The Imperial Chancery was busily employed for many hours of the night that followed the council described in the preceding chapter, in multiplying copies of the proclamation by which the decree of banishment was to be made known throughout the length and breadth of Rome. The document ran thus:—
This was posted up in all the quarters of the city. It so happened that our two friends saw it for the first time as they were on the way together to Seneca's house. Vestinius had been busily employed all the night in command of a detachment told off to cope with a great fire, and had been asleep all day; the Corsican had spent the morning at Ostia looking after some necessary repairs to his ship. This had kept him so busily employed that he had barely time to keep his appointment in Rome. Accordingly he had hired a carriage which had taken him to the barracks exactly at the hour at which he had arranged to meet the centurion.
They had not walked many yards, however, from the barracks when one of the posters attracted them.
"By the Twin Brothers," cried the Corsican, when he had read it, "this is a disaster! It means nothing less than ruin. What will my employer do? Fourteen days to collect his property and to put it into shape for carrying away. Why, he could hardly do it in fourteen years. You must excuse me; I must go and see him at once. And it makes it all the worse that he is laid up. They told me at his house this morning that he was a little better, but he certainly cannot be moved for weeks, and who is to manage for him? It would be a great trouble at any time, his being laid aside, for he is the only man who knows about his business from end to end; but now, I cannot conceive what we shall do."
"I can understand what you mean. But I don't think that it will be of any use for you to go to him now. On the contrary you cannot do better, in my judgment, than keep this appointment. Seneca is a great man; he is a power at court; if there is anything to be done by private influence, he is the man to help you. You cannot do better, I take it, than to ask his counsel."
The Corsican acknowledged the justice of the remark, and made no further difficulty about fulfilling his engagement with Seneca. It is not necessary to describe the dinner. If it was not sumptuous for a millionaire it was certainly elaborate for a philosopher, and the guests, if they desired to share an entertainment which they might look back to and talk about in years to come, had no reason to be disappointed. Seneca suited his conversation to his company, and seemed to have no difficulty in doing so. The sailor found that he knew all about ships; the centurion discovered that he was practically at home in all the details of local administration. After dinner, when the slaves had finished their service and retired, the Corsican put before his host the case of Manasseh.
"I don't particularly like this people," he said, "but the old man has been my very good friend, and I should be sorry to see him wronged. His case is very hard. It is bad enough at any time to be driven from his home, and now, when it may cost him his life to be moved, it is downright cruelty."
Seneca, though he was too familiar with the ways of courts, and had had too plain a lesson of the need of caution, to be outspoken, was very sympathetic. In the ordinary course of things he would have been invited to attend the council, and it was a distinct affront that he had been left out. Whether he would have been able to resist with success the policy of the freedmen was more than doubtful, and this in a way reconciled him to the neglect. To the policy itself he was wholly adverse. He saw clearly enough that the qualities that made the Jews unpopular went at the same time to make them useful citizens. If they were frugal and industrious, and keen traders and apt to make a profit out of any business in which they might engage, so much the better, not for themselves only, but also for the State. The Commonwealth, he was sure, could not afford to lose men of energy and resource and keep the indolent and shiftless. What if they did enrich themselves? they were benefiting the country at the same time, and this was exactly what the unhelpful and improvident creatures who resented their superiority were sure never to do. The question of the moment, however, was what was to be done in this particular case. After turning the subject over in his mind for a few minutes, he gave the result of his reflections.
"It is a very hard case, as you say, this of your friend the Jew, but I think that I can see my way to helping him. But first tell me, have you any plan of your own?"
"Well," replied the captain, "I thought of suggesting that he should go with me on my return voyage to Alexandria. I am starting in a few days' time and he would at least be safe with me."
"Yes," said Seneca, "he would be that, but Alexandria is a long way off. If the winds are contrary, it might take you a month, or more than a month, to get there, and a month is a long time for an old man who has been brought very low by wounds. Corinth would be better in every way; it is much nearer, and besides, I could help you, as you will soon see. But first, will he be able to travel when the days of grace are over?"
"It is very unlikely; in fact, the physicians declare that it is impossible."
"Well, then, we must manage to get leave for him to stay awhile till he can travel safely. I daresay that I shall be able to interest my pupil in him. He is a generous lad, though the gods only know what he will become amongst such surroundings. Put another Cheiron to bring up another Achilles in these days and in Rome, and he would have as big a task as he could possibly manage. But at present, as I say, he is a generous lad. And then there is the Empress. She is generous too. The gods forbid that I should say a word against her; she has always been my very good friend. I certainly should not be here, very possibly I should not be alive, if it had not been for her. Yes, she is generous, but it might be well to reinforce her generosity. Your Manasseh is a very rich man?"
"Yes, very rich, though I don't know enough about his affairs to fix any figures. But I should certainly say that he is rich—yes, very rich."
"Well, it is not a case of money; you would affront her by offering money. But she is a woman, and she can never have jewels enough. Could your Manasseh, think you, gratify her in this respect?"
"Certainly," replied the Corsican. "I have a standing commission from him to buy what I think fit in this way, and I have had some fine things come my way in Egypt. Some excellent gems come down from the upper country; and then there are some very precious things from the old tombs. Yes, Manasseh has as fine a collection of jewels, I take it, as there is in the world."
"Yes," broke in the centurion, "and it is my friend the captain's doing that he has them now." And he went on to give a brief account of the narrow escape that the Esquiline shop had had of being plundered of all its treasures.
"Has he a son?" asked Seneca.
"Yes," replied the Corsican, "and a very shrewd young man too, though not to be compared, in my mind, with his father. His name is Raphael."
"Well," said Seneca, "send this Raphael to me. We shall be able, I daresay, to manage something between us. And when the father is recovered enough, he had better go to Corinth. It is an easy journey to Brundisium. From Brundisium he can cross over to Apollonia, and a fast galley will make the passage in four-and-twenty hours, and if he chooses he can travel the rest of the way to Corinth by land. And the reason I say Corinth is this. My brother Gallio is Proconsul of Achaia, and he has his headquarters at Corinth. There isn't a kinder hearted man in the world, and I know he will do his best for any one whom I may recommend to him. Indeed, he does not want that—it is enough for a man to be unfortunate to have a good claim upon him. I shall see you again, but, as I said, send the son to me."
Shortly after this the Corsican took his leave, in much better spirits about his patron than he had had when he came.