Julian's face blackened. A foolhardy daring born of rage resolved him at that instant. He flung himself out from his saddle and raised his hand with a knife clenched in it. But the Maccabee with a composed laugh caught the hand and wrenching it about, dropped it, red and contracting with pain, at his companion's side.
"Tut! Julian, you are a bad combatant. If you must make way with a man," the Maccabee advised, "stab him in the back. It is sure—for you. Ha! Is this Emmaus we see?"
They had ridden up a slight eminence and below them was a disorder of fallen or decrepit Syrian huts in the hollow place in the hills.
It had been the history of Emmaus for centuries to be known. The feet of the Crucified One had pressed its ruined streets and His devoted chroniclers had not failed to set it down in their illuminated gospels. Army after army in endless procession had thundered through it since the first invader humbled the glory of Canaan, and few of the historians had forgotten to record the unimportant incident. Warfare had hurtled about it for centuries; the Roman army had come upon it and would continue to come. It had not the spirit to resist; it was not worthy of conquest. It simply stood in the path of events.
A single citizen appeared at the doorway of the most habitable house and looked absently over the heads of the new-comers. As they approached, the villager did not observe them. Instead, he looked at the near horizon lifted on the shoulder of the hills and meditated on the signs of the weather. It was Emmaus' habit to find strangers at its door.
Julian, with natural desire to be first on this perilous ground and away from the side of the man who had defeated him and laughed at him, rode up to the door. The villager, seeing the traveler stop, gazed at him.
Julian had about him an air of blood and breeding first to be remarked even before his features. The grace of his bearing and the excellence of his bodily condition were highly aristocratic. His height was good, his figure modestly athletic as an observance of fine form rather than a preparation for the arena. He was simply dressed in a light blue woolen tunic. A handkerchief was bound about his head. His forehead was very white and half hidden by loose, curling black locks that escaped with boyish negligence from his head-dress. His eyes were black, his cheeks tanned but colorless, his mouth mirthful and red but hard in its outlines. Clean-shaven, lithe, supple, he did not appear to be more than twenty-two. But there was an even-tempered cynicism and sophistication in the half-droop of his level lids, indifference, hauteur and self-reliance in the uplift of his chin. His soul was therefore older, more seasoned and set than the frame that housed it. Now there was considerable agitation in his manner, enough to make him sharp in his speech to the villager.
"Is there a khan in Emmaus?" he demanded.
"There is," the villager responded calmly.
The citizen motioned toward a low-roofed rambling structure of stone picked up on the native hills.
"Ask there," he said and passing out of his door went his way.
Julian touched his horse and rode through the worn passage and into the court of the decrepit khan of Emmaus. The Maccabee followed.
The Syrian host who was both waiter and hostler met Julian entering first.
"Quick!" Julian said, leaning from his horse. "Is there a young man here with gray temples? A pagan?"
The Syrian, attracted by the anxiety in the demand, followed a train of surmise before his answer.
"No pagans, here. Naught but Jews," he observed finally.
"Or a young woman of wealth? Quick!"
"No wealth at all; but plenty of women. The Passover pilgrims."
Julian heaved a sigh of relief and dismounted. The Maccabee rode into the court of the khan at that instant.
The khan-keeper took their horses and a little later the two men were led into the single cobwebby chamber, low-ceiled, gloomy, cold and cheerless as a cave. There they were given food and afterward a corner of the hall where a straw pallet had been laid and a stone trough filled with water for a bath. After refreshing himself the Maccabee lay down and slept with supreme indifference to the rancor of the man who had attempted to kill him.
But Julian had another idea than pressing his vengeful advantage at that time. He went out into Emmaus and engaging the unemployed of the thriftless town sent them broadcast into the hills in search of a pagan who was young, yet gray at the temples.
Some of them went—and they were chiefly boys who were not old enough to know that these strangers who come in pagan guise to Emmaus are full of guile. But none returned to him. They had neither seen nor heard of a pagan who was young though the white hair of an old man snowed on his temples.
So Julian storming within went out into the hills himself, to search.
Meanwhile the Maccabee, a light sleeper and readily restored, awoke and found himself alone. The khan-keeper informed him on inquiry that Julian had ridden away.
"Too fair a hope to think that he has deserted me," the Maccabee observed. "I shall await him a decent time. He will return."
He tramped about the chamber waiting for something that was not Julian, intending to do something but unable to define that thing. There was a vague admission that this last pause before his entry into Jerusalem where he must accomplish so much was an opportunity for some sort of preparation, but he lacked direction and resource. He was irritable and purposeless.
Out of the low door that opened into the lewen of the khan he caught glimpses of the town spread over the tilt of the hill before him. It had become active since he had looked upon it in the very early hours of the day. Over the gate he could see the toss of canopies and the heads of camels passing; he could hear the ring of mule-hooves on the stones and the tramp of wayfarers. There were shoutings and debate; the cries of servants and the gossip of parties. All this moved on always in the direction of Jerusalem. Few paused. The single shop in Emmaus became active; the khan caught a little of the drift, but the great body of what seemed to be an unending stream of pilgrims passed on. The Maccabee spoke to his host.
"What is this?" he asked.
The publican raised his brows.
"Hast never heard of the Passover?" he asked.
The Maccabee started. How far he had drifted from the customs of his people, to fail to remember its vital feast—he who meant to be king over the Jews!
He turned away a little abashed. The train of thought awakened by the khan-keeper's answer led him back to the hieratic customs of his race. What was his status as a Jew after all these years of delinquency? What atonement did he owe, what offering should he make?
He went out over the cobbled pavement of the lewen to the gate. Here he should see part of his people and learn from simple observation what material he would have in his work for Israel.
From his memories of the old Passovers of his boyhood, he saw instantly that there had come a change over Judea and the worshiping sons of Abraham.
They went in bodies, in numbers from a handful from some remote but pious hamlet to great armies from the leveled cities of Joppa, Ptolemais and Anthedon, from Caesarea and Tyre and Sidon, from the enthusiastic towns in Galilee, and even from far-off Antioch and Ephesus. They were not fewer in number, because of a year of warfare and the menace of an approaching army upon the city in which they were to take refuge. But there were more—double, even triple the number that usually went up to Jerusalem at this time. For of the millions of inhabitants in Judea in the unhappy year of 70 A.D., a third of them were plundered and homeless refugees from ruined cities. Therefore, instead of the armies of men, happy, hopeful and enthusiastic, who had journeyed in former years to Jerusalem, there passed before the Maccabee a mixed multitude of men and women and children. Thousands carried with them all that warfare had left to them—pitiful parcels of treasure or household goods, or extra clothing; other thousands bore nothing in their hands, and by the wear in their garments and the hunger in their faces, it seemed that they owned nothing to carry.
The Maccabee noted finally the entire absence of the travelers who fared in state. Not in all that long procession that wound up the stony passage from the west, did he see a single Sadducee. There went mobs of laborers and farmers, tradesmen, servants and small merchants, but the Jewish friends of Rome that had once made part of the Passover pilgrimage a royal progress were nowhere to be seen. Under the vast, vivid blue of the mountain skies they moved, indifferent to the splendid benevolence of the untroubled day. The pure wind swept in from the radiance in the east, flinging out multi-colored garments and scarves, rushing with its bracing chill without obstruction through even the compactest mass of wayfarers. The cedars on the hills about the little town whistled continuously and at times some extremely narrow defile with an uninterrupted draft would take voice and cry humanly. But there was no responsive exhilaration to the vigor of morning on a mountain-top. The great ever-growing migration was dark, dangerous and moody.
Somewhere beyond the highest of the blue hills to the east, the white walls of the city of David were receiving all this. Somewhere to the west the four brassy legions of Titus were marching down upon all this. About the Maccabee were assembling all the circumstances that govern a tremendous struggle. Eagerness, earnestness, all the strength and resolution of his strong and resolute nature surged into his soul. It was his hour. It should find him prepared.
He turned out of the gate and crowding along by the stone wall to pass in the opposite direction from the flood of pilgrims pouring through Emmaus, he searched for the synagogue of the little town.
He came upon it, a solid square building of stone with an Egyptic facade and an architrave carved with a great stone flower set in an olive wreath. Without was the proseuchae, paved with boulders now worn smooth by the summer sittings of the congregation who gathered around the reader's stone. The Maccabee stopped at the gate and unlacing his pagan sandals set them outside the threshold.
Once over the stone sill with the imminent gloom covering him, he felt the old sanctity envelop him with a reproach in its forgotten familiarity. Old incense, old litanies, old rites rushed back to him with the smell of the stagnant fragrance. He heard again from the farther depths of the dark interior the musical monotone of a rabbi reciting a ritual. The voice was young and low. Presently he heard the responses spoken in a woman's voice, so tender, so soft and so sad that he sensed instantly the meaning of the sympathy in the young priest's voice. Out of the incense-laden dusk he found old custom stealing back upon him. His lips anticipated words unreadily; gladly he realized that he could say these formulas, also; he had not forgotten; he had not forgotten!
In this little synagogue in a poor town there were no privacies; communicants had to depend on the courtesy of their fellows for uninterrupted devotion. The wanderer had not forgotten this. So he effaced himself in the darkness and awaited his own turn.
He hardly knew why he had come. For what should he ask—forgiveness or for the hope of the King who was to come? What should he do—make atonement or promises; give an offering or ask encouragement? He did not doubt for an instant that he had done wisely in seeking the synagogue, but what had he for it, or what had it for him?
