THE CITY OF DELIGHT
A Love Drama of the Siege and Fall of Jerusalem
Author of The Yoke and Saul of Tarsus
With Illustrations by F.X. Leyendecker
Indianapolis The Bobbs-Merrill Company Publishers 1908 March
To My Elder Brother Otto Miller
I A Prince's Bride 1
II On the Road to Jerusalem 31
III The Shepherd of Pella 56
IV The Travelers 85
V By the Wayside 108
VI Dawn in the Hills 124
VII Imperial Caesar 148
VIII Greek and Jew 169
IX The Young Titus 189
X The Story of a Divine Tragedy 212
XI The House of Offense 233
XII The Prince Returns 253
XIII A New Pretender 274
XIV The Pride of Amaryllis 284
XV The Image of Jealousy 300
XVI The Spread Net 322
XVII The Tangled Web 337
XVIII In the Sunless Crypt 358
XIX The False Prophet 374
XX As the Foam upon Water 390
XXI The Faithful Servant 408
XXII Vanished Hopes 417
XXIII The Fulfilment 427
XXIV The Road to Pella 441
THE CITY OF DELIGHT
A PRINCE'S BRIDE
The chief merchant of Ascalon stood in the guest-chamber of his house.
Although it was a late winter day the old man was clad in the free white garments of a midsummer afternoon, for to the sorrow of Philistia the cold season of the year sixty-nine had been warm, wet and miasmic. An old woman entering presently glanced at the closed windows of the apartment when she noted the flushed face of the merchant but she made no movement to have them opened. More than the warmth of the day was engaging the attention of the grave old man, and the woman, by dress and manner of equal rank with him, stood aside until he could give her a moment.
His porter bowed at his side.
"The servants of Philip of Tyre are without," he said. "Shall they enter?"
"They have come for the furnishings," Costobarus answered. "Take thou all the household but Momus and Hiram, and dismantle the rooms for them. Begin in the library; then the sleeping-rooms; this chamber next; the kitchen last of all. Send Hiram to the stables to except three good camels from the herd for our use. Let Momus look to the baggage. Where is Keturah?"
A woman servant hastening after a line of men bearing a great divan, picking up the draperies and pillows that had dropped, stopped and salaamed to her master.
"Is our apparel ready?" he asked.
"Prepared, master," was the response.
"Then send hither—" But at that moment a man-servant dressed in the garb of a physician hastened into the chamber. Without awaiting the notice of his master he hurried up and whispered in his ear. Costobarus' face grew instantly grave.
"How near?" he asked anxiously.
"In the next house—but a moment since. The household hath fled," was the low answer.
"Haste, haste!" Costobarus cried to the rush of servants about him. "Lose no time. We must be gone from this place before mid-afternoon. Laodice! Where is Laodice?" he inquired.
Then his wife who had stood aside spoke.
"She is not yet prepared," she explained unreadily. "She needs a frieze cloak—"
Costobarus broke in by beckoning his wife to one side, where the servants could not hear him say compassionately,
"Let there be no delay for small things, Hannah. Let us haste, for Laodice is going on the Lord's business."
"A matter of a day only," Hannah urged. "A delay that is further necessary, for Aquila's horse is lame."
The old man shook his head and looked away to see a man-servant stagger out under a load of splendid carpets. The old woman came close.
"The wayside is ambushed and the wilderness is patrolled with danger, Costobarus," she said. "Of a certainty you will not take Laodice out into a country perilous for caravans and armies!"
"These very perils are the signs of the call of the hour," he maintained. "She dare not fail to respond. The Deliverer cometh; every prophecy is fulfilled. Rather rejoice that you have prepared your daughter for this great use. Be glad that you have borne her."
But in Hannah's face wavered signs of another interpretation of these things. She broke in on him without the patience to wait until he had completed his sentence.
"Are they prophecies of hope which are fulfilled, or the words of the prophet of despair?" she insisted. "What saith Daniel of this hour? Did he not name it the abomination of desolation? Said he not that the city and the sanctuary should be destroyed, that there should be a flood and that unto the end of the war desolations shall be determined? Desolations, Costobarus! And Laodice is but a child and delicately reared!"
"All these things may come to pass and not a hair of the heads of the chosen people be harmed," he assured her.
