“I am poor enough,” replied Marcus quietly, “but I will give you two hundred.”
“Two hundred!” gasped Miriam. “It is absurd. I could never accept two hundred shekels for a piece of stonework. Then indeed you might say that you had fallen among thieves on the banks of Jordan. No. If my uncles will permit it and there is time, I will do my poor best for fifty—only, sir, I advise you against it, since to win that bad likeness you must sit for many weary hours.”
“So be it,” said Marcus. “As soon as I get to any civilised place I will send you enough commissions to make the beggars in these parts rich for life, and at a very different figure. Let us begin at once.”
“Sir, I have no leave.”
“The matter,” explained Ithiel, “must be laid before the Court of Curators, which will decide upon it to-morrow. Meanwhile, as we are talking here, I see no harm if my niece chooses to work a lump of clay, which can be broken up later should the Court in its wisdom refuse your request.”
“I hope for its own sake that the Court in its wisdom will not be such a fool,” muttered Marcus to himself; adding aloud, “Lady, where shall I place myself? You will find me the best of sitters. Have I not the great Glaucus for a friend—until I show him this work of yours?”
“If you will, sir, be seated on that stool and be pleased to look towards me.”
“I am your servant,” said Marcus, in a cheerful voice; and the sitting began.
MARCUS AND CALEB
On the morrow, as he had promised, Ithiel brought this question of whether or no Miriam was to be allowed to execute a bust of the centurion, Marcus, before the Court of the Curators of the Essenes, who were accustomed thus to consider questions connected with their ward’s welfare in solemn conclave. There was a division of opinion. Some of them saw no harm; others, more strait-laced, held that it was scarcely correct that a Roman whose principles, doubtless, were lax, should be allowed to sit to the lady whom they fondly called their child. Indeed, it seemed dubious whether the leave would be given, until a curator, with more worldly wisdom than the rest, suggested that as the captain seemed desirous of having his picture taken in stone, under the circumstances of his visit, which included a commission to make a general report upon their society to the authorities, it might be scarcely wise to deny his wish. Finally, a compromise was effected. It was agreed that Miriam should be permitted to do the work, but only in the presence of Ithiel and two other curators, one of them her own instructor in art.
Thus it came about that when Marcus presented himself for the second time, at an hour fixed by Ithiel, he found three white-bearded and white-robed old gentlemen seated in a row in the workshop, and behind them, a smile on her dusky face, Nehushta. As he entered they rose and bowed to him, a compliment which he returned. Now Miriam appeared, to whom he made his salutation.