Vergilius turned quickly in the direction of the fateful voice. He had begun to suspect a plot. In a moment he saw to the very depths of its cunning. Here was a band of conspirators meeting in the darkness and speaking in disguised voices. Probably no member had ever seen the face of another, and the betrayal of a name was, therefore, impossible. Vergilius, now commander of the castle, heard with consternation of his part in the programme. By some movement of the speaker’s body an end of his girdle was flung against the hand of Vergilius. Immediately the young Roman laid hold of the silken cord. Tracing it stealthily, to make sure of its owner, he drew his dagger and cut the girdle in twain, hiding an end of it in his bosom.
“The new king is in Rome,” the speaker added. “Presently you shall hear the voice of his herald, whose face I know not, but of whose fidelity and wisdom. I have long been sure. He will give you further revelation of our purposes.”
It was cunningly said, for the speaker knew that such a promise would delay the vengeance of Herod.
A little silence followed the ceasing of “the shrill voice.” Vergilius could hear its owner moving away in the darkness. Fearful possibilities had begun to suggest themselves to the new convert. Now had he the flinty heart and the cunning mind of his fathers. The darkness had begun to smother and sicken him.
“Hear me now, good friends,” said a low, calm, but unfamiliar voice, “and let my words enter your hearts and be there cherished in secret, for I shall tell you a name, and for its safe-keeping you shall answer to the Most High. Know you, then, that the new king is no other than the son of Herod and his name is Antipater—a man of great valor, learned in all wisdom and all mystery, who loves the people of God. His heart has suffered, feeling the wrongs of Israel. He has the voice of wrath, the hand of power, and the claim of a just and natural inheritor. I have his word that we who are bound in this council of the covenant shall share in the glory of his reign.”
Vergilius, hot with anger, rose to his feet.
“Good sirs,” said he, in a piping voice very unlike his own, “let us not approve without full understanding. There may be some here who in their zeal have been deceived. Let us be fair, and warn them that all who approve this plan are traitors. I came here to study the mysteries of the one God, and I am learning the mysteries of an evil plot. ’Tis a great surprise to me. I like it not, and shall have no part in it. I know not your names or your faces, but I know your plan is murder, and if the one God favor it, I can no longer honor Him.”
He paused, but there came no answer. Again he heard a rustle of garments in the dark chamber, and, also, a stealthy and suggestive grating of steel upon scabbard. He perceived now the imminence of his peril. He could hear no sound in the darkness.