He removed his jewelled crown; he drew off his purple tarboosh, and bowed before the young tribune. Tenderly Vergilius replaced them on the gray head.
“O king,” said he, bowing low, “you do me great honor.”
Herod closed his eyes and muttered feebly. Again remorse and age had flung their weight upon him. His hard face seemed to shrink and wither, and the young man thought as he looked upon it, “What a great, good thing is death!”
The king opened his eyes and piped, feebly: “Help me; help me to win the favor of my people! You shall be procurator, commander of the forces, counsellor of kings, priest of God.”
The king waited, but Vergilius made no reply. Now, indeed, was he living in a great and memorable moment. He thought of the power offered him—power of doing and undoing, power of raising up and putting down, power over good and evil.
“Well,” said Herod, impatiently, “what say you?”
“O king!” said Vergilius, “I had hoped soon to return to Rome and marry and live in the land of my fathers.”
“Hear me, good youth,” said Herod, sternly, seizing the hand of the young man. “There is a wise proverb in Judea. It is: ’Speak not much with a woman.’ Had I obeyed it, then had I saved my soul and happiness. Women have been ever false with me—an idle, whispering, and mischievous crew! O youth, give not your heart to them! For five years let Judea be your bride. She woos you, son of Varro, and she is fair. She asks for love and justice, and she will give you immortal fame.”
The king fondly pressed the hand of the Roman, who stood beside him, grave and thoughtful. For the young man it was a moment of almost overwhelming temptation. Love and ambition wrestled in his soul. He stood silent.
“For only five years,” the king pleaded. “For five years give me your heart. Man!” he shouted, impatiently, “will you not answer?”
“I will consider,” said Vergilius, calmly.
“Go!” said Herod, in a burst of ire. Then, presently: “Now, now I will attend to the son of Doris.”
And Vergilius hastened away.
Within the hour, Antipater, son of Herod the Great, was dragged to that strong chamber in a remote end of the vast home of Herod whence were to come cries for mercy by night such as he had often heard from his own victims.
Now in Vergilius and in many of that time the human heart had dropped its plummet into new depths of feeling, the human mind had made a reach for nobler principles. A greater love between men and women, spreading mysteriously, had been as the uplift of a mighty wave on the deep of the spirit. It had broadened the sympathy of man; it had extended his vision beyond selfish limits. Vergilius and Arria had crossed the boundary of barbaric evolution under the leadership of love. The young man was now in the borderland of new attainment. He was full of the joy and the wonder of discovery. He was like a child—eager for understanding and impatient of delay. Now he thought with the pagans and now with the Jews.