At the edge of the rug, to which they advanced uninvited, they prostrated themselves. The king touched a bell. An attendant came in, and placed three stools before the throne.
“Seat yourselves,” said the monarch, graciously.
“From the North Gate,” he continued, when they were at rest, “I had this afternoon report of the arrival of three strangers, curiously mounted, and appearing as if from far countries. Are you the men?”
The Egyptian took the sign from the Greek and the Hindoo, and answered, with the profoundest salaam, “Were we other than we are, the mighty Herod, whose fame is as incense to the whole world, would not have sent for us. We may not doubt that we are the strangers.
Herod acknowledged the speech with a wave of the hand.
“Who are you? Whence do you come?” he asked, adding, significantly, “let each speak for himself.”
In turn they gave him account, referring simply to the cities and lands of their birth, and the routes by which they came to Jerusalem. Somewhat disappointed, Herod plied them more directly.
“What was the question you put to the officer at the gate?”
“We asked him, Where is He that is born King of the Jews.”
“I see now why the people were so curious. You excite me no less. Is there another King of the Jews?”
The Egyptian did not blanch.
“There is one newly born.”
An expression of pain knit the dark face of the monarch, as if his mind were swept by a harrowing recollection.
“Not to me, not to me?” he exclaimed.
Possibly the accusing images of his murdered children flitted before him: recovering from the emotion, whatever it was he asked, steadily, “Where is the new King?”
“That, O king, is what we would ask.”
“You bring me a wonder- a riddle surpassing any of Solomon’s,” the inquisitor said next. “As you see, I am in the time of life when curiosity is as ungovernable as it was in childhood, when to trifle with it is cruelty. Tell me further, and I will honour you as kings honour each other. Give me all you know about the newly born, and I will join you in the search for Him; and when we have found Him, I will do what you wish; I will bring Him to Jerusalem, and train Him in kingcraft; I will use my grace with Caesar for His promotion and glory. Jealousy shall not come between us, so I swear. But tell me first how, so widely separated by seas and deserts, you all came to hear of Him.”
“I will tell you truly, O king.”
“Speak on,” said Herod.
Balthasar raised himself erect, and said, solemnly- “There is an Almighty God.”
Herod was visibly startled.
“He bade us come hither, promising that we should find the Redeemer of the World; that we should see and worship Him, and bear witness that He was come; and, as a sign, we were each given to see a star. His Spirit stayed with us. O king, His Spirit is with us now!”