After a single admiring survey of the hall in which he had been left alone, the pretended Philadelphus fortified himself against his most critical test.
Without a sound, without even so much as the rustling of a garment to announce her, a woman emerged from a passage leading into the interior of the house. He confronted the only person in Jerusalem who might know him as an impostor.
The woolen chiton of her countrywomen draped a figure almost too slender, yet perfect in its delicate modeling. Though her eyes were black, her hair was fair and brilliant with a wash of gold powder. Her features were Hellenic, cold, pure and classic, and for all her youth and beauty there was an atmosphere about her of middle-age, immense experience, and old sagacity.
The pretender braced himself for the scrutiny the eyes made of him.
"You are that Philadelphus, as my servant tells me?" she asked.
"I am he."
She inclined her head.
"Welcome; in the name of all the need of you!"
After a silence he came closer and lifted her hand to his lips. He added nothing, but presently raised his eyes softened with feeling and unexpressed appreciation.
"Certainly you have suffered, lady," he said finally in a subdued tone. "But please God you will not suffer alone hereafter."
Amaryllis' non-committal front changed.
"You are gentler of speech than is common among the Maccabees," she said.
"Nevertheless the Maccabees are the more touched by devotion," he maintained.
He led her to the exedra, unslung his wallet and laid it on the lectern before them.
"When thou hast leisure, perchance thou wilt find interest in these papers here."
She thanked him and there was a moment's silence. Under his lashes the impostor saw that he had not filled her fancied picture of the Maccabee made from long years of correspondence. She was disappointed; her intuition was perplexed. He would complete his work and get away in time.
"My wife is here?" he asked.
"She came yesterday," Amaryllis responded, clapping her hands in summons. A female servant of such prepossessing appearance that Philadelphus looked at her again, bowed in the archway.
"Send hither the princess," Amaryllis said.
"The princess," Philadelphus repeated to himself. "Then, by Ate, I am the prince!"
"While we wait," Amaryllis continued, "let us talk of details which you may not have patience to hear after she comes. Jerusalem, as you have learned, is in grave danger—"
"Jerusalem should fear the Roman army less than herself. I have seen its disease."
"The citizens will hail Titus as a deliverer. But this week's ceremonies are bringing us disaster. Should Titus be forced to lay siege about us, how shall we feed this multitude of a million on the supplies gathered for only a third of that number?"
"Gathered and burned."
"Even so. But of your creature comforts. My house is open to your chief enemy. It must be so. You must be hidden—not concealed, but disguised. You know my weakness for people of charm and people of ability. My house is full of them. The master of this place is indulgent; he permits me to add to my collection whatever pleases me in the way of society. Therefore, you are come as a student of this wonderful drama to be enacted in Jerusalem presently. You may live under part of your name. Substitute, however, your city for your surname. Be Philadelphus of Ephesus. No one then will question your presence here.
"I have bound to me by oath and by fear one hundred Idumeans who will rise or fall with you. They are of John's own army and alienated to you without his knowledge. Hence they are in armor and ready at any propitious moment. This house is provisioned and equipped for siege; everything is prepared."
"At what cost, my Amaryllis?" he asked tenderly.
She drew away from him quickly, as if his tone had touched a place of deeper disappointment.
"That I do not remember. I am your minister; you need no other. More than the one would be multiplying chances for betrayal."
"And what wilt thou have out of all this for thyself?" he asked.
Slowly she turned her face back to him.
"I would have it said that I made a king," she said.
There was a step in the corridor leading into the andronitis, and, smiling, Amaryllis rose. Philadelphus got upon his feet and looked to catch the first glimpse of the woman who was bringing him two hundred talents.
A woman entered the hall. Behind her came a servant bearing a shittim-wood casket.
Had Amaryllis been looking for suspicious signs, she would have observed in the intense silence that fell, in the arrested attitude of the pair, more than a natural embarrassment. Any one informed that these were a pair of impostors would have seen that there was no confusion here, but amazement, chagrin and no little fear.
Instead, Amaryllis, nothing suspecting, glanced from one set face to the other and laughed.
"Poor children! Married fourteen years and more than strangers to each other! I will take myself off until you recover."
She signed to the servant to follow her and passed out of the hall.
Philadelphus then put off his stony quiet and gazed wrathfully at the woman who had entered.
Hers was a fine frame, broad and square of shoulder, tall and lank of hip as some great tiger-cat, and splendid in its sinuosity. She had walked with a long stride and as she dropped into the chair she crossed her limbs so that her well-turned ankles showed and the hands she clasped about her knees were long and strong, white and remarkably tapering. Her features were almost too perfect; her beauty was sensuous, insolent and dazzling. Withal her presence intimated tremendous primal charm and the mystery of undiscovered potentialities. And she was royal! No mere upstart of an impostor could have assumed that perfect hauteur, that patrician bearing.
But the pretended Philadelphus was not impressed by this beauty.
"How now, Salome?" he demanded. "What play is this?"
The Ephesian actress motioned toward the shittim-wood casket.
"For that," she said calmly.
Her voice became, instantly, her foremost charm. It was a deep voice; the profoundest contralto with an illimitable strength in suggestion.
"Where is—what is that?"
"Two hundred talents."
Philadelphus took a step toward her.
"What!" he exclaimed evilly. "Whose two hundred talents?"
There was silence in which the man's fingers bent, as if he felt her throat between them. Then he recovered himself.
"But—this woman—where is she?"
The actress lifted her shapely shoulders.
"Where is the Maccabee?" she asked in return.
He made no answer.
"Did you get that treasure here—since yesterday?" he asked at last querulously.
"No, by Pluto! I got it in the hills near to Emmaus. You would have had it in another day." She laughed impudently, in spite of the murderous blackening in his face.
"Then, since you are such a shrewd thief, why did you come here at all, since you had the gold?" he demanded, astonished in spite of his rage.
She waved a pair of jeweled hands.
"They said that the Maccabee was strong and ambitious and forceful, that he would be king over Judea. Knowing you, I believed he would still come to Jerusalem in spite of you. How did you do it? In his sleep? Now, I," she continued with an assumption of concern, "failed in that detail. She was guarded by a monster. I could not get near her. But I got the casket."
"She will come here then!" Philadelphus exclaimed.
"What of it! Amaryllis does not know her; no one else does. And I have her proofs—and her dowry!"
After a silence in which she read the expression on his face, she rose and came near him with determination in her manner.
"You will have the wisdom not to recognize her," she said, "lest I suddenly discover that you are not the Philadelphus I expected."
He made rapid survey of her advantage over him, and submitted.
"But there will be no need of waiting for such an issue," he fumed, after a silence. "I am here and not the Maccabee, whose crown you coveted. We shall get out of this perilous city."
"So?" she said, lifting her finely penciled brows. "No, we shall not."
"Why?" he stormed.
"Because," she answered, "John of Gischala may yet be king of Judea—and John hath a queen's diadem for sale at two hundred talents—or a heart which I can have for nothing."
There was malevolent and impotent silence in the andronitis of Amaryllis, the Greek.
THE YOUNG TITUS
They who stood on the wall by the Tower of Psephinos in Coenopolis of Jerusalem on a day in March, 70 A.D., saw prophecy fulfilled.
Since the hour in which the Roman eagles had appeared above the horizon to the west in their circling over the rebellious province of Judea there had not been one day of peace. Then their coming had meant the approach of an enemy. But in a short time such implacable and fierce oppressors, with such genius for ferocity and bloodshed, had developed among the Jews' own factions that the miserable citizens had turned to the tyrant Rome for rescue. They who had risen against Florus and had driven him out would have willingly accepted him again in place of Simon bar Gioras and John of Gischala, before two years had elapsed. Now, their plight was so desperate that they clambered daily upon the walls of their unhappy city to look for the first glimpse of the approaching enemy, Titus, whom they had learned to call the Deliverer.
Near noon of this day in March certain citizens on the wall beside Hippicus saw a flash down the road to the west beyond the Serpent's Pool near Herod's monuments. Again they saw it and again, until they observed that its appearance was rhythmic, striking through a soft colored cloud of Judean dust.
Out of that yellow haze, rolling nearer, they saw now the glittering Roman standards emerge, one by one; saw the spiky level of shouldered spears; saw the shapes of horses, saw the shapes of men; heard the soft thunder of six hundred horse on the packed earth, heard the music of six hundred whetting harnesses; heard like a tender, far-off song the winding of a Roman bugle and heard then in their own hearts, the shout: "He has come! The Deliverer!"
It was the hour of the City's last hope.
On the near side of the Pool of the Serpent, they saw the body of horse break into a light trot and, wheeling in that fine concord in which even the dumb beasts were perfect, turn the broadside of the splendid column to Jerusalem as it swept up Hill Gareb to the north.
The citizens clambered down from the wall by Hippicus and, speeding silently but with moving lips and shining eyes through alleys and byways, came finally to an angle in Agrippa's wall that stood out toward Gareb. Here was built the Tower of Psephinos. Dumb and callous as beasts to the blows and commands of the sentries there mounted, the citizens clambered up on the fortifications and, with their chins on the battlements that stood shoulder-high, gazed avidly at the sight they saw.
Scattered confidently over the uneven country the six hundred had broken file and were in easy disarray all over Gareb. Spears were at rest, standards grounded, many were dismounted, whole companies slouched in their saddles. The Jews, long used to rigid military discipline among the Romans, looked in amazement. Then a light click of a hoof attracted their attention to the bridle-path immediately under the overhanging battlements.
