A Roman in armor polished like gold, with a floating mantle significantly bordered in purple, rode slowly into the open space, drew up his horse and stopped. The Maccabee looked at him sharply, then quitted his shelter and walked down toward the rider. At sight of him, the horseman clapped his hand to his short sword, but the Maccabee put up his empty hands and smiled at the man of all superior advantage. Then the light of recognition broke over the Roman's face.
"You!" he cried.
"I, Caesar," the Maccabee responded. For a moment there was silence in which the Jew watched the flickering of amazement and perplexity on Titus' face.
"What do you here, away from Ephesus, and worse, attempting to run my lines?" he demanded finally.
The Maccabee signed toward the walls.
"My wife is there," he said briefly.
The Roman made an exclamation which showed the sudden change to enlightenment.
"Solicitous after these many years?" he demanded.
"She has two hundred talents," the Maccabee replied.
Titus smiled and shook his head.
"I ought to keep her there. Rome must get treasure enough out of that rebellious city to repay her for her pains in subjugating it."
"Pay yourself out of another pocket than mine. It will take two hundred talents to repay me for all that I have suffered to get it. I want the countersign, Titus. You owe me it."
"Will you come out of there, at once?" the Roman demanded. "Not that I suspect you will make the city harder to take, but I should dislike to make war on an old comrade in my Ephesian revels."
The Maccabee looked doubtful.
"I can not promise," he said. "At least do not hold off the siege until you see me again without the walls. It might lose you prestige in Rome."
Titus swung his bridle while he gazed at the Maccabee.
"I wish Nicanor were here," he said finally. "He might be able to see harm in you; but I never could. You will have to promise me something—anything so it is a promise—before I can let you in. Something to appease Nicanor, else I shall never hear the last of this."
The Maccabee laughed, the sudden harsh laugh of one impelled to amusement unexpectedly.
"Assure Nicanor, for me, that I shall come out of Jerusalem one day. Dead or alive, I shall do it! You need not add that I did not specify the date of my exodus. What is the word?"
"Berenice. And Jove help you! Farewell."
Titus rode on.
A little later, after a parley with the Roman sentries and again with the sentries at the Gate of Hippicus, the Maccabee was admitted to the Holy City.
About him as he passed through the gates were the soldiers of Simon. They were not such men as he expected to see defending the City of David. There was an extravagant, half-pastoral manner about them, a pose of which they should not have been conscious at this hour of peril for the nation and the hierarchy. He looked at their incomplete, meaningless uniform, at their arms, half savage, at their faces, half mad, and believed that he, with an army rationally organized and effectually equipped, would have little difficulty in subduing the unbalanced forces of Simon.
Since siege was laid, he did not expect to be met by Amaryllis' servant in the purple turban. He approached a citizen.
"I seek Amaryllis, the Seleucid," he said.
The eye of the Jew traveled over him, with some disapproval.
"The mistress of the Gischalan?" was the returned inquiry. The Maccabee assented calmly. The young man indicated a broad street moving with people which led with tolerable directness toward the base of Moriah.
"Hence to the Tyropean Bridge at the end of this street; thence down beside the bridge into Gihon. Cross to the wall supporting Moriah and builded against it thou wilt find a new house, of the fashion of the Greeks. If thou canst pass her sentries, thou wilt find her within."
The Maccabee thanked his informant and turned through the Passover hosts to follow the directions.
To a visitor recently familiar with the city, Jerusalem would have been strange; he would have been lost in its ruined and disordered streets. But this man came with only the four corners of the compass to direct him and the Temple as a landmark to guide him. Therefore though he entered upon territory which he had not traversed since childhood he went forward confidently.
It was not simple; it was not readily done; but the darkness found him at his destination.
When he was within a rod of the house, he was halted by a Jewish soldier. He whispered to the man the word which Amaryllis had sent to him, and the soldier stepped aside and let him pass.
In another moment he was admitted to the house of Amaryllis.
A wick coated with aromatic wax burned in the brass bowl on a tripod and cast a crystal clear light down upon the exedra and the delicate lectern with its rolls of parchment and brass cylinders from which they had been withdrawn. Opposite, with her arms close down to her sides, her hands clenched, her shoulders drawn up, stood the girl he had played for and won in the hills of Judea!
A NEW PRETENDER
A sudden wave of delight, a sudden rush of blood through his veins, swept before it and away for that time all memory of his struggle and his resolution to renounce her. All that was left was the irresistible storm of impulse upon his reserve and his self-control.
When she recognized him, she started violently, smote her hands together and gazed at him with such overweening joy written on her face, that he would have swept her into his arms, but for her quick recovery and retreat. In shelter behind the exedra she halted, fended from him by the marble seat. He gazed across its back at her with all the love of his determined soul shining in his eyes.
"You! You!" she cried.
"But you!" he cried back at her across the exedra.
The preposterousness of their greetings appealed to them at that moment and they both laughed. He started around the exedra; she moved away.
"Stay!" he begged. "I want only to touch—your hand."
Shyly, she let him take both of her hands, and he lifted them in spite of her little show of resistance and kissed them.
"We might have saved ourselves farewells and journeyed together," he said blithely.
"But I thought you had gone back to Ephesus," she said.
"What! After you had told me you were going to Jerusalem? No. I have been nursing a knife wound in a sheep hovel in the hills since an hour after I saw you last."
Her lips parted and her face grew grave, deeply compassionate and grieved. If there remained any weakness in his frame before that moment, the spell of her pity enchanted him to strength again. He found himself searching for words to describe his pain, that he might elicit more of that curative sweet.
"I was very near to death," he added seriously.
"What—what happened?" she asked, noting the pallor on his face under the suffusion which his pleasure had made there.
"There was one more in the party than was needed; so my amiable companion reduced the number by stabbing me in the back," he explained.
There was instant silence. Slowly she drew away from him. Entire pallor covered her face and in her eyes grew a horror.
"Did—do you say that Philadelphus stabbed—you—in the back?" she asked, speaking slowly.
"Phila—" he stopped on the brink of a puzzled inquiry, and for a space they regarded each other, each turning over his own perplexity for himself.
"Ask me that again," he commanded her suddenly. "I did not understand."
She hesitated and closed her lips. Her husband had stabbed this man in the back! Because of her? No! Philadelphus had refused to believe her. Why then should he have committed such a deed?
"So you are not ready to believe it of this—Philadelphus?" he asked, venturing his question on an immense surmise that was forcing itself upon him.
She looked at him with beseeching eyes. How was she to regard herself in this matter? A partizan of the man she hated, or a sympathizer with this stranger who had already given her too much joy? Was she never to know any good of this man to whom she was wedded? For a moment losing sight of her concern for Judea and her resolution that her father should not have died in vain, she was rejoiced that another woman had taken her place by his side. The quasi liberty made her interest in this stranger at least not entirely sinful.
"Who are you?" he demanded finally.
How, then, could she tell him that she was the wife of the man who had treacherously attempted his life? How, also, since she was denied by every one in that house, expect him to believe her? The bitterness of her recent interview with Amaryllis rose to the surface again.
"I am nothing; I have no name; I am nobody!" she cried.
He was startled.
"What is this? Are you not welcome in this house?" he demanded.
"Yes—and no! Amaryllis is good—but—"
She shook her head.
"Surely, thou canst speak without fear to me," he said gently.
"There is—only Amaryllis is kind," she essayed finally.
He laid his hand on her wrist.
"Is it—the woman from Ascalon?" he asked, his suspicion lighting instantly upon the wife whom he had expected to meet.
She flung up her head and gazed at him with startled eyes. He believed that he had touched upon the fact.
"So!" he exclaimed.
"She has deceived Philadelphus—" she whispered defensively, but he broke in sharply.
"Whom hath she deceived?"
She closed her lips and looked at him perplexed. Certainly this was the companion of Philadelphus, who had told her freely half of her husband's ambitions, long before he had come to Jerusalem. She could not have betrayed her husband in thus mentioning his name.
"Your companion of the journey hither—whom you even now accused—Philadelphus Maccabaeus."
There was a dead pause in which his fingers still held her wrist and his deep eyes were fixed on her face. He was recalling by immense mental bounds all the evidence that would tend to confirm the suspicion in his brain. He had told her his own story but had invested it in Julian of Ephesus. His wallet, with all its proofs, was gone; the Ephesian had examined him carefully to know if any one in Jerusalem would recognize him; and lastly, without cause, Julian had stabbed him in the back. Could it be possible that Julian of Ephesus, believing that he had made way with the Maccabee, had come to Jerusalem, masquerading under his name?
