HotFreeBooks.com
The Crushed Flower and Other Stories
by Leonid Andreyev
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Go home, Noni!"

"Right away. Give me some gin."

He drinks.

"And they? They have gone?"

"They ran, Noni. Go home, my boy! They ran off like goats. I was laughing so much, Noni."

Both laugh.

"Take down that toy, Khorre. Yes, yes, a little ship. He made it, Khorre."

They examine the toy.

"Look how skilfully the jib was made, Khorre. Good boy, Philipp! But the halyards are bad, look. No, Philipp! You never saw how real ships are fitted out—real ships which rove over the ocean, tearing its grey waves. Was it with this toy that you wanted to quench your little thirst—fool?"

He throws down the little ship and rises:

"Khorre! Boatswain!"

"Yes."

"Call them! I assume command again, Khorre!"

The sailor turns pale and shouts enthusiastically:

"Noni! Captain! My knees are trembling. I will not be able to reach them and I will fall on the way."

"You will reach them! We must also take our money away from these people—what do you think, Khorre? We have played a little, and now it is enough—what do you think, Khorre?"

He laughs. The sailor looks at him, his hands folded as in prayer, and he weeps.



CHAPTER VII

"These are your comrades, Haggart? I am so glad to see them. You said, Gart, yes—you said that their faces were entirely different from the faces of our people, and that is true. Oh, how true it is! Our people have handsome faces, too—don't think our fishermen are ugly, but they haven't these deep, terrible sears. I like them very much, I assure you, Gart. I suppose you are a friend of Haggart's—you have such stern, fine eyes? But you are silent? Why are they silent, Haggart; did you forbid them to speak? And why are you silent yourself, Haggart? Haggart!"

Illuminated by the light of torches, Haggart stands and listens to the rapid, agitated speech. The metal of the guns and the uniforms vibrates and flashes; the light is also playing on the faces of those who have surrounded Haggart in a close circle—these are his nearest, his friends. And in the distance there is a different game—there a large ship is dancing silently, casting its light upon the black waves, and the black water plays with them, pleating them like a braid, extinguishing them and kindling them again.

A noisy conversation and the splashing of the waters—and the dreadful silence of kindred human lips that are sealed.

"I am listening to you, Mariet," says Haggart at last. "What do you want, Mariet? It is impossible that some one should have offended you. I ordered them not to touch your house."

"Oh, no, Haggart, no! No one has offended me!" exclaimed Mariet cheerfully. "But don't you like me to hold little Noni in my arms? Then I will put him down here among the rocks. Here he will be warm and comfortable as in his cradle. That's the way! Don't be afraid of waking him, Gart; he sleeps soundly and will not hear anything. You may shout, sing, fire a pistol—the boy sleeps soundly."

"What do you want, Mariet? I did not call you here, and I am not pleased that you have come."

"Of course, you did not call me here, Haggart; of course, you didn't. But when the fire was started, I thought: 'Now it will light the way for me to walk. Now I will not stumble.' And I went. Your friends will not be offended, Haggart, if I will ask them to step aside for awhile? I have something to tell you, Gart. Of course, I should have done that before, I understand, Gart; but I only just recalled it now. It was so light to walk!"

Haggart says sternly:

"Step aside, Flerio, and you all—step aside with him."

They all step aside.

"What is it that you have recalled, Mariet? Speak! I am going away forever from your mournful land, where one dreams such painful dreams, where even the rocks dream of sorrow. And I have forgotten everything."

Gently and submissively, seeking protection and kindness, the woman presses close to his hand.

"O, Haggart! O, my dear Haggart! They are not offended because I asked them so rudely to step aside, are they? O, my dear Haggart! The galloons of your uniform scratched my cheek, but it is so pleasant. Do you know, I never liked it when you wore the clothes of our fishermen—it was not becoming to you, Haggart. But I am talking nonsense, and you are getting angry, Gart. Forgive me!"

"Don't kneel. Get up."

"It was only for a moment. Here, I got up. You ask me what I want? This is what I want: Take me with you, Haggart! Me and little Noni, Haggart!"

Haggart retreats.

"You say that, Mariet? You say that I should take you along? Perhaps you are laughing, woman? Or am I dreaming again?"

"Yes, I say that: Take me with you. Is this your ship? How large and beautiful it is, and it has black sails, I know it. Take me on your ship, Haggart. I know, you will say: 'We have no women on the ship,' but I will be the woman: I will be your soul. Haggart, I will be your song, your thoughts, Haggart! And if it must be so, let Khorre give gin to little Noni—he is a strong boy."

"Eh, Mariet?" says Haggart sternly. "Do you perhaps want me to believe you again? Eh, Mariet? Don't talk of that which you do not know, woman. Are the rocks perhaps casting a spell over me and turning my head? Do you hear the noise, and something like voices? That is the sea, waiting for me. Don't hold my soul. Let it go, Mariet."

"Don't speak, Haggart! I know everything. It was not as though I came along a fiery road, it was not as though I saw blood to-day. Be silent, Haggart! I have seen something more terrible, Haggart! Oh, if you could only understand me! I have seen cowardly people who ran without defending themselves. I have seen clutching, greedy fingers, crooked like those of birds, like those of birds, Haggart! And out of these fingers, which were forced open, gold was taken. And suddenly I saw a man sobbing. Think of it, Haggart! They were taking gold from him, and he was sobbing."

She laughs bitterly. Haggart advances a step toward her and puts his heavy hand upon her shoulder:

"Yes, yes, Mariet. Speak on, girl, let the sea wait."

Mariet removes his hand and continues:

"'No,' I thought. 'These are not my brethren at all!' I thought and laughed. And father shouted to the cowards: 'Take shafts and strike them.' But they were running. Father is such a splendid man."

"Father is a splendid man," Haggart affirms cheerfully.

"Such a splendid man! And then one sailor bent down close to Noni—perhaps he did not want to do any harm to him, but he bent down to him too closely, so, I fired at him from your pistol. Is it nothing that I fired at our sailor?"

Haggart laughs:

"He had a comical face! You killed him, Mariet."

"No. I don't know how to shoot. And it was he who told me where you were. O Haggart, O brother!"

She sobs, and then she speaks angrily with a shade of a serpentine hiss in her voice:

"I hate them! They were not tortured enough; I would have tortured them still more, still more. Oh, what cowardly rascals they are! Listen, Haggart, I was always afraid of your power—to me there was always something terrible and incomprehensible in your power. 'Where is his God?' I wondered, and I was terrified. Even this morning I was afraid, but now that this night came, this terror has fled, and I came running to you over the fiery road: I am going with you, Haggart. Take me, Haggart, I will be the soul of your ship!"

"I am the soul of my ship, Mariet. But you will be the song of my liberated soul, Mariet. You shall be the song of my ship, Mariet! Do you know where we are going? We are going to look for the end of the world, for unknown lands, for unknown monsters. And at night Father Ocean will sing to us, Mariet!"

"Embrace me, Haggart. Ah, Haggart, he is not a God who makes cowards of human beings. We shall go to look for a new God."

Haggart whispers stormily:

"I lied when I said that I have forgotten everything—I learned this in your land. I love you, Mariet, as I love fire. Eh, Flerio, comrade!" He shouts cheerfully: "Eh, Flerio, comrade! Have you prepared a salute?"

"I have, Captain. The shores will tremble when our cannons speak."

"Eh, Flerio, comrade! Don't gnash your teeth, without biting—no one will believe you. Did you put in cannon balls—round, east-iron, good cannon balls? Give them wings, comrade—let them fly like blackbirds on land and sea."

"Yes, Captain."

Haggart laughs:

"I love to think how the cannon ball flies, Mariet. I love to watch its invisible flight. If some one comes in its way—let him! Fate itself strikes down like that. What is an aim? Only fools need an aim, while the devil, closing his eyes, throws stones—the wise game is merrier this way. But you are silent! What are you thinking of, Mariet?"

"I am thinking of them. I am forever thinking of them."

"Are you sorry for them?" Haggart frowns.

"Yes, I am sorry for them. But my pity is my hatred, Haggart. I hate them, and I would kill them, more and more!"

"I feel like flying faster—my soul is so free. Let us jest, Mariet! Here is a riddle, guess it: For whom will the cannons roar soon? You think, for me? No. For you? no, no, not for you, Mariet! For little Noni, for him—for little Noni who is boarding the ship to-night. Let him wake up from this thunder. How our little Noni will be surprised! And now be quiet, quiet—don't disturb his sleep—don't spoil little Noni's awakening."

The sound of voices is heard—a crowd is approaching.

"Where is the captain?"

"Here. Halt, the captain is here!"

"It's all done. They can be crammed into a basket like herrings."

"Our boatswain is a brave fellow! A jolly man."

Khorre, intoxicated and jolly, shouts:

"Not so loud, devils! Don't you see that the captain is here? They scream like seagulls over a dead dolphin."

Mariet steps aside a little distance, where little Noni is sleeping.

KHORRE—Here we are, Captain. No losses, Captain. And how we laughed, Noni.

HAGGART—You got drunk rather early. Come to the point.

KHORRE—Very well. The thing is done, Captain. We've picked up all our money—not worse than the imperial tax collectors. I could not tell which was ours, so I picked up all the money. But if they have buried some of the gold, forgive us, Captain—we are not peasants to plough the ground.

Laughter. Haggart also laughs.

"Let them sow, we shall reap."

"Golden words, Noni. Eh, Tommy, listen to what the Captain is saying. And another thing: Whether you will be angry or not—I have broken the music. I have scattered it in small pieces. Show your pipe, Tetyu! Do you see, Noni, I didn't do it at once, no. I told him to play a jig, and he said that he couldn't do it. Then he lost his mind and ran away. They all lost their minds there, Captain. Eh, Tommy, show your beard. An old woman tore half of his beard out, Captain—now he is a disgrace to look upon. Eh, Tommy! He has hidden himself, he's ashamed to show his face, Captain. And there's another thing: The priest is coming here."

Mariet exclaims:

"Father!"

Khorre, astonished, asks:

"Are you here? If she came to complain, I must report to you, Captain—the priest almost killed one of our sailors. And she, too. I ordered the men to bind the priest—"

"Silence."

