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be seen advancing with the air of an empress, in the midst of a group
of women and eunuchs carrying perfumed torches set in sockets of
silver-gilt.

The proconsul advanced three steps to meet her. She saluted him with an
inclination of her head.

"How fortunate," she exclaimed, "that henceforth Agrippa, the enemy of
Tiberius, can work harm no longer!"

Vitellius did not understand her allusion, but he thought her a
dangerous woman. Antipas immediately declared that he was ready to do
anything for the emperor.

"Even to the injury of others?" Vitellius asked, significantly.

He had taken hostages from the king of the Parthians, but the emperor
had given no further thought to the matter, because Antipas, who had
been present at the conference, had, in order to gain favour, sent off
despatches bearing the news. From that time he had borne a profound
hatred towards the emperor and had delayed in sending assistance to him.

The tetrarch stammered in attempting to reply to the query of the
proconsul. But Aulus laughed and said: "Do not be disturbed. I will
protect thee!"

The proconsul feigned not to hear this remark. The fortune of the father
depended, in a way, on the corrupt influence of the son; and through him
it was possible that Antipas might be able to procure for the proconsul
very substantial benefits, although the glances that he cast about him
were defiant, and even venomous.

But now a new tumult arose just within the gates. A file of white mules
entered the courtyard, mounted by men in priestly garb. These were the
Sadducees and the Pharisees, who were drawn to Machaerus by the same
ambition: the one party hoping to be appointed public sacrificers,
the other determined to retain those offices. Their faces were dark,
particularly those of the Pharisees, who were enemies of Rome and of the
tetrarch. The flowing skirts of their tunics embarrassed their movements
as they attempted to pass through the throng; and their tiaras sat
unsteadily upon their brows, around which were bound small bands of
parchment, showing lines of writing.

Almost at the same moment, the soldiers of the advance guard arrived.
Cloth coverings had been drawn over their glittering shields to
protect them from the dust. Behind them came Marcellus, the proconsul's
lieutenant, followed by the publicans, carrying their tablets of wood
under their arms.

Antipas named to Vitellius the principle personages surrounding them:
Tolmai, Kanthera, Schon, Ammonius of Alexandria, who brought asphalt for
Antipas; Naaman, captain of his troops of skirmishers, and Jacim, the
Babylonian.

Vitellius had noticed Mannaeus.

"Who is that man?" he inquired.

The tetrarch by a significant gesture indicated that Mannaeus was the
executioner. He then presented the Sadducees to the proconsul's notice.

Jonathas, a man of low stature, who spoke Greek, advanced with a firm
step and begged that the great lord would honour Jerusalem with a visit.
Vitellius replied that he should probably go to Jerusalem soon.

Eleazar, who had a crooked nose and a long beard, put forth a claim, in
behalf of the Pharisees, for the mantle of the high priest, held in the
tower of Antonia by the civil authorities.

Then the Galileans came forward and denounced Pontius Pilate. On one
occasion, they said, a mad-man went seeking in a cave near Samaria for
the golden vases that had belonged to King David, and Pontius Pilate
had caused several inhabitants of that region to be executed. In their
excitement all the Galileans spoke at once, Mannaeus's voice being heard
above all others. Vitellius promised that the guilty ones should be
punished.

Fresh vociferations now broke out in front of the great gates, where
the soldiers had hung their shields. Their coverings having now been
removed, on each shield a carving of the head of Caesar could be seen
on the umbo, or central knob. To the Jews, this seemed an evidence of
nothing short of idolatry. Antipas harangued them, while Vitellius,
who occupied a raised seat within the shadow of the colonnade, was
astonished at their fury. Tiberius had done well, he thought, to exile
four hundred of these people to Sardinia. Presently the Jews became so
violent that he ordered the shields to be removed.

Then the multitude surrounded the proconsul, imploring him to abolish
certain unjust laws, asking for privileges, or begging for alms. They
rent their clothing and jostled one another; and at last, in order to
drive them back, several slaves, armed with long staves, charged upon
them, striking right and left. Those nearest the gates made their escape
and descended to the road; others rushed in to take their place, so that
two streams of human beings flowed in and out, compressed within the
limits of the gateway.

