“For how long?” she whispered, her eyes taking years upon them as the seconds flew.
“For two years.”
Quickly she hid her face in the cushions and her body quivered. That old, familiar cry, which had in it the history and the doom of Rome, rang in the great halls around them—that cry of forsaken women.
“The iron foot is upon us,” said he. “Do not let it tread you down as it has other women. Be my vestal and guard the holy fire of love.”
Then he told of Cyran, the slave-girl, and added: “I leave her in your care. Every day she will cause you to think of me.”
It was near the middle hour of the night. Many, just out of banquet-hall, theatre, and circus, thronged the main thoroughfares of the capital. Cries of venders, ribald songs, shouts of revelry, the hurrying of many feet roused the good people who, wearied by other nights of dissipation, now sought repose. They turned, uneasily, reflecting that to-morrow they would have their revenge.
Antipater had dined with but a single guest—a young priest, who, arriving that very day from Damascus, had sought the palace of his countryman. The service at his table had not pleased the prince. Leaping from his couch, he struck down a slave and ordered his crucifixion. It was a luckless Arab, who many times had unwittingly offended his master.
Now the son of Herod lay asleep where, a little time ago, he had been feasting. Manius, who had just entered the palace of his friend, came into the banquet-hall. He touched the arm of Antipater, who started with a curse and rose with an apology.
“I was dreaming of foes and I see a friend,” he muttered. “Forgive me, noble Manius.”
The prince pulled a golden bell-cord that shone against the green pargeting of the wall.
“Now to our business,” he whispered, turning to the officer.
They crossed the atrium, descended a stairway, and threw open a barred door. They were now in a gloomy passage between walls of marble. Antipater halted, presently, and tapped with his seal ring on a metal door. Then a rattle of bolts and the door swung open.
“Now,” Antipater whispered, “are you of the same mind?”
“And again you swear secrecy?”
Without more delay they entered a room walled with white marble and lighted by candles. A bearded Jew, in a scarlet cloak embroidered with gold, rose to greet them.
“To John ben Joreb I present the noble Manius,” said Antipater.
“Blessings of the one God be upon thee,” said Ben Joreb, bowing low.
“And the favor of many gods on thee,” said the assessor. “From Jerusalem?”
“Nay, from Damascus.”
Antipater stirred the fire in iron braziers on either side of the room, and then bade them recline beside him at a small table whereon a supper waited.