"I don't understand your actions, Noni—"

Haggart, restraining his rage, exclaims:

"I shall have you put in irons! Silence!"

With ever-growing rage:

"You dare talk back to me, riff-raff! You—"

Mariet cautions him:

"Gart! They have brought father here."

Several sailors bring in the abbot, bound. His clothes are in disorder, his face is agitated and pale. He looks at Mariet with some amazement, and lowers his eyes. Then he heaves a sigh.

"Untie him!" says Mariet. Haggart corrects her restrainedly:

"Only I command here, Mariet. Khorre, untie him."

Khorre unfastens the knots. Silence.

ABBOT—Hello, Haggart.

"Hello, abbot."

"You have arranged a fine night, Haggart!"

Haggart speaks with restraint:

"It is unpleasant for me to see you. Why did you come here? Go home, priest, no one will touch you. Keep on fishing—and what else were you doing? Oh, yes—make your own prayers. We are going out to the ocean; your daughter, you know, is also going with me. Do you see the ship? That is mine. It's a pity that you don't know about ships—you would have laughed for joy at the sight of such a beautiful ship! Why is he silent, Mariet? You had better tell him."

ABBOT—Prayers? In what language? Have you, perhaps, discovered a new language in which prayers reach God? Oh, Haggart, Haggart!

He weeps, covering his face with his hands. Haggart, alarmed, asks:

"You are crying, abbot?"

"Look, Gart, he is crying. Father never cried. I am afraid, Gart."

The abbot stops crying. Heaving a deep sigh, he says:

"I don't know what they call you: Haggart or devil or something else—I have come to you with a request. Do you hear, robber, with a request? Tell your crew not to gnash their teeth like that—I don't like it."

Haggart replies morosely:

"Go home, priest! Mariet will stay with me."

"Let her stay with you. I don't need her, and if you need her, take her. Take her, Haggart. But—"

He kneels before him. A murmur of astonishment. Mariet, frightened, advances a step to her father.

"Father! You are kneeling?"

ABBOT—Robber! Give us back the money. You will rob more for yourself, but give this money to us. You are young yet, you will rob some more yet—

HAGGART—You are insane! There's a man—he will drive the devil himself to despair! Listen, priest, I am shouting to you: You have simply lost your mind!

The abbot, still kneeling, continues:

"Perhaps, I have—by God, I don't know. Robber, dearest, what is this to you? Give us this money. I feel sorry for them, for the scoundrels! They rejoiced so much, the scoundrels. They blossomed forth like an old blackthorn which has nothing but thorns and a ragged bark. They are sinners. But am I imploring God for their sake? I am imploring you. Robber, dearest—"

Mariet looks now at Haggart, now at the priest. Haggart is hesitating. The abbot keeps muttering:

"Robber, do you want me to call you son? Well, then—son—it makes no difference now—I will never see you again. It's all the same! Like an old blackthorn, they bloomed—oh, Lord, those scoundrels, those old scoundrels!"

"No," Haggart replied sternly.

"Then you are the devil, that's who you are. You are the devil," mutters the abbot, rising heavily from the ground. Haggart shows his teeth, enraged.

"Do you wish to sell your soul to the devil? Yes? Eh, abbot—don't you know yet that the devil always pays with spurious money? Let me have a torch, sailor!"

He seizes a torch and lifts it high over his head—he covers his terrible face with fire and smoke.

"Look, here I am! Do you see? Now ask me, if you dare!"

He flings the torch away. What does the abbot dream in this land full of monstrous dreams? Terrified, his heavy frame trembling, helplessly pushing the people aside with his hands, he retreats. He turns around. Now he sees the glitter of the metal, the dark and terrible faces; he hears the angry splashing of the waters—and he covers his head with his hands and walks off quickly. Then Khorre jumps up and strikes him with a knife in his back.

"Why have you done it?"—the abbot clutches the hand that struck him down.

"Just so—for nothing!"

The abbot falls to the ground and dies.

"Why have you done it?" cries Mariet.

"Why have you done it?" roars Haggart.

And a strange voice, coming from some unknown depths, answers with Khorre's lips:

"You commanded me to do it."

Haggart looks around and sees the stern, dark faces, the quivering glitter of the metal, the motionless body; he hears the mysterious, merry dashing of the waves. And he clasps his head in a fit of terror.

"Who commanded? It was the roaring of the sea. I did not want to kill him—no, no!"

Sombre voices answer:

"You commanded. We heard it. You commanded."

Haggart listens, his head thrown back. Suddenly he bursts into loud laughter:

"Oh, devils, devils! Do you think that I have two ears in order that you may lie in each one? Go down on your knees, rascal!"

He hurls Khorre to the ground.

"String him up with a rope! I would have crushed your venomous head myself—but let them do it. Oh, devils, devils! String him up with a rope."

Khorre whines harshly:

"Me, Captain! I was your nurse, Noni."

"Silence! Rascal!"

"I? Noni! Your nurse? You squealed like a little pig in the cook's room. Have you forgotten it, Noni?" mutters the sailor plaintively.

"Eh," shouts Haggart to the stern crowd. "Take him!"

Several men advance to him. Khorre rises.

"If you do it to me, to your own nurse—then you have recovered, Noni! Eh, obey the captain! Take me! I'll make you cry enough, Tommy! You are always the mischief-maker!"

Grim laughter. Several sailors surround Khorre as Haggart watches them sternly. A dissatisfied voice says:

"There is no place where to hang him here. There isn't a single tree around."

"Let us wait till we get aboard ship! Let him die honestly on the mast."

"I know of a tree around here, but I won't tell you," roars Khorre hoarsely. "Look for it yourself! Well, you have astonished me, Noni. How you shouted, 'String him up with a rope!' Exactly like your father—he almost hanged me, too. Good-bye, Noni, now I understand your actions. Eh, gin! and then—on the rope!"

Khorre goes off. No one dares approach Haggart; still enraged, he paces back and forth with long strides. He pauses, glances at the body and paces again. Then he calls:

"Flerio! Did you hear me give orders to kill this man?"

"No, Captain."

"You may go."

He paces back and forth again, and then calls:

"Flerio! Have you ever heard the sea lying?"

"No."

"If they can't find a tree, order them to choke him with their hands."

He paces back and forth again. Mariet is laughing quietly.

"Who is laughing?" asks Haggart in fury.

"I," answers Mariet. "I am thinking of how they are hanging him and I am laughing. O, Haggart, O, my noble Haggart! Your wrath is the wrath of God, do you know it? No. You are strange, you are dear, you are terrible, Haggart, but I am not afraid of you. Give me your hand, Haggart, press it firmly, firmly. Here is a powerful hand!"

"Flerio, my friend, did you hear what he said? He says the sea never lies."

"You are powerful and you are just—I was insane when I feared your power, Gart. May I shout to the sea: 'Haggart, the Just'?"

"That is not true. Be silent, Mariet, you are intoxicated with blood. I don't know what justice is."

"Who, then, knows it? You, you, Haggart! You are God's justice, Haggart. Is it true that he was your nurse? Oh, I know what it means to be a nurse; a nurse feeds you, teaches you to walk—you love a nurse as your mother. Isn't that true, Gart—you love a nurse as a mother? And yet—'string him up with a rope, Khorre'!"

She laughs quietly.

A loud, ringing laughter resounds from the side where Khorre was led away. Haggart stops, perplexed.

"What is it?"

"The devil is meeting his soul there," says Mariet.

"No. Let go of my hand! Eh, who's there?"

A crowd is coming. They are laughing and grinning, showing their teeth. But noticing the captain, they become serious. The people are repeating one and the same name:

"Khorre! Khorre! Khorre!"

And then Khorre himself appears, dishevelled, crushed, but happy—the rope has broken. Knitting his brow, Haggart is waiting in silence.

"The rope broke, Noni," mutters Khorre hoarsely, modestly, yet with dignity. "There are the ends! Eh, you there, keep quiet! There is nothing to laugh at—they started to hang me, and the rope broke, Noni."

Haggart looks at his old, drunken, frightened, and happy face, and he laughs like a madman. And the sailors respond with roaring laughter. The reflected lights are dancing more merrily upon the waves—as if they are also laughing with the people.

"Just look at him, Mariet, what a face he has," Haggart is almost choking with laughter. "Are you happy? Speak—are you happy? Look, Mariet, what a happy face he has! The rope broke—that's very strong—it is stronger even than what I said: 'String him up with a rope.' Who said it? Don't you know, Khorre? You are out of your wits, and you don't know anything—well, never mind, you needn't know. Eh, give him gin! I am glad, very glad that you are not altogether through with your gin. Drink, Khorre!"

Voices shout:

"Gin!"

"Eh, the boatswain wants a drink! Gin!"

Khorre drinks it with dignity, amid laughter and shouts of approval. Suddenly all the noise dies down and a sombre silence reigns—a woman's strange voice drowns the noise—so strange and unfamiliar, as if it were not Mariet's voice at all, but another voice speaking with her lips:

"Haggart! You have pardoned him, Haggart?"

Some of the people look at the body; those standing near it step aside. Haggart asks, surprised:

"Whose voice is that? Is that yours, Mariet? How strange! I did not recognise your voice."

"You have pardoned him, Haggart?"

"You have heard—the rope broke—"

"Tell me, did you pardon the murderer? I want to hear your voice, Haggart."

A threatening voice is heard from among the crowd:

"The rope broke. Who is talking there? The rope broke."

"Silence!" exclaims Haggart, but there is no longer the same commanding tone in his voice. "Take them all away! Boatswain! Whistle for everybody to go aboard. The time is up! Flerio! Get the boats ready."

"Yes, yes."

Khorre whistles. The sailors disperse unwillingly, and the same threatening voice sounds somewhere from the darkness:

"I thought at first it was the dead man who started to speak. But I would have answered him too: 'Lie there! The rope broke.'"

Another voice replies:

"Don't grumble. Khorre has stronger defenders than you are."

