The City of Delight - A Love Drama of the Siege and Fall of Jerusalem
by Elizabeth Miller
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

She was entering Akra. The heap of grain, yet burning, showed a dull black-red mound over which towered a column of strong incense. Here, for the night was cool, lay in circles many of the unhoused Passover guests. Here, also, was wakefulness and the hatchment of evil.

The running girl was upon them before she knew it. One of the figures that sat with its back to the dull glow saw her approaching. Instantly he rose upon one knee and snatched her dress as she ran.

Jerked from her balance, she screamed and threw out her hands to keep from falling upon the shoulders of her assailant. One or two others with unintelligible sounds struggled up, and as she fell, the Maccabee leaped from the darkness, wrenched her from the grasp of her captor, and warding off attack with his knife, fled with her into the darkness.

The transfer of control over her had been made so swiftly that in her stupor of terror she hardly realized it. She was struggling silently and strongly in his hold, when he clasped her to him with a firmer impulsive embrace and whispered to her:

"Comfort thee, dear heart! It is I, Hesper!"

She ceased to resist so suddenly and was so tensely still that he knew the shock of immense reaction was having its way with her.

He knew without asking that she had been forced to leave the shelter of the Greek's roof, and though his rage threatened to rise up and blind him he was not entirely unaware of the benefit the inhospitality of others had given him. At last she was with him; entirely in his care.

It was a safe shelter into which she was brought, but no luxurious one. There was light enough from the single torch stuck in a crevice in the ancient rock to show that it was habitable. The immense floor was packed hard by the trampling of many feet; overhead, lost in gloom, there must have been a rocky roof, but it was invisible. On the ledges of rocks were belongings by heaps and collections, showing that this was an abiding-place for great numbers. In the far shadows she distinguished long, silent, mummied windrows of men wrapped in blankets, sleeping. Huge gloomy piles of provisions filled up shadowy corners; about under the light was the litter left in the wake of human counsel; over all was the air of repose and occupancy that made a home out of the burrow.

Though the place held a great number of refugees, the footstep of the Maccabee wakened resounding emptiness. At the threshold he slackened his step and looked with pathetic anxiety at whatever light on Laodice's face would show her opinion of her refuge. But the uncertain torch revealed nothing and he led her in and across to a solitary place where rugs from some looted house had been folded up for a pallet and spread about for carpets. She sat down and awaited his speech.

He motioned to the spacious barrenness about him.

"Canst thou content thyself in this place?" he asked, hesitating.

She nodded, but feeling that her reply had not shown all that words might, she lifted her face that he might see therein that which she could not trust her lips to say.

It was her undoing. Her weakness overwhelmed her and burying her face in the folds of her mantle, she wept.

After a dismayed silence, he bent over her and said with a quiver of distress in his voice:

"I—I have work, here, to do, but I shall take thee out of the city for better refuge—"

That she should seem to be grieving over the nature of the shelter given her, stirred her deeply. She half rose and with the light shining on her face, filled with gratitude in spite of her tears, took his hand in both of hers and pressed it with pathetic insistence.

He understood her.

He laid a hand unsteady with its tremor of delight and young eagerness upon the vitta and it slipped off her hair. As it dropped, the subtle warm fragrance of the heavy locks, now braided in maidenly style, reached him; the liveliness of her relaxed young figure communicated itself to him without his touch; all the invitation of her helplessness swept him to the very edge of abandoning his restraint. On his dark face a transformation occurred. All the hardness, even his years and his experience vanished from him and a soft recovering flush faintly colored his cheeks. In that sudden bloom of beauty in his face was stamped a realization of the far progress of his triumph. She was in his house and dependent on him, within the very reach of his arms.

When she looked up at him again, she read all this in his face, and instantly there returned to her, with warning intensity, the fear of her love of him. The last obstacle but her own conscience that stood between her and his perfect supremacy over her life had suddenly been swept away.

She started away from him, and put up her hands to ward off his touch.

"If you do that," she said in a tone sharp with distress, "it is sin and I shall be cursed! I shall have to go back to him!"

Then she had voluntarily left Julian, perhaps to seek him!

"You shall not go back to him!" he exclaimed. "After I have given up everything but my life to have you for myself!"

"You must not think of me in that way!" she commanded him vehemently. "I am a married woman! You shall remember that! If you forget it, I will go out into the streets and ask the Idumeans to kill me!"

"Nay, peace, peace! I shall do you no harm! You are frightened! I will do nothing that you would not have me do! Be comforted. Not any one in all the world has your happiness at heart so much as I. Believe me!"

"Believe me!" she insisted. "I am weary of doubt and denial. I am only safe if you recognize me as that which I claim to be. Answer me! You do believe I am the wife of Philadelphus?"

"I believed it, at once," he said frankly.

"Then—then—" but she flung her hands over her face and slipped down on the rugs. For a moment he hesitated, restraining the impulse to break over the limits she had laid down for him.

Then he rose and, summoning one of the women who had taken refuge in the crypt, sent her to remain with the girl, and departed, shaken and uncertain, to his own place.

Chapter XVIII


The twilight of the cavern rarely revealed enough of the features of her fellows to Laodice for her to identify them or for them to identify her. She lived among them a dusky shadow among shadows. And because of her fear that Philadelphus might be searching for her, she stayed in the sunless crypt day by day until the Maccabee, noting with affectionate distress that she was growing white and weak, bade her take one of the women and venture up to the light.

There were, besides the women, two men who took no part in the preparation for war which went on about them in the cavern day and night. While weapons and armor were made and tramping ranks formed and broke before the commands of the lithe dark commander of that fortress and subdued but fierce councils took place around torches—while all this went on, they kept back, even apart from the women, and said nothing.

Laodice saw that they were physically unfit; that one was very old and the other very feeble and her heart warmed again to that stern master who saw them fed as abundantly as his most valued men. These, then, were those Christians whom he had taken into his protection because of the Name which had inspired a shepherd boy to save his life.

When he commanded Laodice to go up into the sunlight, he approached the corner in which the two useless men hid and bade them, too, to go up into the air.

"Let us have no sickness in this place," he said bluntly and turned on his heel and left them to obey.

Laodice took one of the older women and timidly climbing the steps from which the rubbish had been pushed away by the climbing hundreds, went through the dusk of the passage that terminated in a brilliancy that dazzled her. And as she walked she heard the footsteps of the two men behind her.

Up in the chaos of fallen columns, she stood a moment with her hands pressed over her eyes. Only little by little was she able to permit the full blaze of the Judean sun to reach them. The uproar on Jerusalem after the muffled silence of the underground cavern filled her with terror, and she pressed close to the shelter of the entrance until the woman at her side reassured her.

"It is nothing," the woman said, with a dreary patience. "It is as it was yesterday. I come here every day. I know."

After a while Laodice looked about her. The entrance to their refuge was about the middle of the ruin and therefore a great many paces back from the streets, so that she did not see Jerusalem's agonies face to face. But she saw enough to make her cold and to turn her shivering and panic-stricken into the darkness of the crypt below.

She saw the ascending streets of Zion and the tall fortifications mounting the heights within the city's limits. There she saw the flash of swords, swung afar off, spears brandished and the running hither and thither of defenders on the wall. Below she saw the remote constricted passages between rows of desolate houses, moving with people, sounding with clamor. There she saw combats, terrible scenes of frenzy, deaths and unnamable horrors; starvelings gnawing their nails; shadows of infants pressed to hollow bosoms; old men too weak to walk that went on hands and knees; young men and young women in rags that failed to cover them, and wandering skeletons screaming, "Woe!"

Meanwhile huge stones mounted over the walls and fell within the city; three great towers planted beyond the walls, out of range of the Jewish engines and equipped with superior machines, were steadily devastating the entire quarter near which they were erected. Here two-thirds of the forces of Jerusalem were concentrated in a vain effort to resist the dire inroads of these effective engines. Here, the Maccabee and his Gibborim stood shoulder to shoulder with the Idumeans and fanatics of Simon and John, and here the half-mad defenders awakened at last to the fact that only divine interference could save the city against Rome.

In the south and the east conflagrations roared and crackled, where burning oil had been scattered over some remaining structures near the walls. When a great ram began its thunder somewhere near the Sheep Gate, there came a hollow booming noise of deafening volume from the charnel pits outside the walls and a black cloud of incredible depth soared up into the skies.

Laodice, dumb with horror, looked at the prodigy without understanding, but the woman at her side shuddered.

"God help us!" she exclaimed. "They are vultures!"

Laodice turned to rush back into the cavern and so faced the two men who stood behind her.

One, at sight of her, shrank with a gasp, and, averting his shaggy head till the long white locks covered his face, fled back into the crypt.

The other was gazing with unseeing eyes across groaning Jerusalem.

"I am the man," he was saying aloud, but to himself, "that hath seen affliction by the rod of His wrath."

The sight of him had a paralyzing effect upon Laodice. She saw, before her, Nathan, the Christian, who had buried her father, who had blessed her, who would know and could testify to a surety that she was the wife of Philadelphus!

She slipped by him without a sound and hurried down into the darkest corner of the cavern.

Circumstance had found her in her refuge and would drive her away from this sweet home back to that hateful house, to the man she did not love!

For many days, with increasing distress, Laodice avoided Nathan, the Christian. With that fascinated terror which at times forces human creatures to examine a peril, she felt irresistibly impelled to try his memory of events, that she might know if indeed he would recognize her.