"But Laodice is too young to have part in the conflict of nations, the business of Heaven and earth and the end of all things!"
A courier strode into the hall and approached Costobarus, saw that he was engaged in conversation and stopped. The merchant noted him and withdrew to read the message which the man carried.
"A letter from Philadelphus," he said over his shoulder, as he moved away from Hannah. "He hath landed in Caesarea with his cousin Julian of Ephesus. He will proceed at once to Jerusalem. We have no time to lose. Ah, Momus?"
He spoke to a servant who had limped into the hall and stood waiting for his notice. He was the ruin of a man, physically powerful but as a tree wrecked by storm and grown strong again in spite of its mutilation. Pestilence in years long past had attacked him and had left him dumb, distorted of feature, wry-necked and stiffened in the right leg and arm. His left arm, forced to double duty, had become tremendously muscular, his left hand unusually dexterous. Much of his facial distortion was the result of his efforts to convey his ideas by expression and by his attempts to overcome the interference of his wry neck with the sweep of his vision.
"Whom have we in our party, Momus?" Costobarus asked. As the man made rapid, uncouth signs, the master interpreted.
"Keturah, Hiram and Aquila—and thou and I, Momus. Three camels, one of which is the beast of burden. Good! Aquila will ride a horse; ha! a horse in a party of camels—well, perhaps—if he were bought in Ascalon. How? What? St—t! The physician told me even now. Let none of the household know it—above all things not thy mistress!" The last sentence was delivered in a whisper in response to certain uneasy gestures the mute had made. The man bowed and withdrew.
A second servitor now approached with papers which the merchant inspected and signed hastily with ink and stylus which the clerk bore. When this last item was disposed of, Hannah was again at her husband's side.
"Costobarus," she whispered, "it is known that the East Gate of the Temple, which twenty Levites can close only with effort, opened of itself in the sixth hour of the night!"
"A sign that God reentereth His house," the merchant explained.
"A sign, O my husband, that the security of the Holy House is dissolved of its own accord for the advantage of its enemies!"
Costobarus observed two huge Ethiopians who appeared bewildered at the threshold of the unfamiliar interior, looking for the master of the house to tell them what to do. The merchant motioned toward a tall ebony case that stood against one of the walls and showed them that they were to carry it out. Hannah continued:
"And thou hast not forgotten that night when the priests at the Pentecost, entering the inner court, were thrown down by the trembling of the Temple and that a vast multitude, which they could not see, cried: 'Let us go hence!' And that dreadful sunset which we watched and which all Israel saw when armies were seen fighting in the skies and cities with toppling towers and rocking walls fell into red clouds and vanished!"
"What of thyself, Hannah?" he broke in. "Art thou ready to depart for Tyre? Philip will leave to-morrow. Do not delay him. Go and prepare."
But the woman rushed on to indiscretion, in her desperate intent to stop the journey to Jerusalem at any cost.
"But there are those of good repute here in Ascalon, sober men and excellent women, who say that our hope for the Branch of David is too late—that Israel is come to judgment, this hour—for He is come and gone and we received Him not!"
Costobarus turned upon her sharply.
"What is this?" he demanded.
"O my husband," she insisted hopefully, "it measures up with prophecy! And they who speak thus confidently say that He prophesied the end of the Holy City, and that this is not the Advent, but doom!"
"It is the Nazarene apostasy," he exclaimed in alarm, "alive though the power of Rome and the diligence of the Sanhedrim have striven to destroy it these forty years! Now the poison hath entered mine own house!"
A servant bowed within earshot. Costobarus turned to him hastily.
"Philip of Tyre," the attendant announced.
"Let him enter," Costobarus said. "Go, Hannah; make Laodice ready—preparations are almost complete; be not her obstacle."
"But—but," she insisted with whitening lips, "I have not said that I believe all this. I only urge that, in view of this time of war, of contending prophecies and of all known peril, that we should keep her, who is our one ewe lamb, our tender flower, our Rose of Sharon, yet within shelter until the signs are manifest and the purpose of the Lord God is made clear."
He turned to her slowly. There was pain on his face, suffering that she knew her words had evoked and, more than that, a yearning to relent. She was ashamed and not hopeful, but her mother-love was stronger than her wifely pity.