"What are you prating about, devils?" says Khorre. "Silence! Is that you, Tommy? I know you, you are always the mischief-maker—"

"Come on, Mariet!" says Haggart. "Give me little Noni, I want to carry him to the boat myself. Come on, Mariet."

"Where, Haggart?"

"Eh, Mariet! The dreams are ended. I don't like your voice, woman—when did you find time to change it? What a land of jugglers! I have never seen such a land before!"

"Eh, Haggart! The dreams are ended. I don't like your voice, either—little Haggart! But it may be that I am still sleeping—then wake me. Haggart, swear that it was you who said it: 'The rope broke.' Swear that my eyes have not grown blind and that they see Khorre alive. Swear that this is your hand, Haggart!"

Silence. The voice of the sea is growing louder—there is the splash and the call and the promise of a stern caress.

"I swear."

Silence. Khorre and Flerio come up to Haggart.

"All's ready, Captain," says Flerio.

"They are waiting, Noni. Go quicker! They want to feast to-night, Noni! But I must tell you, Noni, that they—"

HAGGART—Did you say something, Flerio? Yes, yes, everything is ready. I am coming. I think I am not quite through yet with land. This is such a remarkable land, Flerio; the dreams here drive their claws into a man like thorns, and they hold him. One has to tear his clothing, and perhaps his body as well. What did you say, Mariet?

MARIET—Don't you want to kiss little Noni? You shall never kiss him again.

"No, I don't want to."

Silence.

"You will go alone."

"Yes, I will go alone."

"Did you ever cry, Haggart?"

"No."

"Who is crying now? I hear some one crying bitterly."

"That is not true—it is the roaring of the sea."

"Oh, Haggart! Of what great sorrow does that voice speak?"

"Be silent, Mariet. It is the roaring of the sea."

Silence.

"Is everything ended now, Haggart?"

"Everything is ended, Mariet."

Mariet, imploring, says:

"Gart! Only one motion of the hand! Right here—against the heart—Gart!"

"No. Leave me alone."

"Only one motion of the hand! Here is your knife. Have pity on me, kill me with your hand. Only one motion of your hand, Gart!"

"Let go. Give me my knife."

"Gart, I bless you! One motion of your hand, Gart!"

Haggart tears himself away, pushing the woman aside:

"No! Don't you know that it is just as hard to make one motion of the hand as it is for the sun to come down from the sky? Good-bye, Mariet!"

"You are going away?"

"Yes, I am going away. I am going away, Mariet. That's how it sounds."

"I shall curse you, Haggart. Do you know! I shall curse you, Haggart. And little Noni will curse you, Haggart—Haggart!"

Haggart exclaims cheerfully and harshly:

"Eh, Khorre. You, Flerio, my old friend. Come here, give me your hand—Oh, what a powerful hand it is! Why do you pull me by the sleeve, Khorre? You have such a funny face. I can almost see how the rope snapped, and you came down like a sack. Flerio, old friend, I feel like saying something funny, but I have forgotten how to say it. How do they say it? Remind me, Flerio. What do you want, sailor?"

Khorre whispers to him hoarsely:

"Noni, be on your guard. The rope broke because they used a rotten rope intentionally. They are betraying you! Be on your guard, Noni. Strike them on the head, Noni."

Haggart bursts out laughing.

"Now you have said something funny. And I? Listen, Flerio, old friend. This woman who stands and looks—No, that will not be funny!"

He advances a step.

"Khorre, do you remember how well this man prayed? Why was he killed? He prayed so well. But there is one prayer he did not know—this one—'To you I bring my great eternal sorrow; I am going to you, Father Ocean!'"

And a distant voice, sad and grave, replies:

"Oh, Haggart, my dear Haggart."

But who knows—perhaps it was the roaring of the waves. Many sad and strange dreams come to man on earth.

"All aboard!" exclaims Haggart cheerily, and goes off without looking around. Below, a gay noise of voices and laughter resounds. The cobblestones are rattling under the firm footsteps—Haggart is going away.

"Haggart!"

He goes, without turning around.

"Haggart!"

He has gone away.

Loud shouting is heard—the sailors are greeting Haggart. They drink and go off into the darkness. On the shore, the torches which were cast aside are burning low, illumining the body, and a woman is rushing about. She runs swiftly from one spot to another, bending down over the steep rocks. Insane Dan comes crawling out.

"Is that you, Dan? Do you hear, they are singing, Dan? Haggart has gone away."

"I was waiting for them to go. Here is another one. I am gathering the pipes of my organ. Here is another one."

"Be accursed, Dan!"

"Oho? And you, too, Mariet, be accursed!"

Mariet clasps the child in her arms and lifts him high. Then she calls wildly:

"Haggart, turn around! Turn around, Haggart! Noni is calling you. He wants to curse you, Haggart. Turn around! Look, Noni, look—that is your father. Remember him, Noni. And when you grow up, go out on every sea and find him, Noni. And when you find him—hang your father high on a mast, my little one."

The thundering salute drowns her cry. Haggart has boarded his ship. The night grows darker and the dashing of the waves fainter—the ocean is moving away with the tide. The great desert of the sky is mute and the night grows darker and the dashing of the waves ever fainter.



JUDAS ISCARIOT AND OTHERS



CHAPTER I

Jesus Christ had often been warned that Judas Iscariot was a man of very evil repute, and that He ought to beware of him. Some of the disciples, who had been in Judaea, knew him well, while others had heard much about him from various sources, and there was none who had a good word for him. If good people in speaking of him blamed him, as covetous, cunning, and inclined to hypocrisy and lying, the bad, when asked concerning him, inveighed against him in the severest terms.

"He is always making mischief among us," they would say, and spit in contempt. "He always has some thought which he keeps to himself. He creeps into a house quietly, like a scorpion, but goes out again with an ostentatious noise. There are friends among thieves, and comrades among robbers, and even liars have wives, to whom they speak the truth; but Judas laughs at thieves and honest folk alike, although he is himself a clever thief. Moreover, he is in appearance the ugliest person in Judaea. No! he is no friend of ours, this foxy-haired Judas Iscariot," the bad would say, thereby surprising the good people, in whose opinion there was not much difference between him and all other vicious people in Judaea. They would recount further that he had long ago deserted his wife, who was living in poverty and misery, striving to eke out a living from the unfruitful patch of land which constituted his estate. He had wandered for many years aimlessly among the people, and had even gone from one sea to the other,—no mean distance,—and everywhere he lied and grimaced, and would make some discovery with his thievish eye, and then suddenly disappear, leaving behind him animosity and strife. Yes, he was as inquisitive, artful and hateful as a one-eyed demon. Children he had none, and this was an additional proof that Judas was a wicked man, that God would not have from him any posterity.

None of the disciples had noticed when it was that this ugly, foxy-haired Jew first appeared in the company of Christ: but he had for a long time haunted their path, joined in their conversations, performed little acts of service, bowing and smiling and currying favour. Sometimes they became quite used to him, so that he escaped their weary eyes; then again he would suddenly obtrude himself on eye and ear, irritating them as something abnormally ugly, treacherous and disgusting. They would drive him away with harsh words, and for a short time he would disappear, only to reappear suddenly, officious, flattering and crafty as a one-eyed demon.

There was no doubt in the minds of some of the disciples that under his desire to draw near to Jesus was hidden some secret intention—some malign and cunning scheme.

But Jesus did not listen to their advice; their prophetic voice did not reach His ears. In that spirit of serene contradiction, which ever irresistibly inclined Him to the reprobate and unlovable, He deliberately accepted Judas, and included him in the circle of the chosen. The disciples were disturbed and murmured under their breath, but He would sit still, with His face towards the setting sun, and listen abstractedly, perhaps to them, perhaps to something else. For ten days there had been no wind, and the transparent atmosphere, wary and sensitive, continued ever the same, motionless and unchanged. It seemed as though it preserved in its transparent depths every cry and song made during those days by men and beasts and birds—tears, laments and cheerful song, prayers and curses—and that on account of these crystallised sounds the air was so heavy, threatening, and saturated with invisible life. Once more the sun was sinking. It rolled heavily downwards in a flaming ball, setting the sky on fire. Everything upon the earth which was turned towards it: the swarthy face of Jesus, the walls of the houses, and the leaves of the trees—everything obediently reflected that distant, fearfully pensive light. Now the white walls were no longer white, and the white city upon the white hill was turned to red.

And lo! Judas arrived. He arrived bowing low, bending his back, cautiously and timidly protruding his ugly, bumpy head—just exactly as his acquaintances had described. He was spare and of good height, almost the same as that of Jesus, who stooped a little through the habit of thinking as He walked, and so appeared shorter than He was. Judas was to all appearances fairly strong and well knit, though for some reason or other he pretended to be weak and somewhat sickly. He had an uncertain voice. Sometimes it was strong and manly, then again shrill as that of an old woman scolding her husband, provokingly thin, and disagreeable to the ear, so that ofttimes one felt inclined to tear out his words from the ear, like rough, decaying splinters. His short red locks failed to hide the curious form of his skull. It looked as if it had been split at the nape of the neck by a double sword-cut, and then joined together again, so that it was apparently divided into four parts, and inspired distrust, nay, even alarm: for behind such a cranium there could be no quiet or concord, but there must ever be heard the noise of sanguinary and merciless strife. The face of Judas was similarly doubled. One side of it, with a black, sharply watchful eye, was vivid and mobile, readily gathering into innumerable tortuous wrinkles. On the other side were no wrinkles. It was deadly flat, smooth, and set, and though of the same size as the other, it seemed enormous on account of its wide-open blind eye. Covered with a whitish film, closing neither night nor day, this eye met light and darkness with the same indifference, but perhaps on account of the proximity of its lively and crafty companion it never got full credit for blindness.

When in a paroxysm of joy or excitement, Judas would close his sound eye and shake his head. The other eye would always shake in unison and gaze in silence. Even people quite devoid of penetration could clearly perceive, when looking at Judas, that such a man could bring no good....

