The remark had the effect of a signal: twenty voices took it up.
“True, true! His eyes- his face,” they cried.
“What!” answered one, disgusted. “Messala is a Roman; Arrius is a Jew.”
“Thou sayest right,” a third exclaimed. “He is a Jew, or Momus lent his mother the wrong mask.”
There was a promise of a dispute; seeing which, Messala interposed. “The wine is not come, my Drusus; and, as thou seest, I have the freckled Pythias as they were dogs in leash. As to Arrius, I will accept thy opinion of him, so thou tell me more about him.”
“Well, be he Jew or Roman- and, by the great god Pan, I say it not in disrespect of thy feelings, my Messala!- this Arrius is handsome, and brave, and shrewd. The emperor offered him favour and patronage, which he refused. He came up through mystery, and keepeth distance as if he felt himself better or knew himself worse than the rest of us. In the palaestrae he was unmatched; he played with the blue-eyed giants from the Rhine and the hornless bulls of Sarmatia as they were willow wisps. The duumvir left him vastly rich. He has a passion for arms, and thinks of nothing but war. Maxentius admitted him into his family, and he was to have taken ship with us, but we lost him at Ravenna. Nevertheless he arrived safely. We heard of him this morning. Perpol! Instead of coming to the palace or going to the citadel, he dropped his baggage at the khan, and hath disappeared again.”
At the beginning of the speech Messala listened with polite indifference; as it proceeded he became more attentive; at the conclusion he took his hand from the dice-box, and called out, “Ho, my Caius! Dost thou hear?”
A youth at his elbow- his Myrtilus, or comrade, in the day’s chariot practice- answered, much pleased with the attention, “Did I not, my Messala, I were not thy friend.”
“Dost thou remember the man who gave thee the fall to-day?”
“By the love-locks of Bacchus, have I not a bruised shoulder to help me keep it in mind?” and he seconded the words with a shrug that submerged his ears.
“Well, be thou grateful to the Fates- I have found thy enemy. Listen.”
Thereupon Messala turned to Drusus.
“Tell us more of him- perpol!- of him who is both Jew and Roman- by Phoebus, a combination to make a Centaur lovely! What garments doth he affect, my Drusus?”
“Those of the Jews.”
“Hearest thou, Caius?” said Messala. “The fellow is young- one; he hath the visage of a Roman- two; he loveth best the garb of a Jew- three; and in the palaestrae fame and fortune come of arms to throw a horse or tilt a chariot, as the necessity may order- four. And, Drusus, help thou my friend again. Doubtless this Arrius hath tricks of language, otherwise he could not so confound himself- to-day a Jew, to-morrow a Roman; but of the rich tongue of Athene- discourseth he in that as well?”