The next morning as I was peddling milk to those who live about the market place, Old Samuels came out of his little cottage, and hailed me.
“A little milk this morning, Julian!” he cried, and when I carried my vessel over to him he asked me inside. His cottage was very small, and simply furnished as were all those that made any pretense to furniture of any sort, some having only a pile of rags or skins in one corner for a bed and perhaps a bench or two which answered the combined purposes of seats and table. In the yard behind his cottage he did his tanning, and there also was a little shed he called his shop where he fashioned various articles from the hides he tanned—belts, head bands, pouches, and the like.
He led me through the cottage, and out to his shed, and when we were there he looked through the windows to see that no one was near.
“I have something here,” he said, “that I meant to bring to Juana for a wedding gift yesterday; but I am an old man, and forgetful, and so I left it behind. You can take it to her, though, with the best wishes of Old Samuels the Jew. It has been in my family since the Great War in which my people fought by the side of your people. One of my ancestors was wounded on a battlefield in France, and later nursed back to health by a Roman Catholic nurse, who gave him this token to carry away with him that he might not forget her. The story is that she loved him; but being a nun she could not marry. It has been handed down from father to son—it is my most prized possession, Julian; but being an old man, and the last of my line I wish it to go to those I love most dearly, for I doubt that I have long to live. Again yesterday, I was followed from the church.”
He turned to a little cupboard on the wall, and removing a false bottom took from the drawer beneath a small leather bag which he handed to me.
“Look at it,” he said, “and then slip it inside your shirt so that none may know that you have it.”
Opening the bag I brought forth a tiny image carved from what appeared to be very hard bone—the figure of a man nailed to a cross—a man with a wreath of thorns about his head. It was a very wonderful piece of work—I had never seen anything like it in my life.
“It is very beautiful,” I said. “Juana will be thankful, indeed.”
“Do you know what it is?” he asked, and I had to admit that I did not.
“It is the figure of the Son of God upon the cross,” he explained, “and it is carved from the tusk of an elephant. Juana will—” But he got no farther. “Quick!” he whispered, “hide it. Someone comes!”
I slipped the little figure inside my shirt just as several men crossed from Samuels’s cottage to his shop. They came directly to the door, and then we saw that they were Kash Guards. A captain commanded them. He was one of the officers who had come with Or-tis, and I did not know him.
He looked first at me and then at Samuels, finally addressing the latter.
“From the description,” he said, “you are the man I want—you are Samuels the Jew?”
Moses nodded affirmatively.
“I have been sent to question you,” said the officer, “and if you know when you are well off you will tell me nothing but the truth, and all of that.”
Moses made no reply—he just stood there, a little, dried—up old man who seemed to have shrunk to even smaller proportions in the brief moments since the officer had entered. Then the latter turned to me, and looked me over from head to foot.
“Who are you, and what do you here?” he asked.
“I am Julian 9th,” I replied. “I was peddling milk when I stopped in to speak with my friend.”
“You should be more careful of your friends, young man,” he snapped. “I had intended letting you go about your business; but now that you say you are a friend of his we will just keep you, too. Possibly you can help us.”
I didn’t know what he wanted; but I knew that whatever it was he would get precious little help from Julian 9th. He turned to Moses.
“Do not lie to me! You went to a forbidden meeting yesterday to worship some god, and plot against the Teivos. Four weeks ago you went to the same place. Who else was there yesterday?”
Samuels looked the captain straight in the eye, and remained silent.
“Answer me, you dirty Jew!” yelled the officer, “or I will find a way to make you. Who was there with you?”
“I will not answer,” said Samuels.
The captain turned to a sergeant standing behind him. “Give him the first reason why he should answer,” he directed.
The sergeant, who carried his bayonet fixed to his rifle, lowered the, point until it rested against Samuels’s leg, and with a sudden jab ran it into the flesh. The old man cried out in pain, and staggered back against his little bench. I sprang forward, white with rage, and seizing the sergeant by the collar of his loose tunic hurled him across the shop. It was all done in less than a second, and then I found myself facing as many loaded rifles as could crowd into the little doorway. The captain had drawn his pistol, and levelled it at my head.