"Must I command you, Hannah?" he asked.
Her figure, drawn up with the intensity of her wishfulness, relaxed. Her head drooped and slowly she turned away. Costobarus looked after her and struggled with rising emotion. But the curtain dropped behind her and left him alone.
A moment later the curtains over the arch parted and a middle-aged Jew, richly habited, stood there. He raised his hand for the blessing of the threshold, then embraced Costobarus with more warmth than ceremony.
"What is this I hear?" he demanded with affectionate concern. "Thou leavest Ascalon for the peril of Jerusalem?"
"Can Jerusalem be more perilous than Ascalon this hour?" Costobarus asked.
"Yes, by our fathers!" Philip declared. "Nothing can be so bad as the condition of the Holy City. But what has happened? Three days ago thou wast as securely settled here as a barnacle on a shore-rock! To-day thou sendest me word: 'Lo! the time long expected hath come; I go hence to Jerusalem.' What is it, my brother?"
"Sit and listen."
Philip looked about him. The divan was there, stripped of its covering of fine rugs, but the room otherwise was without furniture. Prepared for surprise, the Tyrian let no sign of his curiosity escape him, and, sitting, leaned on his knees and waited.
"Philadelphus Maccabaeus hath sent to me, bidding me send Laodice to him—in Jerusalem," Costobarus said in a low voice.
Philip's eyes widened with sudden comprehension.
"He hath returned!" he exclaimed in a whisper.
For a time there was silence between the two old men, while they gazed at each other. Then Philip's manner became intensely confident.
"I see!" he exclaimed again, in the same whisper. "The throne is empty! He means to possess it, now that Agrippa hath abandoned it!"
Costobarus pressed his lips together and bowed his head emphatically. Again there was silence.
"Think of it!" Philip exclaimed presently.
"I have done nothing else since his messenger arrived at daybreak. Little, little, did I think when I married Laodice to him, fourteen years ago, that the lad of ten and the little child of four might one day be king and queen over Judea!"
Philip shook his head slowly and his gaze settled to the pavement. Presently he drew in a long breath.
"He is twenty-four," he began thoughtfully. "He has all the learning of the pagans, both of letters and of war; he—Ah! But is he capable?"
"He is the great-grandson of Judas Maccabaeus! That is enough! I have not seen him since the day he wedded Laodice and left her to go to Ephesus, but no man can change the blood of his fathers in him. And Philip—he shall have no excuse to fail. He shall be moneyed; he shall be moneyed!"
Costobarus leaned toward his friend and with a sweep of his hand indicated the stripped room. It was a noble chamber. The stamp of the elegant simplicity of Cyrus, the Persian, was upon it. The ancient blue and white mosaics that had been laid by the Parsee builder and the fretwork and twisted pillars were there, but the silky carpets, the censers and the chairs of fine woods were gone. Costobarus looked steadily at the perplexed countenance of Philip.
"Seest thou how much I believe in this youth?" he asked.
A shade of uneasiness crossed Philip's forehead.
"Thou art no longer young, Costobarus," he said, "and disappointments go hard with us, at our age—especially, especially."
"I shall not be disappointed," Costobarus declared.
The friendly Jew looked doubtful.
"The nation is in a sad state," he observed. "We have cause. The procurators have been of a nature with their patrons, the emperors. It is enough but to say that! But Vespasian Caesar is another kind of man. He is tractable. Young Titus, who will succeed him, is well-named the Darling of Mankind. We could get much redress from these if we would be content with redress. But no! We must revert to the days of Saul!"
"Yes; but they declare they will have no king but God; no commander but the Messiah to come; no order but primitive impulse! But the Maccabee will change all that! It is but the far swing of the first revolt. Jerusalem is ready for reason at this hour, it is said."
"Yes," Philip assented with a little more spirit. "It hath reached us, who have dealings with the East, that there is a better feeling in the city. Such slaughter has been done there among the Sadducees, such hordes of rebels from outlying subjugated towns have poured their license and violence in upon the safe City of Delight, that the citizens of Jerusalem actually look forward to the coming of Titus as a deliverance from the afflictions which their own people have visited upon them."
"The hour for the Maccabee, indeed," Costobarus ruminated.
