Vergilius had thought wisely of his temptation. Fate rules them only who are too weak to rule themselves, and the great leash of fate is the power of evil women. It was now to hasten the current of history in the old capital.
Salome sat with Manius in the great picture-room of her mother's palace. Guests had left the banquet-hall and gone to their homes. It was near the middle hour of the night and Herod's daughter was alone with the young assessor of Augustus.
|You shall choose,| said she, |between the daughter and the son of Herod. My brother hates me, and I fear him. When he is king, what, think you, would happen to the husband of Salome, and what to her? I should have to train my tongue to praise him and my knees to bend. I should need to bow my head for fear of losing it. Know you not of Alexander and Aristobulus and the dear, beloved Mariamne -- how they died? You -- poor fool! -- you would be lucky if he made you master of the stables!|
|But he has promised -- |
|Promised! If you care to live a day after he is king remind him not of his promises.|
|Think you Antipater would dare to take my life? I am an officer of Augustus.|
|Oh, beautiful boy!| she laughed. |He would be no toy of Caesar. He dreams of conquest. He will gather an army in Judea, Parthia, and Arabia. He will attack Caesar, and Caesar is growing old. Do you not know it is long since Actium?|
Alarm had risen to the eyes of the young Roman, his lips were now trembling. |What is your plan?| he whispered.
|Betray the council,| said she. |Tell the king and write to Caesar about it. So you will prove your faithfulness and devotion. Loving Caesar, you have been a spy self-appointed. Antipater shall be put to death, and we -- we shall have honor and glory and, maybe, a palace of many towers.|
She put her arms about his neck and gave him a look whose meaning he understood.
|By all the gods! you are worthy to be the wife as well as the daughter of a king,| he whispered, his cheeks red with enthusiasm. |But they will think me a poor spy if I give not the names of the conspirators, and how may I?|
|But the God-fearing fool, Vergilius -- you know he is of them?|
|I am sure -- I heard his voice, but I have not seen him.|
|You shall see him,| said she, with rising fury in her eyes; |and I shall see him| -- she paused, her hands clinched, her tongue sorting hot words -- |melting in fire,| she added, fiercely. She clapped her hands; she leaned forward, her body shaking with a silent, horrible laughter of the spirit.
A moment she seemed to dwell upon the awful picture. Then, turning to Manius; |Give the password to my father and let him go and listen. I promise you their names shall not be long a secret. He must hear all. Give him plans of that chamber so he may guard the exits.|
|I will do my part, dear and wonderful daughter of Herod! To-morrow I shall begin the good work.| So saying the Roman embraced Salome and spoke his farewell.
Having left her, he went to his own palace and sat awhile pondering.
|But if Herod is there,| said he to himself, |and the soldiers come in with lights and the council members see me, they will learn that I have betrayed them. And some may be there who know of my part in other enterprises. By showing proof -- Jupiter! they would bring confusion or death upon me. I must not be there, and yet -- and yet I must. They wait for the shrill voice to declare the fulness of time. Unless I be there the king may be no wiser for his coming. I will go, but I will not tell Herod of the long way underground to the street of tombs. I will announce the fulness of time and quit the council before its proclamation is made. Then the old lion may spring his trap, and who, save Ben Joreb, will know that I ever sat with traitors. And as for the priest, I shall warn him. I know that he is weary of Antipater and will take a share in the new enterprise.|