They bound me, and sat me in a corner of the shop, and they were none too gentle in the way they did it, either. The captain was furious, and would have had me shot on the spot had not the sergeant whispered something to him. As it was he ordered the latter to search us both for weapons, and when they did so they discovered the little image on my person. At sight of it a sneer of triumph curled the lip of the officer.
“So—ho!” he exclaimed. “Here is evidence enough. Now we know one at least who worships forbidden gods, and plots against the laws of his land!”
“It is not his,” said Samuels. “It is mine. He does not even know what it is. I was showing it to him when we heard you coming, and I told him to hide it in his shirt. It is just a curious relic that I was showing him.”
“Then you are the worshiper after all,” said the captain.
Old Samuels smiled a crooked smile. “Who ever heard of a Jew worshiping Christ?” he asked.
The officer looked at him sharply. “That is right,” he admitted, “you would not worship Christ; but you have been worshiping something—it is all the same—they are all alike. This for all of them,” and he hurled the image to the earthern floor, and ground it, in broken fragments, into the dirt with his heel.
Old Samuels went very white then, and his eyes stared wide and round; but he held his tongue. Then they started in on him again, asking him to name those who were with him the day before, and each time they asked him they prodded him with a bayonet until his poor old body streamed blood from a dozen cruel wounds. But he would not give them a single name, and then the officer ordered that a fire be built and a bayonet heated.
“Sometimes hot steel is better than cold,” he said. “You had better tell me the truth.”
“I will tell you nothing,” moaned Samuels in a weak voice. “You may kill me; but you will learn nothing from me.”
“But you have never felt red-hot steel before,” the captain taunted him. “It has wrung the secrets from stouter hearts than that in the filthy carcass of a dirty old Jew. Come now, save yourself the agony, and tell me who was there, for in the end you will tell.”
But the old man would not tell, and then they did the hideous thing that they had threatened—with red-hot steel they burned him after tying him to his bench.
His cries and moans were piteous—it seemed to me that they must have softened stone to compassion; but the hearts of those beasts were harder than stone.
He suffered! God of our Fathers! how he suffered; but they could not force him to tell. At last he lost consciousness and then the brute in the uniform of captain, rageful that he failed, crossed the room, and struck the poor, unconscious old man a heavy blow in the face.
After that it was my turn. He came to me.
“Tell me what you know, pig of a Yank!” he cried.
“As he died, so can I die,” I said, for I thought that Samuels was dead.
“You will tell,” he shrieked, almost insane with rage. “You will tell or your eyes will be burned from their sockets.” He called the fiend with the bayonet—now white hot it seemed, so terrifically it glowed.
As the fellow approached me the horror of the thing they would do to me seared my brain with an anguish almost as poignant as that which the hot iron could inflict on flesh. I had struggled to free myself of my bonds while they tortured Samuels, that I might go to his aid; but I had failed. Yet, now, scarcely without realizing that I exerted myself, I rose, and the cords snapped. I saw them step back in amazement as I stood there confronting them.
“Go,” I said to them. “Go before I kill you all. Even the Teivos, rotten as it is, will not stand for this usurpation of its authority. You have no right to inflict punishment. You have gone too far.”
The sergeant whispered for a moment to his superior, who finally appeared to assent grudgingly to some proposition of the others and then turned, and left the little shop.
“We have no proof against you,” said the sergeant to me. “We had no intention of harming you. All that we wanted was to frighten the truth out of you; but as to that,” and he jerked a thumb toward Samuels, “we have the proof on him, and what we did we did under orders. Keep a still tongue in your head or it will be the worse for you, and thank the star under which you were born that you did not get worse than he.”
Then he left, too, and took the soldiers with him. I saw them pass into the rear doorway of Samuels’s cottage, and a moment later I heard their horses’ hoofs pounding on the surface of the market place. I could scarcely believe that I had escaped. Then I did not know the reason for it; but that I was to learn later, and that it was not so much of a miracle after all.