While he stood thus gazing, hardly seeing the face that looked up at him with such troubled wonder, he saw her turn her eyes quickly, shrink; and then wrenching her hands from his, she fled.
He looked up. Two women were standing before him.
"I seek Amaryllis, the Seleucid," he said, recovering himself.
"I am she," the Greek said, stepping forward.
"Thou entertainest Laodice, daughter of Costobarus of Ascalon?" he added.
The Greek bowed.
"I would see her," he said bluntly.
Amaryllis signed to the woman at her side.
"This is she," she said simply.
The Maccabee looked quickly at the woman. After his close communication with the beautiful girl for whom his heart warmed as it had never done before, he was instantly aware of an immense contrast between her and the woman who had been introduced to him at that moment. They were both Jewesses; both were beautiful, each in her own way; both appeared intelligent and winsome. But he loved the girl, and this woman stood in the way of that love. Therefore her charms were nullified; her latent faults intensified; all in all she repelled him because she was an obstacle.
The injustice in his feelings toward her did not occur to him. He was angry because she had come; he hated her for her stateliness; he found himself looking for defects in her and belittling her undeniable graces. Confused and for the moment without plan, he looked at her frowning, and with cold astonishment the woman gazed back at him.
"Thou art Laodice, daughter of Costobarus?" he asked, to gain time.
She inclined her head.
"When—when dost thou expect Philadelphus?" he asked next.
"Why do you ask?" she parried.
"I—I have a message for him," he essayed finally. "Is he here?"
"Tell me, who art thou?" the woman asked pointedly.
A vision of the girl, flushed and trembling with pleasure at sight of him, flashed with poignant effect upon him at that moment. The warmth and softness of her hands under the pressure of his happy lips was still with him. It would be infidelity to his own feelings to renounce her then. It was becoming a physical impossibility for him to accept this other woman.
He hesitated and reddened. An old subterfuge occurred to him at a desperate minute.
"I—I am Hesper—of Ephesus," he essayed.
"What is thy business with Philadelphus?" the woman persisted.
Again the Maccabee floundered. It had been easy to invent a story to keep the woman he loved from discovering that he was a married man, but the point in question was different. Now, filled with dismay and indignation, apprehension and reluctance, his fertile mind failed him at the moment of its greatest need.
And the eyes of the Greek, filling with suspicion and intense interest, rested upon him.
"I asked," the actress repeated calmly, "thy business with Philadelphus."
At that instant a tremendous shock shook the house to its foundations; the hanging lamps lurched; the exedra jarred and in an instant several of the servants appeared at various openings into passages. Before any of the group could stir, a second thunderous shock sent a tremor over the room, and a fragment of marble detached from a support overhead and dropped to the pavement.
"It is an attack!" Amaryllis cried.
"On this house?" Salome demanded.
There was a clatter of arms and several men in Jewish armor rushed through the chamber from the passage that led in from the Temple.
"I shall see," said the Maccabee, and followed the men at once.
Without he saw the night sky overhead crossed by dark stones flying over the wall to the east. Warfare had begun.
But the attack was simply preliminary and desultory. It ceased while he waited. Presently it began farther toward the north. The catapult had been moved. The Maccabee hesitated in the colonnade.
The beautiful girl in the house of Amaryllis was in no further danger. The interruption had saved him at a critical moment.
He walked down the steps and out into the night.
"Liberty!" he whispered with a sigh of relief. "Now what to do?"
THE PRIDE OF AMARYLLIS
The night following the wounding of Nicanor, John spent on his fortifications expecting an attack. It was one of the few nights when the Gischalan kept vigil, for he refused to contribute fatigue to the prospering of his cause.
Sometime in mid-morning he appeared in the house of Amaryllis and sent a servant to her asking her to breakfast with him. The Greek sent him in return a wax tablet on which she had written that she was shut up in her chamber writing verse, but that she had provided him a companion as entertaining as she.
When he passed into the Greek's dining-room, the woman who called herself wife to Philadelphus awaited him at the table.
When he sat she dropped into a chair beside him and laid before him a bunch of grapes from Crete, preserved throughout the winter in casks filled with ground cork.
"It is the last, Amaryllis says," she observed. "And siege is laid."
John looked ruefully at the fruit.
"Perhaps," he said after thought, "were I a thrifty man and a spiteful one, I would not eat them. Instead, I should have the same cluster served me every morning that I might say to mine enemies, with truth, that I have Cretan grapes for breakfast daily. They will keep," he added presently, "for it is tradition that stores laid up for siege never decay."
"Obviously," said the woman, "they do not last long enough."
John plucked off one of the light green grapes and ate it with relish.
"Since thou doubtest the tradition, I shall not have these spoil."
"But you destroy even a better boast over your enemy. Then you could say to him, 'We can not consume all our food. Behold the grapes rot in the lofts!'"
"Half of the lies go to preserve another's opinion of us. How much we respect our fellows!"
"Be comforted; there are as many lying for our sakes! But how goes it without on the walls?"
"Against Rome or against Simon?"
"Ill enough. But when Titus presses too close Simon will lay down his hostility toward me; and when Titus becomes too effective, we are to have a divine interference, so our prophets say."
"I observe," the woman said, "we Jews at this time are relying much on the prophets to fight our battles. Behold, our stores will hold out, we say, because it is said; and we shall fight indifferently, because Daniel hath bespoken a Deliverer for us at this time!"
John, with his wine-glass between thumb and finger, looked at her.
"I should expect a heretic to be so critical for us," he said.
The woman sat with her elbows on the table, her chin in her hands, gazing moodily at the sunlight falling through the brass grill over the windows on the court. She ignored his remark, but answered presently in another tone.
"There is nothing to employ a surfeited mind in this city."
"No?" he said lightly, while interest began to awaken in his eyes. "The making of enjoyment is here. I have found it so."
"Perchance you have," but she halted and resumed her moody gaze at the flood of sunlight.
"Are you weary?" he asked. "What is it?"
"Idleness! Eating, sleeping—no; not even that; for idleness steals away my appetite and my repose."
"Strange restiveness for one reared in the quiet inner chambers of a Jewish house," he observed.
Her eyes dropped away to the floor; he saw that she was breathing quickly.
"I dreamed of a free life once," she said in a restrained way. "I have not since been satisfied. I dreamed of cities and kings, that were mine! of crises that I dared, of—of things that I did!"
There was indignation and pride in the words, too much recollection of an actuality to rise from the reminiscences of a dream. John watched her alertly.
"Enough will happen here in time to divert you," he said.
She made a motion with her hand that swept the round of masonry about her.
"Not until this falls."
"Come, then, up into my fortress and see my fellows from Gischala," he offered. "They fled with me from that city when Titus took it and together we came to this place. They are hardened to disaster; they and death are fellow-jesters."
"Everything! Better athletes than soldiers, better mummers than athletes; villains most engaging of all!"
She showed no interest and, after a critical pause, he continued:
"They robbed the booth of some costumer whom the Sadducees had made rich and captured a maid whom they held until she had taught them how to use henna and kohl. So I had a garrison of swearing girls until they wearied of the fatigue of stepping mincingly and untangling their garments. It was that which robbed the sport of its pleasure and changed my harem back to a fortress. But while it lasted they were kings over Jerusalem. And what dear mad dangerous wantons they were! What confusion to short-sighted citizens; what affrights to sociable maidens! Even I laughed at them."
"What antics indeed!" she murmured perfunctorily.
"Now they want new entertainment; something immense and different," he said.
She looked up at him; in her eyes he read, "Even as I do!"
"But they are not unique in that," he continued. "All the world seeks diversion. Observe the pretty stranger come here fresh from some lady's tiring-room, hunting adventure, bearding thee and wearing thy name!"
Her eyes sparkled.
"She shall have adventure enough," she declared.
"I hear," John pursued, "that she does not expect her servant to return, whom she sent to Ascalon for proofs."
"No?" the woman cried, sitting up.
"How can she, when the siege is laid?"
There was a moment of silence. The woman drew in a deep breath that was wholly one of relief.
"Now what will she do?" she asked.
"She expects," John answered, "the mediation of the Messiah. It is the talk among the slaves that He is in the city and she has heard it. She seems not to be overconfident, however."
"It is her end," the woman remarked with meaning.
"Perchance not. She is a good Jew, it seems, whatever else she may be, and every good Jew may have his wishes come to pass if the Messiah come. So it has become the national habit to expect the Messiah in every individual difficulty. Now, according to prophecies, the time is of a surety ripe and the whole city is expectant. She may have her wish."