Though she turned cold and flashed white when he came upon her one day in the darkness of their shelter, she felt nevertheless the relief of approaching a solution to her perplexity.

"They tell me," he said with the deliberate speech of the old, "that Titus is once more permitting citizens to depart from Jerusalem unharmed."

"Then," she said, grasping at this hope, "why do you stay here in this peril?"

"Why should I leave it? Even with the singers who wept by the waters of Babylon, I prefer Jerusalem above my chief joy. Except for the time when we of the Way were warned to depart, I have been in Jerusalem all my life. Then, though I had gone as far as Caesarea on my way to Antioch to join the brethren there, homesickness overtook me and I turned in my tracks, saying no man farewell, and came back."

"A weary journey for one so old," she said gently.

Would he remember also that it had been dangerous?

"Nay, but a journey full of works and reward. And I discovered at the end of it that I had lived in error forty years; that Christ never ceases to prove Himself."

Already the forbidden tenets of the Nazarene faith had entered into his words. But feeling somehow that her deflection from uprightness covered her whole life, there was no reason why she should not hear what these people believed and have done with it.

"Art thou a Christian?" she asked timidly.

"I am a believer in Christ, but whether I may call myself one of the blessed I do not know, for they have had faith. But I demanded a sign. Behold it! The ruin of the City of David!"

Her eyes widened with alarm.

"Is there no hope?" she exclaimed.

He looked at her, even in his old age impressed with the immense importance life and love must have to so beautiful and beloved a woman. Presently he said, as if to himself:

"Yea, be thou blessed, O thou Redeemer, that givest life to them to whom life is dear and death approacheth."

Her concern for concealment vanished entirely in her rising terror for the future of the Holy City.

"I pray thee, Rabbi," she said in a low voice, drawing close to him, "tell me what thy people believe about the city. I have heard—but it can not be true!"

"Do not be troubled about the city," he answered. "Ask me rather how to become safeguarded against any disaster, greater even than the fall of cities."

"It is not for myself," she protested earnestly, "but for the world. Is there not a King to come to Israel?"

"There is, but not yet, my daughter. Of that day and hour no man knoweth. Now is Daniel's abomination of desolation; the generation passeth and the prophecy is fulfilled. Jerusalem is perishing."

Seeing the wave of panic sweep over her, he put out a soothing hand.

"Yet, do not fear. For such as you the Redeemer died; for your kind the Kingdom of Heaven is built, and the King whom the earth did not receive is for ever Lord of it."

The veiled reference to the tragedy which Philadelphus had recounted stood out with more prominence than the promise in his words.

"Whom the earth did not receive?" she repeated. "O prophet, as thou boasteth truthful lips and a hoary head, tell me what hath befallen us."

"Hear it not as a calamity," he said reassuringly. "Thou canst make it of all things the most profitable, if thou wilt. Forget the city. I, who would forget it but can not, bid thee do this. Behold, there is another Jerusalem which shall not fall. Look to that and be not afraid."

Her lips, parted to protest against the vague answer, closed at the final sentence and the Christian pressed his advantage.

"Of that Jerusalem there is no like on earth. Against its walls no enemy ever comes; neither warfare nor hunger nor thirst nor suffering nor death. This which David builded is a poor city, a humble city compared to that New Jerusalem. There the King is already come; there the citizens are at peace and in love with one another. There thou shalt have all that thy heart yearneth after, and all that thy heart yearneth after shall be right."

In that city would it be right that she love Hesper instead of Philadelphus, and that she should have her lover instead of her lawful husband?

While she turned these things over in her mind, he wisely went on with his story. Shrewdly sensing the young woman's anxiety, the old Christian guessed the interest to her of the Messiah's history before His teaching and began with prophecy to support the authenticity of the wonderful Galilean's claim to divinity. It was no fisherman or weaver of tent-cloth who brought forth the declarations of the comforter of Hezekiah, the captive prophet and the priest in the land of the Chaldeans. His was no barbarous manner or slipshod tongue of the market-place and the wheat-fields, but the polish and the clean-cut flawless language of the synagogues and the colleges. Laodice saw in the gesture and phrase the refinement of her father, Costobarus, of the gentlest Judean blood.

"I saw Him," he went on in a low voice.

Laodice with her intent gaze on the beatified face put her hand to her heart.

"Forty years ago," the old voice continued, "I saw Him first in Galilee. There He was disbelieved and cast out. He came then unto Jerusalem and I saw Him there heal lepers, cast out evil spirits, cure the blind and the sick and the palsied. And in the house of Jairus and at Nain, I saw Him raise the dead.

"I saw Him come to Jerusalem. Multitudes followed Him and accompanied Him, casting their mantles and palm-branches in the way that His mule might tread upon them."

The old man pointed south toward the single summit from which Christ approaching could overlook Jerusalem.

"On that hill," he said, "while the multitudes hailed Him and the sound of Alleluia shook the air, He reined in His meek beast and looked upon this city, and wept over it. When He spoke, He said, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. 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.

"And three days later, I saw the Rock of David and all that multitude follow Him unto the Hill of the Skull and there His enemies crucified Him!"

After a paralyzed silence, Laodice whispered with frozen lips,

"In God's name, why?"

But he wisely did not pause with the calamity. He had the whole of the beginnings of Christianity to tell, a long narrative that contained as yet no dogma. Paul had seen the great light on the road to Damascus, and accepting apostleship to all the world had fought a good fight and had come unto his crown of righteousness; Peter had established the Church and had fed the sheep and had been offered up by the Beast who was Nero; John the Divine was seeing visions of the Apocalypse in the Island of Patmos; Herod Antipas, "that fox," had passed to his own place, prisoner and exile, sacrifice to a mad Caesar's imaginings; Judas had hanged himself; Pilate had drowned himself; thousands of the saints had died for the faith by fire and sword and wild beasts; kings had been converted and of the believers in Rome it was said, Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

Laodice sat with clasped hands, intent on each word as it fell from the lips of the aged teacher, seeing at one and the same time the Kingdom of Heaven constructed and her dream of an earthly empire falling.

"He said," the Christian continued, "They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

Repentance was a rite for Laodice, a payment of offering, a process to the righteously inclined, a thing that could in no wise purify the sinner as to make him worthy of association with the upright. The old Christian's use of the word was different; he had said that the Messiah came to the sinner, and not to the righteous. Had the young Jewess been less in need of comfort in her own consciousness of spiritual delinquency she would have set down the old teacher as one of the idlest dealers in contradiction. But now she listened with keener zest; perchance in this doctrine there was balm for her hurt. She made some answer which showed the awakening of this new interest and then with infinite poetry and earnestness he began to unfold the teachings of Christ.

A woman came to them with wine and food, for the midday had come, but neither noticed it. In his fervor to enlighten this tender soul, the old man forgot his weariness; in her wonder at the strangely gentle doctrine which had contradicted all the world's previous usage, the girl forgot her prejudice. She listened; and with such signs as change of expression, flushes of emotion, movements of surprise and brightenings of interest to encourage him, the old Christian talked. When he had progressed sufficiently to round out the theory of Christianity, she had grasped a new standard. The contrast between the old and the new made itself instantly felt. On one hand was the simple and logical; on the other the complex and dogmatic. The Christian was able to measure proportionately how much should be laid upon her mind for study at once and while she still waited, he rose from his place.

"There is more; yet there are other days," he said.

But she caught his hand as he rose and with a sudden yearning in her eyes whispered:

"O Rabbi, what said He of love?"

"Love?" he repeated, with a softening about his lips. "The Master blessed love between man and woman."

"But, but—" she faltered, "if one love another than one's wedded spouse, then what?"

His face grew grave.

"That is not lawful even among you, who are still of the old faith."

"But suppose—"

He laid a kindly hand on the one that held his.

"Suffer but sin not. He that endureth unto the end shall be saved."

"What end?"


She was silent while she gazed at him with change showing on her gradually paling face.

"Then—then what is in thy faith for the forlorn in love?" she exclaimed.

"Peace, and the consciousness of the joy of Christ in your steadfastness," he said.

She rose. How much longer had she to live?

"And thou sayest we die?"

"Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul," he said gently.

Fear Hesper, then, but not the Roman. While she stood in the immense debate of heart and conscience he laid a tender hand on her head.

"Perchance in His mercy thou shalt be welcomed there first by thy father, whom I buried, and by thy mother."

The sudden recurrence to that past tragedy and the unfolding of his recognition fairly swept Laodice off her feet with shock and alarm. If he noted her feeling, he was sorry he had not succeeded in comforting her with a promise of reunion with her beloved in that other land. He took away his tremulous hand from her hair.

Leaving her transfixed with all he had said, he moved painfully away, stiffened by long sitting while he discoursed.

Chapter XIX


It was a different Amaryllis that the pretended Philadelphus faced now, from the one who had welcomed him on his arrival in Jerusalem months ago. Then she had been so cold and self-contained that it would have been effrontery to discuss her hopes with her. Now, with the avarice of love in her eyes, with wishfulness and defeat making their sorry signs on her face, she was a creature that even the humblest would have longed to help.

Philadelphus sat opposite her in the ivory chair which was hers by right. She sat in the exedra and listened eagerly to the things he said with her finger-tips on her lips and her eyes gazing from under her brow as her head drooped.

