“Liar!” Vergilius interrupted, his hand upon his sword. “Speak no word of kindness to me!”
“What mean you, son of Varro?” the other demanded.
“That, with me, you have not even the right of an enemy. You are a deadly serpent, born to creep and hide. Shame upon you—murderer! If there be many like you, what—God tell me!—what shall be the fate of Rome?”
Vergilius stepped away, and, lifting his hands, gave the other a look of unspeakable scorn. Manius made no reply, but stood as still and white as marble, with sword in hand.
“It was I who sat beside you that night,” said the other, his voice aglow with feeling. “When I heard you speak treason I cut off the end of your girdle. But you left by some unguarded way and escaped the fate of your fellows. You have not seen them since, and shall not. When you see them die in the arena think what you escaped, although deserving it more than they. Vile serpent! you brought the king, and hoped to send me also to Hades. You are a traitor, and that I know. Traitor to friend and country! Dare to provoke me further and I shall slay you!”
“What would you, son of Varro?” said the other, sullenly.
“Wretch! If you would save your life, hide as becomes the asp. Creep away from them who would put their feet upon you. Go live and die with the wild men of the far deserts.”
“Traitor to the gods!” said Manius, threatening with his sword. “Roman Jew! I am of noble birth, and claim the right of combat.”
“I give it, though you have no better right than dogs. Well, it would please my hand to slay you. I know the name and father you have dishonored, and you are grandnephew of the good Lady Claudia—noble mother of Publius. For their sake I give you the right of combat. By the wayside near Bethlehem are lonely hills. There, the seventh day before the kalends, in the middle hour of the night, you shall see a beacon-fire and near it my colors. Three friends may go with each, and you and I will draw swords in the fire-light.”
“I shall meet you there,” said Manius. Vergilius, putting away his weapon, turned quickly, and, without speaking, left the traitor’s palace with firm faith in the one God—that he was ever on the side of the just who humbly sought his favor.
The festival of games, in honor of Augustus, were about to begin at Caesarea. Lately the highway from north to south, which passed the gates of Jerusalem, had been as a fair of the nations. A host had journeyed far to amuse the great king or to enjoy his holiday. Gayer and more given to proud speech than they who came to the festivals of the Temple, beneath the skull-bone there was yet a more remarkable unlikeness.