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- The Emperor, Part 2, Volume 7. - 4/10 -
heard which became a roar of laughter when Verus, after Hadrian had got away, went on:
"He has a beard like Caesar, and so he behaves as if he wore the purple! You did well to let him escape, his wife and children are waiting for him over their porridge."
Verus had often been implicated in wild adventure among the populace and knew how to deal with them; if he now could only detain them till the advent of the soldiers he might consider the game as won. Hadrian could be a hero when it suited him; but here where no laurels were to be won, he left to Verus the task of quieting the crowd.
As soon as he was fairly gone Verus desired his slaves to lift him on their shoulders; his handsome good-natured face looked down upon the crowd from high above them. He was immediately recognized, and many voices called out:
"The crazy Roman! the praetor! the sham Eros!"
"I am he, Macedonian citizens, yes, I am he," answered Verus in a clear voice. "And I will tell you a story."
"No let us get into the Jew's house."
"Presently--listen a minute to what the sham Eros says."
"I will knock your teeth down your throat boy, if you don't hold your tongue."
All the crowd were shouting in wild confusion.
Curiosity, on the one hand, to hear the noble gentleman's speech, and the somewhat superficial fury of the mob contended together for a few minutes; at last curiosity seemed to be gaining the day, the tumult subsided, and the praetor began:
"Once upon a time there was a child who had given to him ten little sheep made of cotton, little foolish toys such as the old women sell in the market place."
"Get into the Jew's house, we don't want to hear children's stories--"
"Be quiet there!"
"Hush now listen; from the sheep he will go on to the wolves."
"Not wolves--it will be a she-wolf!" some one shouted in the throng.
"Do not mention the horrid things!" laughed Verus but listen to me.-- Well, the child set his little sheep up in a row each one close to the next. He was a weaver's son. Are there any weavers here? You? and you--ah, and you out there. If I were not my father's son I should like to be the son of an Alexandrian weaver. You need not laugh!--Well, about the sheep. All the little things were beautifully white but one which had nasty black spots, and the little boy could not bear that one. He went to the hearth, pulled out a burning stick and wanted to burn the little ugly sheep so as only to have pretty white ones. The lambkin caught fire and just as the flame had begun to burn the wooden skeleton of the toy a draught from the window blew the flame towards the other little sheep and in a minute they were all burned to ashes. Then thought the little boy, 'If only I had let the ugly sheep alone! What can I play with now?' and he began to cry. But this was not all, for while the little rascal was drying his eyes, the flame spread and burnt up the loom, the wool, the flax, the woven pieces, the whole house--the town in which he was born, and even, I believe, the boy himself!--Now worthy friends and Macedonian citizens, reflect a moment. Any man among you who is possessed of any property may read the moral of my fable."
"Put out the torches!" cried the wife of a charcoal dealer.
"He is right; for by reason of the Jew, we are putting the whole town in danger!" cried the cobbler.
"The mad fools have already thrown in some brands!"
"If you fellows up there fling any more I will break your ankles for you," shouted a flax-dealer.
"Don't try any burning," the tailor commanded, "force open the door and have out the Jew." These words raised a storm of applause and the mob pressed forward to the Jew's abode. No one listened to Verus any more, and he slipped down from his slave's shoulders, placed himself in front of the door and called out:
"In the name of Caesar and the law I command you to leave this house unharmed."
The Roman's warning was evidently quite in earnest, and the false Eros looked as if at this moment it would be ill-advised to try jesting with him. But in the universal uproar only a few had heard his words, and the hot-blooded tailor was so rash as to lay his hand on the praetor's girdle in order to drag him away from the door with the help of his comrades. But he paid dearly for his temerity for the praetor's fist fell so heavily on his forehead that he dropped as if struck by lightning. One of the Britons knocked down the sausage-maker and a hideous hand to hand fight would have been the upshot if help had not come to the hardly-beset Romans from two quarters at once. The veterans supported by a number of lictors were the first to appear, and soon after them came Benjamin, the Jew's eldest son, who was passing down the great thoroughfare with his boon-companions and saw the danger that was threatening his father's house.
