Judah looked at him in time to see the flush of pride that kindled in his haughty face as he went on.
“But I- ah, the world is not all conquered. The sea has islands unseen. In the north there are nations yet unvisited. The glory of completing Alexander’s march to the Far East remains to some one. See what possibilities lie before a Roman.”
Next instant he resumed his drawl.
“A campaign into Africa; another after the Scythian; then- a legion! Most careers end there; but not mine. I- by Jupiter! what a conception!- I will give up my legion for a prefecture. Think of life in Rome with money- money, wine, women, games- poets at the banquet, intrigues in the court, dice all the year round. Such a rounding of life may be- a fat prefecture, and it is mine. O my Judah, here is Syria! Judea is rich; Antioch a capital for the gods. I will succeed Cyrenius, and you- shall share my fortune.”
The sophists and rhetoricians who thronged the public resorts of Rome, almost monopolizing the business of teaching her patrician youth, might have approved these sayings of Messala, for they were all in the popular vein; to the young Jew, however, they were new, and unlike the solemn style of discourse and conversation to which he was accustomed. He belonged, moreover, to a race whose laws, modes, and habits of thought forbade satire and humour; very naturally, therefore, he listened to his friend with varying feelings; one moment indignant, then uncertain how to take him. The superior airs assumed had been offensive to him in the beginning; soon they became irritating, and at last an acute smart. Anger lies close by this point in all of us; and that the satirist evoked in another way. To the Jew of the Herodian period patriotism was a savage passion scarcely hidden under his common humour, and so related to his history, religion, and God, that it responded instantly to derision of them. Wherefore it is not speaking too strongly to say that Messala’s progress down to the last pause was exquisite torture to his hearer; at that point the latter said, with a forced smile- “There are a few, I have heard, who can afford to make a jest of their future; you convince me, O my Messala, that I am not one of them.”
The Roman studied him; then replied, “Why not the truth in a jest as well as a parable? The great Fulvia went fishing the other day; she caught more than all the company besides. They said it was because the barb of her hook was covered with gold.”
“Then you were not merely jesting?”
“My Judah, I see I did not offer you enough,” the Roman answered, quickly, his eyes sparkling. “When I am a prefect, with Judea to enrich me, I- will make you high-priest.”
The Jew turned off angrily.
“Do not leave me,” said Messala.