"And the hour for Him whom we all expect," Philip added in a low tone. Costobarus bowed his head. Presently he drew a scroll from the folds of his ample robe.
"Hear what Philadelphus writes me:
Caesarea, II Kal. Jul. XX.
To Costobarus, greetings and these by messenger;
I learn on arriving in this city that Judea is in truth no man's country. Wherefore it can be mine by cession or conquest. It is mine, however, by right. I shall possess it.
I go hence to Jerusalem.
Fail not to send my wife thither and her dowry. Aquila, my emissary, will safely conduct her. Trust him.
Proceed with despatch and husband the dowry of your daughter, since it is to be the corner-stone of a new Israel.
Peace to you and yours. To my wife my affection and my loyalty.
Nota Bene. Julian of Ephesus accompanies me. He is my cousin. He will in all probability meet your daughter at the Gate.
Slowly the old man rolled the writing.
"He wastes no words," Philip mused. "He writes as a siege-engine talks—without quarter."
"So I am giving him two hundred talents," he said deliberately.
"Two hundred talents!" Philip echoed.
"And I summoned thee, Philip, to say that in addition to my house and its goods, thou canst have my shipping, my trade, my caravans, which thou hast coveted so long at a price—at that price. I shall give Laodice two hundred talents."
"Two hundred talents!" Philip echoed again, somewhat taken aback.
Costobarus went to a cabinet on the wall and drew forth a shittim-wood case which he unlocked. Therefrom he took a small casket and opened it. He then held it so that the sun, falling into it, set fire to a bed of loose gems mingled without care for kind or value—a heap of glowing color emitting sparks.
"Here are one hundred of the talents," Costobarus said.
A flash of understanding lighted Philip's face not unmingled with the satisfaction of a shrewd Jew who has pleased himself at business. One hundred talents, then, for the best establishment in five cities, in all the Philistine country. But why? Costobarus supplied the answer at that instant.
"I would depart with my daughter by mid-afternoon," he said.
"I doubt the counting houses; if I had known sooner—" Philip began.
"Aquila arrived only this morning. I sent a messenger to you at once."
"We waste time in talk. I shall inform thee by messenger presently. God speed thee! My blessings on thy son-in-law and on thy daughter!"
Costobarus rose and took his friend's hand.
"Thou shalt have the portion of the wise-hearted man in this kingdom. And this yet further, my friend. If perchance the uncertainties of travel in this distressed land should prove disastrous and I should not return, I shall leave a widow here—"
"And in that instance, be at peace. I am thy brother."
Costobarus pressed Philip's hand.
"Farewell," he said; and Philip embraced him and went forth.
Costobarus turned to one of his closed windows and thrust it open, for the influence of the spring sun had made itself felt in the past important hour for Costobarus.
Noon stood beautiful and golden over the city. The sky was clean-washed and blue, and the surface of the Mediterranean, glimpsed over white house-tops that dropped away toward the sea-front, was a wandering sheet of flashing silver. Here and there were the ruins of the last year's warfare, but over the fallen walls of gray earth the charity of running vines and the new growth of the spring spread a beauty, both tender and compassionate.
In such open spaces inner gardens were exposed and almond trees tossed their crowns of white bloom over pleached arbors of old grape-vines. Here the Mediterranean birds sang with poignant sweetness while the new-budded limbs of the oleanders tilted suddenly under their weight as they circled from covert to covert.
But the energy of the young spring was alive only in the birds and the blossoming orchards. Wherever the solid houses fronted in unbroken rows the passages between, there were no open windows, no carpets swung from latticed balconies; no buyers moved up the roofed-over Street of Bazaars. Not in all the range of the old man's vision was to be seen a living human being. For the chief city of the Philistine country Ascalon was nerveless and still. At times immense and ponderous creaking sounded in the distance, as if a great rusted crane swung in the wind. Again there were distant, voluminous flutterings, as if neglected and loosened sails flapped. Idle roaming donkeys brayed and a dog shut up and forgotten in a compound barked incessantly. Presently there came faint, far-off, failing cries that faded into silence. The Jew's brow contracted but he did not move.