There a solitary horseman rode. Not a scale of armor was upon his horse; not a weapon, not even a shield depended from his harness. His head was uncovered and a sheeny purple fillet showed in the tumbled, dusty black hair. There was no guard on the hand that held the bridle; the cloak that floated from his shoulders was white wool; the tunic was the simple light garment that soldiers usually wear under armor; the shoes alone were mailed. It seemed that the young Roman had stripped off his helmet, breast-plate and greaves to ride less encumbered or to appear less warlike.
But the Jews who looked at him understood. Here was Titus come in peace!
The horse went with loosened rein, while the young Roman's eyes raised to the great wall towering over him had more of admiration and a generous foe's appreciation of his enemy's strength than of the note-making search of a spy in them.
"Ha! By Hector, that penurious Herod was a builder!" they seemed to say. "There is enough stone insolence in these walls to trouble Rome for a while!"
Rod after rod of the slowly rising ground he traversed; rod after rod of the tall fortification passed under his inspection, and now the twin Women's Towers rose upon the ashes and scarped rock to the north.
Titus spoke to his horse and rode faster.
Meanwhile silent dozens climbed panting and dumbly resisting the sentries up beside the first Jews. They were citizens who dared not rejoice aloud. They followed the young Roman with brightened eyes, saying each within his heart:
"Thus David came up against Saul, unto Israel!"
But there was an increase of uproar in the city below, as if news of the coming of Titus had spread abroad.
Titus was now almost a mile from the nearest of his soldiers. He passed the Gate of the Women's Towers. Hedges, gardens, ditches and wind-breaks of cedars of Lebanon from time to time obscured him. When he came in sight again, he had placed obstruction between himself and retreat.
The next instant the Gate of the Women's Towers swung in. Out of it rushed a sortie of motley soldiery, brandishing weapons and shouting the war-cries of Simon and John.
The citizens on the walls pressed their hands to their temples and watched, transfixed with horror. Jerusalem's defenders had gone out against the Deliverer!
The attack had been seen by the disorganized troops on Gareb and the rapid trumpet-calls showed formation. But between the time of their movement and the moment of their relief a company could have been unhorsed. Meanwhile Titus, with nothing less than Fate preserving him for its own work, dodged javelins and, enraging the white stallion that he rode, kept out of reach of hand-to-hand encounter with his assailants. Back and forward he rode, his horse carrying him at times out of range of missiles; again, all but surrounded by the unorganized enemy. About his head whizzed axes and spears, wild, and frequently slaying their own. Far up the slope of Gareb the six hundred gathered itself and swept in mass down upon the conflict.
Between them and Titus lay two furlongs. To join his column with all honor to himself, he had to work back over the wadies he had crossed and circle the gardens that stood in his way. But a hedge pressed too close upon the space he must pass, between it and the enemy, before he could return to his men. An ax glanced beside his ear; he wavered in his saddle. Then, that happened which a Roman of that day could not be forced to do and forget.
Titus wheeled his horse and, plunging his spurs into its sides, fled on into the open country to the north, with the jeers of the men of Simon and John following him.
His troops rushed down upon his assailants. But the wary soldiers turned when the Roman had fled and the Gate of the Women's Towers closed upon them.
Up from the visitors within the wall rose a shout:
"A sign, a sign! An omen! Thus shall the children of God overthrow the heathen in battle!"
But one of the Jews on the wall thrust his fingers under his turban and seized his hair.
"Jerusalem is fallen! Woe! Woe to the wicked city!"
He turned in his place and leaped a good twenty feet to the ground. When he raised himself the look of a maniac had settled on his face. Tearing his garments from him as he went, he entered a narrow street that made its ascent toward Zion by steps and cobbled slants. Here he came upon great crowds of terror-stricken citizens who had rushed together as the news spread abroad over Jerusalem that the men of Simon and John had gone out against the Deliverer. No definite news of the outcome of the sortie had reached them and they were moving in a dense pack down toward the walls to hear the worst. The whole hurrying mass seemed to vibrate with suspense and dread. The maniac met them.
"Woe, woe to Jerusalem!" he cried.
A lean, apish, half-naked, lash-scarred idiot in the street, instantly, as if in echo to that mad cry, shouted in a voice of the most prodigious volume:
"A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the Holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides and a voice against this whole people!"
The temper of the crowd had reached that point of tension that needed only a little more strain to become panic. Some one received the discordant cries of the maniacs with piercing rapid screams. Instantly the choked passage filled with frantic uproar. Scores attempting to flee blindly trampled over those transfixed with fear. They fought, men with women, youths with old age, children with one another. Hundreds attracted by the tumult rushed in on the panic and added fresh victims and new death. Out of the horror rose the fearful cries of the madmen:
"Woe, woe to this wicked city!"
Meanwhile, the soldiers of Simon and John came to prevent citizens from gathering in bodies, and with sword and spear drove into the struggle and added murder to it all. The spirit of terror then issued out of that bloody alley and seized upon street by street. Far and wide the tumult ran, growing in volume with every accession, until the raging and humiliated Titus, among his six hundred, heard Jerusalem howl like a beaten slave and hushed his pagan curses to listen.
Late that same afternoon, the Esquiline Gate, inaccessible, despised and sealed, was broken open from within and under it and down its difficult and dangerous approach poured a silent multitude, numbering thousands. They were abandoning the Rock of David to its fate. Among them went the last remnants of that sect of Christians who had tarried long after their brethren had been warned away, hoping against hope.
They were not missed among the numbers in Jerusalem, for the Passover hosts still poured through the gates to the south and took their places in the unhappy city. And with these that same afternoon Laodice and her old servant came into Jerusalem.
It was the eighth day after they had applied to the priest at Emmaus whither they had fled in their search for the frosts, a good three leagues north of the direct road to Jerusalem. They had stopped at the Lavatory outside the walls, washed themselves and had purchased the white garments of the purified. Old Momus carried with him the price of the lambs, of the fine flour and the oil for their cleansing and the two were ready to present themselves for their purification at the Temple. But all the roar and disorder of the great city in its warfare and its discord confused them. Ascalon had not a thousandth part of this turmoil at its busiest season. Neither was there a servant in a purple turban with the gold star to meet them and they were bewildered and lost.
The rest of the visitors to the Passover hurried into the heart of the city; wave after wave of new-comers replaced them; but the young woman and her dumb old servant stood aside just within reach of the shadow of the immemorial portal and waited.
Time and again wolfish Idumean soldiers who were numerous about the place noted the pair and commented to one another or spoke insolently to the shrinking girl who hid ineffectually behind her veil. Hour after hour they stood with growing distress and no friendly face in all that army of hurrying, restless, quarreling Jews welcomed them.
The afternoon waned. Laodice thought of the darkness and trembled.
An old man fumbling a talisman of bone drew near them. Laodice took courage and approached him.
"I pray thee, sir, I seek Amaryllis, the Seleucid."
The old man turned large, grave eyes upon her.
"Daughter, what dost thou know of this woman?" he asked.
"My husband knows her; I do not. I am to join him under her roof."
The old man looked reassured.
"Follow this street unto one intersecting it on the summit of Zion. That will be a broad street and a straight one, terminating on a bridge. Go thence to the hither side of that bridge, pass down the ravine and cross to the other side against Moriah. There thou shalt see a new Greek house. It is the residence of Amaryllis."
Laodice thanked her informant and began the pursuit of the cloudy directions to her destination. Twice before she brought up at the sentry line before the house of the Seleucid, she asked further of other citizens. Many times she met affront, once or twice she perilously escaped disaster. At last, near sunset, she stood before the dwelling-place of the one secure citizen of the Holy City.
A sentry dropped his spear across her path and she had not the countersign to give him. There she and her helpless old attendant stood and looked hopelessly at the refuge denied them.
Presently a man appeared in the colonnade across the front of the house and descending to the sentry line called to him the officer in command. They stood within a few paces of Laodice and she heard the soldier address the man as John, and heard him deliver a report of the day.
When the soldier withdrew to his place, Laodice stepped forward and called to the Gischalan. He stopped, noted that she was beautiful and waited.
"I would speak with the Lady Amaryllis," she hesitated.
"Have you the countersign?" he asked.
"No; else I should have entered. But Amaryllis will know me."
"Enter then," the Gischalan said.
In a moment she was admitted at the solid doors and led into a vestibule. Here, a porter took charge of Momus and showed him into a side passage, while Laodice followed her conductor through a corridor into an interior hall of splendid simplicity. Lounging on an exedra was a young woman in a woolen chiton, barefoot and trifling with the Greek ampyx that bound her golden hair.
Laodice put up her veil and looked with hurrying heart at her hostess. Before she could get a preliminary idea of the woman she was to meet, John spoke lightly:
"Be wearied no longer. I have brought you a mystery—a stranger, without the countersign, asking audience with you."
"Go back to the fortress," the young woman answered. "Sometime you will find strangers awaiting you there, also without the password. You will lose Jerusalem trifling with me. I have spoken!"
John filliped her ear as he passed through into a corridor which must have led into the Temple precincts. Under the light, Laodice saw that he was a middle-aged Jew, not handsome, but luxuriant with virility. His face showed great ability with no conscience, and force and charm without balance or morals. Here, then, thought Laodice, is the first of Philadelphus' enemies.
The idler in the exedra, meanwhile, was awaiting the speech of her visitor.
"Art thou she whom I seek?" Laodice asked. "Amaryllis, the Seleucid?"
