Marcus was ready; moreover, he knew what he would do. As the man came, stepping swiftly to one side, he caught the thrust of Caleb’s sword in the folded cloak, and since he did not wish to kill him, struck at his hand. The blow fell upon Caleb’s first finger and severed it, cutting the others also, so that it dropped to the ground with the sword that they had held. Marcus put his foot upon the blade, and wheeled round.
“Young man,” he said sternly, “you have learnt your lesson and will bear the mark of it till your death day. Now begone.”
The wretched Caleb ground his teeth. “It was to the death!” he said, “it was to the death! You have conquered, kill me,” and with his bloody hand he tore open his robe to make a path for the sword.
“Leave such talk to play-actors,” answered Marcus. “Begone, and be sure of this—that if ever you try to bring treachery on me, or trouble on the lady Miriam, I will kill you sure enough.”
Then with a sound that was half curse and half sob, Caleb turned and slunk away. With a shrug of the shoulder Marcus also turned to go, when he felt a shadow fall upon him, and swung round, to find Nehushta at his side.
“And pray where did you come from, my Libyan friend?” he asked.
“Out of that pomegranate fence, my Roman lord, whence I have seen and heard all that passed.”
“Indeed. Then I hope that you give me credit for good sword-play and good temper.”
“The sword-play was well enough, though nothing to boast of with such a madman for a foe. As for the temper, it was that of a fool.”
“Such,” soliloquised Marcus, “is the reward of virtue. But I am curious. Why?”
“Because, my lord Marcus, this Caleb will grow into the most dangerous man in Judaea, and to none more dangerous than to my lady Miriam and yourself. You should have killed him while you had the chance, before his turn comes to kill you.”
“Perhaps,” answered Marcus with a yawn; “but, friend Nehushta, I have been associating with a Christian and have caught something of her doctrines. That seems a fine sword. You had better keep it. Good-night.”
THE JUSTICE OF FLORUS
On the following morning, when the roll of the neophytes of the Essenes was called, Caleb did not appear. Nor did he answer to his name on the next day, or indeed ever again. None knew what had become of him until a while after a letter was received addressed to the Curators of the Court, in which he announced that, finding he had no vocation for an Essenic career, he had taken refuge with friends of his late father, in some place not stated. There, so far as the Essenes were concerned, the matter ended. Indeed, as the peasant who was concealed in the gully when the Jew was murdered had talked of what he had witnessed, even the most simple-minded of the Essenes could suggest