Vitellius demanded the reason for the assembling of so great a throng.
Antipas explained that they had been invited to come to a feast in
celebration of his birthday; and he pointed to several men who, leaning
against the battlements, were hauling up immense basket-loads of food,
fruits, vegetables, antelopes, and storks; large fish, of a brilliant
shade of blue; grapes, melons, and pyramids of pomegranates. At this
sight, Aulus left the courtyard and hastened to the kitchens, led by his
taste for gormandizing, which later became the amazement of the world.

As they passed the opening to a small cellar, Vitellius perceived some
objects resembling breast-plates hanging on a wall. He looked at them
with interest, and then demanded that the subterranean chambers of the
fortress be thrown open for his inspection. These chambers were cut into
the rocky foundation of the castle, and had been formed into vaults,
with pillars set at regular distances. The first vault opened contained
old armour; the second was full of pikes, with long points emerging from
tufts of feathers. The walls of the third chamber were hung with a kind
of tapestry made of slender reeds, laid in perpendicular rows. Those of
the fourth were covered with scimitars. In the middle of the fifth cell,
rows of helmets were seen, the crests of which looked like a battalion
of fiery serpents. The sixth cell contained nothing but empty quivers;
the seventh, greaves for protecting the legs in battle; the eighth
vault was filled with bracelets and armlets; and an examination of the
remaining vaults disclosed forks, grappling-irons, ladders, cords, even
catapults, and bells for the necks of camels; and as they descended
deeper into the rocky foundation, it became evident that the whole mass
was a veritable honeycomb of cells, and that below those already seen
were many others.

Vitellius, Phineas, his interpreter, and Sisenna, chief of the
publicans, walked among these gloomy cells, attended by three eunuchs
bearing torches.

In the deep shadows hideous instruments, invented by barbarians, could
be seen: tomahawks studded with nails; poisoned javelins; pincers
resembling the jaws of crocodiles; in short, the tetrarch possessed in
his castle munitions of war sufficient for forty thousand men.

He had accumulated these weapons in anticipation of an alliance against
him among his enemies. But he bethought him that the proconsul might
believe, or assert, that he had collected this armoury in order to
attack the Romans; so he hastened to offer explanations of all that
Vitellius had observed.

Some of these things did not belong to him at all, he said: many of
them were necessary to defend the place against brigands and marauders,
especially the Arabs. Many of the objects in the vault had been the
property of his father, and he had allowed them to remain untouched. As
he spoke, he managed to get in advance of the proconsul and preceded
him along the corridors with rapid steps. Presently he halted and stood
close against the wall as the party came up; he spoke quickly, standing
with his hands on his hips, so that his voluminous mantle covered a wide
space of the wall behind him. But just above his head the top of a door
was visible. Vitellius remarked it instantly, and demanded to know what
it concealed.

The tetrarch explained that the door was fastened, and that none could
open it save the Babylonian, Jacim.

"Summon him, then!" was the command.

A slave was sent to find Jacim, while the group awaited his coming.

The father of Jacim had come from the banks of the Euphrates to offer
his services, as well as those of five hundred horsemen, in the defence
of the eastern frontier. After the division of the kingdom, Jacim had
lived for a time with Philip, and was now in the service of Antipas.

Presently he appeared among the vaults, carrying an archer's bow on
his shoulder and a whip in his hand. Cords of many colours were lashed
tightly about his knotted legs; his massive arms were thrust through a
sleeveless tunic, and a fur cap shaded his face. His chin was covered
with a heavy, curling beard.

He appeared not to comprehend what the interpreter said to him at first.
But Vitellius threw a meaning glance at Antipas, who quickly made the
Babylonian understand the command of the proconsul. Jacim immediately
laid both his hands against the door, giving it a powerful shove;
whereupon it quietly slid out of sight into the wall.

A wave of hot air surged from the depths of the cavern. A winding path
descended and turned abruptly. The group followed it, and soon arrived
at the threshold of a kind of grotto, somewhat larger than the other
subterranean cells.

An arched window at the back of this chamber gave directly upon
a precipice, which formed a defence for one side of the castle. A
honeysuckle vine, cramped by the low-studded ceiling, blossomed bravely.
The sound of a running stream could be heard distinctly. In this place
was a great number of beautiful white horses, perhaps a hundred. They
were eating barley from a plank placed on a level with their mouths.
Their manes had been coloured a deep blue; their hoofs were wrapped in
coverings of woven grass, and the hair between their ears was puffed out
like a peruke. As they stood quietly eating, they switched their tails
gently to and fro. The proconsul regarded them in silent admiration.

