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Lords of the World by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

TREACHERY

[222] THE young Greek had had a narrow escape with his life. Two wounds—one on the head, producing a severe concussion of the brain; the other on the thigh, causing an almost fatal loss of blood—had well-nigh finished his career. For nearly forty-eight hours he remained in a state of complete unconsciousness; then the brain slowly began to resume its functions. But the weakness of extreme exhaustion still continued. He lay for days dimly conscious of his existence, but content to accept his surroundings, to swallow the food and drink which were offered him, and to sleep without asking any questions.

Then a certain curiosity began to awake in him. The place in which he found himself was unfamiliar, and he lazily wondered where he was. The voices about him were strange—his sight was still too weak to distinguish faces—and the speech which they used was strange. His first attempt to move was followed by a feeling of absolute helplessness; his first effort at speech produced a sound so far-away that he hardly recognized his own voice.

It was on the morning of the seventh day, after an unusually long and refreshing sleep, that he felt [223] equal to the task of realizing where he was. The physician, who luckily happened to be paying him his morning visit, at once recognized the improvement in his patient.

"Hush!" he said, when the young man attempted to speak. "Be quiet till you have had some food. You are better, I see, but you want some refreshment. Then you may ask questions, and listen to what is told you, but only for as long as I allow."

He clapped his hands, and an attendant entered the room, carrying a cup of broth which had been fortified with a cordial. Cleanor, who was still so helpless that he had to be fed like an infant, swallowed it with an excellent appetite, and was lorry when the last spoonful had been administered.

"Good!" said the man of science; "we have positively brought a little red into your cheeks. You shall have another allowance when that has run itself out three times;" and he turned, as he spoke, a water-clock which stood on a table by the bedside. "Meanwhile, you can receive a friend who has been waiting for some days to renew his acquaintance with you."

He nodded to the attendant, and the man pushed aside the curtain which hung over the entrance to the tent. The next moment the expected visitor appeared. Cleanor recognized in him the young [224] officer, kinsman to Scipio, whose life he had saved in the attack on the Megara.

"The gods be thanked," said the young Roman, "that I see you yourself again!"

"That I am myself I must believe," replied Cleanor, "but of everything else I feel doubtful. Tell me what has happened."

Scipio looked to the physician with a tacit inquiry whether the subject was permitted.

"Speak on; it will worry him more, now that he has begun to think, to be left in ignorance."

"To begin, then," said Scipio, "when did you see me last?"

"Now I come to think of it, a dim remembrance of your face is about the last thing I can recall. But between that and the present there is a gulf of forgetfulness."

"And no wonder; if you hadn't had a head of adamant that same gulf would have swallowed you up for good. Well, do you remember anything about a battle?"

"Yes, yes; the things begin to come back to me; you were on a bay horse. I remember thinking what a skeleton it was."

"No wonder; these African pastures are terribly bare."

"And now I remember that I thought of something else. It was those verses in Homer, the [225] verses that Diomed says to Glaucus when they meet on the battlefield, and find that they are old family friends.

The young Roman laughed aloud. "Now, this is curious," he cried. "We are bound to be friends, if thinking the same things be a mark of friendship. I remember that the very same thought about Glaucus and Diomed occurred to me. You have not forgotten everything, it is clear."

"Come, my dear sir," interposed the physician, "you must not let him talk so much. Tell him your story, and then leave him to get a little rest."

"Well," said Scipio, "what I have to say is very soon told. You will remember the discharge from the walls of the fort that checked our advance. It was admirably calculated; but, of course, when the fighting was so close as it was at the time, and the front ranks of the two armies were actually mixed together, it could not damage us without doing some harm to you. I saw two or three of your men struck down, manifestly, from the way in which they fell, by some missile from the walls. One of them I noticed particularly, because he was close to you. There could be no mistake, for there was a clear space round you. Our men had fallen back, [226] and yours were making the best of their way to the gates. You two were rather behind the rest. I saw you stoop as if to lift your companion from the ground. You were looking towards us, for I particularly remember that I saw your face. You raised the man from the ground, but then your foot seemed to slip, and you fell forwards. Then you raised the man again. Several of us were watching you, and I have heard from them since that their recollections agree exactly with mine. And of this, too, I am quite certain, there was not a hand raised against you from our side of the field of battle. Well, we all saw you rise again with the man in your arms. You got him over your shoulder, for that, of course, was the easiest way of carrying him, but you still had your face looking our way. And before you turned you were struck by—"

"Before I turned?" interrupted the sick man, who had been listening with rapt attention to the narrative. "Before I turned, you say; you are sure that I was struck by my friends behind me?"