And yet Jesus brought him near to Himself, and once even made him sit next to Him. John, the beloved disciple, fastidiously moved away, and all the others who loved their Teacher cast down their eyes in disapprobation. But Judas sat on, and turning his head from side to side, began in a somewhat thin voice to complain of ill-health, and said that his chest gave him pain in the night, and that when ascending a hill he got out of breath, and when he stood still on the edge of a precipice he would be seized with a dizziness, and could scarcely restrain a foolish desire to throw himself down. And many other impious things he invented, as though not understanding that sicknesses do not come to a man by chance, but as a consequence of conduct not corresponding with the laws of the Eternal. Thus Judas Iscariot kept on rubbing his chest with his broad palm, and even pretended to cough, midst a general silence and downcast eyes.

John, without looking at the Teacher, whispered to his friend Simon Peter—

"Aren't you tired of that lie? I can't stand it any longer. I am going away."

Peter glanced at Jesus, and meeting his eye, quickly arose.

"Wait a moment," said he to his friend.

Once more he looked at Jesus; sharply as a stone torn from a mountain, he moved towards Judas, and said to him in a loud voice, with expansive, serene courtesy—

"You will come with us, Judas."

He gave him a kindly slap on his bent back, and without looking at the Teacher, though he felt His eye upon him, resolutely added in his loud voice, which excluded all objection, just as water excludes air—

"It does not matter that you have such a nasty face. There fall into our nets even worse monstrosities, and they sometimes turn out very tasty food. It is not for us, our Lord's fishermen, to throw away a catch, merely because the fish have spines, or only one eye. I saw once at Tyre an octopus, which had been caught by the local fishermen, and I was so frightened that I wanted to run away. But they laughed at me. A fisherman from Tiberias gave me some of it to eat, and I asked for more, it was so tasty. You remember, Master, that I told you the story, and you laughed, too. And you, Judas, are like an octopus—but only on one side."

And he laughed loudly, content with his joke. When Peter spoke, his words resounded so forcibly, that it seemed as though he were driving them in with nails. When Peter moved, or did anything, he made a noise that could be heard afar, and which called forth a response from the deafest of things: the stone floor rumbled under his feet, the doors shook and rattled, and the very air was convulsed with fear, and roared. In the clefts of the mountains his voice awoke the inmost echo, and in the morning-time, when they were fishing on the lake, he would roll about on the sleepy, glittering water, and force the first shy sunbeams into smiles.

For this apparently he was loved: when on all other faces there still lay the shadow of night, his powerful head, and bare breast, and freely extended arms were already aglow with the light of dawn.

The words of Peter, evidently approved as they were by the Master, dispersed the oppressive atmosphere. But some of the disciples, who had been to the seaside and had seen an octopus, were disturbed by the monstrous image so lightly applied to the new disciple. They recalled the immense eyes, the dozens of greedy tentacles, the feigned repose—and how all at once: it embraced, clung, crushed and sucked, all without one wink of its monstrous eyes. What did it mean? But Jesus remained silent, He smiled with a frown of kindly raillery on Peter, who was still telling glowing tales about the octopus. Then one by one the disciples shame-facedly approached Judas, and began a friendly conversation, with him, but—beat a hasty and awkward retreat.

Only John, the son of Zebedee, maintained an obstinate silence; and Thomas had evidently not made up his mind to say anything, but was still weighing the matter. He kept his gaze attentively fixed on Christ and Judas as they sat together. And that strange proximity of divine beauty and monstrous ugliness, of a man with a benign look, and of an octopus with immense, motionless, dully greedy eyes, oppressed his mind like an insoluble enigma.

He tensely wrinkled his smooth, upright forehead, and screwed up his eyes, thinking that he would see better so, but only succeeded in imagining that Judas really had eight incessantly moving feet. But that was not true. Thomas understood that, and again gazed obstinately.

Judas gathered courage: he straightened out his arms, which had been bent at the elbows, relaxed the muscles which held his jaws in tension, and began cautiously to protrude his bumpy head into the light. It had been the whole time in view of all, but Judas imagined that it had been impenetrably hidden from sight by some invisible, but thick and cunning veil. But lo! now, as though creeping out from a ditch, he felt his strange skull, and then his eyes, in the light: he stopped and then deliberately exposed his whole face. Nothing happened; Peter had gone away somewhere or other. Jesus sat pensive, with His head leaning on His hand, and gently swayed His sunburnt foot. The disciples were conversing together, and only Thomas gazed at him attentively and seriously, like a conscientious tailor taking measurement. Judas smiled; Thomas did not reply to the smile; but evidently took it into account, as he did everything else, and continued to gaze. But something unpleasant alarmed the left side of Judas' countenance as he looked round. John, handsome, pure, without a single fleck upon his snow-white conscience, was looking at him out of a dark corner, with cold but beautiful eyes. And though he walked as others walk, yet Judas felt as if he were dragging himself along the ground like a whipped cur, as he went up to John and said: "Why are you silent, John? Your words are like golden apples in vessels of silver filigree; bestow one of them on Judas, who is so poor."

John looked steadfastly into his wide-open motionless eye, and said nothing. And he looked on, while Judas crept out, hesitated a moment, and then disappeared in the deep darkness of the open door.

Since the full moon was up, there were many people out walking. Jesus went out too, and from the low roof on which Judas had spread his couch he saw Him going out. In the light of the moon each white figure looked bright and deliberate in its movements; and seemed not so much to walk as to glide in front of its dark shadow. Then suddenly a man would be lost in something black, and his voice became audible. And when people reappeared in the moonlight, they seemed silent—like white walls, or black shadows—as everything did in the transparent mist of night. Almost every one was asleep when Judas heard the soft voice of Jesus returning. All in and around about the house was still. A cock crew; somewhere an ass, disturbed in his sleep, brayed aloud and insolently as in daytime, then reluctantly and gradually relapsed into silence. Judas did not sleep at all, but listened surreptitiously. The moon illumined one half of his face, and was reflected strangely in his enormous open eye, as on the frozen surface of a lake.

Suddenly he remembered something, and hastily coughed, rubbing his perfectly healthy chest with his hairy hand: maybe some one was not yet asleep, and was listening to what Judas was thinking!



CHAPTER II

They gradually became used to Judas, and ceased to notice his ugliness. Jesus entrusted the common purse to him, and with it there fell on him all household cares: he purchased the necessary food and clothing, distributed alms, and when they were on the road, it was his duty to choose the place where they were to stop, or to find a night's lodging.

All this he did very cleverly, so that in a short time he had earned the goodwill of some of the disciples, who had noticed his efforts. Judas was an habitual liar, but they became used to this, when they found that his lies were not followed by any evil conduct; nay, they added a special piquancy to his conversation and tales, and made life seem like a comic, and sometimes a tragic, tale.

According to his stories, he seemed to know every one, and each person that he knew had some time in his life been guilty of evil conduct, or even crime. Those, according to him, were called good, who knew how to conceal their thoughts and acts; but if one only embraced, flattered, and questioned such a man sufficiently, there would ooze out from him every untruth, nastiness, and lie, like matter from a pricked wound. He freely confessed that he sometimes lied himself; but affirmed with an oath that others were still greater liars, and that if any one in this world was ever deceived, it was Judas.

Indeed, according to his own account, he had been deceived, time upon time, in one way or another. Thus, a certain guardian of the treasures of a rich grandee once confessed to him, that he had for ten years been continually on the point of stealing the property committed to him, but that he was debarred by fear of the grandee, and of his own conscience. And Judas believed him—and he suddenly committed the theft, and deceived Judas. But even then Judas still trusted him—and then he suddenly restored the stolen treasure to the grandee, and again deceived Judas. Yes, everything deceived him, even animals. Whenever he pets a dog it bites his fingers; but when he beats it with a stick it licks his feet, and looks into his eyes like a daughter. He killed one such dog, and buried it deep, laying a great stone on the top of it—but who knows? Perhaps just because he killed it, it has come to life again, and instead of lying in the trench, is running about cheerfully with other dogs.

All laughed merrily at Judas' tale, and he smiled pleasantly himself, winking his one lively, mocking eye—and by that very smile confessed that he had lied somewhat; that he had not really killed the dog. But he meant to find it and kill it, because he did not wish to be deceived. And at these words of Judas they laughed all the more.

But sometimes in his tales he transgressed the bounds of probability, and ascribed to people such proclivities as even the beasts do not possess, accusing them of such crimes as are not, and never have been. And since he named in this connection the most honoured people, some were indignant at the calumny, while others jokingly asked:

"How about your own father and mother, Judas—were they not good people?"

Judas winked his eye, and smiled with a gesture of his hands. And the fixed, wide-open eye shook in unison with the shaking of his head, and looked out in silence.

"But who was my father? Perhaps it was the man who used to beat me with a rod, or may be—a devil, a goat or a cock.... How can Judas tell? How can Judas tell with whom his mother shared her couch. Judas had many fathers: to which of them do you refer?"

But at this they were all indignant, for they had a profound reverence for parents; and Matthew, who was very learned in the scriptures, said severely in the words of Solomon:

"'Whoso slandereth his father and his mother, his lamp shall be extinguished in deep darkness.'"

But John the son of Zebedee haughtily jerked out: "And what of us? What evil have you to say of us, Judas Iscariot?"

But he waved his hands in simulated terror, whined, and bowed like a beggar, who has in vain asked an alms of a passer-by: "Ah! they are tempting poor Judas! They are laughing at him, they wish to take in the poor, trusting Judas!" And while one side of his face was crinkled up in buffooning grimaces, the other side wagged sternly and severely, and the never-closing eye looked out in a broad stare.

More and louder than any laughed Simon Peter at the jokes of Judas Iscariot. But once it happened that he suddenly frowned, and became silent and sad, and hastily dragging Judas aside by the sleeve, he bent down, and asked in a hoarse whisper—

"But Jesus? What do you think of Jesus? Speak seriously, I entreat you."

Judas cast on him a malign glance.

"And what do you think?"

Peter whispered with awe and gladness—

"I think that He is the son of the living God."

"Then why do you ask? What can Judas tell you, whose father was a goat?"

"But do you love Him? You do not seem to love any one, Judas."

And with the same strange malignity, Iscariot blurted out abruptly and sharply: "I do."