They were indeed wonderful animals; supple as serpents, light as birds.
They were trained to gallop rapidly, following the arrow of the rider,
and dash into the midst of a group of the enemy, overturning men and
biting them savagely as they fell. They were sure-footed among rocky
passes, and would jump fearlessly over yawning chasms; and, while ready
to gallop across the plains a whole day without tiring, they would stop
instantly at the command of the rider.

As soon as Jacim entered their quarters, they trotted up to him, as
sheep crowd around the shepherd; and, thrusting forward their sleek
necks, they looked at him with a gaze like that of inquiring children.
From force of habit, he emitted a raucous cry, which excited them; they
pranced about, impatient at their confinement and longing to run.

Antipas, fearing that if Vitellius knew of the existence of these
creatures, he would take them away, had shut them up in this place, made
especially to accommodate animals in case of siege.

"This close confinement cannot be good for them," said Vitellius, "and
there is a risk of losing them by keeping them here. Make an inventory
of their number, Sisenna."

The publican drew a writing-tablet from the folds of his robe, counted
the horses, and recorded the number carefully.

It was the habit of the agents of the fiscal companies to corrupt the
governors in order to pillage the provinces. Sisenna was among the most
flourishing of these agents, and was seen everywhere with his claw-like
fingers and his eyelids continually blinking.

After a time the party returned to the court. Heavy, round bronze lids,
sunk in the stones of the pavement, covered the cisterns of the palace.
Vitellius noticed that one of these was larger than the others, and that
when struck by his foot it had not their sonority. He struck them all,
one after another; then stamped upon the ground and shouted:

"I have found it! I have found the buried treasure of Herod!"

Searching for buried treasure was a veritable mania among the Romans.

The tetrarch swore that no treasure was hidden in that spot.

"What is concealed there, then?" the proconsul demanded.

"Nothing - that is, only a man - a prisoner."

"Show him to me!"

The tetrarch hesitated to obey, fearing that the Jews would discover his
secret. His reluctance to lift the cover made Vitellius impatient.

"Break it in!" he cried to his lictors. Mannaeus heard the command, and,
seeing a lictor step forward armed with a hatchet, he feared that the
man intended to behead Iaokanann. He stayed the hand of the lictor after
the first blow, and then slipped between the heavy lid and the pavement
a kind of hook. He braced his long, lean arms, raised the cover slowly,
and in a moment it lay flat upon the stones. The bystanders admired the
strength of the old man.

Under the bronze lid was a wooden trap-door of the same size. At a blow
of the fist it folded back, allowing a wide hole to be seen, the mouth
of an immense pit, with a flight of winding steps leading down into the
darkness. Those that bent over to peer into the cavern beheld a vague
and terrifying shape in its depths.

This proved to be a human being, lying on the ground. His long locks
hung over a camel's-hair robe that covered his shoulders. Slowly he rose
to his feet. His head touched a grating embedded in the wall; and as
he moved about he disappeared, from time to time, in the shadows of his
dungeon.

The rich tiaras of the Romans sparkled brilliantly in the sunlight, and
their glittering sword-hilts threw out glancing golden rays. The doves,
flying from their cotes, circled above the heads of the multitude.
It was the hour when Mannaeus was accustomed to feed them. But now he
crouched beside the tetrarch, who stood near Vitellius. The Galileans,
the priests, and the soldiers formed a group behind them; all were
silent, waiting with painful anticipation for what might happen.

A deep groan, hollow and startling, rose from the pit.

Herodias heard it from the farther end of the palace. Drawn by an
irresistible though terrible fascination, she made her way through the
throng, and, reaching Mannaeus, she leant one hand on his shoulder and
bent over to listen.

The hollow voice rose again from the depths of the earth.

"Woe to thee, Sadducees and Pharisees! Thy voices are like the tinkling
of cymbals! O race of vipers, bursting with pride!"

The voice of Iaokanann was recognised. His name was whispered about.
Spectators from a distance pressed closer to the open pit.

"Woe to thee, O people! Woe to the traitors of Judah, and to the
drunkards of Ephraim, who dwelt in the fertile valleys and stagger with
the fumes of wine!

"May they disappear like running water; like the slug that sinks into
the sand as it moves; like an abortion that never sees the light!

