“The Christ!” the listeners cried.

“So they say.”

“Who?”

“Everybody; it is common talk.”

“Does anybody believe it?”

“This afternoon three men came across Brook Cedron on the road from Shechem,” the speaker replied, circumstantially, intending to smother doubt. “Each one of them rode a camel spotless white, and larger than any ever before seen in Jerusalem.”

The eyes and mouths of the auditors opened wide.

“To prove how great and rich the men were,” the narrator continued, “they sat under awnings of silk; the buckles of their saddles were of gold, as was the fringe of their bridles; the bells were of silver, and made real music. Nobody knew them; they looked as if they had come from the ends of the world. Only one of them spoke, and of everybody on the road, even the women and children, he asked this question- ‘Where is He that is born King of the Jews?’ No one gave them answer- no one understood what they meant; so they passed on, leaving behind them this saying: ‘For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.’ They put the question to the Roman at the gate; and he, no wiser than the simple people on the road, sent them up to Herod.”

“Where are they now?”

“At the khan. Hundreds have been to look at them already, and hundreds more are going.”

“Who are they?”

“Nobody knows. They are said to be Persians- wise men who talk with the stars- prophets, it may be, like Elijah and Jeremiah.”

“What do they mean by King of the Jews?”

“The Christ, and that He is just born.”

One of the women laughed, and resumed her work, saying, “Well, when I see Him I will believe.”

Another followed her example: “And I- well, when I see Him raise the dead, I will believe.”

A third said, quietly, “He has been a long time promised. It will be enough for me to see Him heal one leper.”

And the party sat talking until the night came, and, with the help of the frosty air, drove them home.

* * * * *

Later in the evening, about the beginning of the first watch, there was an assemblage in the palace on Mount Zion, of probably fifty persons, who never came together except by order of Herod, and then only when he had demanded to know some one or more of the deeper mysteries of the Jewish law and history. It was, in short, a meeting of the teachers of the colleges, of the chief priests, and of the doctors most noted in the city for learning- the leaders of opinion, expounders of the different creeds; princes of the Sadducees; Pharisaic debaters; calm, soft-spoken, stoical philosophers of the Essene socialists.

The chamber in which the session was held belonged to one of the interior court-yards of the palace, and was quite large and Romanesque. The floor was tesselated with marble blocks; the walls, unbroken by a window, were frescoed in panels of saffron yellow; a divan occupied the centre of the apartment, covered with cushions of bright-yellow cloth, and fashioned in form of the letter U, the opening towards the doorway; in the arch of the divan, or as it were, in the bend of the letter, there was an immense bronze tripod, curiously inlaid with gold and silver, over which a chandelier dropped from the ceiling, having seven arms, each holding a lighted lamp. The divan and the lamp were purely Jewish.