“I agree,” said Manius, an overwhelming cupidity in the words.
“And I agree,” said the Jew, who had entered upon this intrigue with motives of patriotism, and now, although suspicious of the result, was committed beyond a chance of turning.
“Angels of mercy!” Antipater exclaimed, rising and taking a hand of each in his. “My love shall be ever a shield and weapon for you. One other thing. The couriers who bring to Rome news of my father’s death—bid them hurry and take with them, also, word of the illness of that dog Vergilius. After they leave let him not linger in needless pain—do you understand me? For that, I say, each of you shall have five thousand aurei added to his wealth.”
The others nodded.
“Now take this—it may be useful,” whispered the prince of Judea, handing a little golden box to the assessor. “There is something in it will hasten the effect of wine—a fine remedy for a weary land, good Manius. He that makes it a friend shall have no enemies. Hold, let me think. That old fox on the hill yonder has a thousand eyes and his ears are everywhere. Not a word, Manius, after we leave this door. In yon passage turn to the right. Walk until your head touches the ceiling, then creep to the door. Open it and use your ears. If no one is passing, go straight ahead. You will come to a gate on the Via Sacra. You,” he added, turning to Ben Joreb, “shall leave by the main gate.”
When both had gone, this prince of Judea walked across the inner hall of his palace and flung himself on the cushions of a great divan.
A swarthy eunuch came near him on tip-toe.
“Begone!” The word burst from the lips of Antipater in a hoarse growl, and, like a tiger’s paw, his hand struck the cushions in front of him. As he lay blinking drowsily, his chin upon his hands, there was still in his face and attitude a suggestion of the monster cat.
And he thought fondly of his wreaking of vengeance when he should be crowned the great king of prophetic promise—of the fury of armies, of the stench of the slain, of the cry of the ravished, of “mountains melting in blood.”
It was the fifth anniversary of that resolution of the senate fathers to consecrate the altar of Peace. Pilgrims thronged the city, and some had journeyed far. Tens of thousands surrounded the great monument, immense and beautiful beyond any in the knowledge of men. It signalized a remarkable state of things—the world was at peace. More than seven centuries before that day an idea had entered the heart of a prophet; now it was in the very heart of the world. This heap of marble, under pagan gods, had given it grand, if only partial, expression. There was no symbol of war in the long procession of its upper frieze, and its lower was like a sculptured song of peace wrought in fruits and bees and birds and blossoms. Here was a mighty plant flowering twice a year and giving its seed to the four winds. Every July and January its erection was celebrated in the imperial republic.