The soldiers parted the throng as the wind chases the clouds, and the young Israelite pressed forward with his heavy thyrsus fought and pushed his way so valiantly and resolutely through the panic-stricken mob, that he reached the door of his father's house but a few moments later than the soldiers. The lictors battered at the door and as no one opened it, they forced it with the help of the soldiers in order to set a guard in the beleaguered house, and protect it against the raging mob.
Verus and the officer entered the Jew's dwelling with the armed men, and behind them came Benjamin and his friends--young Greeks with whom he was in the habit of consorting daily, in the bath or the gymnasium. Apollodorus and his guests expressed their gratitude to Verus, and when the old Jewish house-keeper, who had seen and heard from a hiding-place under the roof all that had taken place outside her master's house, came into the men's hall and gave a full report of the uproar from beginning to end, the praetor was overwhelmed with thanks; and the old woman embroidered her narrative with the most glowing colors. While this was going on Apollodorus' pretty daughter, Ismene, came in, and after falling on her father's neck and weeping with agitation the house keeper took her hand and led her to Verus, saying:
"This noble lord--may the blessing of the Most High be on him--staked his life to save us. This beautiful robe he let be rent for our sakes, and every daughter of Israel should fervently kiss this torn chiton, which in the eyes of God is more precious than the richest robe--as I do."
And the old woman pressed the praetor's dress to her lips, and tried to make Ismene do the same; but the praetor would not permit this.
"How can I allow my garment," he exclaimed, laughing, "to enjoy a favor of which I should deem myself worthy--to be touched by such lips."
"Kiss him, kiss him!" cried the old woman, and the praetor took the head of the blushing girl in his hands, and pressing his lips to her forehead with a by no means paternal air, he said gaily:
"Now I am richly rewarded for all I have been so happy as to do for you, Apollodorus."
"And we," exclaimed Gamaliel. "We--myself and my brother's first-born son-leave it in the hands of God Most High to reward you for what you have done for us."
"Who are you?" asked Verus, who was filled with admiration for the prophet-like aspect of the venerable old man and the pale intellectual head of his nephew.
Apollodorus took upon himself to explain to him how far the Rabbi transcended all his fellow Hebrews in knowledge of the law and the interpretation of the Kabbala, the oral and mystical traditions of their people, and how that Simeon Ben Jochai was superior to all the astrologers of his time. He spoke of the young man's much admired work on the subject called Sohar, nor did he omit to mention that Gamaliel's nephew was able to foretell the positions of the stars even on future nights.
Verus listened to Apollodorus with increasing attention, and fixed a keen gaze on the young man, who interrupted his host's eager encomium with many modest deprecations. The praetor had recollected the near approach of his birthday, and also that the position of stars in the night preceding it, would certainly be observed by Hadrian. What the Emperor might learn from them would seal his fate for life. Was that momentous night destined to bring him nearer to the highest goal of his ambition or to debar him from it?
When Apollodorus ceased speaking, Verus offered Simeon Ben Jochai his hand, saying:
"I am rejoiced to have met a man of your learning and distinction. What would I not give to possess your knowledge for a few hours!"
"My knowledge is yours," replied the astrologer. "Command my services, my labors, my time--ask me as many questions as you will. We are so deeply indebted to you--"
"You have no reason to regard me as your creditor," interrupted the praetor, "you do not even owe me thanks. I only made your acquaintance after I had rescued you, and I opposed the mob, not for the sake of any particular man, but for that of law and order."
"You were benevolent enough to protect us," cried Ben Jochai, "so do not be so stern as to disdain our gratitude."
"It does me honor, my learned friend; by all the gods it does me honor," replied Verus. "And in fact it is possible, it might very will be--Will you do me the favor to come with me to that bust of Hipparchus? By the aid of that science which owes so much to him you may be able to render me an important service."
When the two men were standing apart from the others, in front of the white marble portrait of the great astronomer, Verus asked:
"Do you know by what method Caesar is wont to presage the fates of men from the stars?"
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