[Illustration]

"I SAW YOU STOOP AND LIFT YOUR COMPANION FROM THE GROUND."

"As sure," replied Scipio, "as that I am sitting here and speaking to you this moment."

"Go on, then."

"Before you turned you were struck from behind. The first blow was on the back of your leg. I saw you put your hand to the place. And you had hardly done that when you were felled to the ground [227] by a second blow. That was on your head. We guessed as much from the way you fell; and when we came to examine you afterwards, we found it to be as I have said. Your good physician here will tell you the particulars."

"Yes," said the leech, "I will at the proper time. But for the present my patient has heard enough. Indeed, unless I am very much mistaken, he has heard too much."

"Whether it is enough or too much," said Cleanor, "I must hear it all. It would be ten times worse to be left in this suspense. I can only judge from what you say that I must have been struck from behind, that is by my own friends. But that treachery I can't believe. What do you say, sir," he went on, looking to the physician; "can you throw any light on the matter?"

"Be calm, be calm, my friend," said the physician. "You will undo all the good that we have been doing you for the last ten days. Here, let me feel your pulse. . . . It is just as I thought," he went on, "a regular bounding pulse. I would have given anything for you to have had such a pulse when I first took you in hand. But now it means fever, and fever means I don't know what."

"Still, I must have the whole story now," persisted Cleanor. "Do you think I can sleep with this doubt regarding my friends hanging over me?"

[228] "Well, a wilful man will have his way, but, mind, I wash my hands of the whole business. I am not responsible for what may happen. And it promised to be such a beautiful cure, too!"

"For heaven's sake go on! Tell me how I came to be wounded?" cried the patient, with an emphasis of which no one would have thought him capable half an hour before.

"Well," replied the physician, "I will tell you what I know, but it is under protest. You see this"—he produced from his pocket a leaden bullet of the kind commonly used in slings—"I extracted this from the wound on your hip. A nasty wound it was, and had caused a terrible loss of blood. You see that mark? It is not a Roman mark, certainly. Do you recognize it? Unless I am very much mistaken, it is the Carthaginian letter that answers to what we Greeks call alpha. What do you say?"

"You are right," said Cleanor. "I have myself given them out to the slingers from the stores. Yes, it is a Carthaginian bullet."

"Then there is another thing," the physician went on. "When they were stripping you to put you into bed, this stone that I hold in my hand fell out of a fold in your clothes. There were some fragments of hair upon it, and I recognized the hair as yours. See, they are here still;" and he produced a small piece of papyrus in which they were [229] wrapped. "Now, where did that bit of stone come from? It has got, if you look closely at it, a little mortar on one side. At some time it has been built into a wall. You don't find such things lying about on the open plain. No; that bit of stone came from somewhere inside Nepheris. I have got some ten or twelve other pieces of stone very like it, that were picked up near the place by a boy whom I sent to search the next day. They are much of a size, and, I should say, though I don't profess to know much about such things, that they came from a catapult. Nothing else could have sent them so far. Now I have told you all I know."

"Many thanks, sir!" said the Greek in a low voice. "I am convinced that there has been treachery; indeed you leave no room for doubt. But I could almost wish," he added with a melancholy smile, "I could almost wish that you had been less skilful, and my friends here less affectionate. I hardly feel as grateful to you as I ought to be. It is a grievous thing for a man to feel that he has been wounded in the house of his friends."

"Come, come," said the kindly physician, "it may have been only an accident or a mistake after all! However, you have had excitement enough, and more than enough, for the day. Take this, and it will send you to sleep;" and producing a small phial of poppy-juice from his wallet he poured a [230] potent dose into a cup of wine, and gave it to his patient.

"Thanks, doctor!" murmured Cleanor, but added in a whisper, "Yes, sleep, but if only there could be no waking!"


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