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 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 favor 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."