He, like his opponent, felt that the eyes of ten thousand were on him, and he also longed to purge himself of the dishonor which, by actual murder, he had brought on himself and on the race of which he was still a son. Every muscle of his powerful frame gained more rigid tension at the thought, and when he was presently hit by the sword of his hitherto unconquered foe, and felt the warm blood flow over his breast and left arm, he collected all his strength. With the battle-cry of his tribe, he flung his huge body on the gladiator. Heedless of the furious sword-thrust with which Tarautas returned the assault, he threw himself off the top of the packed wagon on to the stones of the camp inclosure, and the combatants rolled, locked together like one man, from the wall into the sand of the arena.
Caracalla started as though he himself had been the injured victim, and watched, but in vain, to see the supple Tarautas, who had escaped such perils before now, free himself from the weight of the German’s body.
But the struggle continued to rage round the pair, and neither stirred a finger. At this Caesar, greatly disturbed, started to his feet, and desired Theocritus to make inquiry as to whether Tarautas were wounded or dead; and while the favorite was gone he could not sit still. Agitated by distressing fears, he rose to speak first to one and then to another of his suite, only to drop on his seat again and glance once more at the butchery below. He was fully persuaded that his own end must be near, if indeed Tarautas were dead. At last he heard Theocritus’s voice, and, as he turned to ask him the news, he met a look from the lady Berenike, who had risen to quit the theatre.
He shuddered!—the image of Vindex and his nephew rose once more before his mind’s eye; at the same moment, however, Theocritus hailed him with the exclamation:
“That fellow, Tarautas, is not a man at all! I should call him an eel if he were not so broad shouldered. The rascal is alive, and the physician says that in three weeks he will be ready again to fight four bears or two Alemanni!”
A light as of sudden sunshine broke on Caesar’s face, and he was perfectly cheerful again, though a fearful clap of thunder rattled through the building, and one of those deluges of rain which are known only in the south came pouring down into the open theatre, extinguishing the fires and lights, and tearing the velarium from its fastenings till it hung flapping in the wind and lashing the upper tiers of places, so as to drive the spectators to a hasty retreat.
Men were flying, women screaming and sobbing, and the heralds loudly proclaimed that the performance was suspended, and would be resumed on the next day but one.
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He only longed to be hopeful once more, to enjoy the present Never to be astonished at anything