Meanwhile the voice of the priest, disembodied in the gloom, had put off its ritualistic tone and was delivering a charge:
"Since you are in haste to reach Jerusalem, you may depart, so that you will give me your word that you will in all faith abide upon the road seven days; and that at the end of the separation you will present yourselves for examination and cleansing at Jerusalem, and that you will in nowise transgress the law of separation on the journey hence."
The Maccabee heard the woman give her word. After a little further communication, he heard them move toward the entrance.
The white light from the day without revealed to him in a few steps, a veiled woman, a deformed old man and a young rabbi. He did not need to take the evidence of her dress or of her companion to recognize under this veil the girl whom he had won from Julian of Ephesus, in the hills, that very morning.
As if in response to his inner hope that she would see him, she raised her eyes at the moment she passed, and started quickly. Even under the shelter of her veil he saw her flush.
The next instant she was out of the synagogue and gone.
The Maccabee hesitated restlessly, forgot his mission to the synagogue and then, with no definite purpose, followed.
At the edge of town, where the huddle of huts left off and the gravel and rock and cedar began, he saw the priest dismiss the pair with his blessing and turn back.
Undecided, restless and regretful, the Maccabee lingered, looking after her as she went into the hills, unattended, except for an anomalous old man. The sun of noon shone on her silver dress that the dust of the wayside had not tarnished. He was gloomy and wistful without understanding his discomfort, and afraid for the beautiful unknown going out for seven days into the unfriendly wilderness.
There was the click of a horse's hoof beside him. He glanced up with a nervous start to see Julian of Ephesus, scowling, at hand.
"It is time," he said, "for us to be off."
The Maccabee instantly determined that Julian of Ephesus should not come up with this defenseless girl again.
"I am not ready," he returned promptly.
"It was three days, this morning, that you have lost. To-morrow it will be four."
"And Sabbath, it will be seven. A long time, a long time!"
The Maccabee turned and went back to the khan. A gap in the hills had hidden the girl in the silver tissue, and the blitheness of the Maccabee's spirit had gone with her.
BY THE WAYSIDE
By sunset, the Maccabee and Julian of Ephesus had taken the road to Jerusalem again.
As they reached the crest of a series of ridges there lay before them a long gentle slope smooth and dun-colored as some soft pelt, dropping down into a tender vale with levels of purple vapor hanging over it. At the end of this declivity, leagues in length, was a faint blue shape, cloudlike and almost merged with the cold color of the eastern horizon, but suddenly developing at its summit a delicate white peak. The sunset reaching it as they rode changed the point to a pinnacle of ruby before their eyes. Their shadows that had ridden before them merged with the shade over the world. Then with a soft, whispery, ghost-like intaking of the breath, a quantity of sand on the straight road before them got up under their horses' feet and moved away to another spot and dropped again with a peppering sound and was dead moveless earth again. The little breath of wind from under the edge of the sky had fallen.
In the silence between the muffled beat of hooves the Maccabee heard at his ears the quick lively throb of a busy pump. With it went the firm rush of a subdued stream. He was hearing his own heart-beat, his own life flowing through his veins. Since nature in him had hurried him out of the synagogue after its own desire, he seemed to have become primitive, conscious of the human creature in him. Now, though he rode through a bewitching air through an enchanted land, he did not ride in a dream. All his being was alert and sagacious. Though the confusion of footprints in the dust showed plainly where men had passed by thousands, he did not follow their lead. Over the tangle of marks lay a slim paw-printed, confident, careless trail of a jackal, following the scent to a well. The Maccabee was obedient to the instinct of the animal instead of the reason of man. At the end of that trail, surer than Ariadne's scarlet thread in the labyrinth, he knew that thirst had taken the girl in the dress of silver tissue. So as he rode along this faultless highway that fared level and undeviating by arches, causeways and bridges across mountains, over black marshes and profound valleys, he kept his eyes on the jackal's trail.
Long after moonrise they came to a spot in the road where the human marks passed on, by hundreds, by other hundreds deserted the road and clambered up the side of the hill. Over this deviation the jackal had trotted. The Maccabee, tall on his horse, raised his fine head and searched all the brooding shapes of the hills about.
The road at this point ran through a defile. On either side the slopes crowded upon the pass. Above them were bold summits with groves of cedars, and in one of these the Maccabee made out a thin curl of smoke dimly illuminated by a moon-drowned fire. Up there in the covert of the trees the girl in the silver tissue was resting from her perilous and outlawed journey.
"We will eat here," the Maccabee said abruptly to Julian.
"Eat!" Julian exclaimed. "What?"
The Maccabee signed to the pack on Julian's horse. Julian dismounted, shaking his head.
"What a savage appetite this travel in the untaught wilds of Judea hath bred in you, my cousin! You, whom once a crust of bread and a cup of wine would satisfy!"
But the Maccabee climbed out of the roadway and, finding a sheltered spot behind a boulder, kicked together some of the dead weeds and twigs and set fire to the heap with flint and steel. Then he lost interest in the preparation of his comforts. He turned to look up at the faint column of illumination in the little copse of cedars and presently, stealthily, went that way.
It was a poor encampment that he came upon.
From the low-growing limbs of a couple of gnarly cedars, old Momus had stretched the sheepskins which Joseph, the shepherd, had given them. Three sides of the shelter were protected thus, and the fourth side opened down-hill, with a low fire screening them from the mountain wind. Within this inclosure, wrapped in the coarse mantle of her servant, sat Laodice. She had raised her veil and its misty texture flowed like a web of frost over her brilliant hair and framed her face in cold vapor. In spite of the marks of grief that had exhausted her tears, the fatigue and discomfort, she seemed, to the Maccabee's eyes, more than ever lovely. He was angry with the hieratic banishment that sent her out to subsist by the roadside for seven days in early spring; angry with the harsh inhospitality of the hills; and angrier that he could not change it all. He looked at the old mute to see that he was carefully putting away the remnants of a meal of durra bread and curds. The primitive gallantry of the original man stirred in the Maccabee. He had come unseen; with silent step he departed.
A little later he stepped boldly into the circle of light from their camp-fire. To Laodice, in her lowly position, he seemed superhumanly big and splendid. Without mantle or any of the accessories that would show preparation against the cold, his bare arms and limbs and dark face, tanned, hardy and resolute, seemed to be those of a strong aborigine, sturdy friend of all of nature's rougher moods.
He did not look at Momus, who got up as quickly as he might at the intrusion of the big stranger. His dark eyes rested on Laodice, who sat transfixed with her sudden recognition of the visitor.
He held in one hand a brace of fowls, in the other a skin of wine.
When he spoke the polish of the Ephesian andronitis in his voice and manner destroyed the primitive illusion.
"Lady, I heard in the synagogue at Emmaus to-day the exclusion that is laid upon you for seven days. This is a hungry country and no man should waste food. I shall enter Jerusalem to-morrow by daybreak; we, my companion and I, have no further use for these. They are Milesian ducks, fattened on nuts. And this is Falernian—Roman. I pray you, allow me to leave them with your servant with my obeisances."
Without waiting for her reply the Maccabee passed fowls and skin into the hands of Momus who stood near.
"Sir," she answered unreadily, with her small hands gripping each other before her and her eyes veiled, "I thank you. It was not the least of my anxieties how we should provide ourselves with food under prohibition and in a country perilous with war. You have made to-morrow easy for us. I thank you."
"To-morrow; yes," he argued, seizing upon a discussion for an excuse to remain, "but the next day, and the next five days, what shall you do?"
"Perchance," she said gravely, "God will send us another stranger of a generous heart, with more than he needs for himself."
Not likely, indeed, he thought, would such beauty as hers go hungry as long as there were hearts in the wilderness as impressionable as his. But the thought of another than himself providing for her did not make him happy.
There was nothing more to be said, but he did not go. In his face gathered signs of his interest in her identity.
"Is there more that I can do for you?" he asked. "Have you friends in Jerusalem? I will bear your messages gladly."
But it was a grateful privilege which she had to refuse with reluctance. If her husband awaited her in Jerusalem, he must wait, rather than be informed of the cause of her delay at peril of exposing his presence in the city. She shook her head.
"There is nothing more," she added. "I thank you."
Dismissal was so evident in her voice that he prepared to depart.
"Shall you move on, then, in the morning?" he asked.
"We have seven days in the wilderness," she explained. "We can not hasten. It is only a little way to Jerusalem."
"But it is a long road and a weary one for tender feet," he answered; "and it is a time of warfare and much uncertainty."
She lifted her eyes now with trouble in them.
"Is there any less dangerous way than this?" she asked.
The Maccabee sat down and clasped his hands about his knees. This grasping at the slightest excuse to remain exasperated the perplexed Momus, who could not understand the stranger's assurance. But the Maccabee failed to see him.
"There is," he said to Laodice. "One can journey with you. I am under no restriction, and the rabbis do not bind you against me. I can secure you comforts along the way, and give you protection. There in no such dire need that I enter Jerusalem under seven days."
Laodice was confused by this sudden offer of help from a stranger in whom her confidence was not entirely settled. Nevertheless a warmth and pleasure crept into her heart benumbed with sorrow. She did not look at Momus, fearing instinctively that the command in her old servant's eyes would not be of a kind with the grateful response she meant to give this stranger.