"And thou too, Moab! hide thyself in the midst of the cypress, like the
sparrow; in caverns, like the wild hare! The gates of the fortress shall
be crushed more easily than nut-shells; the walls shall crumble; cities
shall burn; and the scourge of God shall not cease! He shall cause your
bodies to be bathed in your own blood, like wool in the dyer's vat. He
shall rend you, as with a harrow; He shall scatter the remains of your
bodies from the tops of the mountains!"

Of which conqueror was he speaking? Was it Vitellius? Only the Romans
could bring about such an extermination. The people began to cry out:
"Enough! enough! let him speak no more!"

But the prisoner continued in louder tones:

"Beside the corpses of their mothers, thy little ones shall drag
themselves over the ashes of the burned cities. At night men will creep
from their hiding-places to seek a bit of food among the ruins, even at
the risk of being cut down with the sword. Jackals shall pick thy bones
in the public places, where at eventide the fathers were wont to gather.
At the bidding of Gentiles, thy maidens shall be forced to cease their
lamentations and to make music upon the zither, and the bravest of thy
sons shall learn to bend their backs, chafed with heavy burdens."

The listeners remembered the days of exile, and all the misfortunes and
catastrophes of the past. These words were like the anathemas of the
ancient prophets. The captive thundered them forth like bolts from
heaven.

Presently his voice became almost as sweet and harmonious as if he
were uttering a chant. He spoke of the world's redemption from sin
and sorrow; of the glories of heaven; of gold in place of clay; of the
desert blossoming like the rose. "That which is now worth sixty pieces
of silver will not cost a single obol. Fountains of milk shall spring
from the rocks; men shall sleep, well satisfied, among the wine-presses.
The people shall prostrate themselves before Thee, and Thy reign shall
be eternal, O Son of David!"

The tetrarch suddenly recoiled from the opening of the pit; the mention
of the existence of a son of David seemed to him like a menace to
himself.

Iaokanann then poured forth invectives against him for presuming to
aspire to royalty.

"There is no other king than the Eternal God!" he cried; and he cursed
Antipas for his luxurious gardens, his statues, his furniture of carved
ivory and precious woods, comparing him to the impious Ahab.

Antipas broke the slender cord attached to the royal seal that he wore
around his neck, and throwing the seal into the pit, he commanded his
prisoner to be silent.

But Iaokanann replied: "I shall cry aloud like a savage bear, like the
wild ass, like a woman in travail! The punishment of heaven has already
visited itself upon thy incest! May God inflict thee with the sterility
of mules!"

At these words, a sound of suppressed laughter arose here and there
among the listeners.

Vitellius had remained close to the opening of the dungeon while
Iaokanann was speaking. His interpreter, in impassive tones, translated
into the Roman tongue all the threats and invectives that rolled up
from the depths of the gloomy prison. The tetrarch and Herodias felt
compelled to remain near at hand. Antipas listened, breathing heavily;
while the woman, with parted lips, gazed into the darkness of the pit,
her face drawn with an expression of fear and hatred.

The terrible man now turned towards her. He grasped the bars of his
prison, pressed against them his bearded face, in which his eyes glowed
like burning coals, and cried:

"Ah! Is it thou, Jezebel? Thou hast captured thy lord's heart with the
tinkling of thy feet. Thou didst neigh to him like a mare. Thou
didst prepare thy bed on the mountain top, in order to accomplish thy
sacrifices!

"The Lord shall take from thee thy sparkling jewels, thy purple robes
and fine linen; the bracelets from thine arms, the anklets from thy
feet; the golden ornaments that dangle upon thy brow, thy mirrors of
polished silver, thy fans of ostrich plumes, thy shoes with their heels
of mother-of-pearl, that serve to increase thy stature; thy glittering
diamonds, the scent of thy hair, the tint of thy nails, - all the
artifices of thy coquetry shall disappear, and missiles shall be found
wherewith to stone the adulteress!"

Herodias looked around for some one to defend her. The Pharisees lowered
their eyes hypocritically. The Sadducees turned away their heads,
fearing to offend the proconsul should they appear to sympathise with
her. Antipas was almost in a swoon.

Louder still rose the voice from the dungeon; the neighbouring hills
gave back an echo with startling effect, and Machaerus seemed actually
surrounded and showered with curses.