She had ceased long ago to debate idly on the actual identity of the man who had called himself Hesper of Ephesus. There was another question that absorbed her. Of late, it had been brought home to her that the charm of Laodice for the stranger from Ephesus, to whom the Greek knew the girl had fled, had been her purity. Why should it matter so much about virtue? she had asked herself. Why should it weigh so immeasurably more than the noble gifts of wit and beauty and strength and charm? Behold, she was wise enough to educate a barbarous nation, beautiful enough to bewitch potentates—for a time—strong enough to take a city; yet Hesper, who best of all could appreciate the value of these things, had turned from her to Laodice, who was merely chaste.

The greater part of the jealous and bitter passion that had shaken her then was dumb regret that the measure of charm was so irrational—and that she had not believed in it, in time, in time!

Now, however, since she had become convinced that Laodice had gone to Hesper for refuge, hope had awakened in her, but so filled with uncertainty and lack of confidence in another's weakness that it was little more than a torture to her.

If Laodice had gone to this winsome stranger, either claiming to be the wife of Philadelphus or acknowledging the imposture, there was now no difference between Laodice and herself!

But, she asked herself, was it not possible that this lovely girl who had shown signs of illimitable fortitude, could live in the shelter of the captivating Hesper as uprightly as she had lived under the roof of the man she called her husband?

In one exigency, the hopes of Amaryllis budded; in the other, her intuitive belief in the strength of Laodice discouraged her. And while she alternately hoped and doubted, Philadelphus, in the chair opposite her, talked.

"It follows that you and I must work together to gain diverse ends. If our fortunes are to be tragic, we are undoing each other in this conjunction. Since I in all frankness prefer it to turn out comedy, let us make no error. Are you weary of John? Do you seek a new diversion?"

She looked at him, at first puzzled, then with a frown. It leaped to her lips, grown impatient with suffering, to tell him all that she had evolved of the histories of himself, his lady and of Hesper; but there seemed to be an element of recklessness in that which threatened to do away with a means for her success. He did not wait for her answer.

"And I," he said with mock intensity, "am done to death with weariness—with my moneyer, this lady of mine. Let us be diverted while we live, for by the signs we shall all die soon."

"Where," he began when her mind wandered entirely from him, "dost thou think the mysterious man hath taken my other wife?

"I would I knew," he continued, conducting his inquiry alone. "It will be right simple to have her beauty spoiled in this hungry town, unless he takes tenderest care of her."

There was still no comment, but the lively sparkle in the Greek's eye showed that he had touched upon a jealous spot.

"And by the by," he pursued, "what does this stranger, whom I can not remember having known, look like? A villain?"

She answered now in a voice filled with rancor.

"Win away the girl from him and thou wilt know thyself to be the better man; but study how much he hath outstripped thee and thou shalt decide for thyself, then, that he is handsomer, more winsome, stronger and more profitable. Describe him for thyself."

"Out upon you! How irritable misfortune makes most of us! Now, here is my lady. She would fail to see the humor in my fetching back this pretty impostor. Alas! Were I Deucalion or Pyrrha or whoever else it was that repeopled the world, I should have left jealousy out of the make-up of wives. It is a needless element. It gives them no pleasure, and Jove! how inconvenient it is for husbands! Now, I am not jealous of my wife. In fact, had any man the hardihood to supplant me, I should not discourage him; I should not, by my soul!"

"Why," she burst out again, irritated beyond control at his manner, "do you not leave this place?"

He swung his foot idly and smiled.

"I shall when I can take with me this dear pretty impostor who is so determined to have me," he answered lightly.

"Will you?" she asked eagerly. "Is that why you remain?"

"And for my lady's dowry. She keeps the key. But had I the girl cloaked and hooded for flight, I might go, even without the treasure. The times are precarious, you observe."

She rose almost precipitately and hurried over to the swaying curtain of some heavy white material like samite, covering that which appeared to be a blind arch in the wall. She drew the hanging aside. It had hidden the black mouth of a tunnel, closed by a brass wicket which was locked.

"Here," she said rapidly, "is what strengthens John in his folly. This is a passage that leads under the Temple through Moriah into Tophet. The whole city is underlaid with these galleries, but this is the only one which leads to safety."

She dropped the curtain and approached him.

"But thou canst not go out of that passage alone!"

He smiled, and then with that boyish impulsiveness that he had cultivated to cover the evil in his nature, he thrust out his hand to her.

"Here is my hand on it!" he exclaimed.

"Go, then, and cease not till you have found her. Then, by any or all the gods, I shall see that you do not go out of that passage empty-handed."

He smiled at her radiantly and went at once to his chambers.

When he reached the apartments, he found them silent and deserted. He seized upon the opportunity as most propitious for a search for the possible hiding-place of the dowry of two hundred talents.

When he opened first the great press in which his lady kept her raiment he was confronted by emptiness. Dismayed, he turned to look into the room and found the chests for the most part open and rifled. On the brazier, now cold, lay a wax tablet. He snatched it up and read:

Received of Julian of Ephesus the appended salvage in good repair. Items: One wife, Two hundred talents.


He went back to the andronitis of Amaryllis.

"I have lost interest in the treasure," he said whimsically. "But I'll go out and look for the girl. I—I should like to discover of a truth if the passage leads out of Jerusalem."

Amaryllis closed her lips firmly. Philadelphus read in the look that he could not escape without Laodice.

Without further speech, he went to the vestibule, took his cloak and kerchief from the porter and went out into the city.

It was nearly midnight when he passed into the streets. The tumult of assault on the walls had ceased. The long lines of beacon-fires on the walls showed only a few men in arms posted there. Without there came no sound of activity in the camp of the Roman. The streets below, lighted up by the ever-burning beacons, showed its usual restless tramping of houseless, hungry ones. But there was no talk; each one who walked the passages went wrapped in his own dismal thoughts; the thousands took no notice of one another. Jerusalem was as silent as a city stricken with plague.

From the summit of Zion, which Philadelphus mounted, he could see three Roman war-towers, planted along the outer works, dimly lighted, and manned by a vigilant garrison of legionaries. These had been a dread and a destruction which the Jews had been unable to overthrow; coigns of vantage from which the enemy had been able to deal the sturdiest blows of the campaign. They had permitted no rest to the defenders on the wall; they had spread ruin by fire and carnage, by arrow and sling for days. Sorties against them had resulted in the death of their assailants, only. Jewish engines accomplished nothing against them. The three, alone, were taking Jerusalem.

Philadelphus looked at their tall shapes, black against the remote illumination of the Roman camp, and inwardly hoped that they would hold off complete destruction of the city, until he had found the desirable woman.

No one noticed him; men passed him like shadows with their eyes ever on the ground; no one spoke; nothing disturbed the deadly quiet of the falling city.

But the next minute, Philadelphus, who walked alertly, saw people step out into gutters or press against walls, as if to allow some one to pass. Awakening interest ran abroad over the street ahead of him. A lane between the wandering multitude opened almost by magic. Through it, walking swiftly, his head up, his mystic eyes ignited, came Seraiah, soldier of Jehovah. There was no sound of his footfall. His garments flashed in the light of the beacons, but there was not even a whisper of their motion. But he had changed. There was fierce, superhuman intent in the despatch of his gait and in the uplift of his superb head. After him, as he passed, ran whispers. Each one stopped and looked. He went down the uneven slope of Zion as some great shade borne on a swift air.

Two or three bold ones began to move after him. Others followed. The little nucleus grew. Philadelphus was caught in it. Numbers were added as courage grew with numbers. From intersecting streets people came. Some, although oppressed by the silence, asked what it was and were silenced quickly. Others began to mutter unintelligible predictions, and their neighbors shook their heads without understanding that which was said.

The news of Seraiah's mysterious progress communicated itself to rank and rank and spread abroad. Faces appeared against a background of lights at barred windows, along the balustrades of house-tops, from areas and ruins. Philadelphus, fascinated and astonished at this curious demonstration, was contented to pass with it. Silence, except for the rustling of garments and the multitudinous footfall, fell about the vicinity.

Ahead of them, Seraiah moved. His steps, finely balanced, passed over obstructions where most of his followers stumbled, and when he turned across Akra and faced the Old Wall, the excitement became painful.

His pace was flying; many of his followers were running. It seemed that he was going against the Wall. Dozens anticipated that course and skirting through short ways clambered up on the fortifications and clung there though menaced by the sentries until Seraiah appeared.

At a narrow point in the street that ended against the wall, Seraiah met that Jew who had become a maniac on the day Jerusalem attacked Titus. Without warning the maniac leaped up into an intensely rigid posture; his legs spread, his lean arms upstretched at painful tension, his mouth wide, his eyes dilated immensely in their hollow depths.

Seraiah passed him as if no man stood in his way. Instantly the maniac wheeled, as a huge spread-eagle wind-vane on its staff, and stood at gaze, the broad uninterrupted light of the beacon shining down on him and the mysterious man. The street ended short of the wall. About the base of the fortification was an open space, in which was planted a scaling-ladder. Seraiah climbed this, an infinitesimal detail on the great blank of blackened stone.

Hundreds, rushing upon the wall, though a goodly distance from the point at which the strange man had mounted, climbed it and beat off the sentries.

And the foremost who reached the top saw the Roman Tower directly opposite Seraiah shudder suddenly and sink in a roaring cloud of dust upon itself to the earth.