"I have no right to expect so much—from a stranger," she said.
"Then I shall not be a stranger," he declared promptly. "Call me—Hesper—of Ephesus."
"Ephesus!" she echoed, looking up quickly.
"The maddest city in the world," he replied. "Dost know it?"
She hesitated. Could she say with entire truth that she did not know Ephesus? Had she not read those letters that Philadelphus had written to her father, which were glowing with praise of the proud city of Diana? Was it not as if she had seen the Odeum and the great Theater, the Temple with its golden cows, the mount and the plain and the broad wandering of the Rivers Hermus, Cayster and Maenander? Had she not made maps of it from her young husband's accounts and then with enthusiasm traced his steps by its stony, hilly streets from forum to stadium and from school to museum? Had she not dreamed of its shallow port, its rugged highways and its skyey marshes? It had been her pride to know Ephesus, although she had never laid eyes upon it. Even she had come to believe that she would know an Ephesian by his aggressive joy in life! It went hard with her to deny that she knew that city which she had all but seen.
The Maccabee observed her hesitation and when she looked up to answer, his eyes full of question were resting upon her.
"I do not know Ephesus," she said quickly. "Are—are you a native?"
She wanted mightily to know if he had met the young Philadelphus in that city, but she feared to ask further lest she betray him.
"A great city," he went on, "but there are greater pagan cities. It is not like Jerusalem, which has no counterpart in the world. Even the most intolerant pagan is curious about Jerusalem."
She looked again at his face. It was not Greek or Roman, neither more indicative of her own blood.
"Are you a Jew?" she asked.
He remembered that she had seen him in a synagogue.
"I was," he said after a silence.
She looked at him a moment before she made comment.
"I never heard a Jew say it that way before."
He acknowledged the rebuke with the flash of a smile that appeared only in his eyes.
"A Jew entirely Jewish wears the mark on him. You have had to ask if I were a Jew. Would I be consistent to claim to be that which in no wise shows to be in me?"
"It is time to be a Jew or against the Jews," she said gravely. "There is no middle ground concerning Judea at this hour."
Serious words from the lips of a woman in whom a man expects to find entertainment are obtrusive, a paradox. Still the new generosity in his heart for this girl made any manner she chose, engaging, so that it showed him the sight of her face and gave him the sound of her voice.
"Seeing," he said, "that it is the hour of the Jewish hope, is it politic for us to declare ourselves for its benefits?"
"The call at this hour," she exclaimed reproachfully, "is to be great in sacrifice—not for reward. It is the word of the prophets that we shall not attain glory until we have suffered for it. We have not yet made the beginning."
She touched so familiarly on his own thoughts which had haunted him since ambition had awakened in him in his boyhood, that his interest in his own hope surged to the fore.
"How goes it in Jerusalem?" he asked earnestly.
"Evilly, they say," she answered, "but I have not been in the city. Yet you see Judea. That which has destroyed it threatens the city. Jews have no friends abroad over the world. We need then our own, our own!"
"Trust me, lady, for a good Jew. I have said that I had been one, because I admit how far I have drifted from my people. But I am going back!"
Somehow that strong avowal touched the deep springs of her grief. She knew the pleasure that her father would have felt in it. With the greatness of his sacrifice in mind, she filled with the determination that his work should not have been in vain.
She rose and flung back the cumbrous striped mantle on her shoulders and put out her hands to the Maccabee.
"Hast seen these pilgrims going to the Passover?" she exclaimed, with color rising as her emotion grew. "All day they have passed; army after army of Jews, not only strong, but filled with the spirit that makes men die for a cause! Hast seen Judea, which was once the land of milk and honey? Wasted! a sight to make Jews gnash their teeth and die of hate and rage! What hast thou said of Jerusalem? 'The perfection of beauty and the joy of the whole earth!' threatened with this same blight that hath made a wilderness of Canaan! If the hour and the circumstance and the cause will but unite us, this unweaponed host will stretch away at once in majestic orders of tens of thousands—legions upon legions that would shame Xerxes for numbers and that first Caesar for strength. Then—oh, I can see that calm battle-line pass like the ocean tide over the stony Roman front, and forget as the sea forgets the pebbles that opposed it!"
She halted suddenly on the edge of tears. The Maccabee, astonished and moved, looked at her in silence. This, then, was what even the women of the shut chambers of Palestine expected of him—if he freed Judea! If such spirit prevailed over the armies of men assembling in the Holy City, what might he not achieve with their help! The Maccabee felt confidence and enthusiasm fill his heart to the full. He rose.
"Our blows will never weaken nor our hearts grow faint," he said, "if we have such eloquence and such beauty to inspire us."
She drew back a little. His persistent happiness of mood fell cruelly on her flinching heart at that moment. He noted her sudden relapse into dejection, with disappointment.
"Do not be sad," he said. "Discomforts do not last for ever."
"It is not that," she said in a low voice. "I have buried beloved dead on this journey and I have surrendered all my substance to a pillager."
There was the silence of arrested thought. The Maccabee was taken aback and embarrassed. He felt that he was an intruder. But even the flush on her face in restraining emotion made her loveliness more than ever winsome. He let his hand drop softly on hers. But in the genuineness of his sympathy he was not too moved to feel that her hand warmed under his clasp.
"The difference between a fool and a blunderer," he said contritely, "is that the blunderer is always sorry for his mistakes. I will go. None has a right to refuse another his hour to weep."
He hesitated a moment, as if he would have kissed her hand. She glanced up at him with eyes too filled with the darkness of grief for words.
The slow unconscious smile that had worked such perfect transformation that first morning grew in his eyes. It was comfort, compliment and protection all in one. Then he went away into the moonlight.
Within a few feet he came upon Julian of Ephesus with immense rancor written on his face. The Maccabee was disturbed. It was not well that this conscienceless man should have discovered that they were traveling near this girl and her old servant. Much as the young man wished to loiter along the road to Jerusalem to keep her in sight while he could, he saw plainly that to defend her from Julian he must ride on and leave her.
"Your meal," said Julian, "is as cold as Jugurtha's bath."
"I have lost my appetite," the Maccabee said carelessly. "Saddle and let us ride on."
At his words, a picture of his own comfortable progress to Jerusalem compared to her long foot-weary tramp for days over the inhospitable hills appeared to him. The instant impulse did not permit himself to argue the immoderation of his care of her. Julian clung to his side until they were ready to depart. Then the Maccabee, using subterfuge to give him opportunity to escape the vigilant eyes of the Ephesian, suddenly clapped his hand to his hip, exclaiming that he had left his weapon at the camp.
Before Julian's sneer reached him, he mounted quickly and rode up the hill, meaning to offer his horse to the girl.
The bed of coals still glowed cheerily, but the shelter of sheepskins, the old servant and the girl in the tissue of woven moonbeams were gone.
He stood still, vexed, disappointed and resentful.
"The old incubus has made her go on, purposely, to get rid of me!" he decided finally. "Perpol! He won't!"
DAWN IN THE HILLS
It was a night that the Maccabee did not readily forget. Since the girl had moved on to avoid him, he had become alive to a delinquency that was more of a sensation than an admission. His thought of her, that had been a diversion before, now seemed to be a transgression. An incident of this nature during the fourteen years of his life in Ephesus would have engaged his conscience only a moment if at all, but at this last hour it amounted to a deflection from his newly resolved uprightness.
Julian rode in a constant air of expectancy and increasing irritation. The slightest sound from the haunted hills elicited a start from him and his intense attention until the origin of the sound proved itself. Many Passover pilgrims who had proceeded by night passed under his close scrutiny and from time to time he stopped the Maccabee in a speech with a peremptory command to listen. All this engaged the Maccabee's interest, but he made no comment until, on occasion of his casual word in praise of the fidelity of Aquila, Julian flew into a rage and reviled the emissary until the Maccabee brought him up with a sharp word.
"Enough of that!" he exclaimed. "What ails you, man?"
Julian caught his breath and after a silence replied in a voice considerably sweetened that Aquila was a conscienceless pagan and not to be praised till he was dead. But the Maccabee, with the girl uppermost in his mind, believed that his cousin was inwardly resenting his preemption of the pretty stranger. The fact that Julian had changed the pace of their advance confirmed him in this suspicion. From the smart trot that they had maintained from the time they had left Caesarea, they had declined to a walk. Julian next showed inclination to loiter. He spent an unusual length of time at every spring at which they watered their horses; an unseen break in his harness engaged a prolonged halt on the road; he stopped at an unroofed hut to rouse sleeping Passover pilgrims who had taken refuge within to ask how far they were from Jerusalem, and wrangled with the sleepy Jew for many minutes over the hazy estimate the man had given him. With each of these pretenses the Maccabee's conviction grew that the girl had something to do with the altered behavior of his cousin. And with that growing conviction, he became the more convinced that he ought to maintain an espionage of Julian.
At midnight they were both tired, exasperated, moody, and determined against each other. They had not journeyed thirty furlongs.
In one of the high valleys in the hills a great well bubbled up from a hollow by the road, overflowed the stone basin that the ancients had built for it and wasted itself in the undrained soil about. Here, then, was one of the few marshes in Judea. The road by a series of arches crossed it and continued up the shoulder of the hills toward the east. All about it flourished the young growth of the rough sedge grass, green as emerald. The spot was treeless and marked with broad low hummocks of new sod.