"I am called by that name."
"I was bidden," Laodice continued, "by one whom we both know, to seek asylum with thee."
"So? Who may that be?"
Laodice whispered the name.
The Greek's eyes took on a puzzled look. Then she surveyed the girl and as a full conception of the beauty of the young creature before her formed in the Greek's mind, the perplexity left her expression. Her air changed; a subtle smile played about her lips.
"He sent you to me for protection?"
"Until he arrives in Jerusalem," Laodice assented.
"But he is already here."
It was the moment that Laodice had avoided fearfully ever since she had gathered from that winsome stranger by the roadside that his companion was her husband. Although, after that fact had been made known to her, she had felt that she ought to join Philadelphus and proceed with him to the Holy City, she had endured the exposure of the hills, the want and discomfort of insufficient supplies and the affronts of wayfarers, that she might spare herself as long as possible her union with the unsafe man who had become even more hateful by comparison with the one who had called himself Hesper.
"Perchance thou wilt lead me to him," Laodice said finally.
Amaryllis made no immediate answer. It would have been a natural impulse for her to wish to inquire for the girl's business with the man that the Greek as hostess was expected to conceal. But Amaryllis had her own explanation for this visit. It had been plain to less observant eyes than hers that the newly arrived Philadelphus was not delighted with the bride he had met.
The Greek summoned a servant.
"Go summon thy master, Prisca; and haste. I doubt not I have for him a sweet relief."
The woman bowed.
"If it please thee, madam, the master is without in the vestibule, returning from the city." Amaryllis signed to the ivory chair before her.
"Sit, lady," she said to Laodice. "He will come at once."
The young woman dropped into the seat and gazed wistfully at her hostess. Instinctively, she knew that in this woman was no relief from the darkened life she was to lead with her husband. The Greek's face, palely lighted by a thoughtful smile, vanished in sudden darkness. Laodice saw instead an image of a strong intent face, brightening under the sunrise, saw it relax, soften, grow inexpressibly kind, then pass, as a tender memory taking leave for ever.
She was brought to herself by the Greek's rising suddenly. The Ephesian appeared at the arch, tossing mantle and kerchief to the porter as he entered. Laodice rose to her feet with difficulty. It was he, indeed!
He was kissing Amaryllis' hand. The Greek was smiling an accusing, conscious smile. She indicated Laodice. The Ephesian's face showed startlement, suspicion and a quick recovery. He bowed low and waited for explanation.
"Then I will go," Amaryllis said with amusement in her eyes, "if you are acting pretenses for my sake."
She turned toward the arch which led into the interior of the house. The pretender glanced again at Laodice and again at the Greek.
"What is the play, lady?" he asked.
Amaryllis looked at Laodice standing stony white at her place, and lost her confident smile.
"Is this not he?" she asked.
"Is this Philadelphus Maccabaeus?" Laodice asked.
The Ephesian's face changed quickly. Enlightenment mixed with discomfiture appeared there for an instant.
"I am he," he said evenly.
"Then," Laodice said, "I am she whom thou hast expected."
Philadelphus smiled and dropped his head as if in thought.
"One always expects the pleasurable," he essayed, "but at times one does not recognize it when it comes. Who art thou, lady?"
"Pestilence, war and the evil devices of men have desolated me," she said coldly. "I have only a name. I am Laodice."
"Laodice!" he repeated amiably. "A familiar name; eh, Amaryllis?"
Laodice waited. Philadelphus looked again at her and appeared to wait.
"I am Laodice," the girl repeated, a little disconcerted, "thy wife."
"So!" Philadelphus exclaimed.
There was such well-assumed astonishment in the exclamation that she raised her eyes quickly to his face. There was another expression there; one wholly incredulous.
"Now did I in the profligacy of mine extreme youth marry two Laodices?" he said. "For another Laodice, wife to me, joined me some days since."
Laodice gazed at him without comprehending.
"I say," he repeated, "that my wife Laodice joined me some time ago."
"Why, I—I am Laodice, daughter to Costobarus, and thy wife!" she exclaimed, while her eyes fixed upon him the full force of her astonishment.
He turned to Amaryllis.
"What labyrinth is this, O my friend," he asked, "in which thou hast set my feet?"
"I do not know," Amaryllis laughed suddenly. "Call the princess."
Philadelphus summoned a servant and instructed her to bring his wife. For a short space the three did not speak, though Laodice's lips parted and she stroked her forehead in a bewildered way.
Then Salome, late actress in the theaters at Ephesus, came into the hall. Amaryllis bowed to her and the impostor gave her a chair. He turned to Laodice and with the faintest shadow of a grimace motioned toward the new-comer.
"This," he said, "is Laodice, daughter of Costobarus."
Laodice blazed at the insolent beauty who stared at her with curious eyes.
"That!" she cried. "The daughter of Costobarus!"
The fine brown eyes of the woman smoldered a little, but she continued to gaze without the least discomposure.
"Who is this, sir?" she asked of Philadelphus.
"That," said Philadelphus evenly, to the actress, "is Laodice, daughter of Costobarus."
"I do not understand," the actress said disgustedly. "You are clumsy, Philadelphus, when you are playful. If this is all, I shall return to my chamber."
She rose, but Laodice sprang into her path.
"Hold!" she cried. "Philadelphus, hast thou accepted this woman without proofs?"
Philadelphus smiled and shook his head.
"And by the by," he asked, "what proof have you?"
Up to that moment Laodice had burned with confident rage, feeling that, by force of the justice of her cause, she might overthrow this preposterous villainy, but at Philadelphus' question she suddenly chilled and blanched and shrank back. A new and supreme disadvantage of her loss presented itself to her at last. She could not prove her identity!
Meanwhile, seeing Laodice falter, the woman's lip curled.
"Weak! Very weak, Philadelphus," she said. "You must invent something better. The success of a jest is all that pardons a jester."
"She robbed me!" Laodice panted impotently. "Robbed me, after my father had given her refuge!"
"Of what?" the Greek asked.
"My proofs—and two hundred talents!"
"Lady," the actress said to Amaryllis, "my husband's emissary, Aquila, was a pagan. He had with him, on our journey, this woman and her old deformed father who fled when the plague broke out among us. She hoped, I surmise, that we should all die on the way. Even Samson gave up secrets to Delilah, and this Aquila was no better than Samson."
Oriental fury fulminated in the eyes of Laodice. Philadelphus, fearing that she was about to spring at the throat of her traducer, sprang between the two women. In his eyes shone immense admiration at that moment.
There was an instant of critical silence. Then Laodice drew herself up with a sudden accession of strength.
"Madam," she said coldly to Amaryllis, "with-hold thy judgment a few days. I shall send my servant back to Ascalon for other proof. He can go safely, for he has had the plague."
Philadelphus started; the actress flinched.
"Friend," Philadelphus said in his smooth way, "I came upon this woman by the wayside in the hills. I and a wayfarer cast a coin for possession of her—and the other man won. Give thyself no concern."
Laodice flung her hands over her face and shrank in an agony of shame down upon the exedra. Amaryllis looked down on her bowed head.
"Is it true?" she asked. After a moment Laodice raised herself.
"God of Israel," she said in a low voice, "how hast Thy servant deserved these things!"
There was a space of silence, in which the two impostors turned together and talking between themselves of anything but the recent interview walked out of the chamber.
After a time Laodice lifted her head and spoke to the Greek.
"If thou wilt give me shelter, madam, for a few days only, I promise thee thou shalt not regret it," she said.
The girl was interesting and Amaryllis had been disappointed in Philadelphus. Nothing tender or compassionate; only a little curiosity, a little rancor, a little ennui and a faint instinctive hope that something of interest might yet develop, moved the Greek.
"Send your servant to Ascalon for proofs," she said. "I shall give you shelter here until you are proved undeserving of it. And since the times are uncertain, do not delay."
THE STORY OF A DIVINE TRAGEDY
The following morning, there was a rap at the door of the chamber to which Laodice had been led and informed that it was her own.
She had passed a sleepless night and had risen early, but the knock came late in the morning.
She opened the door.
Without stood a ten year old girl, of the most bewitching beauty, as barely clad as ever the children of her blood went over the green meadows of Achaia. Her golden hair was knotted on the back of her pretty head and held in place by an ampyx. On her feet were tiny sheepskin buskins; about her perfect little body, worn carelessly, was a simple chiton, out of which her dimpled shoulders and small round arms showed pink and tender as field-flowers. Nothing could have been more composed than her gaze at Laodice.
"We breakfast in the hall, now. You are to join us," she said.
Laodice stepped, out of the chamber into the court and followed her little guide.
"The mistress and her guests rise late," the child went on. "That perforce starves the rest of us until mid-morning. Eheu! It is the one injustice in this house."
Laodice dumbly wondered if she were to be classed with the house servants while she waited until the return of her devoted old mute.
She was led into a long narrow room, showing the same simple elegance that marked all the house of Amaryllis, the Greek. Down the center were two tables, separated by a cluster of tall plants that almost screened one from the other.
At the first table place was laid for one. At the other, she found by the talk and laughter the rest of the company were gathered. The little girl led Laodice to the single place, seated her, and kissing her hand to her with an almost too-practised bow, fled around the cluster of tall plants. There she heard her childish voice imperiously ordering a servant to attend the mistress' latest guest.
