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white linen tunics these black-robed worshipers of fire.
Bowing in Oriental courtesy to the variegated pavement of mosaic work, “Tell us," exclaim the sages, “ye servants of God most high, where is he that is born KING OF THE JEWS, for we have seen his star in the East, and are come to worship him?"
Ah, what a moment! and what thrilling vibrations must have struck through every heart! A year ago, and Gabriel's voice had proclaimed within yonder consecrated recess the truth of his forerunning messenger ; but yesterday a maiden stood on yonder steps with a mysterious child, and the voices of hoary Simeon and of Anna proclaimed to all the presence of Israel's Redeemer and King; and now, in quick succession, comes upon the sacerdotal ear a testimony utterly unprecedented, of pagan astrologers, out of foreign climes, speaking of a star, demanding the Jewish monarch, and proffering homage!
Without attempting to conjecture the answer of the now rapidly assembling priesthood, nor their solemn communings with these heavensent guests, pass we at once to where, not far remote from the Temple, in the midst of sumptuous gardens and artificial bowers, a palace stands in lordly state.
Through the stern military guard that beset every approach, gliding unseen, we enter a spacious hall adorned with ivory, gems, and gold, upon whose vermilion-tinted walls hangs many a rare production of the Grecian pencil, and all whose splendid tapestries, cushions, and rich carpets bespeak the wealth of Ormus or of Ind.
Walking irregularly to and fro, we behold a man still of noble figure, though far past the meridian of life. His frame, though large, is agile, and so knit together as to be capable of great endurance. His tunic of Tyrian purple, and the ruby that blazes in his turban, disclose his princely rank. Upon his face passion has plowed deep furrows. In his malign eye sleeps a deadly ferocity, which, if but waked, might sparkle sulphurous fires. In the twisted lines of brow and lip lurk all the serpents of cunning; while upon the remaining features are stamped the tokens of a keenly voluptuous, sensitive soul. Every gesture rapid, every motion prompt, bespeak the soldier and the man of action. Finally, the large, protuberant, but not lofty brow, proclaims the shrewd thinker, the instinctive reader of mankind. And this is Herod the Great.
At the present moment some bodily pain or mental agony is on him, for he writhes as if in misery, and his brow is flushed. Is the shadow of impending doom dark upon his guilty soul ? Does not man's guilt, in ripening, grow prophetic? Or do pale shadows of his victims rise to haunt his solitude ? Perchance there come his murdered sons, a ghastly spectacle ; perchance the shade of the lovely Mariamne, once so dear, so madly done to death, so remorsefully remembered! Yea, perhaps she points at her slaughtered children, and beckons him with airy hand! And to these sad phantoms are addressed, perhaps, those harsh and incoherent ravings that seem uttered from the depths of his tortured being.
Softly the door revolves, and the crafty Antipater bends before him, veiling parricidal plottings beneath a cloak of profound dissimulation and filial-seeming reverence.
“Slave !" exclaims the tyrant, whom not even a kinsman can approach without eliciting sparks of native ferocity, “what makest thou here?"
Tidings, my lord, O king! tidings of the birth of the King of the Jews,” replies the son, with his blandest tones.
“ Ha! sayest thou ?” thunders the other, striding wrathfully toward him with a menacing gesture; but, suddenly checking himself,
his bearing alters, and in a tone of equal blandness he replies, “ Antipater, my son, wherefore this unseemly jesting? Rude boy, to vent thy merry humor on thine aged and indulgent sire !"
“ 'Tis no jest, my royal father,” replies the other, assuming a tone of earnest seriousness. “A band of Eastern sages, worshipers of the sacred fire, disciples of Zoroaster, are standing now in yonder temple, in close communing with those mitered hypocrites, demanding where is he that is born King of the Jews ?' and prating of a star which led them hither."
"Ha! is it even so ? And this new tale will spread among the populace like that of driveling Zacharias some twelve months since."
“My father," is the quick reply, “I hastened hither at the first word, and yet the marvel is proclaimed upon the house tops! Nay, I heard strange whisperings of a child that was brought thither only of yesterday, and of high prophesyings that were had upon him by some notorious fanatios. All Jerusalem is moved withal, and ringing from side to side !"
A pause ensues. Lost in deep thought, Herod stands motionless, his hand instinctively clutching the jeweled hilt of a poniard in his girdle.
“This may prove serious,” he exclaims, at
length, with calmness. “This new prodigy, with all their oracles, and rumors, and legends —this must needs be looked after."
“ The King Messiah, say the doctors of the law, shall be revealed in the land of Galilee,” responds the son, "and by a star in the East. When the Messiah shall be revealed, say they, there shall rise up in the East a certain star, flaming with various colors.”
“Ay ?” answers the king, inquiringly; "and this, then, is to be their sufficient warrant for rebellion and insurrection ?"
“ Such is the legend," rejoins Antipater. “ The plague, famine, and want must chastise the land; earthquakes shake down cities; Jerusalem herself—some gloomy seers go so far as to say-even the mountain of the house, shall become heaps; wars shall arise, universal revolt and rebellion ensue, and, finally, the son of David shall restore the kingdom to Israel, and the sleeping saints arise !"
“And are these sayings bruited abroad ??' inquires the monarch, gloomily.
“ By many,” is the reply, " they are boldly avowed, but most whisper them discreetly and cautiously in secret."
Another pause ensues, of deep deliberation. “Go,” the king at length replies, “gather to