I went right to poor old Samuels. He was still breathing, but unconscious—mercifully so. The withered old body was hideously burned, and mutilated, and one eye—but why describe their ghoulish world. I carried him into his cottage, and laid him on his cot, and then I found some flour, and covered his burns with it—that was all I knew to do for him. There were no doctors such as the ancients had, for there were no longer places of learning in which they could be trained. There were those who claimed to be able to heal. They gave herbs and strange concoctions; but as their patients usually died immediately we had little confidence in them.
After I had put the flour on his wounds, I drew up a bench, and sat down beside him so that when he regained consciousness he would find a friend there to wait upon him. As I sat there looking at him he died. Tears came to my eyes in spite of all that I could do, for friends are few, and I had loved this old Jew, as we all did who knew him. He had been a gentle character, loyal to his friends, and inclined to be a little too forgiving to his enemies—even the Kalkars. That he was courageous his death proved.
I put another mark against the score of Peter Johansen.
The following day, father, Jim, and I buried old Samuels, the authorities came and took all his poor little possessions, and his cottage was turned over to another. But I had one thing, his most prized possession, that they did not get, for before I left him after he died, I went back into his shop, and gathered up the fragments of the man upon the cross, and put them into the little leather bag in which he had kept them.
When I gave them to Juana, and told her the story of them she wept and kissed them, and with some glue such as we make from the hides and tendons of goats we mended it so it was difficult to tell where it had broken. After it was dry Juana wore it in its little bag about her neck, beneath her clothing.
A week after the death of Samuels, Pthav sent for me, and very gruffly told me that the Teivos had issued a permit for me to use the land adjoining that allotted to my father. As before, his woman stopped me as I was leaving.
“It was easier than I thought,” she told me, “for Or-tis has angered the Teivos by attempting to usurp all its powers, and knowing that he hates you they were glad to grant your petition over his objections.”
I had heard rumors lately of the growing differences between Or-tis and the Teivos, and had learned that it was these that had saved me from the Kash Guard that day—the sergeant having warned his superior that should they maltreat me without good and sufficient reason the Teivos could take advantage of the fact to discipline the Guard and they were not yet ready for the test—that was to come later.
During the next two or three months I was busy building our home and getting my place in order. I had decided to raise horses and obtained permission from the Teivos to do so—again over Or-tis’s objections. Of course, the government controlled the entire horse traffic; but there were a few skilled horsemen permitted to raise them, though at any time their herds could be commandeered by the authorities. I knew that it might not be a very profitable business, but I loved horses and wanted to have just a few—a stallion and two or three mares. These I could use in tilling my fields and in the heavier work of hauling and at the same time I would keep a few goats, pigs and chickens to insure us a living.
Father gave me half his goats and a few chickens and from Jim I bought two young sows and a boar. Later I traded a few goats to the Teivos for two old mares that they thought were no longer worth keeping, and that same day I was told of a stallion—a young outlaw—that Hoffmeyer had. The beast was five years old and so vicious that none dared approach him and they were on the point of destroying him.
I went to Hoffmeyer and asked if I could buy the animal—I offered him a goat for it, which he was glad to accept, and then I took a strong rope and went to get my property. I found a beautiful bay with the temper of a Hellhound. When I attempted to enter the pen he rushed at me with ears back and jaws distended, but I knew that I must conquer him now or never, and so I met him with only a rope in my hand, nor did I wait for him. Instead, I ran to meet him and when he was in reach I struck him once across the face with the rope, at which he wheeled and let both hind feet fly out at me. Then I cast the noose that was at one end of the rope and caught him about the neck and for half an hour we had a battle of it.
I never struck him unless he tried to bite or strike me and finally I must have convinced him that I was master, for he let me come close enough to stroke his glossy neck, though he snorted loudly all the while that I did so. When I had quieted him a bit I managed to get a half hitch around his lower jaw, and after that I had no difficulty in leading him from the pen. Once in the open I took the coils of my rope in my left hand and before the creature knew what I was about had vaulted to his back.
He fought fair, I’ll say that for him, for he stood on his feet but for fifteen minutes he brought into play every artifice known to horse-kind for unseating a rider. Only my skill and my great strength kept me on his back and at that even the Kalkars who were looking on had to applaud.
