On the 1st of March, in the year 213, the inhabitants of Nîmes were congregated near the fountain, all in holiday costume. Among them ran and laughed numerous young girls, all with wreaths of white hyacinths or of narcissus on their heads. Yet, jocund as the scene was, to such as looked closer there was observable an undercurrent of alarm that found expression in the faces of the older men and women of the throng, at least in those of such persons as had their daughters flower-crowned.
For this day was especially dedicated to the founder and patron of the town, who supplied it with water from his unfailing urn, and once in every seven years a human victim was offered in sacrifice to the god Nemausus, to ensure the continuance of his favour by a constant efflux of water, pure, cool, and salubrious.
The victim was chosen from among the daughters of the old Gaulish families of the town, and was selected from among girls between the ages of seven and seventeen. None knew which would be chosen and which rejected. The selection was not made by either priest or priestess attached to the temple. Nor was it made by the magistrates. Chance or destiny alone determined who was to be chosen out of the forty-nine who appeared before the god.
When the priests and priestesses drew up in lines between the people and the fountain, the ædile of tile city standing forth, read out from a roll the names of seven times seven maidens; and as each name was called, a white-robed flower-crowned child fluttered from among the crowd and was received by the priestly band.
When all forty-nine were gathered together, they were formed into a ring, holding hands, and round this ring passed the bearers of the silver image of the god. As they did so, suddenly a golden apple held by the god fell and touched a graceful girl who stood in the ring.
“Come forth, Lucilla,” said the chief-priestess. “Speak thou the words. Begin.”
Then the damsel loosed her hands from those she held, stepped into the midst of the circle, and raised the golden pippin. At once the entire ring of children began to revolve like a dance of white butterflies in early spring;