Prisca appeared and silently served Laodice with melon, honey-cakes and milk. Other of the house-servants were visible from time to time. This, then, manifestly was not the breakfast of the menials. She glanced toward the cluster of tall plants. Through an interstice she was able to see all the persons seated at the other table.
There first was the blue-eyed, golden-haired girl. Beside her was a youth, slim, dark, exquisitely fashioned, with limbs and arms as strong as were ever displayed in the games, yet powerful without brutality, graceful without weakness—marks of the ideal athlete that had long since disappeared with the coming of the Roman gladiator. Opposite was a grown man, tall, broad and deep chested, with prominent eyes wide apart and a large mouth. There was a singleness of attitude in him, as in all persons reared to a purpose. It was that certain self-centeredness which is not egotism, yet a subconsciousness of self in all acts. He was the finished product of a specific, life-long training, and the confidence in his atmosphere was the confidence of one aware of his skill and prepared at all times.
Besides these three, there were two women, both in the garments of the ancient atelier. One was bemarked with clay; the other was stained with paint. Laodice knew at a glance that she looked at a gathering of artists.
"Evidently a gift from John," the little girl was saying. "He can not see that our lady does anything but collect curiosities in this her search after art, and so he must needs add a contribution in this Stygian monster we saw yesterday evening."
Laodice knew that they discussed Momus.
"Perhaps," the athlete said, "he bought this left-handed catapult thinking he might throw the discus farther than I can throw it."
"Well enough," the woman with paint on her tunic put in; "she sent the monster packing. He went out of the gates post-haste last night, they say."
"The pretty stranger that came with him stayed, I observe," the athlete said.
"Pst!" the girl said in a low voice. "Where are the man's eyes in your head, that you do not see her?"
"Looking at you!" the athlete answered.
"Too soon!" the child retorted. "A good six years before I shall know what your looks mean!"
"Is she, this pretty stranger, something of John's taste?" the woman who had blue clay on her garment asked.
"Tut!" the athlete broke in. "John never departed from his ancient barbarism to that extent. That, unless I misjudge my own inclinations in a similar matter, is something this mysterious Philadelphus hath arranged to relieve the tedium of—"
"Tedium!" the girl exclaimed. "By Hector, this Jewish wife of his would open his Ephesian eyes were she to let loose all I suspect in her!"
"Brrr! But you are suspicious!" the athlete shivered. The little girl shaped her lips into a kiss and the athlete leaning across the table snatched it from her before she could avoid him.
The women caught him by the back of his tunic and pulled him down in his chair.
"Sit down!" they whispered. "Don't you see that Juventius is about to speak?"
The athlete glanced at the grown man, who had looked down into his plate at the youth's frolic with the child, with the utmost disdain and boredom in his expression. Now that the silence became noticeable, he spoke in an affected voice, but one of the deepest music.
"Alas, these Jews!" he said. "How little they know about art! How long has it been since he introduced one of the Temple singers into our lady's hall to show what a piercing high note could be reached by a male voice? And he had the creature sing to prove his contention. I thought I should die! It was worse than awful; it was criminal!"
The athlete laughed.
"Any singer, then, but Juventius therefore is a malefactor!" he said.
"No, it does not follow," Juventius protested in all seriousness, while the child flashed a look of intense amusement at the athlete. "But," waving a pair of long white hands, "none should trifle with music. It is one of the graces of Nature, divine and elemental. Wherefore, anything short of a perfect production becometh a mockery and a mockery against divine things is blasphemy. Ergo, the poor musician is in danger of Hades!"
"The monster is safe, safe!" the girl protested. "He does not sing, and from what I caught through the crack of the door, the pretty stranger had better not. My lady, the princess, had a merry time with my lord, the prince, at breakfast this morning, all about this same pretty one. So this is why she breakfasts with us—the second table."
Laodice heard this with a sinking heart. This was a strange house in which to live at no definite status, with a future blank and inscrutable.
"Is it, then, that you are wary of offending the over-nice exactions of music, that you do not sing?" the athlete demanded of Juventius.
"Song," replied the singer gravely, "is originally the expression of the highest exaltation. To sing before the high mark of feeling is reached is an insincerity."
"Alas, Juventius," the girl was saying, "how much difficulty you lay up for yourself in determining the limits of art! Teach broadly and the fulfilment of your laws will not be such a task for the overworked and irritable gods of art."
"Child!" Juventius cried passionately. "Your ignorance outreaches your presumption!"
"Fie! Fie!" the athlete put in comfortably. "Let us make a truce, for I announce to you the opportunity each to have whatever you wish. We are to have at the proper moment, according to the Jews, a celestial visitation which will enable us to have what we most desire."
"You announce it!" the girl scoffed indignantly. "I have heard of that ever since I was born!"
"I, too, have heard it," said Juventius.
"Well," said the unabashed athlete, "the Pharisee that brings Amaryllis her fruit is so full of it that he gets prophecies mixed with his prices and the patriarchs with his fruit. He says that there are those that declare he is already in the city."
"That he has been seen?" Juventius asked, after a little silence.
"No; merely suspected. They say that things go on in the Temple which seem to show that some resident of their Olympus already inhabits the air."
"I saw Seraiah to-day," one of the women said in a low voice.
"Silent as ever? Spotless as ever? Mysterious as ever?" the athlete asked.
The woman who had spoken shook her head at him as if alarmed.
"I can not bear to hear him ridiculed," she said. "Somehow it seems blasphemous. They say he marks every one who laughs in his hearing."
"They are not many," the girl said. "For the most part, the citizens of Jerusalem feel as apprehensive about him as you do."
"I wonder that John will stay in the Temple with a god in it," Juventius said, as if he had not heard the rest of the discussion.
"John!" the athlete exclaimed. "John is an adventurer that believes in nothing, has no cause and furthers this warfare for loot and the possible chance of escape when the conflict comes."
"Simon is different," another said. "Now he is wild and mad and insolent and foolhardy, because he believes that, no matter what tangle the situation is in, the celestial emissary he expects will straighten it out for him."
"In short, he means to work such a complexity here that the man who unravels it must needs be divine."
At this moment the door that cut off the rest of the house from this dining-room opened smartly and the supposed Philadelphus stepped in. He closed the door behind him and glanced at the filled table. Those there seated rose. He spoke to each one by name, and after they had greeted him, they filed out into the court and the servants began to remove the remnants of their meal. Laodice rose at sign of this concerted deference to Philadelphus but sat down again, with her lips compressed. However they had disposed her, she would not accept the menial attitude. She had not finished her honey-cakes.
He came round to her, drew up a chair and sat down beside her. She ignored him, making a feint that was not entirely successful at interest in her fruit.
"Who art thou, in truth?" he asked finally.
"Laodice," she answered coldly.
He sighed and she added nothing more.
"What can your purpose be in this?" he asked.
She ignored the question. After a longer silence, he said in an altered and softened tone:
"What an innocent you are! Certainly this is your first attempt! What marplot told you that such a thing as you have essayed was possible?"
She put aside her plate and her cup, and turned to him.
"By your leave I will retire," she said.
"Not yet," he answered, smiling. "It is my duty as a Jew to help you while there is time."
She settled back in her chair and looked at the cluster of plants while he talked.
"Nothing so damages the beauty of a woman as trickery. No bad woman is beautiful very long. There comes a canker on her soul's beauty, in her face, that disfigures her, soon or late. Whoever you are, whatever your condition, you are lovely yet. Be beautiful; of a surety then you must be good."
It was the same old hypocritical pose that the bad man assumes to cloak himself before innocence. Laodice remembered the incident in the hills.
"Where," she asked coldly, "is he who was with you at Emmaus?"
The pretender started a little, but the increase of alarm on his face showed that he realized next that here was a peril in this woman which he had overlooked.
"Gone," he said unreadily, "gone back to Ephesus."
She did not know what pain this announcement of that winsome stranger's desertion would waken in her heart. Her eyes fell; her brows lifted a little; the corners of her mouth became pathetic. The pretender, casting a sidelong glance at her, saw to his own safety that she had believed him.
"He was a parasite," he sighed, "living off my bounty. But even that did not invite him when he neared the peril of this city. So he turned back. I—I do not blame him," he added with a little laugh.
"Blame him?" she said quickly. "You—you do not blame him?"
"No! Any place, any condition is more desirable than residence in Jerusalem at this hour."
"If one seeks but to be comfortable. But here is a place for work and for achievement," she declared.
"Too desperate an extreme. Nothing can be done here," he observed, shrugging his shoulders.
She gazed at him with immense contempt.
"That from a son of Judas Maccabaeus!" she exclaimed.
He looked disconcerted.
"Why not?" he urged. "It is neither rational nor practical to attempt the impossible. Jerusalem is doomed. I would but add myself to the sacrifice did I interfere between destruction and its sure prey."
After a silence in which she confronted him with many emotions showing on her face, she said with infinite pity and disappointment:
"O Philadelphus, you to throw greatness away!"
"Where, O my mysterious genius, are my army, my engines, my subsistence, my advantage and the prize?"
"What was that dowry which was stolen from me to purchase for you but these things? I brought it for this purpose. Another than myself delivered it to you; the end is achieved; what use will you make of it?"
"There is no nation here for that dowry to defend, no crown for it to support. But for this same madness which possesses my lady, the princess, I should depart this day for a safer venture, in some safer country!"
She faced him intently.
"And you will do nothing for Judea?" she asked.
"What can be done?" he asked, throwing out his hands with a careless gesture.
