A moment she seemed to dwell upon the awful picture. Then, turning to Manius; “Give the password to my father and let him go and listen. I promise you their names shall not be long a secret. He must hear all. Give him plans of that chamber so he may guard the exits.”
“I will do my part, dear and wonderful daughter of Herod! To-morrow I shall begin the good work.” So saying the Roman embraced Salome and spoke his farewell.
Having left her, he went to his own palace and sat awhile pondering.
“But if Herod is there,” said he to himself, “and the soldiers come in with lights and the council members see me, they will learn that I have betrayed them. And some may be there who know of my part in other enterprises. By showing proof—Jupiter! they would bring confusion or death upon me. I must not be there, and yet—and yet I must. They wait for the shrill voice to declare the fulness of time. Unless I be there the king may be no wiser for his coming. I will go, but I will not tell Herod of the long way underground to the street of tombs. I will announce the fulness of time and quit the council before its proclamation is made. Then the old lion may spring his trap, and who, save Ben Joreb, will know that I ever sat with traitors. And as for the priest, I shall warn him. I know that he is weary of Antipater and will take a share in the new enterprise.”
It was the day before the nones of November in Rome. The emperor had returned to his palace after opening the Ludi Plebeii. The people had hailed him as father, forgiver, peace-maker. A softened spirit, sweeping over the world, was come upon them. That day they had put in his hands a petition for new laws to limit the power of men over slaves. But in that matter he was bound to ancient custom by fetters of his own making. Once—he was then emperor of Rome but not of his own spirit—he had punished a slave by crucifixion for killing a pet quail. For that act, one cannot help thinking, he must have been harassed with regret. The sting of it tempered his elation that November day. He was, however, pleased with the spirit of the people and his heart was full of sympathy and good-will.
On his table were letters from the south. He lay comfortably in his great chair and began to read them. Presently his body straightened, the wrinkles deepened in his brow. Soon he flung the letter he had been reading upon his table and leaned back, laughing quietly as he remarked to himself:
“Innocent, beautiful son of Varro! He is making progress.”
An attendant came near.
“Find my young Appius at once and bring him to me,” said the emperor, as he went on reading his letters.
Appius, quickly found, came with all haste to the great father of Rome.
“I have news for you,” said the latter, quietly, with a glance at his young friend. He continued to read his letters.