Instantly the maniac below broke the tense silence with a scream that was heard in the paralyzed Roman camp:

"It is He, the Deliverer! Come!"

Of the thousands of Jews that heard the madman's cry, every heart credited it. Hundreds melted away suddenly, as if stricken with terror at what they might see; other hundreds scrambled down from their places to run purposelessly, crying aimless things to the night over the city; yet others covered their faces with their arms and fell in their places, expecting the end of the world; and of the rest, the less imaginative, the more composed and the more curious, remained on the walls to see enacted a further miracle. Uproar had broken out instantly among the four stolid legions of Titus on the Assyrian bivouac. Lights flashed out everywhere; great running to and fro could be distinguished; rapid trumpet-calls and the prolonged roll of drums from company quarters to quarters were echoed back from Antonia and from Hippicus. The startled shouts of commanders; the nervous dropping of arms; the sharp excited response to roll-call; the sound of sentries challenging, the curt response by countersign, showed everywhere irregularities and the symptoms of panic in the immovable ranks of Titus.

Seraiah meanwhile had disappeared from his place as mysteriously as he had come.

Many of the Jews who remained on the wall believed that he had passed into the Roman camp and was troubling it. The fall of the tower, and the confusion it had wrought in the Roman camp, never occurred to them to have been fortuitous incidents with which Seraiah had nothing to do. Of the thousands that witnessed that miracle, most of them were convinced that the hour had come.

Meanwhile Jerusalem was roaring with excitement. The city was ready for a Messiah. Seraiah had arisen at the psychological moment. Earlier the Jews would have been too critical to accept him readily; later they would have reviled him for coming too late. Whatever his advent lacked in thunders, in darkness, voices, and shaking of the earth, had been passed by his miraculous work against the Romans.

Philadelphus, who had seen the fall of the tower, and had dropped down from the wall as soon as he had explained it all to himself, came upon new disorders. Great concourses of awakened Jews were hurrying to the walls to see what had happened, or to behold the Roman army wiped out by the Angel of Death as the army of Sennacherib had perished. Others collected at the end of the Tyropean Bridge and watched the pinnacle of the Temple for the miracle which should restore the city. But the burned ruin where the Herodian palace had stood was the center of the most characteristic frenzy.

There thousands were congregated. A great bonfire had been kindled and above the multitude, on a colossal architrave fallen at one end from the giant columns that had supported it, stood a figure, redly illuminated by the fire, tiny as compared to the immense ruin of its high place, but Titan in its control over the wild mob below it.

It was a woman, a Jewess, dressed in faithful imitation of the archaic garb of the prophetesses, mantled with a storm of flying black hair, stripped of veil or cloak, and splendidly defiant of the restrictions laid upon woman long after the days of Deborah.

Over the heads of the panting multitude she shook a pair of arms that glistened for whiteness, and bewitched by the spell of their motion. From under her half-fallen lids shot gleams of fire that transfixed any upon whom they fell; from her supple body shaken at times with the power of its own dynamic force her hearers caught the grosser infection of physical excitement; they swayed with her as blown by the wind; they ceased to breathe in her periods; they groaned as the intensity of her fervor pressed upon them for response that they could not shape in words; they wept, they shouted, they prophesied, and over them swept ever the witchery of her wonderful voice, preaching impiety—the worship of Seraiah!

Philadelphus looked at this frantic work with a creeping chill. He knew the sorceress. Salome of Ephesus, who could send the sated theaters wild with her appeal to their senses, had found enchantment of a half-mad city not hard. Aside from the impiety, in fear of which his own irreligious spirit stood, he saw suddenly opened to him the immense scope of her influence. Not Simon, not John, not Titus, had discovered the logical appeal to the city's unbalanced impulses. But the reckless woman, robing herself in the ancient garb of the days to which the citizens would revert, assuming the pose of a woman they had sanctified, preaching the dogma they would hear, showing them the sign that helped them most, held Jerusalem, at least for that hour, in her hands.

He realized at once that to attempt to denounce her would expose him to destruction at the wolfish hands of the frenzied mob. There were not soldiers enough in the city to destroy her influence, for she had achieved in her followers that infatuation that goes down to death before it relinquishes its conviction. Her control was complete. Seraiah was the anointed one, but the prophetess, the instigator, the founder of the worship, as follows in all apostasies, was the final recipient of the benefits of that devotion.

Philadelphus walked away from the sight of Salome's triumph. He had surrendered instantly his hope of regaining the treasure. The whole of mad Jerusalem had ranged itself with her to protect it. And Laodice was not yet found.

Chapter XX


The madness on Jerusalem poured like an overwhelming flood into the cavern under the ruin of the Herodian palaces. There was Hesper, with most of his Gibborim gathered, preparing to proceed to the defense of the First Wall in Akra against which the Roman would hurl himself in the morning.

For days he had controlled his men only by the force of his fierce will. Restlessness, little short of turbulence, had changed his six hundred from earnest recruits to bright-eyed, contentious, irresponsible enthusiasts whom only intimidation could manage. They seemed to be balanced, prepared, ready at the least whisper in the wind to scatter madly, each in his own direction, after a vagary, albeit the end were destruction.

Throughout these latter days the Maccabee had become strained and unnatural in his manner. There was a vehemence in all he did which seemed to be a final resolution against despair. His decisions were arbitrary; his methods extreme. Laodice, sensing something climacteric in his atmosphere, kept aloof from him, and regarded him from the dusk of her corner with wonder and a pity that she could not explain. The Christian on the other hand seemed always in an unobtrusive way to be at the Maccabee's elbow. The apparition with the long white hair, however, ran away and was found on the streets by the Christian and brought back to the cavern, where he hid in a dark shadow in the remote end of the crypt and was not seen.

Of late the cavern was always full of suppressed excitement; unpremeditated conferences among the Gibborim, which Hesper harshly forbade; and general sharp resentment against imposed regulations and military drill. On several occasions the six hundred were sent in defense of the walls only by sheer force of their leader's will-power. And there they fell in at once with the irregular methods of the Idumeans and fanatics that fought each after his own liking, and the careful instruction of the Maccabee was disregarded. Only so long as he cowed them, they obeyed him; and he seemed to feel, as they seemed to indicate, that when that thing happened which all Jerusalem indefinitely expected and could not name, his control over them would be lost beyond restoration.

On the night of the fall of the Roman tower, the Maccabee's forces had been withdrawn for rest to their retreat and at midnight were formed again for return to the fortifications.

By the strange inscrutable spread of rumor, sweeping with the air, the tidings of the miracle and the rise of Seraiah poured in upon the restive hundreds that the Maccabee was attempting to form in his fortress. It came like the gradual velocity of a burning star across the sky. From the ranks nearest the exit from the burrow the murmur issued, growing into intelligible sound, mounting to the wildness of hysteria and prevailing wholly over the Gibborim in the space between heart-beats. Everywhere they cast down their spears and their weapons, everywhere they gazed at him with brilliant threatening eyes and cried in loud voices so that the things each mad mind put into expression were lost in a great unintelligible raving.

Laodice, the Christian and that white-haired trembler in his refuge, saw the Maccabee raise himself to his full height and lifting his sword confront in one grand effort at command a mob of six hundred madmen!

Perhaps that manifestation of iron courage and strength, which the crazy lot somehow realized, saved him from death. Instead of falling upon him they turned away from the scene of the last vain effort for their own salvation and rushed, trampling one another, into the mad city of Jerusalem.

From without, the hoarse uproar of their desertion was heard to merge with the great tumult over the Holy City. Tense silence fell in the crypt.

The light of the torch wavered up and down the tall figure of the Maccabee as he stood transfixed in the attitude of command that had achieved nothing. It seemed the final inclination beyond the perpendicular that precedes the fall. The Christian started from his place and hurried toward the tense figure in the torch-light. Laodice, unconscious of what she did, approached him with an agony of distress for him written in her face. The white-haired apparition crept out a little way on his knees and putting aside his tangled locks gazed with burning eyes at the defeated man.

Laodice, in her anxiety, moved into the range of the Maccabee's vision. The next instant he had thrown away his sword and had caught her in a crushing embrace to him. His voice, blunted and repressed as if something had him by the throat, was stunning her ear.

"And thou!" he was saying. "What from thee, now? Hate! Curses! Ingratitude! Hast thou poison for me, or a knife? Or worse, yet, scorn? Speak! It is a day of enlightenment! I'll brook anything but deceit!"

She stopped him in the midst of his vehement despair, by laying her hands on his hair. There surged to her lips all the eloquence of her love and sympathy, but beside her old Nathan stood—an embodiment of her conscience, watching.

Twice she essayed to put into words the comfort of her submission to his love. Twice her lips failed her; but the third time she turned to the Christian.

"Rabbi, what shall I do?" she implored. "Tell me out of thy wisdom!"

"What is it?" he asked, feeling that there was more than sympathy for the defeated man in her heart.

"What would thy Christ have me to do?" she insisted. "This stranger, here, is the joy of my heart; I am like to die if I can not give him the love that I feel for him this hour!"

The startled Christian looked at her with suspicion growing in his eyes.

"Art thou a wife? Wedded to another than this man?" he asked gravely.

"Wedded," she whispered, "to one who hath denied me, affronted me and cast me out of his house! In this man I have found favor from the beginning. He has been tender of me, he has sheltered me, and he has strengthened me against himself to this hour. There has been nothing sinful between us!"

