Vergilius had taken a palace and filled it with treasures, for, possibly, he had thought, some day she would see all. Now its noble statues were sent away—a kind of sacrifice to the God of the Jews. But there was one he could not part with—a copy of the lovely Venus of Alcamenes which his mother had sent to him. He concealed her in a closet, contenting himself with a furtive glance at her now and then. He set up in his fancy a giant of benevolent face, and humbly sought his favor. Still he had no success.
Lying at table one night with Manius and Ben Joreb, he sought counsel of the latter.
“He that hath his prayer hath prayed wisely,” said the priest. “You have much to learn.”
“How, and of whom?” said Vergilius.
“There is in Jerusalem a council of learned men. They expound the Scripture and study all mysteries of the faith.”
“And who are they?”
“I would I knew. Being wise, they are unknown.”
“So I have heard. They have knowledge of him who is to come, and Herod is very jealous.”
“True,” said Vergilius. “I would I were of them who know.”
“If it may be so you shall have word tomorrow,” said the priest.
Promptly Manius relieved the tension of curiosity.
“Vergilius, I drink to you—the new commander of the cohorts,” said he, rising.
“I reserve my thanks for more information,” said Vergilius.
“It will come,” said Manius, who then left with the priest in his company.
Soon the former added, in a low tone: “He may be of some value before he dies.”
“Ah, yes, but he will die young,” said the other.
Next day among his letters were two of value in the history of Vergilius—one from the procurator, apprising him of his appointment to command the cohorts, the other a communication with no signature, the source of which was, in his view, quite apparent. This latter one gave him the greater satisfaction. It conveyed, in formal script, the following message:
“TO ONE SEEKING WISDOM IN PRAYER
“If you would share in the deliberations of the Council of the Covenant, be at the well of Nicanor, which is opposite the tenth column in the king’s portico of the temple, at the second sounding of the sacred horns on the Day of Atonement. There wait until one shall come and ask what you are seeking, and you shall answer, ’Knowledge of the one God.’ Then, if he turns away, follow him and do as he bids you.”
His opportunity had come. He waited with the curiosity of a child. Soon, possibly, he should see the face of the great Lawgiver and learn of things beyond the valley of death. If all went well he would amaze the people of Rome with wonder stories and give them assurance of immortal life.