Some two days after this conversation, Peter openly dubbed Judas "my friend the octopus"; but Judas awkwardly, and ever with the same malignity, endeavoured to creep away from him into some dark corner, and would sit there morosely glaring with his white, never-closing eye.

Thomas alone took him quite seriously. He understood nothing of jokes, hypocrisy or lies, nor of the play upon words and thoughts, but investigated everything positively to the very bottom. He would often interrupt Judas' stories about wicked people and their conduct with short practical remarks:

"You must prove that. Did you hear it yourself? Was there any one present besides yourself? What was his name?"

At this Judas would get angry, and shrilly cry out, that he had seen and heard everything himself; but the obstinate Thomas would go on cross-examining quietly and persistently, until Judas confessed that he had lied, or until he invented some new and more probable lie, which provided the others for some time with food for thought. But when Thomas discovered a discrepancy, he would immediately come and calmly expose the liar.

Usually Judas excited in him a strong curiosity, which brought about between them a sort of friendship, full of wrangling, jeering, and invective on the one side, and of quiet insistence on the other. Sometimes Judas felt an unbearable aversion to his strange friend, and, transfixing him with a sharp glance, would say irritably, and almost with entreaty—

"What more do you want? I have told you all."

"I want you to prove how it is possible that a he-goat should be your father," Thomas would reply with calm insistency, and wait for an answer.

It chanced once, that after such a question, Judas suddenly stopped speaking and gazed at him with surprise from head to foot. What he saw was a tall, upright figure, a grey face, honest eyes of transparent blue, two fat folds beginning at the nose and losing themselves in a stiff, evenly-trimmed beard. He said with conviction:

"What a stupid you are, Thomas! What do you dream about—a tree, a wall, or a donkey?"

Thomas was in some way strangely perturbed, and made no reply. But at night, when Judas was already closing his vivid, restless eye for sleep, he suddenly said aloud from where he lay—the two now slept together on the roof—

"You are wrong, Judas. I have very bad dreams. What think you? Are people responsible for their dreams?"

"Does, then, any one but the dreamer see a dream?" Judas replied.

Thomas sighed gently, and became thoughtful. But Judas smiled contemptuously, and firmly closed his roguish eye, and quickly gave himself up to his mutinous dreams, monstrous ravings, mad phantoms, which rent his bumpy skull to pieces.

When, during Jesus' travels about Judaea, the disciples approached a village, Iscariot would speak evil of the inhabitants and foretell misfortune. But almost always it happened that the people, of whom he had spoken evil, met Christ and His friends with gladness, and surrounded them with attentions and love, and became believers, and Judas' money-box became so full that it was difficult to carry. And when they laughed at his mistake, he would make a humble gesture with his hands, and say:

"Well, well! Judas thought that they were bad, and they turned out to be good. They quickly believed, and gave money. That only means that Judas has been deceived once more, the poor, confiding Judas Iscariot!"

But on one occasion, when they had already gone far from a village, which had welcomed them kindly, Thomas and Judas began a hot dispute, to settle which they turned back, and did not overtake Jesus and His disciples until the next day. Thomas wore a perturbed and sorrowful appearance, while Judas had such a proud look, that you would have thought that he expected them to offer him their congratulations and thanks upon the spot. Approaching the Master, Thomas declared with decision: "Judas was right, Lord. They were ill-disposed, stupid people. And the seeds of your words has fallen upon the rock." And he related what had happened in the village.

After Jesus and His disciples left it, an old woman had begun to cry out that her little white kid had been stolen, and she laid the theft at the door of the visitors who had just departed. At first the people had disputed with her, but when she obstinately insisted that there was no one else who could have done it except Jesus, many agreed with her, and even were about to start in pursuit. And although they soon found the kid straying in the underwood, they still decided that Jesus was a deceiver, and possibly a thief.

"So that's what they think of us, is it?" cried Peter, with a snort. "Lord, wilt Thou that I return to those fools, and—"

But Jesus, saying not a word, gazed severely at him, and Peter in silence retired behind the others. And no one ever referred to the incident again, as though it had never occurred, and as though Judas had been proved wrong. In vain did he show himself on all sides, endeavouring to give to his double, crafty, hooknosed face an expression of modesty. They would not look at him, and if by chance any one did glance at him, it was in a very unfriendly, not to say contemptuous, manner.

From that day on Jesus' treatment of him underwent a strange change. Formerly, for some reason or other, Judas never used to speak directly with Jesus, who never addressed Himself directly to him, but nevertheless would often glance at him with kindly eyes, smile at his rallies, and if He had not seen him for some time, would inquire: "Where is Judas?"

But now He looked at him as if He did not see him, although as before, and indeed more determinedly than formerly, He sought him out with His eyes every time that He began to speak to the disciples or to the people; but He was either sitting with His back to him, so that He was obliged, as it were, to cast His words over His head so as to reach Judas, or else He made as though He did not notice him at all. And whatever He said, though it was one thing one day, and then next day quite another, although it might be the very thing that Judas was thinking, it always seemed as though He were speaking against him. To all He was the tender, beautiful flower, the sweet-smelling rose of Lebanon, but for Judas He left only sharp thorns, as though Judas had neither heart, nor sight, nor smell, and did not understand, even better than any, the beauty of tender, immaculate petals.

"Thomas! Do you like the yellow rose of Lebanon, which has a swarthy countenance and eyes like the roe?" he inquired once of his friend, who replied indifferently—

"Rose? Yes, I like the smell. But I have never heard of a rose with a swarthy countenance and eyes like a roe!"

"What? Do you not know that the polydactylous cactus, which tore your new garment yesterday, has only one beautiful flower, and only one eye?"

But Thomas did not know this, although only yesterday a cactus had actually caught in his garment and torn it into wretched rags. But then Thomas never did know anything, though he asked questions about everything, and looked so straight with his bright, transparent eyes, through which, as through a pane of Phoenician glass, was visible a wall, with a dismal ass tied to it.

Some time later another occurrence took place, in which Judas again proved to be in the right.

At a certain village in Judaea, of which Judas had so bad an opinion, that he had advised them to avoid it, the people received Christ with hostility, and after His sermon and exposition of hypocrites they burst into fury, and threatened to stone Jesus and His disciples. Enemies He had many, and most likely they would have carried out their sinister intention, but for Judas Iscariot. Seized with a mad fear for Jesus, as though he already saw the drops of ruby blood upon His white garment, Judas threw himself in blind fury upon the crowd, scolding, screeching, beseeching, and lying, and thus gave time and opportunity to Jesus and His disciples to escape.

Amazingly active, as though running upon a dozen feet, laughable and terrible in his fury and entreaties, he threw himself madly in front of the crowd and charmed it with a certain strange power. He shouted that the Nazarene was not possessed of a devil, that He was simply an impostor, a thief who loved money as did all His disciples, and even Judas himself: and he rattled the money-box, grimaced, and beseeched, throwing himself on the ground. And by degrees the anger of the crowd changed into laughter and disgust, and they let fall the stones which they had picked up to throw at them.

"They are not fit to die by the hands of an honest person," said they, while others thoughtfully followed the rapidly disappearing Judas with their eyes.

Again Judas expected to receive congratulations, praise, and thanks, and made a show of his torn garments, and pretended that he had been beaten; but this time, too, he was greatly mistaken. The angry Jesus strode on in silence, and even Peter and John did not venture to approach Him: and all whose eyes fell on Judas in his torn garments, his face glowing with happiness, but still somewhat frightened, repelled him with curt, angry exclamations.

It was just as though he had not saved them all, just as though he had not saved their Teacher, whom they loved so dearly.

"Do you want to see some fools?" said he to Thomas, who was thoughtfully walking in the rear. "Look! There they go along the road in a crowd, like a flock of sheep, kicking up the dust. But you are wise, Thomas, you creep on behind, and I, the noble, magnificent Judas, creep on behind like a dirty slave, who has no place by the side of his masters."

"Why do you call yourself magnificent?" asked Thomas in surprise.

"Because I am so," Judas replied with conviction, and he went on talking, giving more details of how he had deceived the enemies of Jesus, and laughed at them and their stupid stones.

"But you told lies," said Thomas.

"Of course I did," quickly assented Iscariot. "I gave them what they asked for, and they gave me in return what I wanted. And what is a lie, my clever Thomas? Would not the death of Jesus be the greatest lie of all?"

"You did not act rightly. Now I believe that a devil is your father. It was he that taught you, Judas."

The face of Judas grew pale, and something suddenly came over Thomas, and as if it were a white cloud, passed over and concealed the road and Jesus. With a gentle movement Judas just as suddenly drew Thomas to himself, pressed him closely with a paralysing movement, and whispered in his ear—

"You mean, then, that a devil has instructed me, don't you, Thomas? Well, I saved Jesus. Therefore a devil loves Jesus and has need of Him, and of the truth. Is it not so, Thomas? But then my father was not a devil, but a he-goat. Can a he-goat want Jesus? Eh? And don't you want Him yourselves, and the truth also?"

Angry and slightly frightened, Thomas freed himself with difficulty from the clinging embrace of Judas, and began to stride forward quickly. But he soon slackened his pace as he endeavoured to understand what had taken place.

But Judas crept on gently behind, and gradually came to a standstill. And lo! in the distance the pedestrians became blended into a parti-coloured mass, so that it was impossible any longer to distinguish which among those little figures was Jesus. And lo! the little Thomas, too, changed into a grey spot, and suddenly—all disappeared round a turn in the road.

Looking round, Judas went down from the road and with immense leaps descended into the depths of a rocky ravine. His clothes blew out with the speed and abruptness of his course, and his hands were extended upwards as though he would fly. Lo! now he crept along an abrupt declivity, and suddenly rolled down in a grey ball, rubbing off his skin against the stones; then he jumped up and angrily threatened the mountain with his fist—

"You too, damn you!"

Suddenly he changed his quick movements into a comfortable, concentrated dawdling, chose a place by a big stone, and sat down without hurry. He turned himself, as if seeking a comfortable position, laid his hands side by side on the grey stone, and heavily sank his head upon them. And so for an hour or two he sat on, as motionless and grey as the grey stone itself, so still that he deceived even the birds. The walls of the ravine rose before him, and behind, and on every side, cutting a sharp line all round on the blue sky; while everywhere immense grey stones obtruded from the ground, as though there had been at some time or other, a shower here, and as though its heavy drops had become petrified in endless split, upturned skull, and every stone in it was like a petrified thought; and there were many of them, and they all kept thinking heavily, boundlessly, stubbornly.

