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Herodias Gustave Flaubert

Chapter III

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During forty years he had exercised the functions of the public executioner. It was he that had drowned Aristobulus, strangled Alexander, burned Mattathias alive, beheaded Zozimus, Pappus, Josephus, and Antipater; but he dared not kill Iaokanann! His teeth chattered and his whole body trembled.

He declared that he had seen, standing before the dungeon, the Angel of the Samaritans, covered with eyes and brandishing a great sword, glowing and quivering like a flame. He appealed to two of the guards, who had entered the hall with him, to corroborate his words. But they said they had seen nothing except a Jewish captain who had attacked them, and whom they had killed.

The fury of Herodias poured forth in a torrent of invective against the populace. She clenched the railing of the balcony so fiercely as to break her nails; the two stone lions at her back seemed to bite her shoulders and join their voices to hers.

Antipas followed her example; and priests, soldiers, and Pharisees cried aloud together for vengeance, echoed by the rest of the gathering, who were indignant that a mere slave should dare to delay their pleasures.

Again Mannaeus left the hall, covering his face with his hands.

The guests found the second delay longer than the first. It seemed tedious to every one.

Presently a sound of footsteps was heard in the corridor without; then silence fell again. The suspense was becoming intolerable.

Suddenly the door was flung open and Mannaeus entered, holding at arm's length, grasping it by the hair, the head of Iaokanann. His appearance was greeted with a burst of applause, which filled him with pride and revived his courage.

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He placed the head upon a charger and offered it to Salome, who had descended the steps to receive it. She remounted to the balcony, with a light step; and in another moment the charger was carried about from one table to another by the elderly female slave whom the tetrarch had observed in the morning on the balcony of a neighbouring house, and later in the chamber of Herodias.

When she approached him with her ghastly burden, he turned away his head to avoid looking at it. Vitellius threw upon it an indifferent glance.

Mannaeus descended from the pavilion, took the charger from the woman, and exhibited the head to the Roman captains, then to all the guests on that side of the hall.

They looked at it curiously.

The sharp blade of the sword had cut into the jaw with a swift downward stroke. The corners of the mouth were drawn, as if by a convulsion. Clots of blood besprinkled the beard. The closed eyelids had a shell-like transparency, and the candelabra on every side lighted up the gruesome object with terrible distinctness.

Mannaeus arrived at the table where the priests were seated. One of them turned the charger about curiously, to look at the head from all sides. Then Mannaeus, having entirely regained his courage, placed the charger before Aulus, who had just awakened from a short doze; and finally he brought it again to Antipas and set it down upon the table beside him. Tears were running down the cheeks of the tetrarch.

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Gustave Flaubert

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