These were mostly the children of Hatred, each heart a lair of wild passions, each brain teeming with catlike gods. Here were they to be lifted up by the power of love—the heathen, the debased. What a gathering of the enemies of God and man! Crowding at the gates were gladiators from Greece and Rome; Arab chiefs upon camels, with horses trained for the race; troops of rich men with armed retainers; hunters bringing wild beasts in cages lashed upon heavy carts; squads of Roman cavalry; gamblers, peddlers, thieves, bandits, musicians, dancers, and singers, some walking, some riding horse or camel. Many had travelled far for one purpose—to behold the great king. Now solemn whispers of gossip had gone to every side of the city. Herod was ill, so said they, and had not long to live. That morning of the day before the games the old king had summoned Vergilius.
“I will not be cheated by God or man,” said he, fiercely. “Tell the master of the games that I will have him entertain me here to-day, after the middle hour, in my palace court. Bid him bring beast and gladiator and the strong men of the prisons. Let him not forget the traitors. I would have, also, a thousand maids to sing and dance for me.”
The king looked down, impatiently, at his trembling hands. He flung a wrathful gesture, and again that bestial voice: “Go, bid him bring them!”
So at the middle hour a wonderful scene was beginning in the great court of Herod’s palace. The king sat on a balcony with Salome, Elpis, Roxana, Phaedra, and others of his kindred. On the circular terraces of a great fountain below and in front of them were rows of naked maidens. Circle after circle of this living statuary towered, with diminishing radii, above the court level, to an apex, where a stream of cool, perfumed water, broken to misty spray, rose aloft, scattering in the sunlight. So cunningly had they contrived to enhance the charm of the spectacle, those many graceful shapes were under a fine, transparent veil of water-drops lighted by rainbow gleams and sweet with musky odor. Circles were closely massed around the base of the fountain. They stood in silence, all looking down. The old king surveyed them. Within the palace a hundred harpers smote their strings, flooding the scene with music. Slowly each circumference began to move. Step and measure increased their speed. The circles were now revolving, one around another, with swift and bewildering motion. At a signal the silent figures broke into song. They sang of the glories of Jerusalem and the great king. Herod’s hand was up—he would have no more of it. The song ceased, the circles, one by one, rolled into helices which, unbending into slender lines, vanished quickly beneath a great arch. Then a trumpet peal and a rattle of iron wheels. Brawny arms were pushing a movable arena. Swiftly it came into that ample space between the king and the great fountain. Behind its iron bars a large lion paced up and down. Two hundred mounted men of the cohort stood in triple rank some fifty paces from the scene. Vergilius, on a white charger, was in front of the column.