The old Christian's face grew immeasurably sad.

"There is but one thing for you to do," he said.

She wrenched herself away from the Maccabee, who had been angrily protesting against her carrying his case to another for decision, and confronted Nathan.

"But he rejected me!" she cried with earnestness. "That alone is enough among our people for divorcement!"

The Christian shook his head sadly. He was not happy to lay down this prohibition before them who suffered.

"There is no help in thy faith for such as I am. In that thy religion fails!" she cried.

"Love, now, is all in all to thee, daughter. It is but the speech of thy young blood running through thy veins, the claim of thy youth to thy use upon earth. Resist it; for when thy years are as many as mine thou wilt lose thy rebellious spirit and the fervor will have died out of thy heart. Then, if thou hast fallen in this hour, how vain and worthless it will seem to thee! Divine fires in the heart of men never become changed in value. Love purely and thou wilt never repent; but I say unto thee thou fashionest for thyself humbled and shamed old age if thou transgressest the Law!"

"What mercy, then, since thou preachest mercy, in filling me with this weakness if my life must be darkened resisting it, and my future show no relief for it?" she insisted passionately.

It was the cry old as the world. He looked at her sadly, hopelessly.

"As for God, His way is perfect," he said. "How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! Thou shalt struggle with the truth, my daughter, but without fail and most readily thou shalt know when thou hast sinned!"

She was past the influence of argument. Impulse controlled her now entirely. She would see if there were not an intelligence, even a religion which would see her sorrow from her own heart's position.

She listened now to the words of her lover.

"He is an exclaimer, a prophet of doom!" he was crying. "Love me and let us die!"

Without in the entrance of the crypt some great-lunged fanatic was calling the multitude to harken to the prophetess.

The Maccabee's lips were against her cheek as he continued to speak.

"It is the end! There is no help for us. Love me, and let me be happy an hour before we perish! The Nazarene is right! The city is cursed! God's wrath is upon us. The hour is still ours. Love me and let us die!"

Without the great voice, like an unwearying bell, was calling:

"A sign! A sign! Behold the Deliverer! Come all ye who would share his triumph and hear! Hear! Come ye and be fed, ye hungry; be drunken, ye thirsty; love and be loved, ye forlorn!"

Laodice stiffened in the Maccabee's clasp.

"Dost thou hear?" she whispered. "It may be true!"

He shook his head that he had bowed upon her shoulder.

"Let us go," she urged. "Perchance he has comfort for us. Come, Hesper; let us see what he has for the forlorn."

"Who?" he asked dully.

"They say the Deliverer has come."

He shook his head again, but with her two hands she lifted his face from its refuge, and urging with her eyes and her hands and her lips she led him toward the stairs. The Christian looked after them.

"For there shall arise false Christs; and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect," he said sorrowfully.

The horror of the city augmented hour by hour. The Jerusalem Laodice locked upon now was infinitely more afflicted than the one she had seen in the daylight days before.

The walls were now outlined by fire which illuminated all the city that lay directly beneath the beacons. To the north gnomish outlines by hundreds against the flames showed where the soldiers of the factionists were placing the topmost stones upon an inner wall or curtain erected just within the Old Wall, which was by this time shaking and cracking under the assaults of a great siege-engine without. Titus, awakened by the fall of his tower, had immediately renewed the attack, although the morning was still some hours distant.

But the citizens were no longer disinterested, no longer wrapped in hopelessness and dull misery.

Hungry, sleepless, houseless, diseased and mad though they were, their hollow eyes gleamed now with hope that was almost defiant. Around the Maccabee and Laodice roared the comment of the multitude.

"They say he climbed to the summit of the outer wall overlooking Tophet and remains there a target for the Roman arrows, which rebound from him!" cried one.

"One of John's men says that the heads of the arrows are blunted and the most of them snapped in two when they are picked up."

"The Romans have ceased to shoot at him!"

"They say that his footprints in the dust on the Tyropean Bridge are Hebrew letters writing 'Elia' in gold!"

"It is said that the inner Temple is rocking with trumpet blasts and that John is struck dead!"

"They say that those who believe in him shall ask for whatever they would have and have it!"

"The breaches in the First Wall have been healed; the old rock is back in its place!"

"They say that the dead beyond the wall in Tophet are prophesying!"

"There is a bolt of lightning fixed in the sky over Titus' camp. We are called to go forth and see it fall!"

A voice swept by distantly crying that a woman had eaten her child. Crazed Posthumus, self-elected guardian of the Law, with the sacred roll under his arm, declaimed, without any of his audience attending, that prophecy which this horror fulfilled.

All Jerusalem was in the streets; all Jerusalem poured into the immense open space where some palatial ruin stood, and melted in the giant concourse that gathered to hear the prophetess.

Laodice and the Maccabee were unable to see the woman; only her voice, mystic, musical, pitched at a singing monotone, intoning rather than speaking, reached them from the distance. The long harangue, delivered as a chant, had long ago had a mesmerizing effect on her audience. Absolutely she controlled them; along the dead level of her preaching they maintained a low continuous murmur, accompanied by a slight slow swaying of the body; in the climaxes of the appeal they responded with cries and wild gestures, flinging themselves about in attitudes characteristic of their frenzy. In their faces was the reflection of a peculiar light that proved that derangement had settled over Jerusalem. It was the end of the reign of reason.

"It is the abomination of desolation. Even so, it is finished! It is the time, it is full time, and Michael hath come. There are seventy weeks; behold them. The transgression is finished and the end hereto of all sins. Approacheth the hour for the reconciliation for iniquity and to bring in everlasting righteousness and to seal up the vision and prophecy and to anoint the most Holy! Prepare ye!"

Somewhere in the city a voice that was heard even by the fighting-men on the wall in Akra cried:

"The Sacrifice has failed! The Oblation is ceased! There is no Offering for the Altar; none is left to offer it!"

The vast gathering heard it, and immediately from the high place of the prophetess came back the words, prompt and effective:

"And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease!"

Posthumus, buried in the midst of the crowd, was shouting, but over him the splendid mesmerism of the prophetess' voice soared.

"The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children; they were their meat in the destruction of the daughter of my people ... The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion; ... and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate!"

Among the crowd now growing frantic, people began to cry:

"A sign! A sign!"

Others shouted:

"Lead us!"

"Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the Heaven of the Lord!"

"Lead us!" they still shouted.

They were hungry; they had been abstinent; they had surrendered their riches and their comforts. It was not independence but necessities that they wanted now. The primal wants were at the surface.

"Come up and be filled!" she cried. "Ask and it shall be given unto you! Eat of the grapes and the honey; drink of wine and warm milk; sleep as kings; be housed in mansions; be rulers; command potentates! Let kings bow at your footstools! Be replenished; be great! Suffering hath been your portion since the earth was; but the end is come. Draw nigh and have your recompense. Laugh, you whose eyes have trickled down with the waters of affliction! You in the low dungeon come forth and range all the free boundaries of the world. Whosoever hath gravel between his teeth, let them be grapes! He who sitteth alone, gather company and revel unto him! Feast, ye hungry; be drunken, ye thirsty; love and be loved, ye forlorn!"

Laodice leaned forward suddenly and hung on the woman's words.

"The time for sacrifice and humiliation is paid out! It was a long time! Now, behold in the generosity of his repentance, ye shall ask and nothing shall be denied. Speak! Ask! The whole world, Heaven and earth and the delights of all the years are yours, now and for all time!"

At Laodice's side was Amaryllis. The Greek's face was pale but lighted with a certain enlightenment that was almost threatening.

Startled and frightened Laodice moved back from the Greek, who moved with her, without a glance at the Maccabee.

The voice of the prophetess swept on:

"Ye have bowed to tyrants and bent your necks to murderers; ye have waged wars for pillagers and shared not in the spoils. Why are ye hungry now? Who is full-fed in these days of want, yourselves or your masters? A sword, a sword is drawn; uphold the arm that wields it!"

"Sedition!" Amaryllis whispered, as the mob began to murmur and stir at this new doctrine.

"For behold, he shall go forth with great fury to destroy and utterly to make away many!"

Amaryllis bent so she could whisper in Laodice's ear.

"John hath taken him a new woman to keep him cheerful this hour. I was not daring enough. Philadelphus' wife hath supplanted me. Your place with him is vacant. Go back and possess it!"

"Why was appetite and desire and thirst of power and the love of riches lighted in you, but to be satisfied?" The prophetess' words swept in after Laodice's sudden fear of returning to Philadelphus. "We have expiated the sin of Adam, the greed of Jacob and the fault of David. The judgment is run out; ye have come to your own! Verily, I say unto you, if ye follow me in the name of him who hath come unto you, the world shall be yours!"

Amaryllis still continued to whisper, and Laodice, fearing that the Maccabee might hear, drew farther away. He stood where she had left him, with his head lowered, waiting—at last a creature dependent on another's will.

"Listen!" Amaryllis said. "I have been seeking you since midnight! Philadelphus' doubt was awakened in this woman. He questioned her, so minutely that she betrayed ignorance of many things she should have known had she been the real daughter of Costobarus. And when finally he taxed her with imposture, she robbed him of the dowry and fled to John. Convinced that you are his wife, he set forth and hath since searched for you without ceasing! See, over there! He seeks you, now!"