"Shall we camp here?" he asked.
"It hath the recommendation of variety," the Maccabee said wearily. "Eheu! How I shall miss the greensward of Ephesus! Yes, we'll camp!"
They dismounted and while Julian unpacked their blankets, the Maccabee collected dead reeds and cedar twigs and built a fire. Then he stretched himself by the sweet-smelling flame.
"She can not have kept up with our horses; indeed it is unlikely that they moved far," he thought, and thus assured that there was no danger to the girl for whom he had become a self-constituted guardian, he ate a piece of bread, drank a cup of wine and fell asleep.
His slumber was not entirely unconscious. So long as the movements of his cousin continued regular about him, he lay still, but once, when Julian approached too near, his eyes opened full in the face of the man about to lean over him. The Ephesian raised himself hastily and the Maccabee's eyes closed again.
"A pest on an eye that only half sleeps!" Julian said to himself. "He hasn't lost count on the minutes since he left Caesarea!"
The morning broke, the sun mounted, the deserted road became populous with all the previous day's host of pilgrims, and the silence in the hills failed before the procession that should not cease till night fell again. Through all the shouting at camel and mule, the talk of parties and the dogged trudging of lonely and uncompanionable solitaries, the Maccabee slept. From time to time Julian, who had wakened early, gazed with smoldering eyes at the insolent composure of his enemy sleeping. But slumber with so little control over the senses of a man was not to be depended upon for any work that demanded stealth. At times the gaze he bent upon the long lazy shape half buried in the raw-edged grass was malevolent with uneasiness and hate. Again, some one of the passing travelers that bore a resemblance to the expected Aquila would bring the Ephesian to his feet, only to sink back again with a muttered imprecation at his disappointment.
"A pest on the waxen-hearted satyr!" he said to himself finally. "Why should he have been more faithful to me than to his first employer! I am old enough to have learned by this time not to trust my success to any man but myself. Now where am I to look for him—Ephesus, Syene, Gaul, Medea? Jerusalem first! By Hecate, the fellow is handsome! And these Jewesses are impressionable!"
The rumination was broken off suddenly by a glimpse of an old deformed man bearing a burden on his shoulders, followed by a slender figure, jealously wrapped in a plebeian mantle that left only a hem of silver tissue under its border. They were skirting along the brow of the hill opposite, away from the rest of the pilgrims on the road. Both were walking slowly and the old man seemed to be examining the farther slope, as if meditating a halt. Julian got upon his feet and watched. He saw the old man sign to the girl presently and they moved down the farther side of the hill and were lost to view.
Julian cast a look at the sleeper and hesitated. Then he scanned the road; he might miss Aquila. He seemed to relinquish the intent that had risen in him, and sat down again.
After a while as his constant gaze at the passers-by led him again toward the overflowing well, he saw there, standing in a long line, awaiting turn to dip a vessel in the water, the old bowed servant, with a skin in his hand. The girl was nowhere to be seen.
Julian sprang to his feet and, hastening across the road, considerably below the well, climbed the hill in the direction in which he had seen the girl disappear.
That watchful alarm in the brain which, at moments of demand, is instantly alive in certain sleepers, aroused the Maccabee almost as soon as the stealthy, receding footsteps of Julian died away. He stirred, sat up and looked about him. Julian was nowhere to be seen. Both horses were feeding a little distance away. The Maccabee sprang up and looked toward the well. There patiently but apprehensively waiting was old Momus. The girl was not with him. Suspicion grew vivid in the Maccabee's brain. The tender rank grass about him showed the print of his cousin's steps as they led away toward the road. He followed intently. The slim marks of the well-shod feet led him across the dust of the road up into gravel on the slope and finally eluded him on the escarpment that soared away above him.
The Maccabee hurried to the top of the declivity to gain whatever aid that point of vantage might offer and from that height saw below him to the west a single nook shaped of rock and hummock and a tree out of which rose a blue thread of smoke. He dropped down the farther slope at a pace little short of a run.
He mounted the slight ridge that overlooked the depression in time to see Julian of Ephesus appear over the opposite side. Within, with her mantle laid off, her veil thrown back, the girl knelt over a bed of coals, baking one of the Maccabee's Milesian ducks. Julian had made a sound; the Maccabee had come silently. She looked up and saw the less kindly man first, flashed white with terror, sprang to her feet with a cry, and whirled to flee up the other side. There she confronted the Maccabee with hands extended to ward off the encroachment of his cousin. Without an instant's hesitation she flew into the Maccabee's arms. His clasp closed around her and she shrank against him, clinging to the folds of his tunic over his breast with hands that were tremulous.
Her flight to him for refuge achieved an instant change in the Maccabee. The fear of defeat, the primal hate of a rival, died in him. All that remained was big wrath at the presumption and effrontery of Julian of Ephesus. He had no definite memory of what followed, because of the rush of blood in his veins, the whirl of pleasurable sensation in his brain and the weight of a sweet frightened figure pressed to him. The Ephesian went, leaving an impression of a most vindictive threat in the glittering smile and the motion of his shapely hand clenched at the victorious Maccabee. The girl drew away hastily. The veil was over her face and through its silken meshes he saw the glow on her cheeks and the sweep of her lowered lashes down upon that bloom.
She was faltering her thanks and her apologies.
"It is mine to ask pardon," he exclaimed, still smoldering with wrath. "I had no part in this, except to interfere with this bad companion of mine. I did not follow you; believe me."
It confused her to know that he had guessed why she had moved from their encampment the night before. As necessary as old Momus had made it seem to her then, it seemed now to have been ungrateful. She could make no reply to that portion of his speech.
"My servant went to the well," she said. "He will return presently. I am not afraid now."
"I am; you ought to be. I shall wait till your extraordinary servant returns."
At this decided speech Laodice showed a little panic.
"No, no! I am not afraid. He—"
But the Maccabee ignored the implied dismissal.
"I owe him both a reproof and thanks for leaving you here alone for any wayfarer to approach—and for me to discover. I wish," gazing abroad over the broken horizon, "there were no well between here and Jerusalem, and that he were as thirsty as Tantalus."
She made no reply to this remark, but her whole presence expressed discomfort in his determination to remain.
"Heathen Hecate ought to get him in these wilds for forcing that cruel journey on you last night, when you were so weary and sad! There was no good in it. He wanted simply to get you away from me! Let us hope that Titus has got him for his museum by this time, and be at ease!"
She raised her head and reproach flashed through the meshes of her veil.
"Momus is a good man," she said.
"He can not be," he insisted. "Have I not set forth his iniquities even now?"
"It was a short task," she maintained. "But time is not long enough to count his virtues."
"I can spend time better," he declared.
He saw her silken brows lower in a spirited frown and he was glad. She was showing some other feeling than that dead level of unhappiness that had possessed her from the first moment he had seen her. His was not the heart contented to go astray after a tear. Men fall in search of joy.
"Momus is carrying a burden under which more brilliant men would falter," she averred. "I am beyond reckoning his debtor!"
"Since he has shifted that sweet burden for a time on my shoulders, I will forgive him for his looks. If he will stay away, I'll be his debtor further. But enough of Momus! I came to ask after your health, when your long journey by night is done."
"I am well; we did not journey all night."
"Sit, I pray you. There is no need for you to stand with that air of finality. I am not going, yet. I went back to your camp last night within a short time after I left you and found the camp broken and your fire lonely. I wanted to offer you my horse."
"We did not walk all night. We camped a little farther on, and moved at daybreak this morning," she explained.
He cast a reflective look at the sun and considered how much time Julian of Ephesus had lost for him upon the road, or else how long he had slept, that this pair, who had camped all night and had journeyed afoot by day, had caught up with him.
"Still it was a cruel journey—for those little feet," he said.
She glanced involuntarily at her sandals, worn and dusty.
"Yes," he said compassionately, following her eyes. "But let me see no more, else I meet this good and burdened Momus with the flat of my hand when he comes! What is he to you?"
"My servant—now almost my father!" she insisted, trying to cover the tacit accusation that she had made in admitting by a glance that she was weary. "He orders all things for my good. Do you think that each of the stones over which I stumbled to-day did not hurt him worse because they hurt me? Do you think he would have me go on, unless the stake were worth the pain I had to endure? Say no more against him!"
The Maccabee shrugged his shoulders; then noting that she still stood, he smoothed down a spot of the sand with his foot, tossed upon it one of the sheepskins that Momus had unrolled, and extending his hand politely pressed her down on the place he had made. Then he dropped down beside her, lounging on his elbow.
"What is the stake?" he asked after he had composed himself.
She hesitated, regretting that her defense of Momus had led her to hint her mission and touch upon her husband's ambition.
"The welfare of hosts!" she replied finally.
"Heavens! What a menace I was!" the Maccabee smiled.
She colored quickly and he resented the veil that was shutting away so much that was fine and fleeting by way of expression under its folds.
"But you are just as dangerous," he declared. "Now, we should be in Jerusalem this hour. Our welfare and the welfare of others depend upon us—I mean my companion and me. But there is no devoted prodigy to bear me away—thank fortune! I have come out of a great turmoil; I must plunge into a greater one before many days. Let me rest between them. It will be a long time before I shall possess anything so sweet as the smell of this cedar fire and the picture of you against this fair sky!"
She looked down quickly.
"Was Ephesus in turmoil?" she asked disconnectedly.