A scorpion, deceived by his quietness, hobbled past, on its tottering legs, close to Judas. He threw a glance at it, and, without lifting his head from the stone, again let both his eyes rest fixedly on something—both motionless, both veiled in a strange whitish turbidness, both as though blind and yet terribly alert. And lo! from out of the ground, the stones, and the clefts, the quiet darkness of night began to rise, enveloped the motionless Judas, and crept swiftly up towards the pallid light of the sky. Night was coming on with its thoughts and dreams.

That night Judas did not return to the halting-place. And the disciples, forgetting their thoughts, busied themselves with preparations for their meal, and grumbled at his negligence.



CHAPTER III

Once, about mid-day, Jesus and His disciples were walking along a stony and hilly road devoid of shade, and, since they had been more than five hours afoot, Jesus began to complain of weariness. The disciples stopped, and Peter and his friend John spread their cloaks and those of the other disciples, on the ground, and fastened them above between two high rocks, and so made a sort of tent for Jesus. He lay down in the tent, resting from the heat of the sun, while they amused Him with pleasant conversation and jokes. But seeing that even talking fatigued Him, and being themselves but little affected by weariness and the heat, they went some distance off and occupied themselves in various ways. One sought edible roots among the stones on the slope of the mountain, and when he had found them brought them to Jesus; another, climbing up higher and higher, searched musingly for the limits of the blue distance, and failing, climbed up higher on to new, sharp-pointed rocks. John found a beautiful little blue lizard among the stones, and smiling brought it quickly with tender hands to Jesus. The lizard looked with its protuberant, mysterious eyes into His, and then crawled quickly with its cold body over His warm hand, and soon swiftly disappeared with tender, quivering tail.

But Peter and Philip, not caring about such amusements, occupied themselves in tearing up great stones from the mountain, and hurling them down below, as a test of their strength. The others, attracted by their loud laughter, by degrees gathered round them, and joined in their sport. Exerting their strength, they would tear up from the ground an ancient rock all overgrown, and lifting it high with both hands, hurl it down the slope. Heavily it would strike with a dull thud, and hesitate for a moment; then resolutely it would make a first leap, and each time it touched the ground, gathering from it speed and strength, it would become light, furious, all-subversive. Now it no longer leapt, but flew with grinning teeth, and the whistling wind let its dull round mass pass by. Lo! it is on the edge—with a last, floating motion the stone would sweep high, and then quietly, with ponderous deliberation, fly downwards in a curve to the invisible bottom of the precipice.

"Now then, another!" cried Peter. His white teeth shone between his black beard and moustache, his mighty chest and arms were bare, and the sullen, ancient rocks, dully wondering at the strength which lifted them, obediently, one after another, precipitated themselves into the abyss. Even the frail John threw some moderate-sized stones, and Jesus smiled quietly as He looked at their sport.

"But what are you doing, Judas? Why do you not take part in the game? It seems amusing enough?" asked Thomas, when he found his strange friend motionless behind a great grey stone.

"I have a pain in my chest. Moreover, they have not invited me."

"What need of invitation! At all events, I invite you; come! Look what stones Peter throws!"

Judas somehow or other happened to glance sideward at him, and Thomas became, for the first time, indistinctly aware that he had two faces. But before he could thoroughly grasp the fact, Judas said in his ordinary tone, at once fawning and mocking—

"There is surely none stronger than Peter? When he shouts, all the asses in Jerusalem think that their Messiah has arrived, and lift up their voices too. You have heard them before now, have you not, Thomas?"

Smiling politely; and modestly wrapping his garment round his chest, which was overgrown with red curly hairs, Judas stepped into the circle of players.

And since they were all in high good humour, they met him with mirth and loud jokes, and even John condescended to vouchsafe a smile, when Judas, pretending to groan with the exertion, laid hold of an immense stone. But lo! he lifted it with ease, and threw it, and his blind, wide-open eye gave a jerk, and then fixed itself immovably on Peter; while the other eye, cunning and merry, was overflowing with quiet laughter.

"No! you throw again!" said Peter in an offended tone.

And lo! one after the other they kept lifting and throwing gigantic stones, while the disciples looked on in amazement. Peter threw a great stone, and then Judas a still bigger one. Peter, frowning and concentrated, angrily wielded a fragment of rock, and struggling as he lifted it, hurled it down; then Judas, without ceasing to smile, searched for a still larger fragment, and digging his long fingers into it, grasped it, and swinging himself together with it, and paling, sent it into the gulf. When he had thrown his stone, Peter would recoil and so watch its fall; but Judas always bent himself forward, stretched out his long vibrant arms, as though he were going to fly after the stone. Eventually both of them, first Peter, then Judas, seized hold of an old grey stone, but neither one nor the other could move it. All red with his exertion, Peter resolutely approached Jesus, and said aloud—

"Lord! I do not wish to be beaten by Judas. Help me to throw this stone."

Jesus made answer in a low voice, and Peter, shrugging his broad shoulders in dissatisfaction, but not daring to make any rejoinder, came back with the words—

"He says: 'But who will help Iscariot?'"

Then glancing at Judas, who, panting with clenched teeth, was still embracing the stubborn stone, he laughed cheerfully—

"Look what an invalid he is! See what our poor sick Judas is doing!"

And even Judas laughed at being so unexpectedly exposed in his deception, and all the others laughed too, and even Thomas allowed his pointed, grey, overhanging moustache to relax into a smile.

And so in friendly chat and laughter, they all set out again on the way, and Peter, quite reconciled to his victor, kept from time to time digging him in the ribs, and loudly guffawed—

"There's an invalid for you!"

All of them praised Judas, and acknowledged him victor, and all chatted with him in a friendly manner; but Jesus once again had no word of praise for Judas. He walked silently in front, nibbling the grasses, which He plucked. And gradually, one by one, the disciples craved laughing, and went over to Jesus. So that in a short time it came about, that they were all walking ahead in a compact body, while Judas—the victor, the strong man—crept on behind, choking with dust.

And lo! they stood still, and Jesus laid His hand on Peter's shoulder, while with His other He pointed into the distance, where Jerusalem had just become visible in the smoke. And the broad, strong back of Peter gently accepted that slight sunburnt hand.

For the night they stayed in Bethany, at the house of Lazarus. And when all were gathered together for conversation, Judas thought that they would now recall his victory over Peter, and sat down nearer. But the disciples were silent and unusually pensive. Images of the road they had traversed, of the sun, the rocks and the grass, of Christ lying down under the shelter, quietly floated through their heads, breathing a soft pensiveness, begetting confused but sweet reveries of an eternal movement under the sun. The wearied body reposed sweetly, and thought was merged in something mystically great and beautiful—and no one recalled Judas!

Judas went out, and then returned. Jesus was discoursing, and His disciples were listening to Him in silence.

Mary sat at His feet, motionless as a statue, and gazed into His face with upturned eyes. John had come quite close, and endeavoured to sit so that his hand touched the garment of the Master, but without disturbing Him. He touched Him and was still. Peter breathed loud and deeply, repeating under his breath the words of Jesus.

Iscariot had stopped short on the threshold, and contemptuously letting his gaze pass by the company, he concentrated all its fire on Jesus. And the more he looked the more everything around Him seemed to fade, and to become clothed with darkness and silence, while Jesus alone shone forth with uplifted hand. And then, lo! He was, as it were, raised up into the air, and melted away, as though He consisted of mist floating over a lake, and penetrated by the light of the setting moon, and His soft speech began to sound tenderly, somewhere far, far away. And gazing at the wavering phantom, and drinking in the tender melody of the distant dream-like words, Judas gathered his whole soul into his iron fingers, and in its vast darkness silently began building up some colossal scheme. Slowly, in the profound darkness, he kept lifting up masses, like mountains, and quite easily heaping them one on another: and again he would lift up and again heap them up; and something grew in the darkness, spread noiselessly and burst its bounds. His head felt like a dome, in the impenetrable darkness of which the colossal thing continued to grow, and some one, working on in silence, kept lifting up masses like mountains, and piling them one on another and again lifting up, and so on and on... whilst somewhere in the distance the phantom-like words tenderly sounded.

Thus he stood blocking the doorway, huge and black, while Jesus went on talking, and the strong, intermittent breathing of Peter repeated His words aloud. But on a sudden Jesus broke off an unfinished sentence, and Peter, as though waking from sleep, cried out exultingly—

"Lord! to Thee are known the words of eternal life!"

But Jesus held His peace, and kept gazing fixedly in one direction. And when they followed His gaze they perceived in the doorway the petrified Judas with gaping mouth and fixed eyes. And, not understanding what was the matter, they laughed. But Matthew, who was learned in the Scriptures, touched Judas on the shoulder, and said in the words of Solomon—

"'He that looketh kindly shall be forgiven; but he that is met within the gates will impede others.'"

Judas was silent for a while, and then fretfully and everything about him, his eyes, hands and feet, seemed to start in different directions, as those of an animal which suddenly perceives the eye of man upon him. Jesus went straight to Judas, as though words trembled on His lips, but passed by him through the open, and now unoccupied, door.

In the middle of the night the restless Thomas came to Judas' bed, and sitting down on his heels, asked—

"Are you weeping, Judas?"

"No! Go away, Thomas."

"Why do you groan, and grind your teeth? Are you ill?"

Judas was silent for a while, and then fretfully there fell from his lips distressful words, fraught with grief and anger—

"Why does not He love me? Why does He love the others? Am I not handsomer, better and stronger than they? Did not I save His life while they ran away like cowardly dogs?"

"My poor friend, you are not quite right. You are not good-looking at all, and your tongue is as disagreeable as your face. You lie and slander continually; how then can you expect Jesus to love you?"

