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- Pearl-Maiden - 50/74 -


to a Roman? Perhaps he is Pearl-Maiden's brother. No, that can't be from his eyes--her lover more likely. Well, it is no affair of mine, and although he never grew them, the vegetables are good and fresh."

That evening when Caleb, still disguised as a peasant, was travelling through the growing twilight across the hills that bordered the road to Tyre, he heard a mighty wailing rise from Jerusalem and knew that it was the death-cry of his people. Now, everywhere above such portions of the beleaguered city as remained standing, shot up tall spires and wreaths of flame. Titus had forced the walls, and thousands upon thousands of Jews were perishing beneath the swords of his soldiers, or in the fires of their burning homes. Still, some ninety thousand were left alive, to be driven like cattle into the Court of Women. Here more than ten thousand died of starvation, while some were set aside to grace the Triumph, some to be slaughtered in the amphitheatres at Cæsarea and Berytus, but the most were transported to Egypt, there, until they died, to labour in the desert mines. Thus was the last desolation accomplished and the prophecy fulfilled: "And the Lord shall bring thee into Egypt again with ships . . . and there ye shall sell yourselves unto your enemies for bondmen and for bondwomen, and no man shall buy you." Thus did "Ephraim return to Egypt," whence he came forth to sojourn in the Promised Land until the cup of his sin was full. Now once more that land was a desert without inhabitants; all its pleasant places were waste; all its fenced cities destroyed, and over their ruins and the bones of their children flew Cæsar's eagles. The war was ended, there was peace in Judæa. /Solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant!/

When Caleb reached Tyre, by the last light of the setting sun he saw a white-sailed galley beating her way out to sea. Entering the city, he inquired who went in the galley and was told Gallus, a Roman captain, in charge of a number of sick and wounded men, many of the treasures of the Temple, and a beautiful girl, who was said to be the grand- daughter of Benoni of that town.

Then knowing that he was too late, Caleb groaned in bitterness of spirit. Presently, however, he took thought. Now, Caleb was wise in his generation, for at the beginning of this long war he had sold all his land and houses for gold and jewels, which, to a very great value, he had left hidden in Tyre in the house of a man he trusted, an old servant of his father's. To this store he had added from time to time out of the proceeds of plunder, of trading, and of the ransom of a rich Roman knight who was his captive, so that now his wealth was great. Going to the man's house, Caleb claimed and packed this treasure in bales of Syrian carpets to resemble merchandise.

Then the peasant who had travelled into Tyre upon business about a mule, was seen no more, but in place of him appeared Demetrius, the Egyptian merchant, who bought largely, though always at night, of the merchandise of Tyre, and sailed with it by the first ship to Alexandria. Here this merchant bought much more goods, such as would find a ready sale in the Roman market, enough to fill the half of a galley, indeed, which lay in the harbour near the Pharos lading for Syracuse and Rhegium.

At length the galley sailed, meaning to make Crete, but was caught by a winter storm and driven to Paphos in Cyprus, where, being afraid to attempt the seas again, let the merchant, Demetrius, do what he would to urge them forward, the captain and crew of the galley determined to winter. So they beached her in the harbour and went up to the great temple, rejoicing to pay their vows and offer gifts to Venus, who had delivered them from the fury of the seas, that they might swell the number of her votaries.

But although he accompanied them, since otherwise they might have suspected that he was a Jew, Demetrius, who sought another goddess, cursed Venus in his heart, knowing that had it not been for her delights the sailors would have risked the weather. Still, there was no help for it and no other ship by which he could sail, so here he abode for more than three months, spending his time in Curium, Amathos and Salamis, trading among the rich natives of Cyprus, out of whom he made a large profit, and adding wine, and copper from Tamasus to his other merchandise, as much as there was room for on the ship.

In the end after the great spring festival, for the captain said that it would not be fortunate to leave until this had been celebrated, they set sail and came by way of Rhodes to the Island of Crete, and thence touching at Cythera to Syracuse in Sicily, and so at last to Rhegium. Here the merchant, Demetrius, transhipped his goods into a vessel that was sailing to the port of Centum Cellæ, and having reached that place hired transport to convey them to Rome, nearly forty miles away.

