The associate of the Messala was slighter in form, and his garments were of fine white linen and of the prevalent style in Jerusalem; a cloth covered his head, held by a yellow cord, and arranged so as to fall away from the forehead down low over the back of the neck. An observer skilled in the distinctions of race, and studying his features more than his costume, would have soon discovered him to be of Jewish descent. The forehead of the Roman was high and narrow, his nose sharp and aquiline, while his lips were thin and straight, and his eyes cold and close under the brows. The front of the Israelite, on the other hand, was low and broad; his nose long, with expanded nostrils; his upper lip, slightly shading the lower one, short and curving to the dimpled corners, like a Cupid’s bow; points which, in connection with the round chin, full eyes, and oval cheeks reddened with a wine-like glow, gave his face the softness, strength, and beauty peculiar to his race. The comeliness of the Roman was severe and chaste, that of the Jew rich and voluptuous.
“Did you not say the new procurator is to arrive to-morrow?”
The question proceeded from the younger of the friends, and was couched in Greek, at the time, singularly enough, the language everywhere prevalent in the politer circles of Judea; having passed from the palace into the camp and college; thence, nobody knew exactly when or how, into the Temple itself, and, for that matter, into precincts of the Temple far beyond the gates and cloisters- precincts of a sanctity intolerable for a Gentile.
“Yes, to-morrow,” Messala answered.
“Who told you?”
“I heard Ishmael, the new governor in the palace- you call him high-priest- tell my father so last night. The news had been more credible, I grant you, coming from an Egyptian, who is of a race that has forgotten what truth is, or even from an Idumaean, whose people never knew what truth was; but, to make quite certain, I saw a centurion from the Tower this morning, and he told me preparations were going on for the reception; that the armourers were furbishing the helmets and shields, and regilding the eagles and globes; and that apartments long unused were being cleansed and aired as if for an addition to the garrison- the body-guard, probably, of the great man.”
A perfect idea of the manner in which the answer was given cannot be conveyed, as its fine points continually escape the power behind the pen. The reader’s fancy must come to his aid; and for that he must be reminded that reverence as a quality of the Roman mind was fast breaking down, or, rather, it was becoming unfashionable. The old religion had nearly ceased to be a faith; at most it was a mere habit of thought and expression, cherished principally by the priests who found service in the Temple profitable, and the poets who, in the turn of their verses, could not dispense with the familiar deities: there are singers of this age who are similarly given. As philosophy was taking the place of religion, satire was fast substituting reverence; insomuch that in Latin opinion it was to every speech, even to the little diatribes of conversation, salt to viands, and aroma to wine. The young Messala, educated in Rome, but lately returned, had caught the habit and manner; the scarce perceptible movement of the outer corner of the lower eyelid, the decided curl of the corresponding nostril, and a languid utterance affected as the best vehicle to convey the idea of general indifference, but more particularly because of the opportunities it afforded for certain rhetorical pauses thought to be of prime importance to enable the listener to take the happy conceit or receive the virus of the stinging epigram. Such a stop occurred in the answer just given, at the end of the allusion to the Egyptian and Idumaean. The colour in the Jewish lad’s cheeks deepened, and he may not have heard the rest of the speech, for he remained silent, looking absently into the depths of the pool.