But Judas, stirring heavily in the darkness, continued as though he heard him not—

"Why is He not on the side of Judas, instead of on the side of those who do not love Him? John brought Him a lizard; I would bring him a poisonous snake. Peter threw stones; I would overthrow a mountain for His sake. But what is a poisonous snake? One has but to draw its fangs, and it will coil round one's neck like a necklace. What is a mountain, which it is possible to dig down with the hands, and to trample with the feet? I would give to Him Judas, the bold, magnificent Judas. But now He will perish, and together with him will perish Judas."

"You are speaking strangely, Judas!"

"A withered fig-tree, which must needs be cut down with the axe, such am I: He said it of me. Why then does He not do it? He dare not, Thomas! I know him. He fears Judas. He hides from the bold, strong, magnificent Judas. He loves fools, traitors, liars. You are a liar, Thomas; have you never been told so before?"

Thomas was much surprised, and wished to object, but he thought that Judas was simply railing, and so only shook his head in the darkness. And Judas lamented still more grievously, and groaned and ground his teeth, and his whole huge body could be heard heaving under the coverlet.

"What is the matter with Judas? Who has applied fire to his body? He will give his son to the dogs. He will give his daughter to be betrayed by robbers, his bride to harlotry. And yet has not Judas a tender heart? Go away, Thomas; go away, stupid! Leave the strong, bold, magnificent Judas alone!"



CHAPTER IV

Judas had concealed some denarii, and the deception was discovered, thanks to Thomas, who had seen by chance how much money had been given to them. It was only too probable that this was not the first time that Judas had committed a theft, and they all were enraged. The angry Peter seized Judas by his collar and almost dragged him to Jesus, and the terrified Judas paled but did not resist.

"Master, see! Here he is, the trickster! Here's the thief. You trusted him, and he steals our money. Thief! Scoundrel! If Thou wilt permit, I'll—"

But Jesus held His peace. And attentively regarding him, Peter suddenly turned red, and loosed the hand which held the collar, while Judas shyly rearranged his garment, casting a sidelong glance on Peter, and assuming the downcast look of a repentant criminal.

"So that's how it's to be," angrily said Peter, as he went out, loudly slamming the door. They were all dissatisfied, and declared that on no account would they consort with Judas any longer; but John, after some consideration, passed through the door, behind which might be heard the quiet, almost caressing, voice of Jesus. And when in the course of time he returned, he was pale, and his downcast eyes were red as though with recent tears.

"The Master says that Judas may take as much money as he pleases." Peter laughed angrily. John gave him a quick reproachful glance, and suddenly flushing, and mingling tears with anger, and delight with tears, loudly exclaimed:

"And no one must reckon how much money Judas receives. He is our brother, and all the money is as much his as ours: if he wants much let him take much, without telling any one, or taking counsel with any. Judas is our brother, and you have grievously insulted him—so says the Master. Shame on you, brother!"

In the doorway stood Judas, pale and with a distorted smile on his face. With a light movement John went up to him and kissed him three times. After him, glancing round at one another, James, Philip and the others came up shamefacedly; and after each kiss Judas wiped his mouth, but gave a loud smack as though the sound afforded him pleasure. Peter came up last.

"We were all stupid, all blind, Judas. He alone sees, He alone is wise. May I kiss you?"

"Why not? Kiss away!" said Judas as in consent.

Peter kissed him vigorously, and said aloud in his ear—

"But I almost choked you. The others kissed you in the usual way, but I kissed you on the throat. Did it hurt you?"

"A little."

"I will go and tell Him all. I was angry even with Him," said Peter sadly, trying noiselessly to open the door.

"And what are you going to do, Thomas?" asked John severely. He it was who looked after the conduct and the conversation of the disciples.

"I don't know yet. I must consider."

And Thomas thought long, almost the whole day. The disciples had dispersed to their occupations, and somewhere on the other side of the wall, Peter was shouting joyfully—but Thomas was still considering. He would have come to a decision more quickly had not Judas hindered him somewhat by continually following him about with a mocking glance, and now and again asking him in a serious tone—

"Well, Thomas, and how does the matter progress?"

Then Judas brought his money-box, and shaking the money and pretending not to look at Thomas, began to count it—

"Twenty-one, two, three.... Look, Thomas, a bad coin again. Oh! what rascals people are; they even give bad money as offerings. Twenty-four... and then they will say again that Judas has stolen it... twenty-five, twenty-six...."

Thomas approached him resolutely... for it was already towards evening, and said—

"He is right, Judas. Let me kiss you."

"Will you? Twenty-nine, thirty. It's no good. I shall steal again. Thirty-one...."

"But how can you steal, when it is neither yours nor another's? You will simply take as much as you want, brother."

"It has taken you a long time to repeat His words! Don't you value time, you clever Thomas?"

"You seem to be laughing at me, brother."

"And consider, are you doing well, my virtuous Thomas, in repeating His words? He said something of His own, but you do not. He really kissed me—you only defiled my mouth. I can still feel your moist lips upon mine. It was so disgusting, my good Thomas. Thirty-eight, thirty-nine, forty. Forty denarii. Thomas, won't you check the sum?"

"Certainly He is our Master. Why then should we not repeat the words of our Master?"

"Is Judas' collar torn away? Is there now nothing to seize him by? The Master will go out of the house, and Judas will unexpectedly steal three more denarii. Won't you seize him by the collar?"

"We know now, Judas. We understand."

"Have not all pupils a bad memory? Have not all masters been deceived by their pupils? But the master has only to lift the rod, and the pupils cry out, 'We know, Master!' But the master goes to bed, and the pupils say: 'Did the Master teach us this?' And so, in this case, this morning you called me a thief, this evening you call me brother. What will you call me to-morrow?"

Judas laughed, and lifting up the heavy rattling money-box with ease, went on:

"When a strong wind blows it raises the dust, and foolish people look at the dust and say: 'Look at the wind!' But it is only dust, my good Thomas, ass's dung trodden underfoot. The dust meets a wall and lies down gently at its foot, but the wind flies farther and farther, my good Thomas."

Judas obligingly pointed over the wall in illustration of his meaning, and laughed again.

"I am glad that you are merry," said Thomas, "but it is a great pity that there is so much malice in your merriment."

"Why should not a man be cheerful, who has been kissed so much, and who is so useful? If I had not stolen the three denarii would John have known the meaning of delight? Is it not pleasant to be a hook, on which John may hang his damp virtue out to dry, and Thomas his moth-eaten mind?"

"I think that I had better be going."

"But I am only joking, my good Thomas. I merely wanted to know whether you really wished to kiss the old obnoxious Judas—the thief who stole the three denarii and gave them to a harlot."

"To a harlot!" exclaimed Thomas in surprise. "And did you tell the Master of it?"

"Again you doubt, Thomas. Yes, to a harlot. But if you only knew, Thomas, what an unfortunate woman she was. For two days she had had nothing to eat."

"Are you sure of that?" said Thomas in confusion.

"Yes! Of course I am. I myself spent two days with her, and saw that she ate and drank nothing except red wine. She tottered from exhaustion, and I was always falling down with her."

Thereupon Thomas got up quickly, and, when he had gone a few steps away, he flung out at Judas:

"You seem to be possessed of Satan, Judas."

And as he went away, he heard in the approaching twilight how dolefully the heavy money-box rattled in Judas' hands. And Judas seemed to laugh.

But the very next day Thomas was obliged to acknowledge that he had misjudged Judas, so simple, so gentle, and at the same time so serious was Iscariot. He neither grimaced nor made ill-natured jokes; he was neither obsequious nor scurrilous, but quietly and unobtrusively went about his work of catering. He was as active as formerly, as though he did not have two feet like other people, but a whole dozen of them, and ran noiselessly without that squeaking, sobbing, and laughter of a hyena, with which he formerly accompanied his actions. And when Jesus began to speak, he would seat himself quickly in a corner, fold his hands and feet, and look so kindly with his great eyes, that many observed it. He ceased speaking evil of people, but rather remained silent, so that even the severe Matthew deemed it possible to praise him, saying in the words of Solomon:

"'He that is devoid of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace.'"

And he lifted up his hand, hinting thereby at Judas' former evil-speaking. In a short time all remarked this change in him, and rejoiced at it: only Jesus looked on him still with the same detached look, although he gave no direct indication of His dislike. And even John, for whom Judas now showed a profound reverence, as the beloved disciple of Jesus, and as his own champion in the matter of the three denarii, began to treat him somewhat more kindly, and even sometimes entered into conversation with him.

"What do you think, Judas," said he one day in a condescending manner, "which of us, Peter or I, will be nearest to Christ in His heavenly kingdom?"

Judas meditated, and then answered—

"I suppose that you will."

"But Peter thinks that he will," laughed John.

"No! Peter would scatter all the angels with his shout; you have heard him shout. Of course, he will quarrel with you, and will endeavour to occupy the first place, as he insists that he, too, loves Jesus. But he is already advanced in years, and you are young; he is heavy on his feet, while you run swiftly; you will enter there first with Christ? Will you not?"

"Yes, I will not leave Jesus," John agreed.

On the same day Simon Peter referred the very same question to Judas. But fearing that his loud voice would be heard by the others, he led Judas out to the farthest corner behind the house.

"Well then, what is your opinion about it?" he asked anxiously. "You are wise; even the Master praises you for your intellect. And you will speak the truth."

"You, of course," answered Iscariot without hesitation. And Peter exclaimed with indignation, "I told him so!"

"But, of course, he will try even there to oust you from the first place."

"Certainly!"

"But what can he do, when you already occupy the place? Won't you be the first to go there with Jesus? You will not leave Him alone? Has He not named you the ROCK?"

Peter put his hand on Judas' shoulder, and said with warmth: "I tell you, Judas, you are the cleverest of us all. But why are you so sarcastic and malignant? The Master does not like it. Otherwise you might become the beloved disciple, equally with John. But to you neither," and Peter lifted his hand threateningly, "will I yield my place next to Jesus, neither on earth, nor there! Do you hear?"

Thus Judas endeavoured to make himself agreeable to all, but, at the same time, he cherished hidden thoughts in his mind. And while he remained ever the same modest, restrained and unobtrusive person, he knew how to make some especially pleasing remark to each. Thus to Thomas he said:

"The fool believeth every word: but the prudent taketh heed to his paths."