"Oh," she exclaimed with a rush of passionate feeling, "that I were you! You, with the materials for empire-building at your feet! You, with the hour beseeching you, with a people searching for you, with a treasury filled for you, with ancient prophecy establishing you, ancient precept teaching you, and the cause of God arming you! Philadelphus, son of a great patriot, what are you saying! What can there be done! Oh rather, how dare you not do! What have you about you but the inevitable end of Judah, living contrary to God's plan for it! It is the conscience of Israel rising against its sin and submission! It is the blood of David rebelling against the heathen yoke! It is the hour foretold by Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Daniel and the Twelve, when Israel shall repent and be chastened and return to the heritage of Jacob. Be the repairer of the breach! Be the restorer of the paths to dwell in, my husband! Go out and let Israel behold you! Help them to wipe out the shame of Babylonia and Persia and Macedonia and Rome! Make Jerusalem not only a sanctuary but a capital! Restore the glory of David and the peace of Solomon, for those were God's days and Judah can not prosper except as it returns to them! Philadelphus—"
Laodice halted abruptly in her appeal, breathless with feeling.
The amusement had gone out of his face and his expression was one of mingled discomfort and surprise at her speech.
"Since you are a thinking woman," he answered, "I must answer you soberly. Even I, expecting disorder and uproar in Jerusalem, when I came from Ephesus, was not prepared for this chaos! Never was such a time! Order is not possible in this extreme. It is unthinkable. Nothing human can save Jerusalem!"
She laid her hand upon him.
"Nothing human!" she repeated quickly. "Seest not that this is the time of the Messiah? Be ready to be helped of God!"
Philadelphus drew away from her uneasily and looked at her from under lowered brows.
"They say," he said in a suppressed voice, as fearing his own words, "that He has come and gone!"
She looked at him blankly. He was glad he had thought of this; it would divert her from a discourse momently growing unpleasant for him. And yet he was afraid of the thing he had said.
"What dost thou say?" she asked.
"He is come and gone—they say."
"Come and gone!"
He nodded irritably. It made him nervous to dwell on the subject.
"Who say?" she demanded.
"Many! Many!" he whispered.
"It is not—do you believe it?" she persisted, with strange terror waiting upon his answer. He moved uneasily but he answered the truth. It was superstition in him that spoke.
"Something in me says it is true," Philadelphus whispered.
She stood transfixed; then all her horror rose in her and cried out against the story.
"It can not be!" she cried. "See the misery and oppression, here, tenfold! Nothing has been done! Nobody heard of Him! He could not fail! What a blasphemy, what a travesty on His Word, to come and fulfil it not and go hence unnoticed! It can not be!"
"But, but—" he protested, somehow terrified by her denial, "only you have not heard. Everywhere are those who believe it and I saw—I saw—"
The growing violence of dissent on her face urged him to speak what his shamed and guilty tongue hesitated to pronounce.
"I saw in Ephesus one who saw Him; I saw in Patmos one who had reclined on His breast!"
"A—a—woman?" she whispered.
"No! No!" he returned in a panic. "A man, a prisoner, old and white and terrible! But it was in his youth! He told me! And the one in Ephesus, a red-beard, hunchbacked and half-blind and even more terrible than the first! He saw Him after He was dead!"
"Dead!" Her lips shaped the word.
"They—yes! He was crucified!"
Her lips parted as if to speak the word, but her mind failed to grasp it certainly. She stood moveless in an actual pain of horror.
"But He rose again from the dead," he persisted, "and left the earth to its own devices hereafter. And so behold Jerusalem!
"And there was one woman," he added, "who had been a scarlet woman. She had anointed His feet with precious oil and wiped them with her hair. And I saw her also—I sought them all out, because they could do miracles and foretell events. Thousands upon thousands believe in them."
"Crucified!" she whispered.
"They say," he went on, "that He pronounced judgment on Jerusalem and that it now cometh to pass!"
The accumulated effect of the calamitous recital was to stun her. She gazed at him with unintelligent eyes, and her lips moved without speaking. For one reared in constant contemplation of God's nearness to His children, acquainted with divine politics, divine literature and divine law, cut off from the world and devoted wholly to religion, the story of a divine tragedy carried with it the full force of its fearful import. Philadelphus' narrative meant to her the crumbling of earth and the effacement of Heaven. She cried wildly her unbelief when words returned to her. But under the fury of her denunciation, unconsciously directed against the conviction that the story was true, she felt her hope of a restored Kingdom of David wavering toward a fall.
While she stood thus, Amaryllis, languid and pre-occupied, entered the room with John of Gischala at her side. The Greek noted Philadelphus with a quick accession of interest. John's attention had been instantly arrested by the presence of the other man. Philadelphus turned with fine ease to meet the man whom he must regard as his enemy and Laodice shrank back in an attempt to get out of sight of the trio.
"Welcome!" said Amaryllis to Philadelphus. "A fortunate visit that makes possible an amnesty for two of my friends at once. This, John, is Philadelphus of Ephesus, a seeker of diversion out of mine own country come to see the end of this great struggle thou wagest against Rome. And thou, Philadelphus, seest before thee, John of Gischala, the arbiter of Judea's future. Be friends."
With a comprehensive sweeping glance John inspected the man before him.
"John of Gischala," he repeated in his feline voice, "the oppressor John. Art thou not afraid of me, sir?"
"Dost thou meditate harm for me, sir?" Philadelphus smiled.
"Art thou, in that case, against me, sir?" John parried.
"On that hingeth his answer," Amaryllis said, glancing at Laodice. "And here is this same pretty stranger who bewitched thee yesterday. Know her as Laodice. Let that be parentage, history, ambition and religion for her. She, too, seeks diversion in Jerusalem, and is my guest for a while."
The Gischalan took Laodice's hand and held it.
"Welcome, thou," he said. "I will tolerate another man under thy roof if thou wilt but make this pretty bird of passage a permanency," he said to the Greek, after a silent study of Laodice's beauty.
"Let her be a hostage dependent on thy good behavior. Lapse, and I shall send her back to Olympus where they keep such nymphs."
Philadelphus smiled at Laodice, but the shock of their recent talk had shaken her too much to enter into this idle chaff on the lips of those upon whom the fortunes of Israel depended at that very hour.
John looked at her for a long time.
"Amaryllis veils thee in the enchantment of mystery. I think she is tired of me and would have me interested in another woman. She does all things well. Who art thou, in truth?"
The Greek lifted her head and gazed with overt anxiety at the girl; Philadelphus turned toward her uneasily. Here was an opportunity for Laodice either as a disappointed adventuress or as a supplanted wife, to take revenge by exposing this pair of conspirators pledged to undermine the Gischalan. But the girl had no such thought.
"I am Laodice," she said unreadily. "What history I have belongs to another. What future shall be mine depends on others. I wait."
"If you mean to throw me off, Amaryllis, I shall not miss you," said John.
The Greek smiled and plucking Philadelphus' sleeve led both men away.
"Do not commit yourself," she said to John, "there is yet another woman under this roof. You shall have a choice."
They disappeared in the direction of her hall.
Laodice, stunned, amazed and shaken, stood still. The stock of her troubles amounted to a sum of such magnitude that she could not grasp it clearly. The entire structure which her life training and all her purposes, the hope of her house and her husband's, the future of Judea and the King to come, had constituted, had been attacked and threatened to crumble and be swept away in a few hours' time.
Out of the wreck she rescued one hope. Momus would return from the west with proofs in a few days' time—only a few days!
THE HOUSE OF OFFENSE
On his way to the oaken door that was for ever double-barred, in that small hall which led to the apartments of Amaryllis' corps of artists, Philadelphus met Salome, the actress. He would have passed her without a word, but the woman, armed with the nettle of a small triumph over the man who held her in contempt, could not forbear piercing him as he passed.
"Hieing away to excite your disappointment further?" she said. "Has the forlorn lady convinced you, yet, that she is indeed your wife?"
"Had I that two hundred talents, I would confess her!" he declared.
"Cruel obstacle! But that two hundred talents is locked away safely, out of your reach. Why do you not run away with this pretty creature?"
Philadelphus glowered at her.
"I have been known to make way with those who stood in my way," he declared.
"I sleep with my door locked," she answered, "and I ever face you. I need never be afraid, therefore."
For a moment he was silent, while she sensed that overweening hate and menace which charged the air about him.
"It is not all as it should be," he said finally. "You are not rid of me. I shall stay."
"You should," she responded comfortably. "You are a show of domesticity which lends color to our claim of wedded state. But you may go or stay. As usual, you are not essential."
"I have been known to be superfluous. However it may be, I get much pleasure in the companionship of this lovely creature, the single flaw in the fine fabric of your villainy. Do not fear her convincing me. She might convince others."
There was no response; after a silence he said as he moved on:
"I shall warn her to feed a morsel of her food to the parrots ere she tastes it, however."
He was gone. The woman felt of the keys that swung under the folds of her robes. Then she, too, went on.
The oaken door was still fast closed when Philadelphus reached it, but he knew that the girl, who lived within, came out to walk in the sunshine of Amaryllis' court at certain hours while the household was engaged within doors.
He had not long to wait. She came out in a little while, and glanced up and down the hall; but he had heard the turn of the bolt and had stepped into shadow in time. Reassured that no one was near, she emerged and passing down the hall entered the court.
And there presently he joined her.
He sat down on one of the stone seats and smiled at her.
"Do I appear excited?" he asked.
She glanced at him indifferently.
"No," she said.
"I have this day seen destruction resolved for the city."
