The reader may well believe that while the tribune, in the search for the perfect, was often called upon to stop and study, he was seldom perfectly satisfied- in fact, very seldom held as long as on this occasion.
In the beginning of each movement of the oar, the rower’s body and face were brought into profile view from the platform; the movement ended with the body reversed, and in a pushing posture. The grace and ease of the action at first suggested a doubt of the honesty of the effort put forth; but it was speedily dismissed; the firmness with which the oar was held while in the reach forward, its bending under the push, were proofs of the force applied; not that only, they as certainly proved the rower’s art, and put the critic in the great arm-chair in search of the combination of strength and cleverness which was the central idea of his theory.
In course of the study, Arrius observed the subject’s youth; wholly unconscious of tenderness on that account, he also observed that he seemed of good height, and that his limbs, upper and nether, were singularly perfect. The arms, perhaps, were too long, but the objection was well hidden under a mass of muscle which, in some movements, swelled and knotted like kinking cords. Every rib in the round body was discernible; yet the leanness was the healthful reduction so strained after in the palaestrae. And altogether there was in the rower’s action a certain harmony which, besides addressing itself to the tribune’s theory, stimulated both his curiosity and general interest.
Very soon he found himself waiting to catch a view of the man’s face in full. The head was shapely, and balanced upon a neck broad at the base, but of exceeding pliancy and grace. The features in profile were of Oriental outline, and of that delicacy of expression which has always been thought a sign of blood and sensitive spirit. With these observations, the tribune’s interest in the subject deepened.
“By the gods,” he said to himself, “the fellow impresses me! He promises well. I will know more of him.”
Directly the tribune caught the view he wished- the rower turned and looked at him.
“A Jew! and a boy!”
Under the gaze then fixed steadily upon him, the large eyes of the slave grew larger- the blood surged to his very brows- the blade lingered in his hands. But instantly, with an angry crash, down fell the gavel of the hortator. The rower started, withdrew his face from the inquisitor, and, as if personally chidden, dropped the oar half feathered. When he glanced again at the tribune, he was vastly more astonished- he was met with a kindly smile.
Meantime the galley entered the Straits of Messina, and, skimming past the city of that name, was after a while turned eastward, leaving the cloud over AEtna in the sky astern.
Often as Arrius returned to his platform in the cabin he returned to study the rower, and he kept saying to himself, “The fellow hath a spirit. A Jew is not a barbarian. I will know more of him.”