“Know you the Isle of Doom?” said he.
“Ay, ’tis a lonely heap of rocks.”
“A roost of sea-birds,” said the prince of Judea. “Know you who am I?”
“You are the son of Herod.”
“And I go to be king of the Jews.”
Antipater took from a bag many pieces of gold and heaped them on the chart above the Isle of Doom.
“Would you earn this money, and much more?” he whispered.
“If you will but show me how,” said Tepas, the fire of greed now burning in his heart.
“Sail close to the Isle of Doom. There your trireme shall be leaking and you shall desert her and seek refuge on the isle and wait for me. You shall have ample store of provisions, and this treasure, and when I come you shall have, also, three talents more and a home in Jerusalem, and my favor as long as you live.”
“But how long must I wait?”
“Not beyond, the ides of January, good man.”
“Then I agree,” said Tepas.
So was it with an evil man those days. If he were armed with power he halted not between his plan and his purpose. There were, indeed, few things so valued as to be above price.
But the cunning of the tempter was to lead his prey into further depths of infamy. The prince took the hand of the sailor and whispered to him:
“If you would be a friend to me, then my enemies should be your enemies.” He paused a moment, looking into the eyes of the pilot and tenderly patting his shoulder. It was like the guile of the black leopard. Presently he continued:
“Now this young Roman is my enemy. If by any chance he, Appius, should die before I come, you shall have six instead of three talents. He is fond of wine, and for such the sea has many perils. Do you understand me?”
“I do,” said Tepas, nodding his approval, and then that heap of gold, lying on the chart, was delivered to him, and without more delay he went to his own vessel. Antipater sat in silence, thinking for a moment, his chin upon his breast. Soon the thought of his enemies and their doom brightened his eyes and lifted the corners of his mouth a little and set his lips quivering. He leaned forward upon a table, softly, as if in fear that some eye would observe him. One might have heard then that menacing, Herodian rumble in his throat. He seemed to caress the table with his hands.
“Dear Appius! Good Vergilius!” he muttered, seizing a piece of vellum and crushing it in his hand. “Soon my power shall close upon you. And Arria, my pretty maiden, you shall repair my heart with kisses.”
A pet kitten leaped upon the table. It seemed to startle him, and he struck it dead with his hand.
Then he sprang up suddenly and looked about, a feline stealth upon him, and ran with catlike paces to the deck.
“Get to work, you sea-rats!” he roared. “Every man to his place. If we are not gone to sea before the moon is up, some of you will be gone to Hades.”