She took his easy declaration with a frown. If it were true he should not show that flippancy; if it were not he should not have jested.
"I saw," he continued, "Titus and his beloved Nicanor ride around the walls. Though they were the full length of a bow-shot from me, I knew what they talked about. Now, this young Nicanor is a gad that tickles Titus when his soft heart would urge him into tendernesses toward the enemy. But for Nicanor, Titus would have withdrawn his legions long ago and left Jerusalem to die of its own violences.
"On the day that you came into Jerusalem, Titus, as a display of amicable intentions, rode up to the walls without arms or armor, trusting to the Jews' soldierly honor in refusing to attack an unarmed man. But the Jews have never been instructed in the nice points of military courtesy, so they went out against him by thousands. And but for the fact that he is practised in dodging arrows and his horse is used to running away, Emperor Vespasian would have to leave the aegis to the unlovely Domitian.
"Any Roman but Titus would remember this against the Jews until he had put the last one in bondage, but Titus is not a Roman. I think some-times that he is a Christian, since it is their boast to love their enemies. Whatever his feelings after that ignominious adventure of a few days ago, forth he rides this morning; beside him the Gad, Nicanor; behind him, that sweet traitor, Josephus.
"The Darling of Mankind rode so meditatively, so dejectedly, that I knew by his attitude, he said: 'Alack, it galls me to go against this goodly city!'
"By the swagger of the Gad I knew he said: 'Dost gall thee, in truth? Then truly, alack! Withhold thy hand until the city comes out against thee, so thou canst hush thy conscience saying that they began it!'
"Saith the Darling, 'But there be babes and innocent men and women within those walls, who, deserving most of all, shall suffer the greatest!'
"'By Hecate!' quoth the Gad, 'there is not a yearling within that city possessing the power to pucker its lips but would spit upon thee!'
"'It would be sacred innocence!' declares Titus.
"'Or an old man that would not burn thine ears with malediction!'
"'That would be holy dotage!'
"'Or a fine young man but would pale thee on a pike!'
"'Then let some one whom they hate less venomously, beseech them to their own salvation,' implores the Darling.
"Whereupon the Gad beckons insinuatingly to Josephus.
"'Josephus,' says he, 'let us, being more lovable men than Titus, go up unto these walls and give the Jews a chance to be kind.'
"Josephus turns pale, but Nicanor rides upon Jerusalem. And at that what should a miscreant Jew do but string an arrow and plunge it nicely, like a bodkin in a pincushion, in the fat shoulder of the Gad! Alas! It was the ruin of the Holy City! When Titus, pale with concern, reaches his friend kicking on the ground, does the Gad curse the Jews and inveigh against the hardy walls that contain them? Not he! He struggles about so that he may look into the eyes of Titus and commands him to make war on them instantly under pain of the accusation of partiality to them against his friends! And behold, war is declared. I, with mine own eyes, saw siege laid effectively about our unhappy city!"
She gazed at him with alarmed, angry, accusing eyes.
"And yet you do nothing!" she said to him.
He smiled and let his lazy glance slip over her, but he made no response.
"O Philadelphus," she said to him, "how you affront opportunity!"
"There are more captivating things than such opportunity. I have known from the beginning that there was nothing here."
She looked at him with unquiet eyes. Why, then, had he written so confidently to her father, if he had not believed in the hope for Judea?
"From the beginning?" she repeated with inquiry. "You wrote my father from Caesarea—"
"Your father?" he repeated, smiling with insinuation.
"Who is your father?" he asked.
She turned away from him and walked to the other end of the garden. He had never meant to aspire to the Judean throne! He had simply written so determinedly to Costobarus, that the merchant of Ascalon would have no hesitancy in giving him two hundred talents! In these past days, she had learned enough that was blameworthy in this Philadelphus to make him more than despicable in her eyes. Again, as hourly since the last interview in the depression in the hills beyond the well, the fine bigness of that lovable companion of his, that had vanished for all time from her life, rose in radiant contrast. She turned back to her husband, with the pallor of longing and homesickness in her face.
"Does this other woman see no fault in this, your idleness?" she demanded.
"She! By the Shades, she sees nothing in me but fault! I would get me up like a sane man and go out of this mad place, but she hath locked up her dowry away from me, which was the simple cause that invited me to join her, and bids me go without her. And I might—but for one other attraction, dearer than the treasure, which also I would take with me."
"Even if she forces you into deeds, I shall forgive her," she declared at last.
He smiled a baffling smile and she looked at him in despair. The very charm of his personal appearance awakened resentment in her; his deft and easy complaisance angered her because it could be effective. She hated the superficial excellence in him which made him a pleasant companion. He had refused to discuss her identity further, except to prevent her in her own attempts to identify herself. He did not refer to the incidents of their journey to Jerusalem, but she felt that he was conscious of all these things, and her resentment was so great that she put it out of sight, lest at the time when she should be proved she would have come to hate him to the further thwarting of their work for Israel.
"It is sweet to have you concerned for me. Now you may understand how much I am troubled for your own welfare. Do not regard me with that unbending gaze. I am, first and before all else, your friend."
"You have changed," she said slowly. "I did not find in you this solicitude in the hills."
"Unhappiness," he sighed, "makes most men law-less. I should be even now as bad, were I not sure of the sympathy you feel for me."
She looked at him with large disdain.
"Does not this woman treat you well?" she asked with the first glimmer of sarcasm in her eyes.
"Her displeasure in me is that I do not make her a queen; yours, however, that I can not save this doomed nation! Her ambitions are for herself; yours are for me. Which waketh the response in my heart, lady?"
"What have I lived for?" she burst out. "For what was I brought up and schooled? For what have I sacrificed all the light and desirable things of my youth, but for—"
"Nay! Do not show me, yet, that you are only bent on being queen!" he exclaimed.
"I care for nothing but the rescue of Judea!" she cried passionately. "There is nothing left to me but that!"
"Then your ambitions are still for me. Alas, that the Messiah has come and gone!"
It was his first reference to the great calamity he had told to her a short time before. Its recurrence after she had resolved to regard it as an impossible and blasphemous tale brought a chill to her heart.
"If I can prove to you that there is no hope for Jerusalem, what then?" he asked suddenly.
She flung off the question with a gesture.
"Answer me. What then?"
"It is unimaginable what shall come to pass when God deserts His own."
"No need for imaginings. Look at Jerusalem and observe the fact. And if we be abandoned, what fealty do we owe to a God that deserts us? If you believe or not you are lost. Let us go out and live."
"If God has deserted us," she said scornfully, "how shall we be happier elsewhere than here?"
"Every god to its own country. The Olympians are a jovial lot. I have seen Joy's very self in heathendom."
She moved away but he rose and followed her.
"Whoever you are," he said in another tone, "your heritage of innocence and earnestness is plain as an open scroll upon your face. Nothing in all the world so appeals to the generosity in the heart of a man as the purity of the woman who is pure. I have said that I am your friend. I do not hold it against you that you doubt that word. Nothing remains but the deed to confirm it. This place is lost—as good as a heap of ashes and splintered rock, this hour! Come away! I'll sacrifice the treasure to protect you!"
"Philadelphus," she said gravely, "we were sent hither to succeed or to suffer the penalty of our failure. My father died that we might have this opportunity. We must use it, or perish with it!"
He shook his head and walked away a step or two.
"You have not the true meaning of life," he said. "Indeed how few of us understand! Obstacles are not an incentive toward attaining impossible things. They are barriers set up by the kindly disposed gods to inform man that he is opposing destiny when he aspires to things he should not have. We were not made to fling ourselves against mighty opposition throughout the little daylight we have; to wound ourselves, to deny ourselves, to alienate that winsome sprite Pleasure, to attain something which was not intended for us by the signs of the obstructions placed in our paths. Who are we that we should achieve mightily! What are we when the gods have done with us, but a handful of dust! Who saves himself from age and unloveliness and ultimate imbecility, by all the superhuman efforts he may exert! A pest on the first morose man that made dismal endeavor a virtue!"
She looked at him with amazement, though until that hour she believed that this man could astonish her no more.
"Misfortune comes often enough without our knocking at her door," he continued. "Mankind is the only creature with conceit enough to seek to emulate the gods. It is wrong to think that to be moral is to be miserable. Nature's scheme for us, faithfully fulfilled, is always pleasurable. We have only to recognize it, and receive its benefits. Nothing on earth is luckier than man, if he but knew it. A murrain on ambition! Let us be glad!"
How could she be glad with such a man! The time, the call of the hour, the need of her nation, the obligation to her dead father—all these things stood in her way. How had she felt, were this that engaging stranger who had called himself Hesper, urging her to be glad with him! She felt, then and there, the recurrence of guilt which the sight of the reproachful face of Momus had brought to her when she found herself forgetting her loyalty in the presence of that winsome man. The thought stopped the bitter speech that rose to her lips. She looked away and made no answer. He was close beside her.
"Come away and let this woman who wishes the kingdom have it. She had liefer be rid of me than not."
She gazed at him with a peculiar blankness stealing over her face.
"Oh, for the quintessence of all compounded oaths to charge my vow!" he said.
"For what?" she asked.
"My love, Phryne!"
At the old pagan name with which he had affronted her that morning in the hills, Laodice drew back sharply.
"Dost thou believe in me?" she asked.
"That I am thy wife."
"Tut! Back to the old quarrel! No! But by Heaven, thou art my sweetheart!"
She stopped at the edge of an exclamation and looked at him with widening eyes.