"Prostrate thyself in the dust, daughter of Babylon, and scourge
thyself! Remove thy girdle and thy shoes, gather up thy garments and
walk through the flowing stream; thy shame shall follow thee, thy
disgrace shall be known to all men, thy bosom shall be rent with sobs.
God execrates the stench of thy crimes! Accursed one! die like a dog!"

At that instant the trap-door was suddenly shut down and secured by
Mannaeus, who would have liked to strangle Iaokanann then and there.

Herodias glided away and disappeared within the palace. The Pharisees
were scandalised at what they had heard. Antipas, standing among
them, attempted to justify his past conduct and to excuse his present
situation.

"Without doubt," said Eleazar, "it was necessary for him to marry his
brother's wife; but Herodias was not a widow, and besides, she had a
child, which she abandoned; and that was an abomination."

"You are wrong," objected Jonathas the Sadducee; "the law condemns such
marriages but does not actually forbid them."

"What matters it? All the world shows me injustice," said Antipas,
bitterly; "and why? Did not Absalom lie with his father's wives, Judah
with his daughter-in-law, Ammon with his sister, and Lot with his
daughters?"

Aulus, who had been reposing within the palace, now reappeared in the
court. After he had heard how matters stood, he approved of the attitude
of the tetrarch. "A man should never allow himself to be annoyed," said
he, "by such foolish criticism." And he laughed at the censure of the
priests and the fury of Iaokanann, saying that his words were of little
importance.

Herodias, who also had reappeared, and now stood at the top of a flight
of steps, called loudly:

"You are wrong, my lord! He ordered the people to refuse to pay the
tax!"

"Is that true?" he demanded. The general response was affirmative,
Antipas adding his word to the declaration of the others.

Vitellius had a misgiving that the prisoner might be able to escape;
and as the conduct of Antipas appeared to him rather suspicious, he
established his own sentinels at the gates, at intervals along the
walls, and in the courtyard itself.

At last he retired to the apartments assigned to him, accompanied by
the priests. Without touching directly upon the question of the coveted
offices of public sacrificers, each one laid his own grievances before
the proconsul. They fairly beset him with complaints and requests, but
he soon dismissed them from his presence.

As Jonathas left the proconsul's apartments he perceived Antipas
standing under an arch, talking to an Essene, who wore a long white robe
and flowing locks. Jonathas regretted that he had raised his voice in
defence of the tetrarch.

One thought now consoled Herod-Antipas. He was no longer personally
responsible for the fate of Iaokanann. The Romans had assumed that
charge. What a relief! He had noticed Phanuel pacing slowly through
the court, and calling him to his side, he pointed put the guards
established by Vitellius, saying:

"They are stronger than I! I cannot now set the prisoner free! It is not
my fault if he remains in his dungeon."

The courtyard was empty. The slaves were sleeping. The day was drawing
to a close, and the sunset spread a deep rosy glow over the horizon,
against which the smallest objects stood out like silhouettes. Antipas
was able to distinguish the excavations of the salt-mines at the farther
end of the Dead Sea, but the tents of the Arabs were no longer visible.
As the moon rose, the effect of the day's excitement passed away, and a
feeling of peace entered his heart.

Phanuel, also wearied by the recent agitating scenes, remained beside
the tetrarch. He sat in silence for some time, his chin resting on his
breast. At last he spoke in confidence to Antipas, and revealed what he
had wished to say.

From the beginning of the month, he said, he had been studying the
heavens every morning before daybreak, when the constellation of Perseus
was at the zenith; Agalah was scarcely visible; Algol was even less
bright; Mira-Cetus had disappeared entirely; from all of which he
augured the death of some man of great importance, to occur that very
night in Machaerus.

Who was the man? Vitellius was too closely guarded to be reached. No one
would kill Iaokanann.

"It is I!" thought the tetrarch.

It might be that the Arabs would return and make a successful attack
upon him. Perhaps the proconsul would discover his relations with the
Parthians. Several men whom Antipas had recognised as hired assassins
from Jerusalem, had escorted the priests in the train of the proconsul;
they all carried daggers concealed beneath their robes. The tetrarch had
no doubt whatever of the exactness of Phanuel's skill in astrology.

Suddenly he bethought him of Herodias. He would consult her. He hated
her, certainly, but she might give him courage; and besides, in spite


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Online LibraryGustave FlaubertHerodias → online text (page 2 of 4)