Attendants ran to him and lifted him in their arms.
“Take me hence to die,” he moaned. Now a herald cried:
“The king is smitten with a sore sickness, and the games are closed. To your homes, O people.”
For a while the multitude sat silent, for they were fear-stricken. Then a murmur rose among them that spread and swelled till it became a roar.
“The Christians! The Christians! They prophesied the evil. They have bewitched the king. They are wizards. Kill them, kill them, kill them!”
Instantly, like waves pouring in from every side, hundreds and thousands of men began to flow towards that place where the martyrs sat. The walls and palisades were high. Sweeping aside the guards, they surged against them like water against a rock; but climb they could not. Those in front began to scream, those behind pressed on. Some fell and were trodden underfoot, others clambered upon their bodies, in turn to fall and be trodden underfoot.
“Our death is upon us!” cried one of the Nazarenes.
“Nay, life remains to us,” answered Nehushta. “Follow me, all of you, for I know the road,” and, seizing Rachel about the middle, she began to drag her towards a little door. It was unlocked and guarded by one man only, the apostate jailer Rufus.
“Stand back!” he cried, lifting his spear.
Nehushta made no answer, only drawing a dagger from her robe, she fell upon the ground, then of a sudden rose again beneath his guard. The knife flashed and went home to the hilt. Down fell the man screaming for help and mercy, and there, in the narrow way, his spirit was stamped out of him. Beyond lay the broad passage of the vomitorium. They gained it, and in an instant were mixed with the thousands who sought to escape the panic. Some perished, some were swept onwards, among them Nehushta and Rachel. Thrice they nearly fell, but the fierce strength of the Libyan saved her mistress, till at length they found themselves on the broad terrace facing the seashore.
“Whither now?” gasped Rachel.
“Where shall I lead you?” answered Nehushta. “Do not stay. Be swift.”
“But the others?” said Rachel, glancing back at the fighting, trampling, yelling mob.
“God guard them! We cannot.”
“Leave me,” moaned her mistress. “Save yourself, Nou; I am spent,” and she sank down to her knees.
“But I am still strong,” muttered Nehushta, and lifting the swooning woman in her sinewy arms, she fled on towards the port, crying, “Way, way for my lady, the noble Roman, who has swooned!”
And the multitude made way.
THE GRAIN STORE