Crown of Pine - Alfred J. Church

The Imperial Pass

The bulk of the exiles naturally chose the Ostian route. Then, as now, it was much cheaper to travel by sea than by land. The wheat ships, too, offered passages eastward at very cheap rates. They were the most commodious ships afloat, and they made the return voyage mostly in ballast, for the exports from Rome were commonly insignificant, and never, certainly, equivalent to the huge imports of wheat. There was, therefore, ample room for passengers, though the quarters provided for them would hardly have satisfied travellers accustomed to the luxuries of modern liners. Then they were largely owned, or chartered, by Jews, and their destination was in most cases Alexandria, the second capital of the Hebrew race. But it is with some of the few who took the more direct route by Brundisium, the chief point of departure for the eastward-bound, that we are at present concerned.

Raphael had called on Seneca and had made a very favourable impression on the philosopher. The young Jew was a well educated man, and took a wide outlook on life; while, at the same time, the peculiarities of his birth and upbringing had left something highly distinctive on his character and bearing. It was the first time that Seneca had come in contact with a Jew of the better type, and the meeting interested him intensely as a student of human nature. Then, again, he was attracted in his character of a philosopher. Seneca was a Stoic in his belief, and a Stoic had more things in common with the Jew, as regarded God and the ordering of the world, than any other kind of thinker. Lastly Seneca was a great capitalist who had his investments all over the civilized world, and unless he has been very much belied, was somewhat fond of money, impoverishing the provinces, it was confidently asserted, by his usury. Anyhow he was greatly taken by the shrewdness and wide knowledge of the young Jew, in whom he recognized the acuteness and readiness of an expert in finance.

The conversation of course speedily turned to the subject which was the cause of Raphael's visit.

"I was much concerned," said Seneca, "to hear of your father's condition. How is he going on?"

"Wonderfully well, for an old man," replied Raphael, "but the time is very short, and we are exceedingly anxious."

"I can receive him here, where he would have every comfort of nursing and attendance. Any one whom he might desire to bring with him would be welcome. The authorities would make no objection. In fact the decree of banishment would be suspended as far as he and his party are concerned. So much I can promise; I have an assurance from the Empress that it shall be so. I understand, of course, that he must be waited upon by his own people. His attendants, therefore, would include any physician that may be in charge of him."

"You are kindness itself, sir, but unfortunately the difficulty is not removed, and I am afraid is not removable. You see—well, my father—is well, shall I say old-fashioned? He keeps rigidly to the Law, and the Law as it has been expounded and fortified by the ingenuity of generations of professional interpreters. As for myself I can't hold with these ways. As long as we were in a country of our own they were all well, we could live as we pleased, and fix the conditions of life for ourselves. If a stranger did not choose to conform to them he could keep away. But that is changed. We are scattered all over the world, and I venture to think it absurd that we should try to carry all these safeguards and prohibitions with us wherever we may go. The curious thing—I know, sir, that you are interested in these matters—is that it is since this dispersion that these rules have been made so detailed and, if I may say it, impracticable. All this, however, is beside the mark just now. The fact is that my father would object as strongly to coming under the roof of a Gentile host, as he would to being attended by a Gentile nurse. And if he were to consent, which I may frankly say is impossible, then his attendants would object. No, I am at my wits' end. He must travel, whatever his condition, for there is simply no place where he can stay. His own house, or indeed any Jewish house, is impossible, is it not, sir?"

"Yes," said Seneca, after a moment's thought, "I don't think that any Jewish house could be exempted from the operation of the edict."

"And it must be in a Jewish house that he stays, if he is to stay anywhere. That is my dilemma, and I don't see any escape from it. He must go, and if he goes, I very much doubt whether he will live to see Brundisium."

Seneca reflected. After a pause he said, "Well, as he must go, there is nothing to be done but to ease his going. Of course there will be a considerable crush on the Brundisium road during the next ten days. Well, I will get a pass for your father and you and such attendants as he will absolutely want. I should recommend you to send the others by the Ostia route. My friend Burrhus, who commands, as you know, the Praetorians, will, I am sure, oblige you in this matter. Your father, I suppose, does not object to using one of our public carriages—of course he will have it all to himself and his own people."

"We are greatly obliged to you, sir," said Raphael. "This makes our way as plain as it can be made."

"One thing more," Seneca went on, as his visitor rose to make his farewells. "You remember the line—one of the wise utterances of the Pythian priestess, if I remember right—'Fight thou with silver spears, and rule the world,' but I dare say that your own wise men have said something of the same kind."

"Yes, indeed," replied Raphael with a smile; "as the wise King has it, 'A man's gift maketh room for him;' and room, I take it, is exactly what will be pretty scarce on the eastward road."