The city had been thronged with pilgrims that day of the ancient festival. It was turning dusk when Vergilius made his way through crowded streets to the well of Nicanor. Suddenly he heard a trumpet signal, and then followed that moment of silence when every tongue and foot and wheel stopped, quickly, and all stood listening for the awful name spoken but once a year.
Presently the shout of the high priest rang like a trumpet-peal above the roofs of the city. Then Jerusalem was all begirt and overflooded with song. Maidens, white robed, were singing in distant vineyards; people were singing in the streets; trained devotees were whirling and dancing and chanting psalms in the court of the Temple, while priest and Levite followed, blowing, with all their power of lung, upon the sacred horns.
In the midst of this outbreak a stranger approached Vergilius at the well, saying, “What seek you?” The young Roman gave his answer, but was unable to see the face of him who questioned. The stranger turned away and bade him follow. Without more ceremony Vergilius walked behind him through narrow streets, wholly unfamiliar, and presently descending a stairway, came into a dark passage. They halted, after a few paces, whereupon a loud rap startled the new-comer. Soon he could hear a door open. The stranger, taking his hand, led him into some dark place. It was all very strange, and like tales long familiar, relating to the city of mysteries. Standing there in the dark and silence, he had some misgivings which gave way when a voice addressed him as follows:
“You are now in the council-chamber of the Covenant. We meet in darkness, so that no shape or form or image may turn our thought from the contemplation of him who is most high and who hath his dwelling in black darkness. Moreover, those who are not seen shall have neither vanity nor the will to deceive. Would you share in our deliberations?”
Vergilius answered yes, and one of the council then took his hand and administered the oath of secrecy, and led him to what seemed to be a large divan, where he sat, shoulder to shoulder, between other members of the council. He listened long to the casuistry of learned men touching prayer, atonement, and sacrifice. It led at last to some discussion of the new king.
“Is there one here can tell me where and when he shall be born?” was the query of Vergilius.
“We believe the Messiah is already born,” said a councillor. “Moreover, some here have beheld his face.”
“And where, then, does he dwell?” Vergilius inquired.
“That you shall know some day. At the next meeting of the council it may be told. We wait only for the fulness of time. He dwells in a distant city, and not long ago I spoke with him. He sent his love and greeting to every member of our council. He bids you wait his time, when all your prayers shall be answered.”
“Shall there be signs of his coming?” So spoke Vergilius.