The approach to Jerusalem from the north is across a plain which dips southward, leaving the Damascus Gate in a vale or hollow. The road is narrow, but deeply cut by long use, and in places difficult on account of the cobbles left loose and dry by the washing of the rains. On either side, however, there stretched, in the old time, rich fields and handsome olive-groves, which must, in luxurious growth, have been beautiful, especially to travellers fresh from the wastes of the desert. In this road the three stopped before the party in front of the Tombs.
“Good people,” said Balthasar, stroking his plaited beard and bending from his cot, “is not Jerusalem close by?”
“Yes,” answered the woman into whose arms the child had shrunk. “If the trees on yon swell were a little lower, you could see the towers on the Market-place.”
Balthasar gave the Greek and the Hindoo a look, then asked, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?”
The women gazed at each other without reply.
“You have not heard of Him?”
“Well tell everybody that we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.”
Thereupon the friends rode on. Of others they asked the same question, with like result. A large company whom they met going to the Grotto of Jeremiah were so astonished by the inquiry and the appearance of the travellers that they turned about and followed them into the city.
So much were the three occupied with the idea of their mission that they did not care for the view which presently rose before them in the utmost magnificence: for the village first to receive them on Bezetha; for Mizpah and Olivet, over on their left; for the wall behind the village, with its forty tall and solid towers, superadded partly for strength, partly to gratify the critical taste of the kingly builder; for the same towered wall bending off to the right, with many an angle, and here and there an embattled gate, up to the three great white piles, Phasaelus, Mariamne, and Hippicus; for Zion, tallest of the hills, crowned with marble palaces, and never so beautiful; for the glittering terraces of the temple on Moriah, admittedly one of the wonders of the earth; for the regal mountains rimming the sacred city round about until it seemed in the hollow of a mighty bowl.
They came, at length, to a tower of great height and strength, overlooking the gate which, at that time, answered to the present Damascus Gate, and marked the meeting place of the three roads from Shechem, Jericho, and Gibeon. A Roman guard kept the passage-way. By this time the people following the camels formed a train sufficient to draw the idlers hanging about the portal; so that when Balthasar stopped to speak to the sentinel, the three became instantly the centre of a close circle eager to hear all that passed.