Laodice looked the way the Greek pointed and saw Philadelphus, standing with lifted head and stretched to his full height, as if searching over the crowd for her.

Panic seized her. She wrenched herself from the Greek's hold and, forgetting even the protection of Hesper who was within touch of her, she threw herself into the crowd behind her and struggled out of the press.

Nathan, the Christian, saw her turn and followed instantly in the path she made.

Once out, she turned in a bewildered manner this way and that. What refuge, now, for her, indeed, but the cavern under the ruin and the care of Hesper, until the end which should swallow them all!

A trembling hand was laid on her arm.

She whirled, expecting to find Philadelphus. Beside her, his old face radiant with emotion, stood Momus!

Chapter XXI


Within the Roman lines was a bent and deformed figure of an old waif that the soldiers had picked up attempting to run the lines into Jerusalem the second day after the siege had been laid about the Holy City.

The old man, though wrinkled and twisted and bowed, had fought with such terrible savagery and had incontinently laid in the dust in succession three of the camp's best fighting-men, that the Roman soldiers, for ever partizan to the strong man, had finally with great difficulty succeeded in trussing the old belligerent and had brought him before Titus.

There they laid the twisted old burden before the young general and shamelessly told how he, thrice the age of the vanquished men, had finished them with despatch.

It was evident that the old man was a Jew; it became also apparent that he was dumb and partly deaf, and further to their amazement and admiration, they discovered that his right leg and arm were too stiff for ordinary use and that he had done his wonderful execution with terrific left limbs.

This saved his life and gave him a partial liberty. Titus, however, admitted to Carus that the old man's distress at being kept out of Jerusalem was pitiable enough to urge the young general to deport him and get him out of sight.

For it was manifest that the old minotaur was in deep trouble. But his paralyzed tongue would not serve him, and his menial ignorance had not provided him with the means of telling his desire by writing. Titus was unable to understand from his signs anything further than that he wished to get into the city. The young general in one of his outbursts of generosity would have permitted this, but that Nicanor happened in at an evil moment and drew such pictures of calamitous effect in passing the old servant into Jerusalem that Titus was forced reluctantly and irritably to be convinced of the folly of his kindness. So here, through the terrible days of the siege, old Momus at times desperate and savage, at others piteously suppliant, wore on the sentries' peace of mind and stood like a shadow, for ever watching the white walls of the besieged city.

The Romans were now within the city. Only Zion and the Temple held against them. A wall built with the thoroughness of David, the ancient, and solidified by the mortising of Time, ran directly from Hippicus to the Tyropean Valley, joining the tremendous fortifications of Moriah and so cut off Zion from the advance of the army. Securely intrenched within that quarter and the Temple, Simon and John began the last resistance which should tax Roman endurance and Roman patience as it had not been taxed before.

Titus no longer lagged. Famine had long since become a powerful ally and the honor of the Flavian house rested upon his immediate subjugation of the rebellious city. He no longer expected capitulation; yet he did not neglect to be prepared for it and to encourage it. Though the heart of the historian Josephus broke, he did not fail to serve his patron as mediator, though without hope. Titus himself, as from time to time the horror of his work impressed itself upon him, made overtures to the factionists, neglecting no art or inducement which should convince the seditious that their resistance was foolhardy, even mad. At such times, Nicanor's face became contemptuous and Carus himself frowned at the young general's attitude. But the spirit of a Roman and the traditions of a soldier even could not prevent the young man from weakening at times before the charnel pit in Tophet where countless thousands of vultures fattened with roaring of wings and hissing of combat.

But under an ever-thickening veil of horrid airs, the struggle went on.

The Roman Ides of July arrived.

Titus had erected banks upon which his engines were raised to batter the walls of the Temple.

From Titus' camp, the Romans on sick leave, the commissaries, those attached to the army who were not fighting-men, and old Momus, saw first, before the attack on the Temple began, a soft increasing dun-colored vapor rise between the Temple and Antonia. It issued from the cloister at the northwest which joined the Roman tower. As they watched, they saw that vapor grow into a pale but intensely luminous smoke, as if fine woods and burning metals were consumed together. In a moment the whole north-west section was embraced in a sublime pall of fire.

John was burning away the connection between the Temple and the tower and was making the sacred edifice four-square.

As soon as it became confirmed, in the minds of the watchers in the Roman camp, that the Temple had been fired, the old mute among them seemed to become wholly unbalanced. Without warning, he leaped upon the nearest sentry who, not expecting the attack, went down with a clatter of armor and a shout of astonishment. The next instant the old man was making across the intervening space between the camp and Jerusalem as fast as his stiff legs could carry him.

The purple sentry sprang to his feet and strung an arrow, but before he could send it singing, the old minotaur was mixed with a second soldier in such confusion that the first sentry hesitated to shoot lest he should kill his fellow. Another moment and a second soldier was struggling in the impediment of his armor in the dust and the old mute was again hobbling straight away toward the walls of Jerusalem. He was now a fair mark for the first sentry, but that Roman's rancor died after he had seen his own disgrace covered by the overthrow of his fellow. Two of Titus' scouts next stood in the path of the running old man. One went to the ground so suddenly and so violently that the watchers, now breaking into howls of delight, knew that he had been tripped. The other stood but a moment longer, than he, too, rolled into the dust.

The old man might have gone no farther at this juncture, for at every latest triumph he left a crimson soldier murderous with shame. But before the arrow next strung to overtake him could fly, Titus, Carus and Nicanor, accompanied by their escort, rode between the fugitive and the men he had defeated.

"There goes our minotaur," Carus said quietly. Titus drew up his horse and looked. Nicanor with a sidelong glance awaited the young Roman's command to his escort to ride down the fugitive. But he waited, and continued to wait, while Titus with lifted head and with indecision in his eyes watched the deformed old shape hobble on toward the Wall of Circumvallation.

"Shall we let him go?" Nicanor inquired coldly.

"If some of my legionaries or those erratic Jews fail to get him between here and Jerusalem, he shall get into Jerusalem. But by Hector, he will earn his entry!"

They saw the old man mount by the causeway of earth which the Romans had built over the siege wall for the passage of the troops, saw him an instant outlined against the sky on the summit, and the next instant he disappeared.

Titus touched his horse and rode at a trot toward the causeway himself. He would see the end of this mad venture.

In the hour of sunrise the sentinel above the North Gate in the Old Wall saw among the ruins of the houses of Coenopolis a figure dodging painfully hither and thither. It was not habited in the brasses of the Roman armor. Also, it hobbled as if lame and ran toward the gate fast closed below the sentry.

The Jew, too intensely interested in the great climax enacting in the city below, ceased to remark on this figure.

Presently, however, he looked again into ruined Coenopolis. He saw there this un-uniformed figure wrapped in fierce embrace with a young legionary. Almost before the sentry's astonishment shaped itself into exclamation, the legionary was tumbled aside as if crushed and the old figure hobbled on.

Suddenly there appeared in the path of the wayfarer a galloping horseman, who drew his mount back on his haunches, then spurred him to ride down the old man.

The sentry on the Old Wall made a choked sound, unslung his bow and sent an arrow singing. There was a shout and the figure of the horseman plunged from his saddle face down on the earth.

The wayfarer flung himself away and rushed toward the wall, only a little distance away.

But all Coenopolis seemed to swarm now with legionaries, afoot or horseback.

The Jewish sentry rushed to the edge of the tower overhanging the gate.

"Open!" he shouted below. "One cometh!"

With a rattle and clang of falling bars and chains the gate of the Old Wall swung.

Disregarding the known wishes of Titus, two of the legionaries simultaneously let fly their javelins. But the mute, hobbling uncertainly, was not a steady mark and under the whistle of arrows received and sent, he blundered up the causeway leading to the Gate of the Old Wall, and the portal slowly and ponderously closed behind him.

Wild howls of derision and exultation went up from the Jews. Many of the soldiers clambered down to satisfy their curiosity about the latest addition to the starving garrison. But he proved to be a deformed old man, mute and weary, who was distressed for fear he would be detained by them and who hobbled out into the besieged city and posted as fast as his legs could carry him toward the house of Amaryllis, the Seleucid.

But at the edge of a great open space where the Herodian palaces had stood he came upon a concourse which seemed to be all Jerusalem. It was a gaunt horde, shouting, raging, prophesying and drowning the roar of battle at the Temple fortifications with the sound of religious frenzy.

Momus, fresh from the orderly camp of Titus, was struck with terror. He would have retreated and followed some side street toward his destination, when he caught sight of a girl on the very outskirts of this mob. Momus laid a trembling hand on her arm. She threw up her head with a start.

Chapter XXII


The tremulous old man, weakened from his long and superhuman struggle to enter the doomed city, held Laodice to his breast while she stroked his rough cheeks and murmured things that he did not hear and which she did not realize in the rush of her helplessness and dismay.

At the corner of Moriah and the Old Wall, the tumult was infernal. Out of the suffocating sallow smoke from the tuns of burning tar heaved over the fortification upon the engines and their managers, the stones from the catapults soared into view and fell upon the sun-colored marbles that paved the Court of the Gentiles. Clouded by the vapor, targets for the immense missiles, the Jews heaving and writhing in personal encounters appeared black and inhuman. Every combatant shouted; the great stones screamed; the boiling pitch hissed and roared, and the thunder of the conflict shook the Temple to its very foundations.

