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Weird Tales

November, 1927

A Certain Soldier

By Clare Winger Harris

"The soldier threw the lighted torch into the window of the sanctuary."

I MET Lee Clayton in Rome. The attraction was a mutual one, for we discovered that we had much in common; both students of history, fond of travel, and possessing an insatiable thirst for the uncovering of forgotten and apparently insignificant historical data that might throw light upon questions of dispute.

At the end of three weeks we had covered the city of the seven hills from the Flaminian to the Appian Way, reveling especially in those relics that gave us any knowledge of the dead past Dead? Can the past ever really die ? I believed, and I think my friend Clayton agreed with me, that the past lives today. It is immortal, but in its changed form it is manifest in influence and posterity. These two in a stream of continuity render the antiquity of Rome a vital fact in the Twentieth Century A. D.

One warm evening Clayton and I returned to the hotel veranda after an interesting day among the ruins of the Roman Forum. To our ears came the characteristic sounds of Italian life; a snatch of song in melodious tenor, a sharp staccato exclamation, the rumble of cab wheels over cobblestones, and the occasional bleating of goats whose milk supplied the native quarter. To our right the yellow thread of the Tiber was faintly visible.

Clayton smiled understandingly and waved a hand toward the streets below as he sank luxuriously into a comfortable chair.

"Great thing for a rest, Ebson," he remarked. "It's a change from the hurry and bustle of the average American city. I like it."

"Yes," I agreed, "and a change always means rest. Although we are both young we've been living strenuously in a modern business world, and can't help appreciating the contrast."

We sat for some time in silence, the while I noticed Clayton's features displaying a growing pensive mood. His former joviality was disappearing. I made no attempt to encourage conversation, for I felt that it would come when the time was ripe.

"Friend Ebson," said Lee Clayton at length, dropping his listless mien and leaning toward me, "for many years the repetition of a certain dream has troubled me. The vision first appeared when I was in high school and followed me throughout my entire college career, its vividness increasing with the passing of the years. It pertains to the solution of the mystery surrounding the ambiguous expression in the Greek, Latin and Jewish scripts where the incendiary of the temple of Jerusalem is invariably referred to as 'a certain soldier'. In my constantly recurring dream I seem continually on the verge of discovering the identity of this 'certain soldier', but always I awake just before solving the mystery. My trip upon this occasion to the Eternal City is to find out, if possible, who threw the flaming torch into the temple at Jerusalem when the legions of Titus took the city of the Jews. If it is ever possible to bring my haunting dream to a consummation it should be here amid the relics of its original enactment."

I must have gazed at him incredulously, for he continued hastily. "In all sincerity I mean what I say, my friend. Either here or in Jerusalem I should be able to ascertain the identity of that 'certain soldier' who threw a lighted torch into a window of the sanctuary. Why, man alive, think of the responsibility of that act!"

Had the heat of a semi-tropic sun or the fatigue of daily sight-seeing affected my friend's mind? I hesitated before voicing a mild rebuke, and in that moment of pause the spirit of adventure, tempered with tolerance for the incomprehensible whims of another, possessed me. My answer must have surprized him.

"There's a quest worthy of some time and effort!" I answered with more enthusiasm than I really felt. "The Forum Romanum has already disclosed to us a few of its secrets, and why not this one? We'll show the world yet that Tacitus and Josephus and a few others of the ancients didn't get exactly the right dope on all this."

My light mood did not affect Clayton. He continued seriously, his eyes showing a dreamy expression.

"You must remember the historians, Josephus and Tacitus, were both contemporaries of Titus—and—and this 'certain soldier'. They had first-hand evidence and certainly ought to have been more explicit in their details. As a matter of fact," he added, "they are more evasive in their narrations of the events connected with the siege of Jerusalem, of which they must have been eye-witnesses, than they are regarding historical occurrences preceding their era."

"Yes. that is strange," I agreed. "How do you account for it?"

Clayton was about to reply when I noticed that a pallor spread over his features and he leaned forward with eyes intent upon the hotel entrance. Following the direction of his gaze I saw the well-tailored back of a gentleman disappearing through the doorway. I turned with a glance of inquiry to my friend. His manner showed agitation, and I did not press him for the explanation, which I knew would be forthcoming shortly.

"That man," Clay...

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