His heart was now sore and sensitive. Was it the new love which had flung off its shield of sternness and left it exposed to every lash that flew? The misery of others afflicted him. Thoughts of injustice grew into motives of action, the loss of faith into the gain of unutterable longing. Who were these gods who heard not the cry of the weak and were ever on the side of the strong? Were they only in those hands of power that flung their levin from the Palatine? Could he, who had learned to love innocence and purity, love also the foul harpy which Rome had become? It seemed to him difficult to reconcile the love of Arria and the love of Rome. Was the time not, indeed, overdue when the wicked should tremble and the proud should bow themselves, according to that song of the slave-girl?
From Antioch they turned southward, passing the cloistered plain paved with polished marble, and hurried to Damascus. Thence they rode to Jerusalem. The troop had dwindled to a squad of six, and came slowly into the ancient capital at dawn. From afar they could hear bugles at the castle of Antonia.
“They are changing the guard,” Manius remarked.
Having entered the city gates, they passed throngs of cattle and their drivers and many worshippers hurrying to the temple. One of the latter stopped, and, pointing to the eagles and the medallion of Augustus on their signa, shouted loudly:
“I thank Thee, O God, and the God of my fathers, that I am not of them who provoke Thine anger with the graven image.”
A chant of many voices from the temple roof floated over the plain, saying:
“The light has come as far as Hebron.”
Vergilius turned, looking up at the splendid Doric temple of Jerusalem. As he looked, the sun’s rays fell on a great, golden lantern before a thicket of high columns in its eastern portico. It was the signal for another outburst of trumpets.
“They are now making incense for the nostrils of Jehovah,” said Manius. “Soon they will offer him one of the most beautiful lambs in Judea.”
In a few moments they drew up at the castle of Antonia. News of their coming had reached Jerusalem by courier, three days before. The captain of the guard repeated part of the introduction.
“Vergilius, son of Varro, sent by the great father?” said he, in a tone of inquiry.
“And worn with much riding,” said the young knight.
“I have a message for you. It is from the king.”
“He would see me at once,” said Vergilius, having read it.
“The sooner you go the more gracious you will be like to find him,” said Manius, with a smile.
“My apparel! It is on the transport and has not yet arrived.”
“But you have arrived, and forget not you are in the land of Herod—a most impatient king.”
“He will not know, however, that we have come,” Vergilius answered.