CHAPTER XXI

THE CÆSARS AND PRINCE DOMITIAN

When the captain Gallus reached the outskirts of Rome he halted, for he did not desire that Miriam should be led through the streets in the daytime, and thus cause questions to be asked concerning her. Also he sent on a messenger bidding the man find out his wife, Julia, if she were still alive, since of this Gallus, who had not seen her for several years, could tell nothing, and inform her that he would be with her shortly, bringing with him a maiden who had been placed in his charge by Titus. Before nightfall, the messenger returned, and with him Julia herself, a woman past middle-age, but, although grey- haired, still handsome and stately.

Miriam saw their meeting, which was a touching sight, since this childless couple who had been married for almost thirty years, had now been separated for a long time. Moreover, a rumour had reached Julia that her husband was not only wounded, but dead, wherefore her joy and thankfulness at his coming were even greater than they would otherwise have been. One thing, however, Miriam noted, that whereas her friend and benefactor, Gallus, held up his hands and thanked the gods that he found his wife living and well, Julia on her part said:

"Aye, I thank God," touching her breast with her fingers as she spoke the words.

Presently the matron seemed to notice her, and, looking at her with a doubtful eye, asked:

"How comes it, husband, that you are in charge of this captive Jewess, if Jewess she be who is so fair?"

"By the orders of Titus Cæsar, wife," he answered, "to whom she must be delivered on his arrival. She was condemned to perish on the gate Nicanor as a traitress to the Jews and a Nazarene."

Julia started and looked at the girl over her shoulder.

"Are you of that faith, daughter?" she asked in a changed voice, crossing her hands upon her breast as though by chance.

"I am, mother," answered Miriam, repeating the sign.

"Well, well, husband," said Julia, "the maid's tale can wait. Whether she was a traitress to the Jews, or a follower of Christus, is not our affair. At least she is in your charge, and therefore welcome to me," and stepping to where Miriam stood with bowed head she kissed her on the forehead, saying aloud:

"I greet you, daughter, who are so sweet to see and in misfortune," adding beneath her breath, "in the Name you know."

Then Miriam was sure that she had fallen into the hands of a woman who was a Christian, and was thankful in her heart, for while the Cæsars sat upon the Roman throne the Christians of every clime, rank and race were one great family.

That evening, so soon as the darkness fell, they entered Rome by the Appian Gate. Here they separated, Gallus leading his soldiers to convoy the treasure to the safe keeping of that officer who was appointed to receive it, and afterwards to the camp prepared for them, while Julia, with Miriam and an escort of two men only, departed to her own home, a small dwelling in a clean but narrow and crowded street that overhung the Tiber between the Pons Ælius and the Porta Flamina. At the door of the house Julia dismissed the soldiers, saying:

"Go without fear, and take witness that I am bond for the safety of this captive."

So the men went gladly enough, for they desired to rest after the toils of their long journey, and the door of the house having been opened by a servant and locked again behind them, Julia led Miriam across a little court to the sitting-room that lay beyond. Hanging lamps of bronze burned in the room, and by their light Miriam saw that it was very clean and well, though not richly, furnished.

"This is my own house, daughter," she explained, "which my father left me, where I have dwelt during all these weary years that my husband has been absent in the wars of the East. It is a humble place, but you will find peace and safety in it, and, I trust, comfort. Poor child," she added in a gentle voice, "I who am also a Christian, though as yet of this my husband knows nothing, welcome you in the Name of the Lord."

"In the Name of our Lord, I thank you," answered Miriam, "who am but a friendless slave."

"Such find friends," said Julia, "and if you will suffer it I think that I shall be one of them." Then at a sign from the elder woman they knelt down, and in silence each of them put up her prayer of thanksgiving, the wife because her husband had come back to her safe, the maiden because she had been led to a house ruled by a woman of her own faith.

After this they ate, a plain meal but well cooked and served. When it was done Julia conducted Miriam to the little whitewashed chamber which had been prepared for her. It was lighted from the court by a lattice set high in the wall, and, like all the house, very clean and sweet, with a floor of white marble.

"Once another maid slept here," said Julia with a sigh, glancing at the white bed in the corner.

"Yes," said Miriam, "she was named Flavia, was she not, your only child? Nay, do not be astonished. I have heard so much of her that I seem to have known her well, who can be known no more--here."

"Did Gallus tell you?" asked Julia. "He used rarely to speak of her."


Pearl-Maiden - 50/74

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