“I give you peace,” the Egyptian said, in a clear voice.
The sentinel made no reply.
“We have come great distances in search of one who is born King of the Jews. Can you tell us where He is?”
The soldier raised the visor of his helmet, and called loudly. From an apartment at the right of the passage an officer appeared.
“Give way,” he cried, to the crowd which now pressed closer in; and as they seemed slow to obey, he advanced, twirling his javelin vigorously, now right, now left; and so he gained room.
“What would you?” he asked of Balthasar, speaking in the idiom of the city.
And Balthasar answered in the same- “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?”
“Herod?” asked the officer, confounded.
“Herod’s kingship is from Caesar; not Herod.”
“There is no other King of the Jews.”
“But we have seen the star of Him we seek, and come to worship Him.”
The Roman was perplexed.
“Go farther,” he said, at last. “Go farther. I am not a Jew. Carry the question to the doctors in the Temple, or to Hannas the priest, or, better still, to Herod himself. If there be another King of the Jews, he will find him.”
Thereupon he made way for the strangers, and they passed the gate. But, before entering the narrow street, Balthasar lingered to say to His friends, “We are sufficiently proclaimed. By midnight the whole city will have heard of us and of our mission, Let us to the khan now.”
THE WITNESSES BEFORE HEROD.
THAT evening, before sunset, some women were washing clothes on the upper step of the flight that led down into the basin of the Pool of Siloam. They knelt each before a broad bowl of earthenware. A girl at the foot of the steps kept them supplied with water, and sang while she filled the jar. The song was cheerful, and no doubt lightened their labour. Occasionally they would sit upon their heels, and look up the slope of Ophel, and round to the summit of what is now the Mount of Offence, then faintly glorified by the dying sun.
While they plied their hands, rubbing and wringing the clothes in the bowls, two other women came to them, each with an empty jar upon her shoulder.
“Peace to you,” one of the new-comers said.
The labourers paused, sat up, wrung the water from their hands, and returned the salutation.
“It is nearly night- time to quit.”
“There is no end to work,” was the reply.
“But there is a time to rest, and- ”
“To hear what may be passing,” interposed another.
“What news have you?”
“Then you have not heard?”
“They say the Christ is born,” said the newsmonger, plunging into her story.
It was curious to see the faces of the labourers brighten with interest; on the other side down came the jars, which, in a moment, were turned into seats for their owners.