After that it was easy. I treated him with kindness, something he had never known before, and as he was an unusually intelligent animal, he soon learned that I was not only his master, but his friend. From being an outlaw he became one of the kindest and most tractable animals I have ever seen, so much so, in fact, that Juana used to ride him bareback.
I love all horses and always have, but I think I never loved any animal as I did Red Lightning, as we named him.
The authorities left us pretty well alone for some time because they were quarreling among themselves. Jim said there was an ancient saying about honest men getting a little peace when thieves fell out and it certainly fitted our case perfectly. But the peace didn’t last forever, and when it broke the bolt that fell was the worst calamity that had ever come to us.
One evening father was arrested for trading at night and taken away by the Kash Guard. They got him as he was returning to the house from the goat pens and would not even permit him to bid good-bye to mother. Juana and I were eating supper in our own house about three hundred yards away and never knew anything about it until mother came running over to tell us. She said that it was all done so quickly that they had father and were gone before she could run from the house to where they arrested him. They had a spare horse and hustled him onto it—then they galloped away toward the lake front. It seems strange that neither Juana nor I heard the hoof beats of the horses, but we did not.
I went immediately to Pthav and demanded to know why father had been arrested, but he professed ignorance of the whole affair. I had ridden to his place on Red Lightning and from there I started to the Kash Guard barracks where the military prison is. It was contrary to law to approach the barracks after sunset without permission, so I left Red Lightning in the shadow of some ruins a hundred yards away and started on foot toward that part of the post, where I knew the prison to be located. It consisted of a high stockade around the inside of which were rude shelters. Upon the roofs of these armed guards patrolled. The center of the rectangle was an open court where the prisoners exercised, cooked their food and washed their clothing—if they cared to. There were seldom more than fifty confined there at a time, as it was only a detention camp to hold those awaiting trial and those sentenced to the mines. The latter were usually taken away when there were from twenty-five to forty of them.
They marched them in front of mounted guards a distance of about fifty miles to the nearest mines, which lie southwest of our Teivos, driving them, like cattle, with heavy whips of bullhide. To such great cruelty were they subjected, so escaped convicts told us that always at least one out of every ten died upon the march.
Though men were sometimes sentenced for as short terms as five years in the mines, none ever returned, other than the few who escaped, so harshly were they treated and so poorly fed. They labored twelve hours a day.
I managed to reach the shadow of the wall of the stockade without being seen, for the Kash Guard was a lazy, inefficient, insubordinate soldier. He did as he pleased, though I understand that under Jarth’s regime an effort was made to force discipline as he was attempting to institute a military oligarchy. Since Or-tis came they had been trying to revive the ancient military salute and the use of titles instead of the usual “Brother.”
After I reached the stockade I was at a loss to communicate with my father, since any noise I might make would doubtless attract the attention of the guard. Finally through a crack between two boards, I attracted the attention of a prisoner. The man came close to the stockade and I whispered to him that I wished to speak to Julian 8th. By luck I had happened upon a decent fellow, and it was not long before he had brought father and I was talking with him in low whispers.
He told me that he had been arrested for trading by night and that he was to be tried on the morrow. I asked him if he would like to escape—that I would find the means if he wished me to, but he said that he was innocent of the charge as he had not been off our farm at night for months and that doubtless it was a case of mistaken identity and that he would be freed in the morning.
I had my doubts, but he would not listen to escape as he argued that it would prove his guilt and they would have him for sure.
“Where is there that I may go,” he asked, “if I escape? I might hide in the woods, but what a life! I could never return to your mother and so sure am I that they can prove nothing against me that I would rather stand trial than face the future as an outlaw.”
I think now that he refused my offer of assistance not because he expected to be released, but because he feared that evil might befall me were I to connive at his escape. At any rate, I did nothing, since he would not let me, and went home again with a heavy heart and dismal forebodings.
Trials before the Teivos were public, or at least were supposed to be, though they made it so uncomfortable for spectators that few, if any, had the temerity to attend. But under Jarth’s new rule the proceedings of the military courts were secret and father was tried before such a court.