Without, the Romans planted scaling ladders, mounted them and were pitched backward into the moat regularly. Regularly, the ladders were set up again after struggle, mounted without hesitation and thrown down again, with an inevitability which furnished a grim travesty to the struggle. The two remaining towers were set in position against the base of Moriah and resumed execution. One after another the engines of the Romans were hauled into position, and worked unceasingly until covered with burning oil from the battlements above and consumed. Others were hauled into place; fresh detachments of Romans seized upon the scaling-ladders or mounted to the towers, and the roar of the conflict never abated.

Meanwhile on the slopes of Zion the whole of Jerusalem, gaunt, dying and demoniacal, was packed in the ruins of the palace of Herod.

Old Momus with triumph and tearful exultation was holding out to Laodice a heavy roll of writings, dangling important seals, ancient papers showing yellow beside the fresh parchment, and an old record dark with long handling.

Here were the proofs of her identity!

Laodice shrank from him with a gasp that was almost a cry. Behold, the faithful old servant had suffered she knew not what to bring such evidence as would force her to do that which she believed she could not do and survive!

Momus sought to put the papers in her hands, but she thrust them away and he stood looking at her in amazement and sorrow.

Nathan, the Christian, stood close to her. From the opposite side, Philadelphus rounded the outskirts of the mob, searching. He did not see her. She flung herself between Momus and Nathan and cowered down until Philadelphus had passed from sight. When she lifted her head, Momus was gazing at her with the light of shocked comprehension growing in his eyes. Nathan, the Christian, touched her.

"Who was that man?" he asked gravely.

She rose and laid her hands on the Christian's shoulders.

"My husband," she said.

Something had happened at the Temple. She saw the Jews at the wall recoil from the dust of battle, rally, plunge in and disappear. From out that presently shone now and again, then with increasing frequency and finally in great numbers, the brass mail of Roman legionaries. Titus' forces had scaled the wall.

From her position, she saw running toward them John of Gischala, with his long garments whipping about him, wrapping his tall figure in live cerements. He was disarmed and bleeding. She saw next Amaryllis, with compassionate uplifted hands stop in his way; saw next the Gischalan thrust her aside with a blow and the next instant disappear as if the earth had swallowed him.

Nathan was speaking to her.

"How often, O my daughter, we recognize truth and deny it because it does not give us our way! God put a sense of the right in us. We transgress it oftener than we mistake it!"

The roar of the turning battle and the mob about her drowned his next words, except,

"You can not be happy in iniquity; neither blessed; but you are sure to be afraid. Right has its own terror, but there is at least courage in being right, against your desires."

He was talking continuously, but only at times did the wind from the uproar sweep his fervent words to her.

"Christ had His own conflict with Himself. What had become of us had He listened to the tempter in the wilderness, or failed to accept the cup in the Garden of Gethsemane! How much we have the happiness of Christ in our hands! Alas! that His should be a sorrowful countenance in Heaven!

"The love of a man for a woman was near to the Master's heart! How can you feel that you must love and be loved in spite of Him! Pity yourself all you may you can not then be pitied so much as He pities you!

"Love as long and as wilfully as you will, and then it is only a little space. The time of the supremacy of Christ cometh surely, and that is all eternity! Which will you do—please yourself for an hour, or be pleased by the will of God through all time? Love is in the hands of the Lord; you can not consign it longer than the little span of your life to the hands of the devil."

Momus, in whose mind had passed an immense surmise, was again at her side.

"O daughter of a noble father," his dumb gaze said, "wilt thou put away that virtue which was born in thee and let my labor come to naught?"

But the preaching of Nathan and the reproach of Momus were feeble, compared to the great tumult that went on in her soul. She had seen John of Gischala cast Amaryllis aside. Even the Greek's sympathy was hateful to him. Yet when Laodice had first entered the house of Amaryllis, the woman had been obliged to dismiss John from her presence for his own welfare and the welfare of the city. Why this change?

Amaryllis was no less beautiful, no less brilliant, no less attractive than she had once been; but the Gischalan had wearied of her.

Laodice recalled that she had not been surprised to see the man throw Amaryllis aside. It seemed to be the logical outcome of love such as theirs. How, then, was she to escape that which no other woman escaped who loved without law? In the soul of that stranger who had called himself Hesper, were lofty ideals, which had not been the least charm which had attracted her to him. Was she, then, to dislodge these holy convictions, to take her place in his heart as one falling short of them, or were they still to exist as standards which he loved and which she could not reach? In either event, how long would he love—what was the length of her probation before she, too, would encounter the inevitable weariness?

It occurred to her, then, how nearly the natural law of such love paralleled the religious prohibition that the Christian had shown to her. However harsh and unjust the sentence seemed, it was rational. With her own eyes she had seen its predictions borne out. Already the relief of the sorrowing righteous possessed her. She turned to the Christian.

"Take me to my husband," she said. "Now! While I have strength."

Momus caught the old Christian by the arm and, signing eagerly that he would lead, hurried away in advance of the two down into the ravine and crossed to the house of Amaryllis.

There were no soldiers to stop them about the house. When no response was made to her knock, Laodice opened the door and passed in.

Her old conductors followed her.

Amaryllis sat in her ivory chair; opposite her in the exedra was Philadelphus. At sight of him, the last of the soft color went out of Laodice's face. A curve of despair marked the corners of her mouth and she seemed to grow old before those that looked at her.

Philadelphus and the Greek sprang to their feet, the instant the group entered.

Laodice waited for no preliminary. Amaryllis' design was patent to her; it was part of her sorrow that now Hesper would be free to the devices of this deceitful woman. So she did not look at the Greek. She addressed Philadelphus in a voice from which all hope and vivacity had gone.

"I have brought proofs. Behold them!"

Nathan, the Christian, stood forth.

"I, Nathan of Jerusalem, met and talked with this Laodice, daughter of Costobarus, in company with Aquila, the Ephesian, three men-servants in all the panoply and state of a coming princess three leagues out of Ascalon, her native city. I buried by the roadside her father, who died of pestilence on their journey hither. I bear witness that she is the daughter of Costobarus and thy wedded wife."

A great light sprang into the face of the Greek. Philadelphus, nervous, albeit the news he heard filled him with pleasure, stood and waited.

The Christian stepped back and Momus, bowing, approached and handed the leather roll into the none too steady hands of the Ephesian. He opened it and drew forth parchments.

Aloud he read a minute description of Laodice from the rabbi of the synagogue in Ascalon; under the great seals of the Roman state, he found and read the oath of the prefect, that such a maiden as the rabbi had described had been married before him to Philadelphus Maccabaeus fourteen years before. Then followed the depositions of forty Jews and Gentiles who were nurses, tradesmen and other people like to have daily contact with the young woman in her house, setting entirely at naught any claim that Laodice was other than the wife who had been supplanted by an adventuress. Philadelphus did not read them all. Before he made an end he dropped the documents and flung wide his arms. But Laodice with a countenance frozen with suffering held him off for a moment.

"Go," she said to the old Christian, "unto Hesper and lead him into the belief of the Lord Jesus Christ which is mine."

The old Christian approached the fountain in the center of the andronitis and taking up water in his palm sprinkled a few drops on her hair while she knelt.

"In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, I baptize thee, Laodice. Amen!"

While she knelt, he said:

"I shall search for him also. Christ have mercy on thee now and for ever. Farewell."

He was gone.

Chapter XXIII


When Nathan, the Christian, stepped into the streets once more there was an immense accession of tumult about him.

He turned to look toward the corner of the Old Wall in time to behold Jews in armor and Romans in blazing brass rush together in a great cloud of dust as the Old Wall went in and Titus swept down upon Jerusalem.

At the same instant from the ruined high place upon Zion came a roar of stupendous menace. The Christian, with sublime indifference to danger, kept his path toward the concourse from which he had taken Laodice. As he ascended the opposite slope of the ravine, he saw, descending toward the battle, the front of a rushing multitude, as irresistible and as destructive as a great sea in a storm.

He saw that the mob was turning toward Akra, and to avoid it, the Christian climbed up to the Tyropean Bridge, and from that point viewed the whole of Jerusalem sweeping down upon the heathen.

At the head of the inundation passed a melodious voice crying:

"An end, an end is come upon the four corners of the land! Draw near every man with his destroying weapon in his hands for the glory of the Lord! For His house is filled with cloud and the Court is full of the brightness of the Lord's glory! A sword! A sword is sharpened! The way is appointed that the sword may come! For the time for favor to Zion is here; yea, the set time is come!"

After this poured a gaunt horde numbering tens of thousands. They bore paving-stones, stakes, posts, railings, garden implements, weapons from kitchens, from hardware booths and from armories; anything that one man or a body of men could wield; torches and kettles of tar; chains and ropes; knotted whips, and bundles of fagots; iron spikes, instruments of torture, anything and everything which could be turned as a weapon or to inflict pain upon the Roman, who believed at this moment that Jerusalem was his!

The Christian overlooked this ferocious inundation and shook his head. On a mound near him stood the spirit of the mob concentrated and personified. It was crazed Posthumus.

He was screaming: "It is finished; the law is run out! All prophecy is fulfilled!"

And over his head he was swinging a parchment fiercely burning.

It was the Scroll of the Law!