"Ephesus was never in any other state! A fit preparation for the disorder in Jerusalem! I was met at Caesarea with such tales as depressed me until it required such delight as you are to bring back my spirits again! What takes you to Jerusalem?" he asked earnestly. "The Passover? God will forgive you if you neglect it one year. Nothing but the sternest necessity should send any one there at this hour."
"My necessity is stern—it is Judea's necessity," she answered.
"More similarity!" he exclaimed. "That is why I go! Certainly Judea's fortunes have bettered with you and me both hastening to her rescue. Come, let us compare further. I am going to crown a king over Judea!"
She raised her veil to look at him with startled eyes. The glimpse of her face, for ever a delight and an astonishment to him because of its extraordinary loveliness, swept him out of the half-serious air into which he had fallen. He stopped and looked at her with pleased, boyish, happy eyes.
"Aurora!" he said softly. "I see now why day comes gradually. Mankind would die of excitement if the dawn were unveiled to them like this suddenly every morning!"
She released the veil hurriedly, but before it fell he put out a hand, caught it and tossed it back over her head.
"Be consistent with your part," he said, still smiling. "No man ever saw day cancel her dawn and live."
It was pleasant, this sweet possession and command. How much like an overgrown boy he had become, since she had wakened to find herself in his power that morning in the hills! The harshness and inflexibility had left his atmosphere entirely. She was only afraid of him now because he had refused to be dismissed. But she drew down the veil.
"I, too, expect a king," she said in a lowered tone. "A conqueror and a redeemer."
"The Messiah?" he said, and she knew by the inflection that he had not meant that King when he had spoken.
He noted that her hair was coiled upon her head when he threw back her veil and he turned to that at once.
"You wear your hair in a fashion," he said, "that once meant that which men dislike to discover of a woman whom they greatly admire. I hope it is no longer significant."
"I go," she said after a silence, "to join my husband in Jerusalem."
The Maccabee's lips parted and an expression of disappointment with an admixture of surprise and vexation came over his face. But what did it matter? Were she as free as air, he was a married man. The humor of the situation appealed to him. He dropped his head into the bend of his elbow and laughed.
"Welladay, this is a respite for us both, then," he said. But realizing that an admission that he was married might hopelessly reduce their hour to a formal basis, he took refuge in a falsehood.
"My companion expects to meet a wife in Jerusalem," he continued. "A royal creature, daughter of an ancient and haughty family, with all her life purpose congealed in lofty and serious intent, her coffers lined with gold and her face as determined and unbending as Juno's with her jealousy stirred. He is not delighted, poor lad!"
Laodice sat very still and listened. There was enough similarity in this story to interest her.
The Maccabee, seeing that he had made an impression with this deception and feeling somehow a relief in making it, went on, delighted with his deceit.
"He has not seen her since he married her in his childhood, but he knows full well how she will look when he meets her."
Surprise paralyzed Laodice. Was the smiling and dangerous companion of this man, her husband?
The Maccabee, meanwhile, deliberately remarked her charms and recounted their antithesis in making up a picture of the woman he expected to meet as his wife.
"She will, according to his expectations, be meager and thin, not plump! Thoughtful women and women with a purpose are never plump! And she will be black and pale, all eyes, with a nose which is not the noble nose of our race. She will be religious and it will not make her happy. She will realize her value to her husband and he will not be permitted to forget it. She will be ambitious and full of schemes. She will be the larger part of his family, though by the balance she will weigh not so much as an omer of barley."
Laodice got upon her feet in her agitation and raised her veil to stare at this slander. Was this a picture of herself she heard? The Maccabee was enjoying himself uncommonly.
"She will wear the garments of a queen, but—how little a slip of silver tissue will become her!"
Laodice looked down in alarm at her gleaming garment, and reached for her mantle. The Maccabee had no idea how much pleasure he was to derive in making his own story, Julian's. He continued, almost recklessly, now.
"Small wonder that he is so delinquent in the wilderness, with such square-shouldered righteousness awaiting him in town! Forgive him, lady, for his iniquities now, for he will be a good man after he reaches Jerusalem; by my soul, you may be sure he will be good!"
Laodice gasped under the pressure of astonishment and indignation. It was bad enough to be pictured thus unprepossessing, but to be suddenly made aware of her husband in a man whom she feared, was desperate. She stared with frank and horrified eyes at her tormentor.
"But—but—" she stammered.
"True," he sighed. "One can not know what calamity forces another into misdeeds. Now were I my unfortunate friend, perhaps I should afflict you with my hunger for sweetness also."
And that smooth, insinuating, violent pagan was Philadelphus Maccabaeus! But what had her father said of him, as a child? "Quick in temper, resourceful, aye, even shifty, stubborn, cold in heart, hard to please!" And to this man she must present herself, late, penniless and unhelpful. Panic seized her! How could she go on to Jerusalem!
That long graceful figure stretched on the sand was speaking. What was it in his voice that drew her so mightily from any terror that possessed her at any time?
"Sit down, sit down! I have more to say," he was urging her.
She obeyed him numbly.
"He gets worse as he approaches the city. I think I ought to leave him. It will not be safe to be near him when his moneyed lady claims him for her own!"
"She—she—" Laodice burst out, "is—may be such a woman!"
"Such a woman as you! No; she will not be. That is what makes him bad. And now that I bethink me, perhaps it is just as well that you proceed to Jerusalem. He may comfort himself with a sight of you, now and then."
"I? I comfort him?" she exclaimed.
"By my soul I know it! What blunders Fortune makes in bestowing wives! Perchance your husband could have got on as well without so radiant a spouse, while my poor beauty-loving friend must needs be paired with a—Alas! there is too much marrying in this world!"
There was a ring of genuine dejection in his voice and when she looked down at him, she saw that his eyes were larger and more sorrowful than she believed they could be. He was hurting himself with his own deceit. She looked away hastily, frightened at the sudden tenderness that his pathetic gaze had wakened in her.
"Alas!" he went on. "The greatest sacrifice and the frequentest in this world of cross-purposes never gets into poetry. I—" he halted a moment and looked away, "I ought to be sorry for her, too. She is not getting the best of men."
"Verily!" she exclaimed impulsively.
He whirled his head toward her, stared; then with a flash of intense expression in his eyes burst into a ringing laugh that shook him from head to foot. He flung out his hand and catching hers passed it across his lips without kissing it, and let it go before he regained composure enough to speak.
"No! Not a good man! Verily! But hath he no cause to be delinquent?"
"No!" she said stubbornly. "He has judged her without seeing her, when, by your own words, he expects her to bring him fortune and position. What is he bringing her?"
The Maccabee looked at her thoughtfully before he answered.
"Nothing! Not even his heart!" he vowed.
Laodice caught her breath in an agony of indignation and distress.
"He does not in any way deserve—" she stopped precipitately. She was about to add "the great fortune he is to get," when she realized that she was taking this husband nothing—not even her own heart. She went on, for the first time a little glad that she was penniless.
"He may find—neither fortune, nor position, nor heart awaiting him!" she finished pointedly.
The Maccabee pulled one of his stubborn locks that had fallen over his eyes. The smile grew less vivid.
He had no comment to make to this. Meanwhile Laodice looked at him.
"Shall—you be with—your friend in Jerusalem?" she asked.
"It depends on his wife," he retorted with a grimace.
She would be glad if this tall, comely trifler, with a voice as musical as some grave-toned viol, were to be seen from time to time to relieve the tedium of life with the offensive Philadelphus. This admission instantly brought a shock to her. She had learned to study herself in these last few days since she had become aware of the ways of the world. Life was to be no longer a period of obedience to laws which the Torah had laid down; it was to be a long resistance against desirable things that she yearned for but which she dared not have. She learned at this moment that she could be her own chief stumbling-block, and that love, the most precious illumination in every life, might be a destruction and a consuming fire. She looked at this man, who lounged beside her, with a new sensation. He was winsome, and therefore the more perilous. That smooth insulting stranger whom this man had revealed as her husband with all his violence and license was a humble and harmless thing compared to this one, who had snared her by his care of her and by his charming self.
She felt a desire to cry out for Momus to take her back to the inner chamber of the shut house in Ascalon, away from her danger to herself and from the sight of the man who had done her no harm—yet.
She did not know how plainly all this wrote itself on her candid face. Wise pupil of that unbridled school, the city of Diana, he could read in that slight frown on her forehead and the pathetic curve of her lips, that she was contented with him—that she was not glad to go on to that husband in Jerusalem. He was near to her before she knew he had moved.
"After all," he was saying in a low voice, "I am glad you are going to Jerusalem. You shall not be lost from me again. Whose house shall I ask for when I can not endure separation longer?"
She moved away from him. There was a step behind her and Laodice, coloring shamedly, looked straight into the accusing eyes of Momus who stood there. The stranger rose.
"I shall see you again," he said to her.
He took her hand and lifted it to his lips. The next instant he was gone.
When the Maccabee had returned to the spot in the sedgy valley where he and Julian had halted, he found the Ephesian white to the lips and with ignited eyes awaiting him.
"How much longer?" the Ephesian demanded.
"What! Fast and slow!" the Maccabee said calmly. "Last night you wasted hours to spite me. To-day you begrudge me a moment's talk with a lovely wayfarer. Or is it because she prefers me? You have ordered our progress long enough. I shall move when it pleases me."
