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BOOK I. THE DREAM
THE idolaters, meanwhile, were coming a little closer, and the sun had not yet risen. Old Shem therefore picked his way more cautiously than before, wishing that the rocks in the rough-paved streets of mad, half torchlit, inimical Cyrene were not so full of treacherous points to stumble on, and that the stern houses and browbeating temples were not so full of accusing echoes. At length he saw very plainly that his doddering legs could not much longer keep him out of view of the worshippers of Bacchus and Aphrodite, so he began to cast around for a convenient hiding-place. As he came upon an open square, before the temple which was dedicate "Unto the Unknown God," he, fearing lest the light of the fast-approaching torches should open him out of the friendly arms of darkness, bent well over, and so crept softly up the temple steps.
But behold! as he reached the very top, there, in his haste, he dropped his staff, and ringing it went clean down to the bottom of the bronzy stair.
When he had got his staff and gone up the stairs again, he hid in the oblique, gliding shadow of a massy column, panting.
The crowd came ever nearer.
“Detested Greeks and Romans!” whispered the old man to himself, “what declare the wise Sopherim about you! Say they notAccursed be the rays of thy lanterns and the light of thy torches!”
The crowd drew nearer and nearer, faster and faster, and just as they got anigh unto the temple steps, behold! there was one of the men in the press that attempted to flee from the tumult. But another, behind him, a tall, pale man, with strange lights in his calm, dead eyes, caught him, and casting him swiftly to the stones, planted a great dagger in his neck, so that the old Jew, Shem, as he stood behind the pillar, set up his hands before his face, and drew back farther into the shadow of the column.
One in the crowd cried, “Thou hast killed him, Ophidion!” “In the name of Cæsar," replied the man addressed. Then the crowd fled (Ophidion, however, last of all, and with
straight dignity), leaving the dead one in his own pool of shining blood.
Now Shem, at first, refrained from coming down, for he feared both the people and the watch. But after a little, espying in the far East the bright approach of dawn, and seeing a glint slip over the golden roofs of many temples until at length it came to lie upon a gable of the little old red synagogue' - the little old red synagogue, wherein, even now, early as was the hour, there appeared to exist, for some strange reason, an infinite refuge. Plucking up heart, he glided from the shadow, and so on, stumbling, down to the prostrate form in the street.
For a moment he stooped. “Art thou dead, O Friend? What say the Sopherim ? May I be of service unto thee, albeit-paw!”
Now the old man clearly perceived that the victim was dead. Moreover, his own fingers were smeared to the palms with blood. If caught, too, he would surely be held as the murderer. He looked about, trembling, and sweated profusely. Then, thinking he heard approaching steps once more, he screamed: “Nay, nay! I did this foul thing not. Behold! It is solely the fruits of idolatry."
So screaming, he glanced hurriedly about again, hobbled quickly off, seeking shelter in the far-away synagogue.
And when he had come anigh thereunto, he beheld the Chazzan coming out—the Chazzan, with his tall form and beard of redness streaked with gray. Shem called unto the Chazzan as well as he could, and then leaned, hard panting, on his thick, crooked staff.
“The Lord-be-with thee," said he unto the Chazzan. “Bless me_bless me, O Betah. Bless any—that cometh in the name of the Lord. But wait. Be not-wroth at all with me. Breath! Breath! I have run. What say the Sopherim ?–See! there is blood! The Sopherim! Here on my hands. I-innocent. Blood!”
The Chazzan raised his own holy hands in horror. His face grew pale, and he cried, stammering : "Blood! Blood! Whose blood have ye shed, Shem ben-Noah, ben-Adam? Have I not told thee to keep from idolaters ? Say all unto me. Tell me naught but truth, that I rightly may lay this matter before the congregation.'
Came Shem ben-Noah ben-Adam closer, and leaned upon his staff again. Said he, “Before the morning star had risen, and while the slumbers of my shepherds of the day and also of my dreaming son (he dreameth even in his sleep) were still unbroke, I came up out
1 There was a Jewish colony in Cyrenaica as early as 322 B. C. See “The Jewish Encyclopedia," article "Cyrenaica," also Hamilton, "Wanderinge in North Africa" (1856), p. XVI.
of the pastures where my sheep feed, and so to the gate of this city and into its streets. For I sought the steward of my pastures and of my farms, even Trivialis—that mongrel which is partly Gaul, partly Iberian, partly Briton, and only Elohim knoweth—he is mongrel-hence the name I gave him—Mongrel—he is— And his mind is ever- That man hath been upon a mission for me to Rome—for me, his master. Last night-for so I have heard-he did arrive in the sea-port, Apollonia, and then was to have come these twelve miles further inland unto this city-this idolatrous and God-accursed city of Cyrene-at some dim hour. And I-as I knew he must surely have-money-much money-in his scrip-money-which moneygot in godly ways-being mine“ Well, I feared—”
“What fearedst thou, Shem ben-Noah ?”
“What say the Sopherim? The Mongrel meaneth wisely, but he brawleth at times in taverns—and so, as I searched for him-I metthe accursed idolaters. They might have killed me, they might have killed me.
I hid behind a column in the temple to the unknown god—I do forget his name—one of the idolaters—I do forget his name-before that very temple did murder another. The crowd fled. I went down, at length, and curiously examined. Then I heard more people, and I saw my hands red. I fled unto thee. I am innocent.'
“Thou innocent!” cried the Chazzan indignantly, “thou innocent! Perhaps of this blood. But, in general, how innocent I do surely know.'
“I protest - The Sopherim—"
"Let be the Sopherim. What hast thou to do with wisdom? Listen to me, for I have several heads whereon to counsel a man which standeth as high as thou dost in the synagogue. Thou speakest concerning idolatry, thou and the others of the congregation which are like unto thee, yet, in secret, do ye all long for the rites of the Molochites, for these and for the women which are sacred unto Aphrodite. Have ye not even made yourselves idols and brought sacrifices unto them, and kissed your hands to them, and fallen upon your knees and worshipped, saying: "These dead things are gods, or else have gods within them'? And have ye not, then, also in the presence of these idols, committed abominations that tongue of mine can never utter even unto thee? Answer me this. Then will I say more."
“What declare the Sopherim ?” “Let be the Sopherim, I say, and answer. "It is true. It is true. I have had some commerce with the