“Your work is to be in Judea, and you love, or think you love, a Roman maiden.”
“I know that I love her,” said he, quickly.
“But love is a great deceiver. You shall not take her for your wife.”
“Why?” he demanded, turning and looking into the face of Salome.
Her dark eyes were now gazing into his, her hand softly stroking his bare arm.
“Because,” she whispered, and now he could feel the motion of her shapely red lips upon his ear, “here, in Judea, you shall find one who loves you with a greater love.”
His pulses were quick with passion. He rose, turning from the daughter of Herod. To his amazement the others had all departed. He and this living Venus of Judea were alone.
She rose and spoke rapidly, her heart’s fire in her words! “Here the love of women is longer than their lives—greater than their prudence or their hope of heaven.”
She stood erect before him, her beauty striving with the ardor of her words.
He looked down at her with a kind of fear in his eyes.
She took his hand in hers. “My father is fond of you,” she continued. “Shall I tell your future?”
“And I knew it for a moment hence I should know all,” he answered; covering his eyes. She came near, and, caressingly, put an arm about his neck. He could hear a nightingale singing somewhere in the great palace. It seemed to fling open the gates of memory. He thought of his love—sacred now above all things. His fear of it was like as the fear of the gods had been to his fathers. For a moment honor, wisdom, and love trembled in the balance. Suddenly he stood erect and put his hand upon the shoulder of Salome and gently pushed her aside.
He turned away, his left arm covering his eyes and his right moving in a gesture of protest. He staggered as one drunk with wine. Slowly he crossed the chamber, struggling to defend his soul.
“I dare not look upon your face again,” said he, sternly.
She ran before and tried to stop him. “Hear me, son of Varro,” said she. “It is my will to help you.”
“I will not look upon your face again,” he repeated.
She struck at his hand fiercely, her foot stamping on the floor. Now was she of the catlike tribe of Herod.
“Go, stupid fool!” The words came hissing from her lips. “I hate you!” She ran away, with impassioned laughter. He passed the door.
“To the evil honor is ever stupid,” he said, to himself, as he left the palace. By-and-by he added, thoughtfully, “’Tis a mighty friend—this great love in me.”
And said David, who was waiting when he returned: “They kept you long, my master.”
“Yes; I have been fighting!”
“For the prize of heaven in the amphitheatre of hell. My love was my shield, the power of God my weapon.”