While they were in this condition, a man stepped in under the arch, darkening the lewen.
“Awake!” he said to them; “I bring you a message which will not be put off.”
They all sat up.
“From whom?” asked the Egyptian.
“Herod the king.”
Each one felt his spirit thrill.
“Are you not the steward of the khan?” Balthasar asked next.
“What would the king with us?”
“His messenger is without; let him answer.”
“Tell him, then, to abide our coming.”
“You were right, O my brother!” said the Greek, when the steward was gone. “The question put to the people on the road, and to the guard at the gate, has given us quick notoriety. I am impatient; let us up quickly.”
They arose, put on their sandals, girt their mantles about them, and went out.
“I salute you, and give you peace, and pray your pardon; but my master, the king, has sent me to invite you to the palace, where he would have speech with you privately.”
Thus the messenger discharged his duty.
A lamp hung in the entrance, and by its light they looked at each other, and knew the Spirit was upon them. Then the Egyptian stepped to the steward, and said, so as not to be heard by the others, “You know where our goods are stored in the court, and where our camels are resting. While we are gone, make all things ready for our departure, if it should be needful.”
“Go your way assured; trust me,” the steward replied.
“The king’s will is our will,” said Balthasar to the messenger. “We will follow you.”
The streets of the Holy City were narrow then as now, but not so rough and foul; for the great builder, not content with beauty, enforced cleanliness and convenience also. Following their guide, the brethren proceeded without a word. Through the dim starlight, made dimmer by the walls on both sides, sometimes almost lost under bridges connecting the house-tops, out of a low ground they ascended a hill. At last they came to a portal reared across the way. In the light of fires blazing before it in two great braziers, they caught a glimpse of the structure, and also of some guards leaning motionlessly upon their arms. They passed into a building unchallenged. Then by passages and arched halls; through courts, and under colonnades not always lighted; up long flights of stairs, past innumerable cloisters and chambers, they were conducted into a tower of great height. Suddenly the guide halted, and, pointing through an open door, said to them- “Enter. The king is there.”
The air of the chamber was heavy with the perfume of sandalwood, and all the appointments within were effeminately rich. Upon the floor, covering the central space, a tufted rug was spread, and upon that a throne was set. The visitors had but time, however, to catch a confused idea of the place- of carved and gilt ottomans and couches; of fans, and jars, and musical instruments; of golden candlesticks glittering in their own lights; of walls painted in the style of the voluptuous Grecian school, one look at which had made a Pharisee hide his head with holy horror. Herod, sitting upon the throne to receive them clad as when at the conference with the doctors and lawyers, claimed all their minds.