"Come, let us get out of this place. I can get the dowry! Let her stay here and be queen over this place if she will. I had rather possess you than all the kingdoms!"
But Laodice flung him off while a flame of anger crimsoned her face.
"Thou to insult me, thy lawful wife!" she brought out between clenched teeth. "Thou to offer affront to thine own marriage! I to live in shame with mine own husband!"
The insult in his speech overwhelmed her and after a moment's lingering for words to express her rage, she turned and fled back to her room and barred her door upon him.
After sunset the lights leaped up in the hall of Amaryllis the Greek. Presently there came a knock at Laodice's door. The girl, fearing that Philadelphus stood without, sat still and made no answer. A moment later the visitor spoke. It was the little girl who acted as page for the Greek.
"Open, lady; it is I, Myrrha."
Laodice went to the windows.
"Amaryllis sends thee greeting and would speak with thee, in her hall," the girl said.
Reluctantly Laodice, who feared the revelation which the light might have to make of her stunned and revolted face, followed the page.
The Greek was standing, as if in evidence that the interview would not be long. She noted the intense change on the face of her young guest and watched her narrowly for any new light which her disclosure would bring.
"I have sent for thee," the Greek began smoothly, "to tell thee somewhat that I should perhaps withhold, that thou shouldst sleep well, this night. But it is a perplexity perhaps thou wouldst face at once."
Laodice bowed her head.
"It is this: Titus and his friend, Nicanor, approached too close the walls this day, and Nicanor was wounded by an arrow. In retaliation, perfect siege hath been laid about the walls. None may come into the city."
"And—Momus, my servant," Laodice cried, waking for the first time to the calamity in this blockade, "he can not come back to me?"
"No. If he attempts it, he will be captured and put to death."
Laodice clasped her hands, while drop by drop the color left her face.
"In God's name," she whispered, "what will become of me?"
Amaryllis made no answer.
"Can—can I not go out?" Laodice asked presently, depending entirely on the Greek as adviser.
"You can—but to what fortune? Perhaps—" She stopped a moment. "No," she continued, "you have never been in a camp. No; you can not go out."
"What, then, am I to do?" Laodice cried with increasing alarm.
Amaryllis shrugged her shoulders.
"I can advise with John," she said. "Doubtless he will allow you to remain here until you can provide yourself with other shelter."
Laodice heard this cold sentence with a chill of fear that was new to her. Faint pictures of hunger and violence, terrifying in the extreme, confronted her. Yet not any of them frightened her more than the offered favor of the Gischalan. Her indignation at the woman who had supplanted her swept over her with a reflexive flush of heat.
"God of my fathers, judge her in her lies, and pour the fire of Thy wrath upon her!" she exclaimed vehemently.
Amaryllis gazed curiously at the girl. In her soul, she asked herself if there might not be unsounded depths of fierceness in this nature which she ought not to stir up.
"Thou hast hope," she said tactfully. "She hath no such beauty as thine!"
"Nothing but my proofs!" Laodice broke in.
"And Philadelphus is a young man."
"Rejecting her only because I am fairer than she! He is no just man!" Laodice cried hotly.
"Softly, child," the Greek said, smiling; "thou hast said that he is thy husband."
Laodice turned away, her brain whirling with anger, fear and shame.
"Well?" said the Greek coolly, after a silence.
"Where shall I go?" Laodice asked.
"Thou hast been too tenderly nurtured to go into the streets. I shall ask John to shelter thee until thou canst care for thyself."
Laodice looked at her without understanding.
"Thou canst not stay here for long because the wife to Philadelphus is in a way a power in my house and she will not suffer it. But never fear; Jerusalem is not yet so far gone that it would not enjoy a pretty stranger."
The curious sense of indignation that possessed Laodice was purely instinctive. Her mind could not sense the actual insult in the Greek's words.
"I would advise you to be kind to Philadelphus."
"But, but—" Laodice cried, struggling with tears and shame, "he has this day offered insult to his own marriage with me, by asking that I live in shame with him till it could be proved that I am his wife!"
The Greek's smile did not change.
"If we weigh all the unpleasantness of wedded life in too delicate a balance, my friend, I fear there would be little, indeed, that would escape condemnation as humiliating."
Laodice raised her scarlet face to look in wonder at the Greek. The cold smiling lips dismayed her for a moment.
"And thou seest no shame in this?" she faltered.
"Thou sayest he is thy husband; why resent it?"
"Dost thou not see—see that—what am I but a shameless woman, if I live with him, though I be married to him thrice over!"
"After all," said the Greek, after a silence which said more than words, "it is the consciousness of your own integrity which must influence you; not what others think of you. It is not as if your husband thought better of you than you really are."
"And you believe that I—" Laodice began and stopped, bewildered.
Amaryllis, smiling, moved toward the inner corridor of her house. At the threshold of the arch she called back:
"Please yourself, my friend," and was gone.
Laodice was, by this time, stunned and intensely repelled. The hand on which Amaryllis had laid hers in passing tingled under the touch. Unconsciously she shook off the sensation of contact. The whole clear white interior of the hall became instantly unclean. Her standards of right and wrong were shaken; the wholesale assaults on her ideals left her shocked and unconfident. She felt the panic that all innocent women feel when suddenly aroused to the unfitness of their surroundings.
When she turned to hurry to her room, a flood of scarlet rushed into her cheeks and she shrank back, shaken with surprise and delight.
Before her stood a man, pale and thin, with his eyes upon her.
THE PRINCE RETURNS
Joseph, the shepherd, son of Thomas of Pella, moved out of the green marsh before sunset, as he had planned to do, but not for the original motive. The sheep, indeed, would not have flourished in that dampness, rich as it was in young grass, but, more than that, there was no shelter for the wounded man who lay by the roadside.
The shepherd, who knew the hills of Judea as far as the Plain of Esdraelon as well as he knew the stony streets of the Christian city, located the nearest roof as one which a fagot-maker had occupied two years before. It was some distance up in the hills to the west. Since the scourge of war had passed over Palestine, there were scores of such hovels, vacant and abandoned to the bats and the small wild life about the countryside, and the boy doubted seriously if the thatch that covered it were still whole. But he attracted the attention of a pair of robust young Galileans on the way to the Passover, and, by their help, carried the wounded man to shelter in this hut. Urge, the sheep-dog, rushed the sheep out of the sedge and hurried them after his master, and in an hour Joseph was once more settled, his sheep were once more nosing over the rocky slants of a hill, his dog once more flat on his belly, watching. But it was a different day, after all.
The hut of the fagot-maker was the four walls and a roof and the earth that floored it, but it was wealth because it was shelter. It had two doors which were merely openings in the sides and between them lay the man on sheep-pelts with a cotton abas, which one of the Galileans had left, over him. At one of these doors, sitting sidewise, so that he could watch in or out, sat Joseph.
All night the man on the sheepskins spoke to the blackened thatch above him of the siege of Jerusalem and the treachery of Julian of Ephesus. He read letters from Costobarus and instructed Aquila over and over again. Then he tossed a coin and spent hours counting the hairs in the long locks that fell from the shining head of the moon down upon his breast, at midnight.
At times the boy, with the exquisite beauty of sleep on his heavy lids, would creep over from his vigil at the door and lay his cool hand on the sick man's forehead. And the sick man would speak in a low controlled voice, saying:
"Naaman being a leper, my friend, why was not the law fulfilled against him?"
But the soothing influence of that touch did not endure. Again, he took census of the fighting-men of Judea, by the Roman statistics which he had from the decurion, and searched through his tunic for his wallet to write down the result. Failing to find it, he raised himself to shout for Julian to return his property.
Again the cool hands would stroke the fevered forehead and the sick man would say:
"Good my Lord, they fetched snow from the mountains to cool this wine."
But how white the hands of that fair girl in the hills! Why, these hands beside hers were as satyrs' hooves to anemones! Her lashes were so long, and he knew that her lips were as cool as the heart of a melon; but that husband of hers knew better than he!
And he, grandson of the just Maccabee, allied by marriage to the noble line of Costobarus through his daughter, Laodice, the bride with the greatest dowry in Judea, had staked his soul on the toss of a coin and had lost it!
At this the shepherd boy straightened himself and gave attention.
But he was wholly lost, the sick man would go on, rolling his head from side to side; he could not join Laodice because he had loved a woman of the wayside and could not cast out that love; he was not a Jew because he had rather linger with this strange beauty in the hills than hasten on the rescue of Jerusalem; he had not apostatized, though he was as wholly lost as if he had done so; he hated the heathen and would not be one of them. He would abide in the wilderness and perish, if this young spirit that abode by his side, with a face like Michael's and a form so like the shepherd David's, would only suffer the darkness to come at him.
"Unless I mistake," the little shepherd said at such times, "there is more than a wound troubling this head."
Thus day in and day out the shepherd watched by the sick man who had no medicine but the recuperative powers of his strong young body. So there came a night when the boy, rousing from a doze into which he had dropped, saw the sick man stretched upon his pallet motionless as he had not been for days. The shepherd felt the forehead and the wrists and sank again into slumber. At dawn he rose from the earth which had been his bed throughout this time and went forth to attend his flocks, and when he was gone, the sick man opened his eyes.
He looked up at the blackened rafters; he looked out at either door and frowned perplexed, first at the hills, then at the valley. He raised his head and dropped it suddenly with great amazement and much weariness. Finally he ventured to lift a wilted and fragile hand and looked at it. It was not white; but it was unsteady as a laurel leaf beside a waterfall. After a moment's rest from the exertion he parted his lips to speak, but a whisper faint as the sound of the air in the shrubs issued from them. He listened but there was no answer. There was the activity of birds and insects, moving leaves and bleating sheep without, but it was all blithely indifferent to him. Finally he extended his arms and pressing them on his pallet tried to rise, but he could have lifted the earth as easily. Falling back and dazed with weakness, he lay still and slept again.
When he awoke rested sufficiently to think, he recalled that he had been twice stabbed by Julian of Ephesus by the marsh on the road to Jerusalem. He had probably been carried to this place and nursed back to life by the householder.
Then he remembered. In his search after cause for his cousin's attack upon him, he readily fixed upon Julian's rage at the Maccabee's preemption of the beautiful girl in the hills. Instantly, the disgrace of violence committed in a quarrel between himself and his cousin over the possession of a woman, appealed to him. And even as instantly, his defiant heart accepted its shame and persisted in its fault. It is an extreme of love, indeed, if no circumstance however impelling raises a regret in the heart of a man; for he flung off with a weak gesture any chiding of conscience against cherishing his dream, and abandoned himself wholly to his yearning for the girl in the tissue of moonbeams.
There was a quiet step on the earth at the threshold. Joseph, the shepherd, stood there. The two looked at each other; one with inquiry and weakness in his face; the other with good-will and reassurance.
"Boy," said the Maccabee feebly, "I have been sick."
"Friend, I am witness to that. I am your nurse," the boy replied.
After a little silence the Maccabee extended his hand. The boy took it with a sudden flush of emotion, but feeling its weakness, refrained from pressing it too hard, and laid it back with great care on his patient's breast. The Maccabee looked out at the door, away from the full eyes of his young host.
He was touched presently, and a cup of milk was silently put to his lips. He drank and turning himself with effort fell asleep.
When he awoke again, after many hours, it was night. In the door with his head dropped back between his shoulders gazing up at the sky overhead, sat the boy.
"Where," the Maccabee began, "are the rest of you?"
The boy turned around quickly, and answered with all seriousness.
"I am all here."
"Did you," the Maccabee began again, after silence, "care for me alone?"
"There has been no one here but us," the boy said, hesitating at the symptoms of gratitude in the Maccabee's voice.
"You and me."
After another silence, the Maccabee laughed weakly.
"It requires two to constitute 'us' and I am, by all signs, not a whole one!"
"But you will be in a few days," the boy declared admiringly. "You are an excellent sick man."
The Maccabee looked at him meditatively.
"I am merely perverse," he said darkly; "I knew it would be so much pleasure to my murderer to know that I died, duly."
The shepherd repressed his curiosity, as the best thing for his patient's welfare, and suggested another subject rather disjointedly.
"I have been thinking," he said, "about Jerusalem. I was there once upon a time."
"Once!" the Maccabee said. "You are old enough to attend the Passover."
"But our people do not attend the feast. We are Christians."
The Maccabee moved so that he could look at the boy. He might have known it, he exclaimed to himself. It was just such an extreme act of mercy, this assuming the care of a stranger in a wilderness, as he had ever known Christians to do in that city of irrational faiths, Ephesus.
"Well?" he said, hoping the boy would go on and spare him an expression on that announcement.
"I can not forget Jerusalem."
"No one forgets Jerusalem—except one that falls in love by the wayside," the man said.
Again the boy detected a ring of unexplained melancholy in his patient's voice, and talked on as a preventive.
"Urban, the pastor, took me there. It was in the days of mine instruction for baptism. He went to Jerusalem to trial, but there was disorder in the city about the procurator, who was driven out that day, and Urban was not called. But he remained, lest he be accused of fleeing, and then it was he took me over the walks of Jesus."
"Jesus—that is the name," the Maccabee said to himself. "They are born, given in marriage, fall or flourish, live and die in that name. Likewise they pick up a wounded stranger and care for him in that name. They are a strange people, a strange people!"
"They would not let us into the Temple," Joseph went on, "because I am an Arab, born a Christian. So I could not see where Jesus was presented, in infancy. But we went to the synagogues where He taught; we went out upon Olivet to Gethsemane where He suffered in the Garden; we climbed that hill to the south from which He looked upon the City and wept over it, and prophesied this hour. Then we sought the ravine where Judas betrayed Him with a kiss, and afterward Urban led me over the streets by which He was taken first to Annas and to Caiaphas and thence to Pilate and to Herod. After that, by the Way of the Cross to Golgotha; from there to His Tomb. And when we had seen the Guest-chamber and stood upon the Place of the Ascension, I needed no further instruction."
The boy had forgotten his guest. By the rapt light in his eyes, the Maccabee knew that the boy was once more journeying over the stones of the streets of the Holy City, or standing awed on the polished pavements of its lordly interiors, or on the topmost point of her hills with the broad-winged wind from the east flying his long locks.
"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy," the Maccabee said, half to himself.
The boy heard him, but his patient's words merged with the dream that held him entranced. The Maccabee went on.
"So said the Psalmist to himself," he said. "What had he to do for Jerusalem; what did he fear would win him away from that labor for Jerusalem, that he took that vow? It was easy enough to revile Babylon, the oppressor, that stood between him and Jerusalem; but what if he had been the captive of beauty, and chained by the bonds of lovely hair!"
The boy turned now and looked at the Maccabee. The eyes of the two met fair. Then the Maccabee unburdened his soul and told of the girl to this child, who was a Christian and a humble shepherd in the starved hills of Judea.
"I met her," the boy said after a long silence. "And by what I learned of her spirit that night, she will not be happy to know that you have stepped aside for her sake."
"You met her, also; and you loved her, too?"
The boy assented gravely. The Maccabee slowly lifted his eyes from the young shepherd's face, till they rested on the slope of sky filled with stars visible through the open door.
"And she would have me go on to this city, to the one who awaits me there and whom I shall not be glad to see; take up the labor that will be robbed of its chief joy in its success and live the long, long days of life without her?"
The boy made no answer to this; he knew that this white-faced man was wrestling with himself and comment from him was not expected. By the light of the failing fire without, he saw that face sober, take on shadow and grow immeasurably sad. The minutes passed and he knew that the Maccabee would not speak again.
Thereafter followed three days of silence, except the essential communication or the mutterings of the Maccabee against his weakness and unsteadiness. On the fourth day the Maccabee declared that he was able to travel. Joseph protested, but not for long. He had learned in the sojourn of his guest that this man was in the habit of doing as he pleased. So the shepherd sighed and let him go reluctantly.
"But," he insisted to the last moment, "remember that Pella is a City of Refuge. If Jerusalem ceases to be hospitable, come to Pella."
A thought struck him.
"She," he said in a low tone, "promised that she would come."
"Then expect me," the Maccabee said.
The shepherd boy smiled contentedly and blessed the Maccabee and let him go. As long as the man could see, his young host watched him, and at the summit of the hill the Maccabee turned to wave his final farewell. When the path dipped down the other side of the hill, the man felt that more than the sunshine had been cut off by its great shadow.
He did not go forward with a light heart. The whole of his purpose had suddenly resolved itself into duty. There had been a certain nervous expectancy that was almost fear in the thought of meeting the grown woman he had married in her babyhood. He had lived in Ephesus with an unengaged heart in all the crowd of opportunities for love, good and bad. He had magnetism, strength, aloofness and a certain beauty—four qualifications which had made him over and over again immensely attractive to all classes of Ephesian women. But whatever his response to them, he had not loved. Love and marriage were things so apart from his activities as to be uninteresting. When finally he was called in full manhood to assume without preliminary both of these things, he was uncomfortable and apprehensive. But after he had met the girl in the hills, his sensations of reluctance became emphatic, became an actual dread, so that he thrust away all thought of the domestic side of the life that confronted him, and bitterly resigned all hope in the tender things that were the portion of all men. The villainy of Julian of Ephesus engaged him chiefly, and his punishment. After that, then the establishment of his kingdom, politics, conquest and power—but not love!
Late that afternoon, he stepped out of a wady west of Jerusalem and halted.
Ahead of him ran a road depressed between worn, hard, bare banks of earth, past a deserted pool, marged with stone, up shining surfaces of outcropping rock, through avenues of clustered tombs, pillars, pagan monuments which were tracks of the Herods, dead and abandoned, splendid pleasure gardens, suburban palaces lifeless and still, toward the looming Tower of Hippicus, brooding over a fast-closed gate.
The Maccabee nodded. It was as he had expected. The city was besieged.
It was afternoon, a week-day at the busiest portal of Jerusalem; but save for the fixed and pygmy sentry upon the tower, there was no living thing to be seen, no single sound to be heard.
Beyond the mounting hills of the City of David stood up, shouldering like mantles of snow their burden of sun-whitened houses. Above it all, supreme over the blackened masonry of Roman Antonia, stood a glittering vision in marble and gold—the Temple. At a distance it could not be seen that any of those inwalled splendors lacked; Jerusalem appeared intact, but the multitudes at the gate were absent and the voice of the city was stilled.
For one expecting to find Jerusalem animated and beholding it still and lifeless, how quickly its white walls, its white houses and its sparkling Temple became haunted, dead crypts and sepulchers.
But presently there came across the considerable distance that lay between him and Jerusalem, a sound remarkably distinct because of the utter stillness that prevailed. It was the jingle of harness and the ring of hoof-beats upon stones embedded in the gray earth.