The woman by the lectern and the singer on the rostrum had chosen. To live without beauty and to live without love were not possible to the one who had known beauty all his life, to the one who had learned love so late—after she had been beggared of her dowry of purity.
There was hardly an appreciable interval between the time of the desertion of her artists and the thunder of assault at her door, but in that space there passed before Amaryllis that useless retrospect which is death's recapitulation of the life it means to take. And out of that long procession, she singled one conviction which made the step of the Roman on her threshold welcome. It was an old, old moral, so old that it had never had weight with her, who believed it was time to reconstruct the whole artistic attitude of the world.
And that was why she waited impatiently at her doorway for death, which was a kinder thing than life.
THE ROAD TO PELLA
There was no incident in the Maccabee's long struggle through the inky blackness of the tunnel leading under Moriah.
It was night when the first new air from the outside world reached him. So he rushed into great open darkness, lighted with stars, before he knew that he had emerged from the underground passage.
Entire silence after the turmoil which had shaken Jerusalem for many months fell almost like a blow upon his unaccustomed ears. The air was sweet. He had not breathed sweet air since May. The hills were solitary. Week in and week out, he had never been away from the sound of groaning thousands. Not since he had assumed his disguise to Laodice in the wilderness had he been close to the immemorial repose of nature. All his primitive manhood rushed back to him, now infuriated with a fear that his love was the spoil of another.
All instinct became alert; all his intelligence and resource assembled to his aid. It came to him as inspiration always occurs at such times, that if the pair proceeded rationally, they would move toward a secure place at once. Pella occurred to him in a happy moment.
He took his bearings by the stars and hurried north and east.
He came upon a road presently, almost obliterated by a summer's drift of dust and sand. It had been long since any one had gone up that way to Jerusalem. There was no moon to show him whether there were any recent marks of fugitives fleeing that way.
He did not expect that Julian of Ephesus would have courage to halt within sight of the glow on the western horizon which was the burning from the Temple. He expected the Ephesian to flee far and long, and in that consciousness of the cowardice of his enemy he based his hope.
But he ran tirelessly, seeking right and left, led on by instinct toward the Christian city in the north.
At times, his terror for Laodice made him cry out; again, he made violent pictures of his revenge upon Julian; and at other moments, he believed, while drops stood on his forehead from the effort of faith, that his new Christ would save her yet. There were moments when he was ready to die of despair, when he wondered at himself attempting to trace Julian with all the directions of wild Judea to invite the fugitives. Why might they not have fled toward Arabia as well, or even toward the sea? Perhaps they had not gone far, but had hidden in the rock, and had been left behind. Conflicting argument strove to turn him from his path, but the old instinct, final resource after the mind gives up the puzzle, kept him straight on the road to Pella.
He came upon the rear of a flock of sheep, heading away from him. A Natolian sheep-dog, galloping hither and thither in his labor at keeping them moving, scented the new-comer. There was a quick savage bark that heightened at the end in an excited yelp of welcome. The shepherd, a dim figure at the head of the flock, turned in time to see his dog leaping upon the Maccabee.
"Down, Urge," the shepherd cried.
"Joseph, in the name of God," the Maccabee cried, "where is Laodice?"
He threw off the excited dog and rushed toward the boy, who turned back at the cry with extended hands.
"True to thy promise, friend, friend!" the boy cried. "She is here!"
The Maccabee stiffened.
"Is there one with her?" he demanded fiercely.
"A man and her servant."
The Maccabee threw off the boy's hands.
"Where?" he cried.
"Ahead of the sheep," the boy said a little uncertainly.
The Maccabee dashed through the flock and rounding a turn in the road came upon Laodice walking; behind her Momus; at her side was Julian of Ephesus.
Immense strain had sharpened their sense of fear until it was as acute as an instinct. Before the sound of the Maccabee's furious approach reached Julian, the Ephesian whirled.
Towering over him, the very picture of retribution, was the man he had left, apparently dead by his hand, by the roadside in the hills of Judea months and months before.
For an instant, Julian stood petrified. Over his lips came a faint, frozen whisper that Laodice heard—that was proof enough to her, the moment after.
When his outraged kinsman put out vengeful hands to seize him, the Maccabee grasped the air. Julian of Ephesus had vanished!
* * * * *
Among the rocks at the base of the cliff that sheltered Christian Pella from the rude winds of the Perean mountains, the procurator of the city, Philadelphus Maccabaeus, and his wife, Laodice, sat side by side in the morning sun. There was a path little wider than a man's hand wandering along below them toward a well in the hollow of the rocks. Along this way, in early morning, Joseph, the shepherd, was in the habit of driving his sheep to drink. And hither the procurator and his wife came to visit the boy from time to time. Within their hall, there was too much state. Something in the wild open of Judea with its winds gave them all an ease whenever they wished to talk with Joseph.
But the shepherd was not in sight. The pair sat down and waited for him.
Laodice rested against her husband's arm, laid along the rock behind her. Presently he freed that arm and with the ease of much usage withdrew the bodkins from her hair. The heavy coil dropped over his breast down to his knee. With delicate touches he began to free from the splendid tangle a single strand of glistening white hair. When she saw it shining like spun silver across the back of his hand, she looked up at him. With infinite care he searched her face, while she waited with questioning in her tender eyes.
"This," he said, lifting the hand that supported the silver threads, "is the sole evidence that thou hast seen the abomination of desolation."
"And that came the night I journeyed away from Jerusalem, without you," she declared. "But, my Philadelphus," she said, turning herself a little that she might hide her face away from him, "had I stayed with you against my conscience, I had been by this time wholly white."
He kissed her.
"I did not expect you to stay," he said. "I knew from the beginning that you would not. Ask Joseph. He will bear me out."
Low on the slope of the hill, the shepherd approached, calling his sheep that trailed after him contentedly by the hundreds. The excited bark of Urge, the sheep-dog, came up faintly to them.
While they leaned watching them, old Momus, bent and broken, stood before them. Laodice hurriedly drew away from her husband's clasp. It was a habit she had never entirely shaken off, whenever the mute appeared, in spite of the old man's pathetic dumb protest.
He handed a linen scroll to his master.
The captives whom thou hast asked for freedom at Caesar's hand are this day sent to thee, Philadelphus, under escort. They should reach thee a little later than this messenger. However, it is Caesar's pain to inform thee that the Greek Amaryllis as well as the actress Salome were not to be found. Julian of Ephesus, who named the woman for us, is here at Caesarea, but being a Roman citizen, is not a captive. However it shall be seen to that his liberty is sufficiently curtailed for the welfare of the public. Also, I send herewith a shittim-wood casket found with John of Gischala when he was captured in a cavern under Jerusalem. It contains treasure and certain writings which identify it as property of thy wife. There were other features in it which, coming to my hand first, made it advisable that the State should not know of its existence. And privately, it will be wise in thee to destroy them.
The Maccabee stopped at this point and looked at Laodice.
"What does he mean?" he asked.
"My father put your last letter in the case," she said, with a little panic in her face.
The Maccabee laughed, and went on,
Those that go forward to thee are Nathan of Jerusalem and Aquila of Ephesus. To thy wife my obeisances. To thyself, greeting.