After uncounted minutes, vibrating with roar, the terrible flood rushed by. Feeble arms clasped the Christian about the knees and he looked down on the tangled white locks of the palsied man, who had searched for him until he had found him. The Christian laid his hand on the man's head but did not speak.

At the breach in the Old Wall, the watchers on that almost deserted street saw the brazen wave of four legions gather and sweep forward to gain ground in the city before the mob swept down on them.

Between the two warring bodies, one orderly, prepared but apprehensive, the other mad and perishing, was a considerable space. Fighting still went on at the breach in the walls, but the supreme conflict of a comparatively small body of soldiers and an uncounted horde was not yet precipitated.

Ordinarily, the Roman army could have reduced any popular insurrection with half that number of men. But at present the legionaries confronted desperate citizens who were simply choosing their own way to die. Reason and human fear long since had ceased to inspire them. They were believing now and following a prophet because it was the final respite before despair. There was no alternative. It was death whatever they did, unless, in truth, this splendid sorceress was indeed the Voice of the Risen Prince. Force would be of no avail against them. Madness had flung them against Rome; only some other madness would turn them back.

The Christian, from his commanding position, expected anything.

It was the moment which would show if the false prophet would triumph. If the four legions went down before the multitude, it would mean the ascendancy of a strange woman over Israel, and the obliteration of the faith in Jesus Christ in the Holy Land.

It can not be said that the Christian watched the crisis with a calm spirit. He did not wish to see the heathen overthrow the ancient people of God, nor could he behold the triumph of a false Christ. He put his hands together and prayed.

A figure appeared between the two bodies of combatants, rushing on intensely, to grapple.

It was a tall commanding form, clothed in garments that glittered for whiteness. By the step, by the poise of the head, the Christian recognized Seraiah.

The front of the multitude fell on their faces at that moment as if he had struck them down.

Out of the forefront, the prophetess appeared. The Christian heard her splendid voice out of the uproar, and while he gazed, he saw mad Seraiah turn away from her, with the front of the mob turning after him, as a needle turns to the pole.

In that fatal moment of pause, out of which the warning cry of the prophetess rang wildly, the Roman tribune, in view for a moment under the blowing veils of smoke, flung up his sword, the Roman bugle sang, and the brassy legions of Titus hurled themselves upon the halted mob.

The Christian dropped his head into the bend of his elbow and strove to shut out the sound. The nervous arms of the palsied man at his feet gripped him frantically.

Up from the corner of the Old Wall, came the prolonged "A-a-a-a!" of dying thousands.

Jerusalem had fallen.

The foremost of the mob, turning with Seraiah, escaped the onslaught of the Romans, and as the mad Pretender strode toward the broad street from which the Tyropean Bridge crossed to the demesnes of the Temple, they followed him fatuously, blind to the death behind them and the oncoming slaughter in which they might fall.

Seraiah passed above the spot where the sorrowful Christian stood, crossed the great causeway leading toward the Royal Portico and after him six thousand blind and insane enthusiasts followed, expecting imminent miracle. Above them towered the heights of Moriah, now veiled in smoke. Up the great white bank of stairs they rushed after him, facing an ordeal which must mean a baptism in fire, and on through a curtain of luminous smoke into a gate pillared in flame, up into the Royal Portico, resounding with the tread of the advancing Destroyer, out into the great Court of Gentiles wrapped in cloud through which the Temple showed, a stupendous cube of heat, through the Gate Beautiful where the Keeper no longer stood, thence into the Women's Court, raftered with red coals, up smoking stones tier upon tier till the roof of the Royal Portico was reached.

At the brink of the pinnacle, they saw through tumbling clouds Seraiah towering. He was looking down through masses of smoke upon the City of Delight, perishing. They who had followed watched, uplifted with terror and frenzy, and while they waited for the miracle which should save, the roof crumbled under them and a grave of thrice heated rock received them and covered them up.

Below, Nathan, the Christian, seized upon the shoulders of the Maccabee as he was dashing after the thousands. His face was black with terror for Laodice. He struggled to throw off Nathan, crying futilely against the uproar that Laodice was perishing.

"Comfort thee!" the Christian shouted in his ear. "She is saved. She sent me to thee."

The Maccabee stopped, as if he realized that he need not go on, but had not comprehended what was said to him.

Nathan dragged him out of the way, still choked with people struggling to pass on to the Temple or to flee from it. Half-way down the Vale of Gihon, where speech was a little more possible, the Maccabee, who had been crying questions, made the old man hear.

"Where is she? Where is she?"

"She has returned to her husband. In love with thee, she has done that only which she could do and escape sin. She has gone to shelter with him whom she does not love!"

The Maccabee seized his head in his hands.

"It is like her—like her!" he groaned.

In the Christian's heart he knew how narrowly Laodice had made her lover's mark for her.

"It is her wish," Nathan continued, "that I teach thee Christ whom she hath received."

"How can I receive Him, when He sent her from me?" the unhappy man groaned, unconscious of his contradictions.

"How canst thou reject Him when His teaching led thy love to do that which thine own lips have confessed to be the better thing?"

"Then what of myself, when I love where I should not love?" the Maccabee insisted.

"You may suffer and sin not," the Christian said kindly.

The unhappy man dropped to his knees.

"O Christ, why should I resist Thee!" he groaned. "Thou hast stripped me and made me see that my loss is good!"

The Christian laid his hands on the Maccabee's head.

"Dost thou believe?" he asked.

"Will Christ accept me, coming because I must?"

"It is not laid down how we shall baptize in the thirst of a famine," Nathan said, "yet He who sees fit to deny water never yet hath denied grace."

But the Christian's hand extended over the kneeling man was caught in a grip steadied with intense emotion. The unknown had seized him.

But for his feeling that this interruption was necessary to the welfare of another soul, the Christian would not have paused in his ministry.

The phantom straightened himself with a superb reinvestment of manhood.

"Thou, son of the Maccabee, Philadelphus!" he exclaimed to the kneeling man.

The Ephesian's arms sank.

"Who art thou that knoweth me?" he asked in a dead voice.

"I am all that plague and sin hath left of thy servant Aquila," the phantom declared.

The Maccabee lifted his face for what should follow this revelation. It was only a manifestation of his subjection to another will than his own. He was not interested—he who was hoping to die.

"Hear me, and curse me!" Aquila went on. "But save thy wife yet. I say unto thee, master, that she whom thou hast sheltered in the cavern is thy wife, Laodice!"

The Maccabee struggled up to his feet and gazed with stunned and unbelieving eyes at this wreck of his pagan servant, who went on precipitately.

"Her I plotted against at the instigation of Julian of Ephesus. Her, my mistress, Salome the Cyprian, robbed and hath impersonated thus long to her safety in the house of the Greek. This hour, through ignorance of thine own identity, through my fault, she hath gone reluctantly to his arms. Curse me and let me die!"

The Maccabee seized the hair at his temples. For a moment the awful gaze he bent upon Aquila seemed to show that the gentler spirit had been dislodged from his heart. Then he cried:

"God help us both, Aquila! My fault was greater than thine!"

He turned and fled toward the house of the Greek.

The four legions of Titus swept after him.

Aquila lifted his eyes for the first time and gazed at Nathan.

"I cursed thee for sparing me to such an existence as was mine! Behold, father, thou didst bless me, instead. I am ready to die."

"Wait," the Christian said peacefully.

A moment later, the Maccabee dashed into the andronitis of Amaryllis.

After him sprang a terrified servant crying:

"The Roman! The Roman is upon us!"

A roar of such magnitude that it penetrated the stone walls of Amaryllis' house, swept in after the servant. Quaking menials began to pour into the hall. Among them came the blue-eyed girl, the athlete and Juventius the Swan. These three joined their mistress who stood under a hanging lamp. Into the passage from the court, left open by the frightened servants, swept the prolonged outcry of perishing Jerusalem. Over it all thundered the boom of the siege-engines shaking the earth.

The slaves slipped down upon their knees and began to groan together. The silver coins on the lamp began to swing; the brass cyanthus which Amaryllis had recently drained of her last drink of wine moved gradually to the edge of the pedestal upon which she had placed it.

The dual nature of the uproar was now distinct; organized warfare and popular disaster at the same time. The Roman was sweeping up the ancient ravine. Jerusalem had fallen.

The gradual crescendo now attained deafening proportions; the hanging lamp increased its swing; the silver coins began to strike together with keen and exquisitely fine music. Juventius the Swan, with his dim eyes filled with horror, was looking at them. The peculiar desperate indifference of the wholly hopeless seized him. His long white hands began to move with the motion of the lamp; the music of the meeting coins became regular; he caught the note, and mounting, with a bound, the rostrum that had been his Olympus all his life, began to sing. The melody of his glorious voice struggled only a moment for supremacy with the uproar of imminent death and then his increasing exaltation gave him triumph. The great hall shook with the magnificent power of his only song!

The Maccabee confronted Amaryllis, with fierce question in his eyes. She pointed calmly at the heavy white curtain pulled to one side and caught on a bracket. The brass wicket over the black mouth of the tunnel was wide.

Without a word, the Maccabee plunged into it and was swallowed up.

Amaryllis looked after him.

"And no farewell?" she said.

The thunder of assault began at her door. Juventius sang it down. The athlete and the girl crept toward the mouth of the black passage, wavered a moment and plunged in. After them tumbled a confusion of artists and servants who were swallowed up, and the hall was filled only with music.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse