and had been impeded in his progress by the increasing crowd which stood before Apollodorus' house. The praetor had met the Jew at the prefect's house, and knew him for one of the richest and shrewdest men in Alexandria. This attack on his property roused his ire; still he would certainly not have remained an idle spectator even if the house in danger, instead of belonging to a man of mark, had been that of one of the poorest and meanest, even among the Christians. Any lawless act, any breach of constituted order was odious and intolerable to the Roman; he would not have been the man he was if he had looked on passively at an attack by the mob, in times of peace, on the life and property of a quiet and estimable citizen. This licentious man of pleasure, devoted to every enervating enjoyment, in battle, or whenever the need arose, was as prudent as he was brave.
He now first ascertained what purpose the excited crowd had in view, and at once considered the ways and means of frustrating their project. They had already begun to batter the Jew's door, and already several lads were standing on the roof of the arcades with burning torches in their hands.
Whatever he did must be done on the instant, and happily Verus had the gift of thinking and acting promptly. In a few decisive words he begged his companion, Lucius Albinus, to hurry back to his old soldiers and bring them to the rescue; then he desired his slaves to force a way for him with their powerful arms up to the door of the house. This feat was accomplished in no time, but how great was his astonishment when he found the Emperor standing there.
Hadrian stood in the midst of the crowd, and at the instant when Verus appeared on the scene had wrenched the torch out of the hand of the infuriated tailor. At the same time, in a thundering voice, he commanded the Alexandrians--who were not accustomed to the imperial tone--to desist from their mad project. Whistling, grunting, and words of scorn overpowered the mandate of the sovereign, and when Verus and his slaves had reached the spot where he stood, a few drunken Egyptians had gone up to him and were about to lay hands on the unwelcome counsellor. The praetor stood in their way. He first whispered to Hadrian that Jupiter ought to be ruling the world, and might well leave it to smaller folks to rescue a houseful of Jews; and that in a few seconds the soldiers would arrive. Then he shouted to him in a loud voice:
"Away from this Sophist! Your place is in the Museum, or in the temple of Serapis with your books, and not among the misguided and ignorant. Am I right Macedonian citizens, or am I wrong?" A murmur of assent was
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