She stared at him coolly. There was implied disbelief in this speech. She debated with herself if it would serve to resent his doubt. Whatever her conclusion she added no more to the discussion of Laodice's hopes.
"Are you expectant?" she asked.
"I see the need of a Messiah," he responded.
"Doubtless. You and Simon do not unite the city; nothing but an united, confident and supremely capable people can resist Rome in even this most majestic fortification in the world—unless miracle be performed, indeed."
"Nothing but a divine visitor can achieve union here."
"What an event to behold!" she mused. "That would be an excitement! Surely that would be a new thing! No one really ever beheld a god before."
"What learned things dreams are! What things of experience!" he remarked with a sly smile. She refused to observe his insisted disbelief in her claim, but went on as if to herself.
"Whatever Jove can do, man can do!" she declared. "I never heard that the gods do more than change maidens into trees or themselves into swans for an old mortal purpose that even man's a better adept at. Why can there not rise one who is greater than Alexander and of stouter heart than Julius Caesar? There is no limit to the greatness of mankind. Behold, here is a city rich beyond even the wealth of Croesus; and a country which the emperor is longing to bestow upon some orderly king! Heavens, what an opportunity! I could pray, Jerusalem should pray, that the hour may bring forth the man!"
Her eyes shone with an unnatural yearning. The immense scope of her desires suddenly brought a smile to his lips that he checked in time. He had remembered offering his Idumeans in women's clothing for her diversion.
Hunger for power, the next greatest hunger after hunger for love! He felt that he stood in the presence of a desire so immense that it belittled his own hopes. He was not too much of a Jew to have sympathy with the ambition that dwells in the breasts of women. Cleopatra had been an evil that he had admired profoundly, because she had attained that which his own soul yearned after but which had eluded him. Yet he was large enough not to be envious of a success. He was made of the stuff that seekers of excitement are made of. If he could not furnish the intoxication of activity he was a ready supporter of that one who could.
"What disorder, then, in the world," she went on, as if she had followed a train of imagination through the triumph of the risen great man. "Rome, the ruler of nations humbled! Conquest from Germany to the First Cataract, from Gaul to the dry rocks of Ecbatana! A world in anarchy, for one greater than Alexander to subjugate! The ancient splendor of Asia, the wisdom of Africa and the virginity of Europe to be his, and the homage of the four corners of the earth to be to him!"
John said nothing. Before him, the woman had entirely stripped off her disguise. Now for the purpose!
At that moment one of Amaryllis' servants, who had stood guard without the door, dodged apprehensively into the room and fled across to the opposite arch. There he paused, ready for flight, and looked back with wide eyes. John turned hastily but with an impatient gesture fell again to his neglected meal. The actress looked to see what had annoyed him. There passed in from the outer corridor a young man, tall, magnificently formed, covered with a turban and draped in quaint garments, which to her who was familiar with all the guises of the theater seemed to be Buddhistic. He looked neither to the right nor left, but passed with a step infinitely soft and gliding across to the arch, from which the terrified servant vanished instantly. The stranger stayed only a dramatic instant on the threshold and then disappeared into the corridor which led up into the Temple. When he had gone the startled actress retained a picture of a face, fearless, beatified, mystic to the very edge of the supernatural.
"Who was that?" she asked of the Gischalan, who was gazing at the color of his wine, sitting in a shaft of sunlight.
"Seraiah! But more than that, no one knows. He appeared with the slaying of Zechariah the Just. He haunts the garrisons. Hence his name—Soldier of Jehovah!"
"He did not speak; why did he come?"
"He never speaks; he goes where he will; no one would dare to stop him!"
Then suddenly realizing that he was showing disinterest the Gischalan drew himself up and smiled.
"He is mad; I believe he is mad. The city is full of demoniacs."
"There is something great about him!" the woman declared. "He seems to be the instrument of miracle."
"Is it that?" John asked in an amused tone.
She studied him for a moment that was tense with meaning.
"Do you know," she began slowly, "that neither you nor Simon, nor any of these who aspire to the control of Jerusalem, have come upon the plan which will best appeal to your distracted subjects?"
"Have we not?" he repeated. "We have bought them and bullied them; we are fighting the Romans for them; we are preaching patience in the will of the Lord. What more, lady?"
"What have you to offer them in their hope of a Messiah?" she said pointedly.
"Messiah! What else is preached in the Temple but the Messiah, or in the proseuchae or the streets or on the walls? We eat, drink, sleep, fight, buy, sell, rob or restore in the name of the Messiah! They are surfeited with religion."
"Are they?" she asked sententiously. "But you haven't given them a Messiah."
He looked at her without comprehending.
"You have a mad city here; you can not reason with it; indulge it, then, as you indulge your lunatics," she suggested.
He shook his head, smiling that he did not understand her. She turned again to Seraiah.
"Watch him," she insisted. "He possesses me."
After a long silence in which John trifled with his wine, she prepared to rise.
"Send me the roll of the law," the woman said suddenly.
"Posthumus shall bring it. He is another lunatic. Experiment with him and learn how I shall act toward the city."
"Well said," she averred; "and I will see your Idumeans. Is it proper for me to appear in the Temple?"
The Gischalan's eyes flashed a sudden elation and delight. He bent low and kissed her hand.
"And I will fetch somewhat which will divert us," she added and was gone.
When a few moments later John passed again into the Greek's apartment, Amaryllis entered from an inner corridor. Before she spoke to the master of the house she addressed a servant who had been a moment before summoned.
"Send hither my guest."
"The stranger?" John asked. "Is she still with you?"
"I mean to add her to my household, if you will," she explained.
"Keep her or dismiss her at your pleasure."
"It shall be for my pleasure. She has a charm that besets me. It will be entertainment to discover her history."
"I see no mystery in her. It is plain enough that there is between her and this married Philadelphus some cause for her coming. His wife is much more engaging."
She sighed and dropped into her ivory chair, pushed back the locks of fair hair that had loosened from their fillet and waited languidly.
John studied her critically. In the last hour the slowly dissolving bond between them seemed to have vanished, wholly, at once.
"O Queen of Kings," he said, "art thou lonely in this mad place?"
"I have found diversion," she answered.
"With these new guests?"
"With these new guests. Observe them; there are a pair of lovers among them, mersed in difficulty, hampering themselves, multiplying sorrow and sure to accomplish the same end as if they had proceeded happily."
"Interested no longer in thine own passion? Alas, my Amaryllis, that love is dead that is interested no longer in itself."
"O thou bearded warrior, are we then still in the self-centered period of our romance?"
"I fear not; I see the twilight."
Amaryllis looked down and her face grew more weary.
"You have maintained a long fidelity, John," she said.
He gazed at her, waiting a further remark, and she went on at last.
"I wonder why?"
He flung out his hands.
"Shall I be faithless to Sheba? Is the charm of the Queen of Kings faded? Shall I turn from Aphrodite or weary of the lips of Astarte?"
"Nothing so stamps your love of me as wicked, in your own eyes, as the paganism you fall into when you speak of it!"
"But it is not that I am lovely which made you a lover—until now," she went on. "I have seen men faithful to women unlovely as Hecate. It is not that. And I am still as I was, but—"
He looked down on the triple bands of the ampyx that bound her gold-powdered hair and said:
"It is you who have grown weary; not I."
She astutely drew back from the ground upon which she had entered. It lay in the power of this Gischalan to refuse further protection to her out of sheer spite if she made her disaffection too patent.
"O leader of hosts, canst thou be mummer, languishing poet, pettish woman and spoiled princeling all in one? No! And I shall love the clanking of arms and thy mailed footsteps all the more if thou permittest me to look upon irresponsible folly while thou art absent."
"Have thy way. I have mine. Furthermore, I wish to thank thee for the companion thou sentest me at breakfast. He who dines alone with her, hath his table full. Farewell."
THE IMAGE OF JEALOUSY
The Maccabee resolved that in spite of his heart-hunger, he must not be a frequent visitor to the house of Amaryllis because of the imminent risk of confronting the impostor Julian and the danger of exposure. Not danger to his life, but danger to his freedom to court the beautiful girl, which an unmasking might accomplish. Besides, he had made an extraordinary entry into the Greek's house in the beginning, and he was not prepared to explain himself even now, if he returned.
But his longing to look at her again was stronger than his caution. Much had happened since he had left the house of the Greek on the evening of his first day in Jerusalem, and he feared that his absorption in his own plans might result in the loss of her soon or late. So when the evening of the second week to a day of his sojourn in the city came round, unable to endure longer, he turned his steps with considerable apprehension toward the house of Amaryllis.
When he was led across the threshold of the Greek's hall, he saw Amaryllis sitting in her exedra, her slim white arms crossed back of her head, her tiring-woman, summoned for a casual attention, busy with a parted ribbon on the sandal of the lady's foot.
The Maccabee awaited her invitation. Her eyes flashed a sudden pleasure when she looked up and saw him.
"Enter," she said, with an unwonted lightness in her voice that was usually low and grave; "and be welcome."
He came to the place she indicated at her side and sat. In silence he waited until the tiring-woman had finished her service and departed. Then it was Amaryllis who spoke.
"You left us abruptly on occasion of your first visit."
"The siege was of greater interest to you than I was. When I discovered the cause of the disturbance, you would have failed to remember me."
"Yet I recall you readily after many days."
"The city is in disorder; conventions can not always be observed in war-time. I returned when I could."
"Our interest in you as our guest has not abated. Philadelphus is ready to see you, at any time," she said, watching his face.
"And in time of war," he answered composedly, "we intend many things in the first place which we do not carry out in the second. I do not care to see—Philadelphus."
She lifted her brows. He answered the implied question.
"I was a familiar to this Philadelphus; he is young and boastful, talkative as a woman. If he means to be king, as those who knew him in Ephesus were given to believe, it is not unnatural that some of us, without fortune or tie to keep us home, should follow him—as parasites, if you will—to share in the largess which he will surely give his friends if he succeeds."
He did not face her when he made this speech, and he did not observe the amusement that crept into her eyes. He could not sense his own greatness of presence sufficiently to know that his claim to be a parasite upon so incapable a creature as the false Philadelphus would awaken doubt in the mind of an intelligent woman like Amaryllis.
He felt that he was not covering his tracks well, and put his ingenuity to a test.
"The boon-craver therefore should not sit like a dog, begging crumbs, till the table is laid. My hunger would appear as competition, if I showed it him, while he is yet unfed. Of a truth, I would not have him know I am here."
"I will keep thy secret," she promised, smiling.
"I thank you," he said gravely. "I came, on this occasion, to ask after the young woman, whose name I have not learned—her whom you have sheltered."
Amaryllis' smiling eyes darkened suddenly.
"Pouf!" she said. "I had begun to hope that you had come to see me!"
"I had not John's permission," he objected.
"Have you Philadelphus' permission to see her?"
He looked his perplexity.
"What," she exclaimed, "has she not laid her claim before you yet?"
The Maccabee shook his head.
"Know, then, that this pretty nameless creature claims to be the wife of this same Philadelphus."
He sat up in his earnestness.
"What!" he cried.
"Even so! Insists upon it in the face of the lady princess' proofs and Philadelphus' denial!"
The Maccabee's brows dropped while he gazed down at the Greek.
Julian of Ephesus was then the husband that she was to join in Jerusalem! Small wonder she had been indignant when he, the Maccabee, in the spirit of mischief, had laid a wife to Julian's door and had described her as most unprepossessing. And that was why her terror of Julian had been so abject! That was why she had flown to him, a stranger, rather than be left alone with a husband who, it seemed, would be rid of her that he might pursue his ends the better!
"What think you of it!" he exclaimed aloud, but to himself.
"And I never saw in all my life such pretensions of probity!" the Greek continued. "She is outraged by any little word that questions her virtue; she holds herself aloof from me as if she were not certain that I am fit for her companionship; and she flies with fluffed feathers and cries of rage in the face of the least compliment that comes from any lips—even Philadelphus!"
The Maccabee continued to gaze at the Greek. He did not see the woman's search of his face for an assent to her speech. He was struggling with a desire to tell her that he was eager to exchange his wife for Julian's.
"Perchance she is right," he said instead. "What know we of this paganized young Jew? He has been separated from his lady from childhood. It is right easy to marry, once we fall into the way."
"No, no! Her claim is hopeless. She confesses it. But she maintains the assumption, nevertheless."
"Absolutely? No little sign of lapse among thy handsome servants, here?"
"I do not see her when she is with the servants," she said astutely.
"What will you do with her?" he asked.
"She is beautiful, unique, and so eligible to my collection of arts and artists under this roof. She shall stay till fate shows its hand for all of us."
"You have housed Discord under your roof, then," he said. "Laodice, the wife to this Philadelphus, will not be a happy woman; and I—I shall not be a happy man. Let me return favor for your favor to me. I will take her away."
She laughed, though it seemed that a hard note had entered her voice.
"You will permit me, then, to surmise for myself why you came to Jerusalem. You seem to have known this girl before. I shall not ask you; in return for that promise that I may conclude what I will."
"If you are too discerning, lady," he answered, while his eyes sought down the corridor for a glimpse of the one he had come to see, "you are dangerous."
"And what then?"
"I must devise a way to silence you."
She lifted her brows. In that very speech was the portrait of the Maccabee that she had come to love through letters.
"There is something familiar in your mood," she said thoughtfully. "It seems that I have known you—for many years."
He made no answer. He had said all that he wished to say to this woman. She noted his silence and rose.
"I shall send the girl to you."
"Thou art good," he answered and she withdrew.
A moment later Laodice came into the chamber. She was not startled. In her innocent soul she did not realize that this was a sign of the depth of her love for him. He rose and met her half-way across the hall; took her hand and held it while they walked back to the exedra, and gazed at her face for evidence that her sojourn in this house had been unhappy or otherwise; noted that she had let down her hair and braided it; observed every infinitesimal change that can attract only the lover's eye.
"Sit," he said, giving her a place beside him. "I came of habit to see you. Of habit, I was interrupted. Is there no way that I can talk to you without the resentment of some one who flourishes a better right to be with you than I can show?"
"Where hast thou been," Laodice asked, "so long?"
"Was it long," he demanded impulsively, "to you?"
"New places, new faces, uncertainty and other things make time seem long," she explained hastily.
"Nay, then," he said, "I have been busy. I have been attending to that labor I had in mind for Judea, of which we spoke in the hills that morning."
Laodice drew in a quick breath. Then some one, if not herself or the husband who had denied her, was at work for Judea.
"There is no nation, here, for a king," he went on. "It is a great horde that needs organization. It wants a leader. I am ambitious and Judea will be the prize to the ablest man. Seest thou mine intent?"
"You—you aspire—" she began and halted, suddenly impressed with the complication his announcement had effected.
"Go on," he said.
"You would take Judea?"
"But it belongs of descent to the Maccabees!"
"To Philadelphus Maccabaeus, yes; but what is he doing?"
She dropped her head.
"Nothing," she said in a half-whisper.
"No? But let me tell you what I have done already. Three days ago Titus took revenge upon Coenopolis for her sortie against Nicanor by firing the suburbs. The citizens could not spare water to fight the fire, and after futile attempts they gathered up food and treasure and fled into Jerusalem. Now, a thousand householders in the streets of this oppressed city, with their gods and their goods in their arms, made the pillagers of Simon and John laugh aloud. They fell upon these wandering, bewildered, treasure-laden people and robbed them as readily and as joyously as a husbandman gathers olives in a fat year. Oh, it was a merry time for the men of Simon and the men of John! But I in my wanderings over the city came upon a party of Bezethans, reluctant to surrender their goods for the asking, and they were fighting with right good will a body of Idumeans twice their number. In fact they fought so well, so unanimously, so silently that I saw they lacked the essential part of the fight—the shouting. That I supplied. And when they had whipped the Idumeans and had a chance for flight before reinforcements came, they obeyed my voice in so far as they followed me into a subterranean chamber beneath a burned ruin on Zion.
"We were not followed and our hiding-place was not discovered. In fact, their resistance was a complete success. Whereupon, they were ready to unite and take Jerusalem! No—it was not strange! It is the nature of men. I never saw a wine-merchant in Ephesus, who, after clearing his shop of brawlers single-handed, was not ready thereupon to march upon Rome and besiege Caesar on the Palatine! So it was with these Bezethans.
"I, with my voice, expressed the yearnings that they felt in their victorious breasts, and plotted for them. After council and organization we went forth by night and finding Idumean patrols by the score sleepy and inert from overfeeding we robbed them of that which was our own. Then we sought out hungry Bezethans and fed them when they promised to become of our party. Nothing was more simple! By dawn we had a hundred under our ruin, bound to us by oath and the enticements of our larder, and hungry only for fight! Will you believe me when I boast that I have an army in Jerusalem?"
She heard him with a strange confusion of emotions. In her soul she was excited and eager for his success; but here was a strong and growing enemy to Philadelphus, who was reluctant to become a king! Her impulsive joy in a forceful man struggled with her sense of duty to the man she could not love.
"Why do you tell me these things?" she said uneasily. "It is perilous for any one to know that you are constructing sedition against these ferocious powers in Jerusalem."
"Ah, but you fear for me; therefore you will not betray me. None else but those as deeply committed know of it."
He had confided in her, and because of it his ambitions took stealthy hold upon her.
"But—but is there no other way to take Jerusalem, except—by predatory warfare?" she hesitated.
"No," he laughed. "We are fighting thieves and murderers; they do not understand the open field; we must go into the dark to find them."
"Then—then if your soldiers have the good of the city and the love of their fellows in their hearts, and if you feed them and shelter them—why shall you not succeed?" she asked, speaking slowly as the sum of his advantages occurred to her.
He dropped his hand on hers.
"It lacks one thing; if I have discouragement in my soul, it will weaken my arm, and so the arm of all my army."
Intuition bade her hesitate to ask for that essential thing; his eyes named it to her and she looked away from him quickly that he might not see the sudden flush which she could not repress.
"Tell me," she said, "more of that night—"
"That would be recounting the same incident many times. But one thing unusual happened; nay, two things. In the middle of the night, after we had brought in our second enlistment of patriots, we were feeding them and I was giving them instruction. At the entrance, I had posted a sentry; none of us believed that any one had seen us take refuge in that crypt. Indeed, we were all frank in our congratulations and defiant in our security. Suddenly, I saw half of my army scuttle to cover; the rest stood transfixed in their tracks. I looked up and there before me in the firelight stood a young man, whom I had not, I am convinced, brought in with me. He was tall, comely, dressed as I have seen the Hindu priests dress in Ephesus, but in garments that were fairly radiant for whiteness. But his face gave cause enough to make any man lose his tongue. Believe me, when I say he looked as if he had seen angels, and had talked with the dead. His eyes gazed through us as if we had been thin air. So dreadful they were in their unseeing look that every man asked himself what would happen if that gaze should light upon him. He stood a moment, walked as soft-footed and as swiftly as some shade through our burrow and vanished as he had come. In all the time he tarried, he made not one sound!"
Laodice was looking at him with awed, but understanding eyes.
"It was Seraiah," she said in a low voice. "He entered this place on a day last week. All the city is afraid of him."
"So my soldiers told me afterward, between chattering teeth. He almost damped our patriotism. We uttered our bombast, sealed our vows and made our sorties, thereafter, every man of us, with our chins over our shoulders! Spare me Seraiah! He has too much influence!"
"Is he a madman?" she asked.
"Or else a supernatural man. Would I could manage men by the fall of my foot, as he does. I should have Jerusalem's fealty by to-morrow night. But it was near early morning that the other incident occurred. That was of another nature. We stumbled upon a pair huddled in the shadow of a building. We stumbled upon many figures in shadows, but one of these murmured a name that I heard once in the hills hereabout, and I had profited by that name, so I halted. It was an old man, starved and weary and ill; with him was a gray ghost of a creature with long white hair, that seemed to be struck with terror the instant it heard my voice. At first I thought it was a withered old woman, but it proved to be a man—somehow seeming young in spite of the snow-white hair and wasted frame. I had them taken up, the gray ghost resisting mightily, and carried to my burrow where they now lie. They eat; they take up space; they add nothing to my cause. But I can not turn them out. The old man disarms me by that name."
He looked down at her with softening eyes.
"And the shepherd held thy hand?" he said softly. She turned upon him in astonishment. How much of joy and surprise and hope he could bring in a single visit, she thought. Now, behold he had met that same delightsome child that had passed like a dash of sunlight across her dark day.
"Did you meet the shepherd of Pella?" she asked. Instant deduction supplied her the name that had moved him to compassion. "And did he serve you in the name of his Prophet?" she whispered.
"He saved my life in the name of his Christ, but was tender of me in thy name," he replied.
"His is a sweet apostasy," she ventured bravely, "if it be his apostasy that made him kind. And I—I owe him much, that he repaired that for which I feel at fault."
He smiled at her and stroked her hand once, soothingly.
"Let us not remember blames or injury. It damages my happiness. But of this apostasy that the shepherd preached me. I passed the stones of the Palace of Antipas to-day, a ruin, black and shapeless. Thought I, where is the majesty of order and the beauty of strength that was this place? And then," his voice fell to a whisper, "beshrew the boy's tattle, I said, the footprints of his Prophet before the throne of Herod are erased."
"Even then," she whispered when he paused, "you do not forget!"
"No! Why, these streets, that should ring for me with the footsteps of all the great from the days of David, are marked by the passage of that Prophet. I might forget that Felix and Florus and Gessius were legates in that Roman residence, but I do not fail to remember that they took that Prophet before Pilate there. By my soul, the street that leads north hath become the way of the Cross, and there are three crosses for me on the Hill of the Skull!"
She looked at him gravely and with alarm. What was it in this history of the Nazarene which won aristocrats and shepherds alike? She would see from this man if there were indeed any truth in the story that Philadelphus had told her.
"I have heard," she began, faltering, "I have heard that—" She stopped. Her tongue would not shape the story. But after a glance at her, he understood.
"And thou hast heard it, also?" he whispered. "Thou believest it?"
It seemed that to acknowledge her fear that the King had come and gone would establish the fact.
"No!" she cried.
"It is enough," he said nervously. "We do not well to talk of it. I came for another reason. Tell me; hast thou other shelter than this house?"
"No," she answered.
"Hast thou talked with this Philadelphus, here?" he asked after silence.
She assented with averted face.
"Is he that one who was with me in the hills?" he persisted.
Again she assented, with surprise.
His hands clenched and for a moment he struggled with his rage.
"This house is no place for you!" he declared at last.
"What manner of house is this?" she asked pathetically. "It is so strange!"
"Why did you come here?"
"Because there was nowhere else to go."
He was silent.
"Who is this Amaryllis?" she asked.
She shrank away from him and looked at him with horror-stricken eyes.
"Hast thou not yet seen him, who buys thy bread and meat and insures this safe roof?" he persisted.
"And—and I eat bread—bought—bought by—" she stammered.
Her hands dropped at her sides.
"Are the good all dead?" she said.
"In Jerusalem, yes; for Virtue gets hungry, at times."
She had risen and moved away from him, but he followed her with interested eyes.
"Then—then—" she began, hesitating under a rush of convictions. "That is why—why I can not—why he—he—"
He knew she spoke of Philadelphus.
"Go on," he said.
"Why I can not live in safety near him!"
He, too, arose. Until that moment it had not occurred to him that Julian of Ephesus, as repugnant to her as she had shown him ever to be, might prove a peril to her life as he had been to the Maccabee who had stood in his way.
"What has he said to you?" he demanded fiercely. "How do you live, here in this house?"
She threw up her head, seeing another meaning in his question.
"Shut in! Locked!" she said between her teeth.
"But even then you are not safe!"
She drew back hastily and looked at him with alarm. What did he mean?
He was beside her.
"Tell me, in truth, who you are," he said tenderly, "and I shall reveal myself."
Then, indeed, Amaryllis had told him her claim and had convinced him that it was fraudulent.
"And she told you?" she said wearily.
"Tell me," he insisted. "I have truly a revelation worth hearing!"
She made no answer.
"You owe it me," he added presently. "Behold what damaging things I have intrusted to you. You can ruin me by the droop of an eyelash."
"I should have told you at first who I am," she said finally. "I will not betray what you told me in ignorance—"
"But Amaryllis told me this before you came."
"Nevertheless, tell me no more; if I must be a partizan, I shall be a partizan to my husband."
"There is nothing for you here, clinging to this man," he continued persuasively. "This woman brought him a great dowry. She is ambitious and therefore jealous. You will win nothing but mistreatment, and worse, if you stay here for him."
"It is my place," she said.
After a moment's helpless silence, he demanded bitterly:
"Dost thou love that man?"
The truth leaped to her lips with such wilful force that he read the reply on her face, though her eyes were down and by intense resolution she restrained the denial. He was close to her, speaking quickly under the pressure of his earnestness.
"I have sacrificed name, birthright, fortune—even honor—that I might be free to love thee!"
She drew back from him hurriedly, afraid that his very insistence would destroy her fortitude.
"Let me not have bankrupted myself for a trust thou wilt not give!"
"It—it is not mine to give," she stammered.
"Otherwise—otherwise—" he prompted, leaning near her. But she put him back from her, desperately.
"Go, go!" she whispered. "I hear—I hear Philadelphus!"
He turned from her obediently.
"It is not my last hope," he said to himself. "Neither has she suffered her last perplexity in this house. I shall come again."
He passed out into the streets of Jerusalem.
THE SPREAD NET
Beginning with the moment that the Maccabee first entered her hall, Amaryllis struggled with a perplexity. Certain discrepancies in the hastily concocted story which that stern compelling stranger who had called himself Hesper of Ephesus had told had started into life a doubt so feeble that it was little more than a sensation.
Love and its signs had been a lifelong study to her; she knew its stubbornness; she was wise in the judgment of human nature to know that love in this stranger was no light thing to be dislodged. And to finish the sum of her perplexities, she felt in her own heart the kindling of a sorrowful longing to be preferred by a spirit strong, forceful and magnetic as was that of the man who had called himself Hesper of Ephesus.
With the egotism of the courtezan she summarized her charms. Even there were spirits in that fleshly land of Judea to whom the delicate refinement of her beauty, the reserve of her bearing and the power of her mentality had appealed more strongly than a mere opulence of physical attraction. She had her ambitions; not the least of these was to be loved by an understanding nature. The greater the congeniality, the greater the attraction, she argued; but behold, was this iron Hesper, the man of all force, to be dashed and shaken by the rich loveliness of Laodice, who was simply a woman?
"Such attachments do not last," she argued hopefully. "Such attachments make unfaithful husbands. They are monotonous and wearisome. She is but a mirror giving back the blaze of the sun, one-surfaced and blinding. It is the many lights of the diamond that make it charming."
She had arrived at no definite resolution when she met Laodice in the hall that led to the quarters of the artists, as the Greek went that way for her day's observation of their work.
"What an unrefreshed face!" the Greek said softly, as the light from the cancelli showed the weariness and distress that had begun to make inroads on the animation of the girl's beauty. "No woman who would preserve her loveliness should let her cares trouble her dreams."
"How am I to do that?" Laodice asked with a flare of scorn.
"Do I perceive in that a desire for advice or an explanation of a situation?"
Amaryllis smiled thoughtfully at the girl, while the light of sudden intent appeared on her face.
"You are unhappy, my dear, through your prejudices," she began. "We call convictions prejudices when they are other than our own beliefs. By that sign, you shall know that I am going to take issue with you. I am, perhaps, the ideal of that which you would not be. But no man will say that my lot is not enviable."
"Are you happy?" Laodice asked in a low voice.
"Are you?" the Greek returned. "No," she went on after a pause. "A woman has the less happy part in life, though the greater one, if she will permit herself to make it great. It was not her purpose on earth to be happy, but to make happy."
"You take issue with Philadelphus in that," Laodice interposed. "It is his preachment to me that all that is expected of all mankind is to be happy."
"He is a man, arguing from the man's view. It is inevitable law that one must be gladder than another. Woman has the greater capacity for suffering, hence her feeling for the suffering of others is the quicker to respond. And some creature of the gods must be compassionate, else creation long since had perished from the earth."
Laodice made no answer. This was new philosophy to her, who had been taught only to aspire at great sacrifice as long as God gave her strength. She could not know that this strange and purposeful creed might some day appeal to her beyond her strength.
"Yet," Amaryllis added presently in a brighter tone, "there is much that is sweet in the life of a woman."
Laodice played with the tassels of her girdle and did not look up. What was all this to lead to?
"I have spoken to Philadelphus about you," the Greek continued. "He has no doubt of this woman who hath established her claim to his name by proofs but without the manner of the wife he expected. Yet he can not turn her out. The siege hath put an end to your efforts in your own behalf and it is time to face your condition and make the best of it. John feels restive; I dare not ask too much of him. My household was already full, before you came."
Laodice was looking at her, now with enlightenment in her face.
"Philadelphus," Amaryllis continued, following up her advantage, "is nothing more than a man and you are very lovely."
"All this," Laodice said, rousing, "is to persuade me to—"
"There are two standards for women," the Greek interposed before Laodice finished her indignant sentence. "Yours and another's. As between yours, who would have love from him whom you have married, and hers, who hath love from him whom she hath not married, there is only the difference of a formula. Between her condition and yours, she is the freer; between her soul and yours, she is the more willingly faithful. If woman be born to a purpose, she fulfils it; if not she hath not consecrated her life to a mistake. You overrate the importance of marriage. It is your whole purpose to preserve yourself for a ceremony. It is too much pains for too trivial an end. At least, there are many things which are farther reaching and less selfish in intent. And who, by the way, holds the longest claim on history? Your kind or this other? The world does not perpetuate in its chronicles the continence of women; it is too small, too personal, too common to be noted. Cleopatra were lost among the horde of forgotten sovereigns, had she wedded duly and scorned Mark Antony; Aspasia would have been buried in a gynaeconitis had she wedded Pericles, and Sappho—but the list is too long; I will not bury you in testimony."
Laodice raised her head.
"You reason well," she said. "It never occurred to me how wickedness could justify itself by reason. But I observe now how serviceable a thing it is. It seems that you can reason away any truth, any fact, any ideal. Perhaps you can banish God by reason, or defend crime by reason; reason, I shall not be surprised to learn, can make all things possible or impossible. But—does reason hush that strange speaking voice in you, which we Jews call conscience? Tell me; have you reasoned till it ceases to rebuke you?"
"Ah, how hard you are to accommodate," Amaryllis smiled. "I mean to show you how you can abide here. I can ask no more of John. Philadelphus alone is master of your fate. I have not sought to change you before I sought to change Philadelphus. He will not change so long as you are beautiful. This is life, my dear. You may as well prepare for it now."
Laodice gazed with wide, terrorized eyes at the Greek. She saw force gathering against her. Amaryllis shaped her device to its end.
"And if you do not accept this shelter," she concluded, "what else is there for you?"
Hesper, many times her refuge, rose before the hard-pressed girl.
"There is another in Jerusalem who will help me," she declared.
"And that one?" Amaryllis asked coolly.
"Is he who calls himself Hesper, the Ephesian," Laodice answered.
"Why should you trust him?" the Greek asked pointedly.
"He—when Philadelphus—you remember that Philadelphus told you what happened—"
"That he tossed a coin with a wayfarer in the hills for you?" the Greek asked.
Laodice dropped her head painfully.
"This Hesper let me go then, and afterward—"
"He has repented of that by this time. It is not safe to try him a second time. Besides, if you must risk yourself to the protection of men, why turn from him whom you call your husband for this stranger?"
The question was deft and telling. Laodice started with the suddenness of the accusation embodied in it. And while she stood, wrestling with the intolerable alternative, the Greek smiled at her and went her way.
Laodice stood where Amaryllis had left her, at times motionless with helplessness, at others struck with panic. On no occasion did homelessness in the war-ridden city of Jerusalem appear half so terrible as shelter under the roof of that hateful house.
The little golden-haired girl from the chamber of artists beyond skipped by her.
"Hast seen Demetrius?" she called back as she passed. "Demetrius, the athlete, stupid!"
Laodice turned away from her.
"Nay, then," the girl declared; "if I have insulted you let me heal over the wound with the best jest, yet! John hath written a sonnet on Philadelphus' wife and our Lady Amaryllis is truing his meter for him. Ha! Gods! What a place this is for a child to be brought up! I would not give a denarius for my morals when I am grown. There's Demetrius! Now for a laugh!"
She was gone.
Where was that ancient rigor of atmosphere in which she had been reared? thought Laodice. Had it existed only in the shut house of Costobarus? Was all the world wicked except that which was confined within the four walls of her father's house? Could she survive long in this unanimously bad environment? But she remembered Joseph of Pella, the shepherd; even then his wholesomeness was not without its canker. He was a Christian!
Philadelphus was at her side.
She flinched from him and would have fled, but he stopped her with a sign.
"My lady objects to your presence in this house," he said. "You have not made it worth my while to insist on your shelter here."
"Your lady," she said hotly, "is two-fold evilly engaged, then. She has time to ruin you, while she furnishes John with all the inspiration he would have for sonnets."
"So she refrains from furnishing John with my two hundred talents, I shall not quarrel with her. You have your own difficulties to adjust, and mine, only in so far as they concern you."
His voice had lost none of its smoothness, but it had become hard and purposeful.
"I have come to that point, Philadelphus, where my difficulties and not yours concern me," she replied. "I had nothing to give you but my good will. You have outraged even that. Hereafter, no tie binds us."
"No? You cast off our ties as lightly as you assumed them. With a word you announce me wedded to you; with another you speak our divorcement. And I, poor clod, suffer it? The first, yes; but the last, no. You see, I have fallen in love with you."
She turned her clear eyes away from him and waited calmly till she could escape.
"You have spent your greatest argument in persuading me to be a king. Kings, lady, are essentially tyrants, in these bad days. Wherefore, if I am to be one, I shall not fail to be the other. And you—ah, you! Will you endure the oppressor that you made?"
There was enough that was different in his manner and his words for her to believe that something worthy of attention was to follow. She looked at him, now.
"This roof, since the alienation of John to my wife, is mine empire. Within it, I am despot. From its lady mistress, the Greek, to the meanest slave, I have homage and subjection. Even thou wilt be submissive to me—for having lost one wife through indulgence, I shall be most tyrannical to the one yet in my power!"
She drew herself up in splendid defiance.
"I have not submitted!" she said. "I will not submit!"
"No? Nothing stands in your way now but yourself. Your supplanter hath removed herself. And I shall make your submission easy."
She turned from him and would have hurried back into the Greek's andronitis, but he put himself in her way.
"Listen!" he said, suddenly lifting his hand.
In the stillness which she finally was able to observe over the tumultuous beating of her enraged heart, a profound moan of great volume as from immense but remote struggle came into the corridor. Through it at times cut a sharp accession of sound, as if violence heightened at intervals, and steadily over it pulsated the throb of tireless siege-engines. It was the groan of the City of Delight in mortal anguish.
"This," he said in a soft voice touching his breast, "or that," motioning toward the dying city. "Choose. And by midnight!"
While she stood, gazing at him transfixed with the horror of her predicament, there was the sweeping of garments, the soft tinkle of pendants as they struck together, and Salome, the actress, was beside the pair. Close at hand was Amaryllis. The Greek showed for the first time discomfiture and an inability to rise to the demand of the occasion. The glance she shot at Laodice was full of cold anger that she had permitted herself to be surprised in company with Philadelphus.
Philadelphus drew back a step, but made no further movement toward withdrawing. Laodice would have retreated, but the actress stood in her way. With a motion full of stately indignation, Salome turned to Amaryllis.
"It so occurs, madam, that I can point out to you the disease which saps my husband's ambition. You observe that he is diverted now, as all men are diverted six weeks after marriage—by another woman. I am not a jealous woman. I am only concerned for his welfare and the welfare of the city of our fathers. For it is not himself that his luxurious indolence affects; but all the unhappy city which is suffering while he is able to help it. He must be saved. And I shall go with him out of this house into want and peril, but he shall be saved."
Laodice said nothing. She stood drawn up intensely; her brows knitted; her teeth on her lip; her insulted pride and growing resolution effecting a certain magnificence in her pose.
"I can find her another house," Amaryllis said.
"Also my husband can find it," the woman broke in. "Let the streets do their will with the woman of the streets. Bread and shelter are too precious to waste on the iniquitous this hour."
Amaryllis turned to Laodice.
"What wilt thou do?" she asked.
"The streets can offer me no more insult than is offered me in this house," she said slowly.
It was in her mind that there were certainly unprotected gates at which she could get out of the city and return to Ascalon.
At least the peril for her in this house was already too imminent for her to remain longer. She continued to Amaryllis:
"Lady, you have been kind to me—in your way. You have been so in the face of your doubt that I am what I claim to be. How happy, then, you would have made my lot had I not been supplanted and denied! For all this I thank you. Mine would be a poor gratitude if I stay to make you regret your generosity. Wherefore I will go."
She slipped past the three and entered her room. Before Amaryllis could gather resolution to protest, she was out again, clothed in mantle and vitta and, walking swiftly, disappeared into the vestibule. As they sat in the darkening hall, the three heard the doors close behind her.
"She will return," said Philadelphus coolly, moving away.
Gathering her robes about her, Salome swept out of the corridor and away. Amaryllis stood alone.
Somewhere out in the city was Hesper the Ephesian. Amaryllis knew that Laodice would not return.
THE TANGLED WEB
Meanwhile Jerusalem was in the fury of barbarous warfare. At this ravine and that debouching upon Golgotha, the Vale of Hinnom and the Valley of Tophet, whole legions of besiegers were stationed. Along the walls the men of Simon and the men of John tramped in armor. From the various gates furious sorties were made by swarms of unorganized Jews who fell upon the Romans unused to frantic warfare, and slaughtered, set fire to engines, destroyed banks and threw down fortifications and retreated within the gates before the demoralized Romans could rally.
Catapult and ballista upon the eminences outside the walls kept up an unceasing rain of enormous stones which whistled and screamed in the air and shook Jerusalem to its foundations. The reverberating boom and the tremor of earth were varied from time to time by the splintering crash of houses crushing and the increase of uproar, as scores of luckless inhabitants went down under the falling rock. Giant cranes with huge, ludicrous awkward arms, heaved up pots of burning pitch and oil and flung them ponderously into the city to do whatever horror of fire and torture had not been done by the engines. Hourly the rattle of small stones increased, merely to attract the attention of the citizens to an activity to which they were so accustomed that it was almost unnoticed. At times citizens and soldiers rushed upon a threatened gate or segment of the wall and lent strength to keep the Romans out; at other times the defenses were forsaken while the besieged fell upon one another. Back from the broad summit of Olivet, which was the mountain of peace, the echoes gave all day long the shudder of the struggling city.
The sun daily grew more heated; the cisterns and pools within the city began to shrink so rapidly that the inhabitants feared that the enemy had come at the source of the waters of Jerusalem and had cut them off. Hundreds of the wounded were allowed to die, simply as a defense of the wells and store-houses. Burial became too gigantic a labor, and John and Simon ordered the bodies thrown over the walls to prevent pestilence.
Titus riding around the city on a day came upon a heap of this outcast dead and turned suddenly white. He rode back to his camp and within the hour there approached the walls under a flag of truce an imposing Jew of middle-age, with a superb beard and a veritable mantle of rich black hair escaping from his turban and falling heavy with life and strength upon a pair of great shoulders. He was simply dressed, but his stately carriage and splendid presence made a kingly garment out of his white gown.
Those upon the wall knew him and though they were obliged to respect the banner under which he approached, they gnashed their teeth and greeted him with epithets, poisonous with hate. He was Flavius Josephus, one time patriot and enemy of Rome, but now secure under Titus' patronage, abettor of his patron against his fellow-countrymen.
The Maccabee, among the fighting-men on the wall, saw his approach and discreetly stepped behind a soldier that he might not be singled out as a familiar toward which the approaching mediator would logically direct his appeal. He had no desire to be addressed by his name before this precarious mob already mad with rage at a turncoat.
And thus concealed the Maccabee heard Josephus appeal to the Jews with apparent sincerity and affection, promise amnesty, protection and justice in his patron's name; heard his overtures greeted with fury and finally saw the Jews swarm over the walls and drive him to fly for his life up Gareb to the camp of Titus.
It was not the first incident he had seen which showed him his own fate if it became known that he intended to treat with Rome. He put aside his calculations in that direction as a detail not yet in order, and turned to the organization of his army. Here again he met obstacle.
Among his council of Bezethans he found an enthusiasm for some intangible purpose, objection to his own plans and a certain hauteur that he could not understand.
"What is it you hope for, brethren?" he asked one night as he stood in the gloom of the crypt under the ruin with fifty of his ablest thinkers and soldiers about him.
"The days of Samuel before Israel cursed itself with a king," one man declared. The others were suddenly silent.
"Those days will not come to you," he answered patiently. "You must fight for them."
"We will fight."
"Good! Let us unite and I will lead you," the Maccabee offered.
"But after you have led us, perhaps to victory, then what?" they asked pointedly.
The Maccabee saw that they were sounding him for his ambitions, and discreetly effaced them.
"Do with me what you will; or if you doubt me, choose a leader among yourselves."
They shook their heads.
"Then enlist under Simon and John and fight with them," he cried, losing patience.
Murmurs and angry looks greeted this suggestion, and the Maccabee put out his hands toward them hopelessly.
"Then what will you do?" he asked.