He sat down by the fire, clasping his hands back of his head, and half-closed his eyes. The Ephesian rose and tramped restlessly about. As he glanced down at the reposeful attitude of the man whom he could not exasperate he saw the sun glitter on the Maccabaean signet on the hand clasped back of Philadelphus' head. The sight of it in a way collected Julian's purposes. He knew that by some misadventure he had missed Aquila whom he had hoped to meet in Emmaus, bearing treasure stolen from the daughter of Costobarus. By this time, then, the Maccabee's emissary had doubtless arrived in Jerusalem—the last possible point for the two conspirators to meet. To proceed to Jerusalem without the Maccabee, with whatever excuse he could invent, would not deliver the dowry of the bride into his hands, in the event that Aquila had not succeeded in his instructions to make way with Laodice before he reached Jerusalem. Nothing occurred to Julian at that moment but to impersonate the Maccabee until it was possible to get possession of the two hundred talents from those friends in Jerusalem who were interested in his cousin's welfare. No one in Jerusalem knew Philadelphus Maccabaeus. Aquila, as fellow-conspirator, would not dare to expose him if Julian appeared as his cousin. Perilous at best, it seemed the only plan by which he was to get possession of a fortune which even Caesar would be glad to have.
The resolution formed itself in a brain turbulent with passion and desperation. He halted silently back of his cousin and with a sudden flare of intent on his dead white face snatched a dagger from his girdle and drove it between the shoulders of the Maccabee. Without a word, Philadelphus turned upon his assailant and started to his feet. But Julian, catching a glimpse of the dire purpose in his cousin's darkened eyes, struck again. The knife, blindly wielded, glanced on the Maccabee's head with wild force. Under a veil of scarlet Philadelphus sank to the earth.
Julian with a sob of terror sprang out of range of his victim's gaze. After a time he took courage and looked. The lids were fallen and the breast was still.
Julian bent hastily and snatched the signet from the nerveless hand and fumbling in the bosom drew forth the wallet there. He opened it, finding within ancient parchments with heavy seals, new writings, rolls of notes and a packet of letters. He rose, trembling violently, and backed away. After a moment's fascinated gaze at the roadway to see if the pilgrims passing had seen what he had done, he whirled about, mounted his horse and galloped frantically toward Jerusalem.
Meanwhile the midday activity on the Roman roadway swept by the smoldering fire and the motionless figure lying in the grass some distance back from the highway. Along the splendid causeway the Passover pilgrims fared, men afoot, men on camels, families and solitary travelers; the poor, the once rich, the humble and the haughty; figures in burnooses, gabardines, gowns and tunics; striped and checkered woolens, linens or rags; noisy or silent, angry or sad, hour in and hour out, until the hills were a-throb with the human atmosphere. Time and again the sweet invitation of the rare grass along the marsh invited the way-weary to halt to tie a sandal, to bind up a wound, to eat a crust spread with curds or simply to rest. No one approached the silent man who had fallen beside a dying fire. They were tired enough to refrain from disturbing a man who slept. So, though they looked at him from where they sat and two or three asked each other if he were asleep or merely weary, he was left alone. One by one they who halted took up their journey again and the figure in the grass lay still.
Finally near the noon hour there came from the summit of a hill overhanging the road, a high, wild, youthful yell that cut with startling distinctness through the dead level of human communication on the highway. Each of the travelers below looked up to see a young shepherd in sheepskins with long-blowing stiff crinkled locks flying back from a dusky face, with eyes soft and shining as those of some wild thing. Around him eddied a mob of sheep as wild as he, and a Natolian dog raced hither and thither in a cloud of dust, rounding the edge of the flock and shaping it to the advance of the young faun that mastered it.
"Sheep! by the prophets!" one of the sedate Jews exclaimed.
"The only flock in existence in Judea, I venture!" his companion declared.
"And so hopelessly doomed to Roman possession that it can not be called in existence."
"Heigh! Hello! Young David!" one of the younger men called up to the shepherd. "Does Titus pay you for minding his mutton?"
"Salute, neighbors!" another shouted. "Here is the Roman commissary!"
"Ill-fathered son of an Ishmaelite!" a Tyrian said to this jester. "That you should make sport of Judea's humiliation!"
The shepherd who had paused amid his whirlpool of sheep wisely held his peace. There was a division of sentiment here that were better not aggravated. He halted long enough for the road to clear below him and then descended into the valley and crossed to the low meadow on the opposite side.
His scamper of sheep flocked into the sedge, parting around the prostrate figure by a circle of coals now dead, and plunged into the pasture. The boy inspected the earth and shook his head. It was too wet for a long stay, inviting as it seemed. But here his flock might pasture for a day without injury.
He glanced at the sleeper as he passed and continued to the farther side where the opposite hill sloped down into the depression. Here he found for himself a comfortable spot and lay down, prepared to watch all day. From time to time he looked across at the motionless figure in the grass and commented to himself that it was a weary man who slept so soundly, and then lost interest in the maze of dreams that can entangle the wits of a shepherd who is a boy.
The march of the Passover pilgrims continued to Jerusalem.
In mid-afternoon there came interruption. Along the level highway came the rapid beat of hooves and the musical jingle of harness. Every soul within sound of that un-Jewish mode of travel turned apprehensively and looked back. Bearing down upon them from the west came a stampede of Roman cavalry scouting. The sunshine on their brass armor transformed them into shapes of gold, and the recklessness of their advance swept the pilgrims out of their path as far as could be seen. Right and left the Jews scattered; some ran into the hills and hid themselves; others merely stepped aside and with darkening faces waited defiantly for the approach of the oppressor. The young shepherd full of excitement sprang to his feet.
Neither the fleeing Jews nor the Jews that had stood their ground attracted the attention of the approaching legionaries. It was the close-packed, avid-feeding sheep, deep in the grass, that won their instant and enthusiastic notice. The decurion in charge of the squad brought up his gray horse with such suddenness that the animal's feet slid in the gravel.
"Sheep, by the wings of Mercury!" he shouted. "Dismount, fellows! Here's for a feast this night and an offering to Mars to-morrow!"
The ten in brazen armor threw themselves from their horses with the enthusiasm of boys and spread a panic of whooping and of waving arms about the startled flock. The young shepherd, too long a fugitive from the encroachments of this same army to misunderstand the nature of the attack, ran into the thick of the shouting Romans. His valiant dog with exposed teeth flew straight at the nearest legionary.
"Cerberus!" the soldier howled, dodging. "Your pike, Paulus! Quick! By Hector, it is a wolf!"
But the quickest soldier would not have been quick enough to elude the enraged beast had not the shepherd with a spring and a warning cry seized his dog by the ears and stopped him mid-bound.
"Down, Urge!" he cried. "Take away your men!" he shouted to the decurion. "I can not hold him long."
"Only so long," Paulus growled, raising his pike over the snarling dog.
"Drop it!" the decurion ordered him peremptorily. "We are ten to one and a dog. No blood-letting this day. It is Titus' order. Boy, get you gone; these sheep are confiscate."
"I have been told they are only common stock," the boy remonstrated gravely, "but you may be right. Howbeit, they are not mine and I can not leave them."
"You have been misinformed," the decurion said gravely, while his men, circling around the growling dog, went on with their work. "These are Roman sheep, with the Flavian coat of arms and the mark of the army in black on their hides—if you shear them. But if you make away as fast as you can I shall not tell Titus which way you went."
The sheep had started pell-mell toward the Roman road. The decurion turned back to his horse. The shepherd released his dog, which ran after the flock, and stepped into the decurion's way.
"However these sheep look when they are sheared," he said, "this seems to be robbery to me."
"Robbery!" the good-natured decurion exclaimed. "This is but a religious rite that Mercury got out of the cradle at two days to establish. Only he took Apollo's cattle while we are contenting ourselves with the sheep of mortal ownership. Robbery! What an inelegant word!"
Meanwhile the stampeded sheep were making in a cloud of dust back over the road toward the west from which the Romans had come.
"What shall I say to the citizens of Pella?" the little shepherd shouted, pursuing the decurion who was making back to his horse as fast as he could go.
"Salute them for me," the decurion shouted back, "and make them my obeisances, and say that I shall report on the flavor of the sheep by messenger from Jerusalem."
In a moment the boy sprang into the decurion's way so suddenly that the soldier almost fell over him.
"Be fair!" the boy exclaimed. "At least leave me half!"
The decurion was losing patience and the shepherd had grown more than ever serious.
"Fair!" the Roman echoed. "Why, I have been indulgent! This is war! It is almost a breach of discipline to argue with you. Out of the way!"
"The Roman army has all the world to feed it; Pella has only its sheep. We, then, must face hunger and cold because your appetites crave mutton this day!" the boy returned resentfully.
The decurion pointed down the road.
"Why waste your breath! There go the sheep."
The boy's dark eyes filled with tears. The decurion swung around him and went back to the horses that waited in the road. He knotted their bridles together and, leading one of the number, remounted and rode west after the receding cloud of dust which hid the flock.
The shepherd's head sank on his heaving breast and he stood still.
"Lord Jesus, I pray Thee, give me my sheep again!" he prayed.
A deep prolonged thunder that had been filling the hills with sound began to multiply as the nearest slopes caught it and tossed it from echo to echo. It was not loud but immensely prevalent. Those wayfarers who had fled came back to the brink of the hill and those who had stood their ground walked out into the grass to look back. Around the curve of a buttress of rock that stood out at the line of the road, the head of a column of Roman cavalry appeared. The superb color-bearer bore on his hip the staff supporting the Imperial standard.
At the forefront rode a young general; on either side a tribune. Behind came a detachment of six hundred horse.
The sheep huddling in the way were swept like a scurry of leaves out into the meadow alongside the road, and one of the tribunes and the general turned in their saddles to look at the confiscated flock. The second tribune observed their interest in this trivial incident with disgust. The young general, whose military cloak flaunted a purple border, called the decurion boyishly:
"Well done, Sergius! A samnos of wine for your company to-night for this."
The decurion saluted.
"Where did you get them?" the tribune demanded.
The shepherd who had withdrawn to the side of the road on the approach of the column looked at the questioner with resentful eyes from which the moisture had not vanished.
"From me!" he said.
Both the purple-wearing young general and his tribune looked at him amusedly.
"How many killed and wounded, Sergius?" the tribune asked.
The silent and disapproving tribune, observing that the commanding officer had not given an order to halt, brought the six hundred to, lest they ride their general down.
"You!" the general exclaimed with his eyes on the young shepherd.
The boy looked up into the face of the Roman who sat above him on a snow-white horse.
It was a young face, tanned by the sun of Alexandria, but bright with an emanation of light that somehow was made tangible by the flash of his teeth as he talked and the sparkle of his lively eyes. For a soldier exposed to the open air and the ruffian life of the camp and burdened with the grave task of subduing a desperate nation, he was free of disfigurements. His brows were knitted as if to give his full soft eyes protection and the frown, with the laughing cut of his youthful lips, gave his face a quizzical expression that was entirely winning. In countenance and figure he was handsome, refined and thoroughly Roman. The little shepherd was won to him instantly. Without knowing that the world from one border to the other had already named this charming young Roman the Darling of Mankind, the little shepherd, had his lips been shaped to poetry, would have called him that.
So Joseph, the shepherd, son of Thomas, the Christian, and Titus, son of Vespasian, Emperor of the World, looked at each other with perfect fellowship.
"Those are sheep from Pella," Joseph said soberly, "in my care. They were taken from me because," he paused till a more tactful statement should suggest itself, but, lacking it, drove ahead with spirit, "there was not more of me to stop your soldiers."
"I believe you," Titus replied heartily. "But that is the fortune of war. Still, you Jews have a habit of refusing to accept defeat rationally."
"I am not a Jew," Joseph explained. "I am born of Arab blood, and I am a Christian."
"Worse and worse," said Titus.
Joseph shifted his position argumentatively.
"Is it?" he asked. "Are you making war on Pella or Jerusalem? Was it Pella or the hundred Jewish towns that cost Rome so much of late? Pella is not exactly your friend, though neither are most of your provinces; but are you going to pillage Egypt or Persia because Judea is in rebellion?"
Titus threw his plump leg over the horn of his saddle and sat sidewise. One of his tribunes looked at the other with a flickering smile that was not entirely free of contempt. But his fellow returned a stare that for immobility would have done credit to the Memnon.
"Now," Titus began, "I have heard of this fault in the Christians. They don't understand warfare."
"We don't," Joseph declared bluntly. "We do not see why you should take my sheep to feed your army, when we have had nothing to do with bringing your army over here. We haven't cost you one drop of Roman blood or one denarius of Roman money, and yet you are taking at one act the whole of our substance and punishing us for the misdeeds of others—others whom you haven't succeeded in punishing yet."
"That is bad judgment," Titus said, frowning at the last sentence.
"Unpleasant truth always is," Joseph retorted.
One of the tribunes laughed impulsively and Titus looked around at him reproachfully.
"Come, come, Carus," he said.
"Thy pardon, Caesar," the tribune replied, "but we'll be whipped in this wordy battle. And even a small defeat were an unpropitious sign on this expedition."
"To Hades with your signs! If I am whipped with six hundred back of me, I ought to be! Boy, we have your sheep by conquest; you will have to take them back the same way."
Joseph's face fell.
"I have had them since I was nine years old. I've tended them since they were lambs and their mothers before them. It is like surrendering so many children," he said dejectedly. "In truth I can fight for them even if it be but to lose, and I am bidden not to fight at that."
"By Hector, that is not a Jewish tenet!" Titus exclaimed.
Joseph said nothing. He stood still in the path of the Roman six hundred with his curly head sunk on his breast. There was silence.
"Is it?" Titus demanded uncomfortably.
"No; and for that reason you are still fighting them and will fight and lose and lose and lose, before you win. Still, it is no safeguard not to fight you; you take our substance anyhow. Be we peace-lovers or not, there is warfare; if we do not fight we are fought against."
Titus thrust his helmet back from his full front of intensely black curls and wiped his forehead.
"The sun is hot in these hills," he said disjointedly to the tribune he had called Carus, "and the wind is cold. Uncomfortable climate."
Carus said nothing.
"Is it not?" Titus demanded irritably.
"Very," Carus observed hastily.
The little shepherd stood in the road and the six hundred were silent.
"Well," said Titus with a tone of finality, "you never remember the wrongs the strong man endured—wrongs that the weak man did him because of his weakness."
"It never hurts the strong man," Joseph said softly, "to give the weak one another chance."
Titus closed his lips at that, and the tribune who had smiled sarcastically looked with sudden intent at Carus. Carus silently moved his horse to the sarcastic tribune's side with such threatening expression on his face that the other discreetly held his peace.
"Perhaps," Titus said thoughtfully, but the boy failed to see more in that word than the simple expression. In his search for some further plea that would give him his sheep again, the presence of the young Roman appealed to him with hope. Surely one so young and laughing, so ready to stop an army to argue with a child, could not be beyond reach of persuasion. With the simple frankness so innocent of guile as to make charming that which upon other lips would have been the broadest insincerity, he put that moment's thought into words.
"I thought," he said slowly, "because your horse is so white and your dress so golden and your face so beautiful that I would have but to ask—and I would have my sheep again."
Titus looked at him, not with the idea that his compliment was effective, but with the thought that the boy was yet too young to have lost faith in attractive things; that another than himself would have to teach the shepherd that lesson in disappointment.
"Have you examined these sheep for disease, Sergius?" he demanded, with a show of severity. "I never saw a flock in this country that was not full of peril for the cavalry."
Sergius, wisely catching excuse in this demand, saluted.
"I did not," he replied.
"So? Well, do it hereafter. Go stop those legionaries and turn loose that flock. We lost five hundred horse in Caesarea for just such negligence."
Joseph flung up his head, his eyes sparkling, his cheeks aglow, his whole figure alive with a gratitude so potent that it was painful. Titus, with the deep tide of a blush crawling over his forehead, scowled down at this joy.
"Look well," he continued severely to Sergius, "and if they are healthy—"
But Joseph laughed and stepped out of the young general's path.
"And," said Titus, his face clearing before that laugh as he directed his words to the little shepherd, "Jerusalem shall have another chance."
Transfiguration brightened the small dusky face. He put up his hands for that blessing that was a part of his farewell.
"May my God supply all thy need according to his riches in glory, by Jesus Christ. Amen!"
Titus, with a bowed head, touched his horse, and in response to a silent flash of an uplifted sword the picked six hundred of Caesar's army rode on in the subdued thunder of hoof and the music of jingling harness toward Jerusalem.
After a long time there came the quick patter of a running flock and the multitudinous complaint of lambs, and up from the east rushed the mob of sheep. Behind them trotting comfortably were the mounted scouts. The ten privates wore scornful countenances highly expressive of their contempt for the unwarlike restitution they had been forced to make, but as they rode past when the sheep swept out of the road to their tender, Sergius, the decurion, dropped back and with his tongue in his cheek made such jovial threatening signs that the little shepherd laughed again.
The squad galloped after the main body and were lost to view. Many of the Jews called to the little shepherd, but after a time travel was resumed on the road and deep monotonous composure settled upon the valley again.
But Joseph, the Christian, turned into the high grass of the meadow with bowed head and clasped hands.
"Lord Jesus, what may I do for Thee?" he asked impulsively.
He stopped suddenly. At his feet lay the silent sleeper in the grass. On the tall growth upstanding about the prostrate form were clear shining scarlet drops. The little shepherd turned white and threw himself down on his knees beside the still figure and put his hand over the heart. Then he lifted his face to the skies.
"I was sick and ye visited me," he whispered radiantly.
GREEK AND JEW
Julian of Ephesus, now the presumptive Philadelphus Maccabaeus, rode up the broad brown bosom of a hill that had confronted him for miles to the south, and the sun had sloped until its early spring rays struck level from the west. At the summit, he drew up his horse suddenly with a quick intaking of the breath.
Below him lay Jerusalem.
South and east the barren summits of brown hills shaped a depression in which the city lay. North, clean-white and regular, the wall of Agrippa was printed against the cold blue of the sky. Below on three lesser mounts and overflowing the vales between was the goodliest city in all Asia.
About it and through it climbed such walls, planted on such bold natural escarpment, that made it the most inaccessible fortification in the world. On its highest hill stood a vision of marble and gold—a fortress in gemstone—the Temple. Behind it towered Roman Antonia. Westward the Tyropean Bridge spanned a deep, populous ravine. The high broad street upon which the giant causeway terminated was marked by the solemn cenotaphs of Mariamne and Phaselis and ended against the Tower of Hippicus—a vast and unflinching citadel of stone. Under the shadow of this pile was the high place of the Herods; in sight was a second Herodian palace. South was the open space of the great markets; near the southernmost segment of the outer wall was the semicircular Hippodrome. Cut off from its neighbor by ancient walls were Ophlas, overlooking Tophet and under the shadow of the Temple; Mount Zion which the Lord had established, Akra of the valley, Moriah, the Holy Hill, and Coenopolis or Bezetha which Agrippa I had walled. About the immense outer fortifications crawled the shadowy valleys of Tophet, of Brook Kedron and of Hinnom. Thickly scattered like fallen patches of skies the pools of Siloam, Gihon, Shiloh, En-Rogel, the Great Pool, the Serpent's Pool and the Dragon's Well reflected the color of the mountain heavens. Between them wandered the blue threads of certain aqueducts that supplied them. Everywhere rose the shafts of monuments and memorials, old as the pride of Absalom, new as the folly of the Herods; everywhere the aggressive paganism of Rome and Greece, which would have paganized this monotheistic race out of very rancor against its uprightness, violated with insolent beauty the hieratic severity of the city's face. Rich, bold, strong, beautiful, Jerusalem was at that hour, as viewed from the hill to the north, the perfection of beauty and the joy of the whole earth.
For a moment ambition struggled nobly in the breast of the man that overlooked it. Except for the obstacles he had placed in his own way by his misdeeds, Julian of Ephesus at that moment might have become great. But he had struck down his kinsman on the way, and such deeds were remembered even in war-ridden Judea; he had come to Jerusalem wearing his kinsman's name that he might despoil that kinsman's bride of her dowry; a hundred other crimes of his commission stood in the way to peace and success.
But about him the Passover pilgrims, catching their first glimpse of the Holy City, gave way to the storm of emotion that had gradually gathered as they drew near to the threatened City of Delight.
It had moved him to look upon this most majestic fortification, embattled and begirt for resistance against the most majestic nation in the world. But he who came as a stranger could not feel within him the tenderness of old love, the sanctity of old tradition, and the desperation of kin in his blood as he gazed upon Jerusalem. Yonder was a roof-garden; to him, no more than that. But the inspired Jews beside him knew that in that place the sun of noon had shone upon Bathsheba, the beautiful; and in that neighboring high place the heart of the Singing King had melted; to the north was a stretch of monotonous ground overgrown with a new suburb; but that was the camp of Sennacherib, the Assyrian whom the Angel of the Lord smote and his army of one hundred and four score and five thousand, before the morning. Yonder were squalid streets, older than any others. But the Kings had walked them; the Prophets had helped wear trenches in their stones; the heroes and the strong-hearted women of the ancient days had gone that way. No house but was holy with tradition; no street but was sanctified by event. Small wonder, then, that these who came to this Passover, the most momentous one since that calamity which had occurred forty years ago on Golgotha, wept, cried aloud to Heaven; became beatified and made prophecies; railed; anathematized Jerusalem's enemies; assumed vows and were threatening. Julian of Ephesus was shaken. He looked about him on the tempestuous host, then touched his horse and rode down to the city.
On the Hill Scopus over which he approached an inferior number of Romans were camped, and these had maintained a semblance of siege only sufficiently effective to close all the gates on three sides. The Sun Gate to the south of the city was therefore the most accessible point of entry for the pilgrims. Following the people who had preceded him, Julian approached this portal, left his horse with the stable-keeper without and prepared to enter Jerusalem.
Collecting at the causeway of the Sun Gate the pilgrims came with such impetus that the foremost were rushed struggling and protesting through the tunnel under the wall and forced well into Jerusalem before they could control their own motion. Once within, the host spread out so that one looking at the immense space they instantly covered wondered how so great a mass ever passed through the circumscribed limits of a fifty-foot gate. At times stopping was impossible. Again there were momentary lulls, as when the sea recoils upon itself and is stilled for an instant. They who stood to watch, wearied of days of such invasion, unconsciously wished that the interval might endure till they could rest their number-wearied brains. But, as if the stagnation were the result of congestion somewhere without the walls, when the wave returned it came with redoubled height and power and the Sun Gate would roar with the noise of their entry.
After the Ephesian had been swept in with his own company of pilgrims, he saw that which even few of the new-comers had expected to see. The immediate vicinity of the gate was laid waste. Up Mount Zion opposite Hippicus and along the margin of the Tyropean Valley where the Herodian and Sadducean palaces had seemed so fair from the north were great blackened shells of walls and leaning pillars, partly buried in ruin and rubbish. Far and wide the streets were littered with debris and charred fragments of burned timbers. At another place on the breast of Zion was a chaos of rock where a mansion had been literally pulled down. Somewhere near Akra pale columns of pungent, wind-blown smoke still rose from a colossal heap of fused matter that the Ephesian could not identify. About it were neglected houses; not a sign of festivity was apparent; windows hung open carelessly; the hangings in colonnades were stripped away entirely or whipped loose from the fastenings and abandoned to the winds. Numbers of dwellings appeared to have been sacked; others were so closely barred and fortified that their exteriors appeared as inhospitable as jails.
Confusion prevailed on the smoked and untidy marble Walk of the Purified leading down from the Temple. Here those who held fast to the Law met and contested for their old exclusiveness with wild heathen Idumean soldiers, starvelings, ruffians and strange women from out-lying towns. Far and wide were wandering crowds, surly, defiant, discourteous, exacting. Manifestly it was the visitors who were the aggressors. They had been overthrown and driven from their own into an unsubjugated city which was secure. They felt the rage of the defeated which are not subdued, and the resentment against another's unearned immunity. The citizens of Jerusalem had not welcomed them and they were enraged. Half a dozen fights of more or less seriousness were in sight at once. A column of black wiry men in some semblance of uniform pushed across the open space toward the Essene Gate. They took no heed for any in their path. Those who could not escape were overturned and trampled on. Meeting a rush at the gate they drew swords and coolly hacked their way through screams of fear and pain and amazement. After them went a wave of curses and complaint. Citizens against the visitors; visitors against the citizens; soldiers against them all!
"And this cousin of mine meant to pacify all this!" the Ephesian exclaimed to himself.
Jerusalem, that had for fifteen hundred years adorned herself at this time with tabrets and had gone forth in the dance of them that make merry, was drunken with wormwood and covered with ashes.
All at once the Ephesian saw four soldiers standing together and with them, manifestly under their protection, was a Greek of striking beauty. He wore on his fine head a purple turban embroidered with a golden star.
Without a moment's hesitation, the Ephesian approached. The spears of the four soldiers fell and formed a barrier around the Greek. The new-comer smiled confidently.
"Greeting, servant of Amaryllis," he said. "I am your lady's expected guest."
The Greek came forth from the square formed by his guard.
"I am that servant of Amaryllis," he said courteously. "But show me yet another sign."
The Ephesian drew from his bosom the Maccabaean signet and flashed its blue fires at the Greek. The servant stepped hastily between the soldiers and the new-comer.
"Thy name?" he asked in a whisper.
"I am Philadelphus Maccabaeus."
The servant bent and taking the hem of the woolen tunic pressed it to his lips.
"Happy hour!" he exclaimed. "I pray you follow me."
The pretender breathed a relieved sigh and joined his protector.
They passed down into Akra and approached the straight column of pungent smoke towering up from a charred heap that the Ephesian in spite of his haste inspected curiously.
"What is that?" he asked of the Greek.
"That, master, is the city granaries."
"The granaries!" the Ephesian cried, aghast.
The Greek inclined his head.
"What—what—fired them?" the Ephesian asked.
"John and Simon differed on the point of its control and each fired it to keep the other from possessing it!"
For a moment the Ephesian was thunderstruck. Then he quickened his pace.
"By the horns of Capricornus!" he avowed. "The sooner one gets out of this, the wiser he must be counted!"
The Greek looked at him with lifted brows and led on.
They crossed the Tyropean Valley and approached a small new house of stone, abutting the vast retaining wall that was built against Moriah. A line of soldiers was thrown out from the entrance to the house and his conductor, after whispering a word to the captain, led the way up to a double-barred door. A long time after he had rapped, there was the sound of falling chains and the door swung open. A second Greek servant of no less beauty bowed the new-comer and his companion within. The noise of the streets was suddenly cut off. Soft dusk and quiet proved that the doors of Amaryllis had been shut upon unhappy Jerusalem.
The second servant drew a cord and a roller of matting lifted and showed a skylight. Philadelphus the pretender was in the andronitis of a Greek house.
It was typical. None but a Greek with the purest taste had planned it. Walls and pavement were of unpolished marble, lusterless white. A marble exedra built in a semicircle sat in the farther end, facing a chair wholly of ivory set beside a lectern of dull brass. At either end of the exedra on a pedestal formed by the arms, a brass staff upheld a flat lamp that cast its luster down on the seat by night. Against an opposite wall built at full length of the hall, was a pigeonholed case, which was stacked with brass cylinders. This was the library of the Greek. At a third side was a compound arch concealed by a heavy white curtain. There were low couches spread with costly white material which were used when Amaryllis set her table in her andronitis, and at the arches leading into the interior of the house there were draperies. But the chamber, with all its richness, had a splendid emptiness that made it imposing, not luxurious.