“Wherefore thou thinkest- ”
“I think, O tribune, there has been but one prisoner there in the eight years.”
The chief regarded the keeper sharply, and said, “Have a care; thou art more than saying Valerius lied.”
Gesius bowed, but said, “He might have been mistaken.”
“No, he was right,” said the tribune, warmly. “By thine own statement he was right. Didst thou not say but now that for eight years food and drink had been furnished three men?”
The bystanders approved the shrewdness of their chief; yet Gesius did not seem discomfited.
“You have but half the story, O tribune. When you have it all, you will agree with me. You know what I did with the man: that I sent him to the bath, and had him shorn and clothed, and then took him to the gate of the Tower, and bade him go free. I washed my hands of him. To-day he came back, and was brought to me. By signs and tears he at last made me understand he wished to return to his cell, and I so ordered. As they were leading him off, he broke away and kissed my feet, and, by piteous dumb imploration, insisted I should go with him; and I went. The mystery of the three men stayed in my mind. I was not satisfied about it. Now I am glad I yielded to his entreaty.”
The whole company at this point became very still.
“When we were in the cell again, and the prisoner knew it, he caught my hand eagerly, and led me to a hole like that through which we were accustomed to pass him his food. Though large enough to push your helmet through, it escaped me yesterday. Still holding my hand, he put his face to the hole and gave a beastlike cry. A sound came faintly back. I was astonished, and drew him away, and called out, ‘Ho, here!’ At first there was no answer. I called again, and received back these words, ‘Be thou praised, O Lord!’ Yet more astonishing, O tribune, the voice was a woman’s. And I asked ‘Who are you?’ and had reply ‘A woman of Israel, entombed here with her daughter. Help us quickly, or we die.’ I told them to be of cheer, and hurried here to know your will.”
The tribune arose hastily.
“Thou wert right, Gesius,” he said, “and I see now. The map was a lie, and so was the tale of the three men. There have been better Romans than Valerius Gratus.”
“Yes,” said the keeper. “I gleaned from the prisoner that he had regularly given the women of the food and drink he had received.”
“It is accounted for,” replied the tribune; and observing the countenances of his friends, and reflecting how well it would be to have witnesses, he added, “Let us rescue the women. Come all.”
Gesius was pleased.