While to Matthew, who suffered somewhat from excess in eating and drinking, and was ashamed of his weakness, he quoted the words of Solomon, the sage whom Matthew held in high estimation:

"'The righteous eateth to the satisfying of his soul: but the belly of the wicked shall want.'"

But his pleasant speeches were rare, which gave them the greater value. For the most part he was silent, listening attentively to what was said, and always meditating.

When reflecting, Judas had an unpleasant look, ridiculous and at the same time awe-inspiring. As long as his quick, crafty eye was in motion, he seemed simple and good-natured enough, but directly both eyes became fixed in an immovable stare, and the skin on his protruding forehead gathered into strange ridges and creases, a distressing surmise would force itself on one, that under that skull some very peculiar thoughts were working. So thoroughly apart, peculiar, and voiceless were the thoughts which enveloped Iscariot in the deep silence of secrecy, when he was in one of his reveries, that one would have preferred that he should begin to speak, to move, nay, even, to tell lies. For a lie, spoken by a human tongue, had been truth and light compared with that hopelessly deep and unresponsive silence.

"In the dumps again, Judas?" Peter would cry with his clear voice and bright smile, suddenly breaking in upon the sombre silence of Judas' thoughts, and banishing them to some dark corner. "What are you thinking about?"

"Of many things," Iscariot would reply with a quiet smile. And perceiving, apparently, what a bad impression his silence made upon the others, he began more frequently to shun the society of the disciples, and spent much time in solitary walks, or would betake himself to the flat roof and there sit still. And more than once he startled Thomas, who has unexpectedly stumbled in the darkness against a grey heap, out of which the hands and feet of Judas suddenly started, and his jeering voice was heard.

But one day, in a specially brusque and strange manner, Judas recalled his former character. This happened on the occasion of the quarrel for the first place in the kingdom of heaven. Peter and John were disputing together, hotly contending each for his own place nearest to Jesus. They reckoned up their services, they measured the degrees of their love for Jesus, they became heated and noisy, and even reviled one another without restraint. Peter roared, all red with anger. John was quiet and pale, with trembling hands and biting speech. Their quarrel had already passed the bounds of decency, and the Master had begun to frown, when Peter looked up by chance on Judas, and laughed self-complacently: John, too, looked at Judas, and also smiled. Each of them recalled what the cunning Judas had said to him. And foretasting the joy of approaching triumph, they, with silent consent, invited Judas to decide the matter.

Peter called out, "Come now, Judas the wise, tell us who will be first, nearest to Jesus, he or I?"

But Judas remained silent, breathing heavily, his eyes eagerly questioning the quiet, deep eyes of Jesus.

"Yes," John condescendingly repeated, "tell us who will be first, nearest to Jesus."

Without taking his eyes off Christ, Judas slowly rose, and answered quietly and gravely:

"I."

Jesus let His gaze fall slowly. And quietly striking himself on the breast with a bony finger, Iscariot repeated solemnly and sternly: "I, I shall be nearest to Jesus!" And he went out. Struck by his insolent freak, the disciples remained silent; but Peter suddenly recalling something, whispered to Thomas in an unexpectedly gentle voice:

"So that is what he is always thinking about! See?"



CHAPTER V

Just at this time Judas Iscariot took the first definite step towards the Betrayal. He visited the chief priest Annas secretly. He was very roughly received, but that did not disturb him in the least, and he demanded a long private interview. When he found himself alone with the dry, harsh old man, who looked at him with contempt from beneath his heavy overhanging eyelids, he stated that he was an honourable man who had become one of the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth with the sole purpose of exposing the impostor, and handing Him over to the arm of the law.

"But who is this Nazarene?" asked Annas contemptuously, making as though he heard the name of Jesus for the first time.

Judas on his part pretended to believe in the extraordinary ignorance of the chief priest, and spoke in detail of the preaching of Jesus, of His miracles, of His hatred for the Pharisees and the Temple, of His perpetual infringement of the Law, and eventually of His wish to wrest the power out of the hands of the priesthood, and to set up His own personal kingdom. And so cleverly did he mingle truth with lies, that Annas looked at him more attentively, and lazily remarked: "There are plenty of impostors and madmen in Judah."

"No! He is a dangerous person," Judas hotly contradicted. "He breaks the law. And it were better that one man should perish, rather than the whole people."

Annas, with an approving nod, said—

"But He, apparently, has many disciples."

"Yes, many."

"And they, it seems probable, have a great love for Him?"

"Yes, they say that they love Him, love Him much, more than themselves."

"But if we try to take Him, will they not defend Him? Will they not raise a tumult?"

Judas laughed long and maliciously. "What, they? Those cowardly dogs, who run if a man but stoop down to pick up a stone. They indeed!"

"Are they really so bad?" asked Annas coldly.

"But surely it is not the bad who flee from the good; is it not rather the good who flee from the bad? Ha! ha! They are good, and therefore they flee. They are good, and therefore they hide themselves. They are good, and therefore they will appear only in time to bury Jesus. They will lay Him in the tomb themselves; you have only to execute Him."

"But surely they love Him? You yourself said so."

"People always love their teacher, but better dead than alive. While a teacher's alive he may ask them questions which they will find difficult to answer. But, when a teacher dies, they become teachers themselves, and then others fare badly in turn. Ha! ha!"

Annas looked piercingly at the Traitor, and his lips puckered—which indicated that he was smiling.

"You have been insulted by them. I can see that."

"Can one hide anything from the perspicacity of the astute Annas? You have pierced to the very heart of Judas. Yes, they insulted poor Judas. They said he had stolen from them three denarii—as though Judas were not the most honest man in Israel!"

They talked for some time longer about Jesus, and His disciples, and of His pernicious influence on the people of Israel, but on this occasion the crafty, cautious Annas gave no decisive answer. He had long had his eyes on Jesus, and in secret conclave with his own relatives and friends, with the authorities, and the Sadducees, had decided the fate of the Prophet of Galilee. But he did not trust Judas, who he had heard was a bad, untruthful man, and he had no confidence in his flippant faith in the cowardice of the disciples, and of the people. Annas believed in his own power, but he feared bloodshed, feared a serious riot, such as the insubordinate, irascible people of Jerusalem lent itself to so easily; he feared, in fact, the violent intervention of the Roman authorities. Fanned by opposition, fertilised by the red blood of the people, which vivifies everything on which it falls, the heresy would grow stronger, and stifle in its folds Annas, the government, and all his friends. So, when Iscariot knocked at his door a second time Annas was perturbed in spirit and would not admit him. But yet a third and a fourth time Iscariot came to him, persistent as the wind, which beats day and night against the closed door and blows in through its crevices.

"I see that the most astute Annas is afraid of something," said Judas when at last he obtained admission to the high priest.

"I am strong enough not to fear anything," Annas answered haughtily. And Iscariot stretched forth his hands and bowed abjectly.

"What do you want?"

"I wish to betray the Nazarene to you."

"We do not want Him."

Judas bowed and waited, humbly fixing his gaze on the high priest.

"Go away."

"But I am bound to return. Am I not, revered Annas?"

"You will not be admitted. Go away!"

But yet again and again Judas called on the aged Annas, and at last was admitted.

Dry and malicious, worried with thought, and silent, he gazed on the Traitor, and, as it were, counted the hairs on his knotted head. Judas also said nothing, and seemed in his turn to be counting the somewhat sparse grey hairs in the beard of the high priest.

"What? you here again?" the irritated Annas haughtily jerked out, as though spitting upon his head.

"I wish to betray the Nazarene to you."

Both held their peace, and continued to gaze attentively at each other. Iscariot's look was calm; but a quiet malice, dry and cold, began slightly to prick Annas, like the early morning rime of winter.

"How much do you want for your Jesus?"

"How much will you give?"

Annas, with evident enjoyment, insultingly replied: "You are nothing but a band of scoundrels. Thirty pieces—that's what we will give."

And he quietly rejoiced to see how Judas began to squirm and run about—agile and swift as though he had a whole dozen feet, not two.

"Thirty pieces of silver for Jesus!" he cried in a voice of wild madness, most pleasing to Annas. "For Jesus of Nazareth! You wish to buy Jesus for thirty pieces of silver? And you think that Jesus can be betrayed to you for thirty pieces of silver?" Judas turned quickly to the wall, and laughed in its smooth, white fence, lifting up his long hands. "Do you hear? Thirty pieces of silver! For Jesus!"

With the same quiet pleasure, Annas remarked indifferently:

"If you will not deal, go away. We shall find some one whose work is cheaper."

And like old-clothes men who throw useless rags from hand to hand in the dirty market-place, and shout, and swear and abuse each other, so they embarked on a rabid and fiery bargaining. Intoxicated with a strange rapture, running and turning about, and shouting, Judas ticked off on his fingers the merits of Him whom he was selling.

"And the fact that He is kind and heals the sick, is that worth nothing at all in your opinion? Ah, yes! Tell me, like an honest man!"

"If you—" began Annas, who was turning red, as he tried to get in a word, his cold malice quickly warming up under the burning words of Judas, who, however, interrupted him shamelessly:

"That He is young and handsome—like the Narcissus of Sharon, and the Lily of the Valley? What? Is that worth nothing? Perhaps you will say that He is old and useless, and that Judas is trying to dispose of an old bird? Eh?"

"If you—" Annas tried to exclaim; but Judas' stormy speech bore away his senile croak, like down upon the wind.

"Thirty pieces of silver! That will hardly work out to one obolus for each drop of blood! Half an obolus will not go to a tear! A quarter to a groan. And cries, and convulsions! And for the ceasing of His heartbeats? And the closing of His eyes? Is all this to be thrown in gratis?" sobbed Iscariot, advancing toward the high priest and enveloping him with an insane movement of his hands and fingers, and with intervolved words.

"Includes everything," said Annas in a choking voice.

"And how much will you make out of it yourself? Eh? You wish to rob Judas, to snatch the bit of bread from his children. No, I can't do it. I will go on to the market-place, and shout out: 'Annas has robbed poor Judas. Help!'"

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