"It shall be shown us," they replied; and with this answer, with his organization yet uneffected, his plans more than ever chaotic, the Maccabee began another day. Shrewd and resourceful as he believed himself to be, he beheld plan after plan reveal its inefficiency. Forced by some act of the city to abandon one idea, the next that followed found a new intractability. It seemed that there were no two heads in Jerusalem of a similar thought. Whoever was not demoralized by panic was fatally stubborn or mad. The single purpose that seemed to prevail was to hold out against reason.
Finally he determined to pick the most rational of his men and shape an army that would be distinctly Jewish and enviable. Nothing Roman should mar its organization. He would have again the six hundred Gibborim of David, and after he had formed them into a body he would trust to the existing circumstances to direct him how to proceed to the assistance of Jerusalem with them. He should be the sole captain, the sole authority, the single commander of them all. He would not have an unwieldy army, but one perfectly devoted. He would lead by his own genius, attract and command by his own personality. With six hundred absolutely subject to his will, trained in endurance and steadfastness, he could achieve more surely than with an undisciplined horde which first of all must be fed.
Throughout those days of predatory warfare he made careful selection of material for his army. As yet, while famine had not reduced Jerusalem to a skeleton, he could select for bodily strength and mental balance. He worked swiftly, sparing his men daily to the defense of the city against the Roman and daily sacrificing precious numbers of them to the pit of the dead just over the wall.
They were weary days—days of increasing storm and multiplying calamity. Famine in some quarters of the city reached appalling proportions. Insurrections in these regions were so vigorously suppressed that the victims chose to starve and live rather than to revolt and perish. Pestilence broke out among the inhabitants near the eastern wall, against the other side of which the dead had been cast by hundreds; and a general flight from the city was stopped in full flood by the spectacle of some scores of unfortunates crucified by the Roman soldiers and set up in sight of the walls.
Simon and John had a disastrous quarrel and during the interval, when the sentries and the fighting-men were killing each other, the Romans possessed the first fortification around Jerusalem, the Wall of Agrippa. The following day Titus pitched his camp within the limits of the Holy City, upon the site of Sennacherib's Assyrian bivouac.
At sight of this signal advance, tumult broke out afresh in the city and for days Titus lay calmly by, merely harassing the Jews while he watched Jerusalem weaken itself by internal combat. The Maccabee, steadily training his picked Gibborim, saw these lulls as signs that Titus was still in the hope that the city would submit to occupation and spare him the repugnant task of slaughtering half a nation. In his soul he knew that at no time would Titus be unwilling to receive the voluntary capitulation of the city.
So, composed and intent through struggle and terror, he continued to prepare for the day when an organized army could take the unhappy inhabitants out of the bloody hands of the two factionists, Simon and John.
During one of the casual attacks on the Second Wall, a lean, lash-scarred maniac that had not ceased to cry night or day for seven years, "Woe unto Jerusalem!" mounted the Old Second Wall, and there pointed to his breast and added, "Woe unto me also!" At that instant a great stone struck him and tumbling with it to the ground, he was crushed into the earth and left so buried for all time.
With the hushing of that embodiment of doom, silence fell upon the city and after that, panic; and during that Titus heaved his four legions against the Second Wall and took it. Simon was seized with frenzy, and with a body of crazed Idumeans rushed out upon the banks of the Romans and in one hour's time overthrew the army's work of days and so thoroughly set back the advance of the besieger that Titus resolved that no more insane sorties should be made from the gates.
He retired to his camp and in a short time soldiers appeared with tape, stakes, sledges and spades and laid out an immense circle, all but compassing the great city of Jerusalem.
The Maccabee saw all this. He stood on the wall above the roar and frenzy and looked across bleached stretches of sunny, rocky earth toward the orderly ranks of soldiers, the simple business, the tranquil speed of Rome making war, and understood that peaceful despatch as deadly.
He saw the young general ride down to this circle, dismount and, catching a spade from the nearest legionary, drive it into the earth. When he tossed out the first clay, each of the men in the visible segment of that great cordon struck his implement into the ground. And even as the Maccabee watched, he saw grow up under his eyes a wall!
He understood. Titus was walling against a wall; turning upon the Jews that same thing which they had reared against him. As the Maccabee stood gazing transfixed at this grim work, he heard beside him an old voice say, with terrible conviction:
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!... For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation."
The Maccabee, shaken with the culmination of Rome's resolution and afraid in spite of himself, whirled angrily upon that voice speaking doom at his side. There in the old ragged tunic bound about him with rope, stood the old man he had rescued and had sheltered persistently for many days.
The old man faced the young man's rage with supernatural composure and strength. With clenched hands, the Maccabee stood away from him and felt that he threatened with his fists a hoary citadel that armies had beaten themselves against in vain.
The Maccabee did not speak to his old pensioner. He felt the futility of words against this thing which seemed to be a revelation, denying absolutely all of his ambitions. He dropped from his position and, pushing his way through the distress upon the city, turned toward the house of Amaryllis. It was a climacteric hour, when men should look well to the protection of all that was near and dear to them.
When he was gone a strange, bent figure with long white hair and a gray distorted face came from the shadow of one of the towers and plucked the old Christian's tunic. The Christian turned and seeing who stood beside him said with intense surety in his tones:
"It is proven. Accept the Lord Jesus while it is time, my son, for behold the hour of the last day of this city is fulfilled!"
The apparition lifted a palsied hand on which the skin was yet fair and young and pointed after the Maccabee, losing himself in the groaning mass in the city.
"If I believe, I must tell him!" he said.
"Whatever thou hast done against that man must be amended," the Christian declared.
The palsied figure shrank and wringing his hands about each other said in a whisper that sounded like wind among dried leaves:
"I, who saw the candor of perfect trust in his eyes, once, I can not behold their reproach—I, who love him, and sold him—for a handful of gold!"
The old Christian laid his hand on the other's arm.
"Another Judas?" he said. The apparition made no answer.
"Nay, then; tell it me," the Christian urged. But the other shrank away from him, while distrust collected in his eyes.
"I fear thee; the evil man fears the good one, even more than the good man fears the evil one. I will not tell thee."
"But thou hast thy bread from this Hesper; thou hast thy shelter from him. He will not injure thee."
"Injure me! Not with his hands, perhaps. But he would look at me, he would kill me with his eyes! Thou canst not dream what evil I have done him!"
The old Christian looked at him for a time, but with the hopefulness of the spiritually confident.
"Christ spare thee, till thou hast the strength to do right!" he exclaimed. But the palsied man covered his face with his hands and groaned. The old Christian took him by the arm and led him down from the wall and back to the cavern under the ruins.
"In thy good time, O Lord," he said to himself, beginning with that incident a ministry that should not end.
It was dark when the Maccabee came down into the ravine in which the Greek's house was builded. In the shadow the house cast before it he saw some one pass the sentry lines. The soldiers looked after that figure. Presently, emerging into the lesser darkness of the open streets, it proved to be a woman. The Maccabee stopped. By the movements, now hurried, now slow, he believed that the night was full of apprehension for this unknown faring into the disordered city. She was coming in his direction. He stepped into shadow to see who would come forth from shelter at such an hour.
The next instant she hurried by his hiding-place and the Maccabee saw with amazement that it was the girl he loved. He sprang out to speak to her, but the sound of his footsteps frightened her and she ran.
The whole hilly foreground of Jerusalem was lifted like a black and impending cloud over her, a-throb with violence and strife. Here and there were lights on the bosom of the looming blackness, but they only emphasized the darkness pressing on the outskirts of the radiance. Every area way and alley had its sound. The air was full of footsteps; behind her a voice called to her. She dashed by yawning darkness that was an open alley, hurried toward lights, halted precipitately at signals of danger and veered aside at unexpected sounds. Once she stumbled upon the body of a sleeper who had come down into the darkness of the ravine to pass the night. At her suppressed cry the Maccabee sprang forward, but she caught herself and ran faster.
He ceased then to attempt to stop her. Curiosity to know what brought her out into danger at night impelled him to follow near enough to protect her, but unsuspected until she had revealed her mission to him.
A hungry dog, probably the last one to escape the execution which had been meted out to all useless consumers of food, barked at her heels and brought her up sharply.
The beast in his siege of her circled in the dark around near enough to the Maccabee hidden in the darkness for him to deliver a vindictive kick in the staring ribs of the brute. When the howl of the surprised dog faded up the black ravine, Laodice ran on. The Maccabee, silently pursuing, heard with a contracting heart that she was crying softly from terror and bewilderment. Not yet, however, had she approached the danger of Jerusalem, which John had kept far removed from the precincts of Amaryllis' house.