From his position, he could see the port to the east packed with lifeless vessels. The stretches of stone wharf and the mole were vacant and littered with rubbish. The yard-arms of abandoned freighters were peculiarly beaded with tiny black shapes that moved from time to time. Far out at sea, so far that a blue mist embraced its base and set its sails mysteriously afloat in air, a great galley, with all canvas crowded on, sped like a frightened bird past the port that had once been its haven.
A strange compelling odor stole up from the city. Costobarus glanced down into his garden below him. It was a terraced court, with vine-covered earthen retaining walls supporting each successive tier and terminating against a domed gate flanked on either side by a tall conical cypress.
He noted, on the flagging of the walk leading by flights of steps down to the gate, a heap of garments with broad brown and yellow stripes. Wondering at the untidiness of his gardener in leaving his tunic here while he worked, Costobarus looked away toward the large stones that lay here and there in gutters and on grass-plots, remnants of the work of the Roman catapults the previous summer. In the walls of houses were unrepaired breaches, where the wounds of the missiles showed. On a slight eminence overlooking the city from the west center-poles of native cedar which had supported Roman tents were still standing. But no garrison was there now, though the signs of the savage Roman obsession still lay on the remnants of the prostrate western wall. So as Costobarus' gaze wandered he did not see far above that heap of striped garments in his garden walk, fixed like an enchanted thing, moveless, dead-calm, a great desert vulture poised in air. Presently another and yet another materialized out of the blue, growing larger as they fell down to the level of their fellow. Slowly the three swooped down over the heap on the garden walk. The tiny black shapes that beaded the yard-arms in port spread great wings and soared solemnly into Ascalon. The three vultures dropped noiselessly on the pavement.
Cries began suddenly somewhere nearer and instantly the tremendous booming of a great oriental gong from the heathen quarters swept heavy floods of sound over the outcry and drowned it. The vultures flew up hastily and Costobarus saw them for the first time. A chill rushed over him; revulsion of feeling showed vividly on his face. He shut the window.
Noon was high over Ascalon and Pestilence was Caesar within its walls.
It was the penalty of warfare, the long black shadow that the passage of a great army casts upon a battling nation. Physicians could not give it a name. It seized upon healthy victims, rent them, blasted them and cast them dead and distorted in their tracks, before help could reach them. It passed like fire on a high wind through whole countries and left behind it silence and feeding vultures.
As Costobarus turned from his window to pace up and down his chamber, Hannah's argument came back to him with new energy. He felt with a kind of panic that his confident answer to her might have been wrong. When a girl appeared in the archway, he moved impulsively toward her, as if to retract the command that would send her out into this land that the Lord had spoken against, but the strength and repose in her face communicated itself to him.
Above all other suggestions in her presence was that overpowering richness of oriental beauty which no other kind in the world may surpass in its appeal to the loves of men. Enough of the Roman stock in her line had given structural firmness and stature to a type which at her age would have developed weight and duskiness, but she was taller and more slender than the women of her race, and supple and alive and splendid. About her hips was knotted a silken scarf of red and white and green with long undulant fringes that added to the lithe grace in her movements. Under it was a glistening garment of silver tissue that reached to the small ankles laced about by the ribbons of white sandals. For sleeves there were netted fringes through which the fine luster of her arms was visible. About her wrists, her throat and in her hair, heavy and shining black, were golden coins that marked her steps with stealthy tinkling.
Costobarus, in spite of the shock of doubt and fear in his brain, looked at her as if with the happy eyes of the astonished Maccabee. In those full tender lips, in the slope of those black, silken brows, in the sparkling behind the dusky slumbrous eyes, there was all the fire and generosity and limitless charm that should make her lover's world a place of delight and perfume and music.
"How is it with you, Laodice?" he asked, faltering a little.
"I am prepared, my father," she answered.
"I commend your despatch. I would be gone within an hour."
She bowed and Costobarus regarded her with growing wistfulness. At this last moment his love was to become his obstacle, his fear for his child his one cowardice.
"Dost thou remember him?" he asked without preliminary.
Laodice answered as if the thought were first in her mind.
"Not at all; and yet, if I could remember him, I may not discover in the man of four-and-twenty anything of the lad of ten."
"He may not have changed. There are such natures, and, as I recall him, his may well be one of these. His disposition from childhood to boyhood did not change. When I knew him in Jerusalem, he was worthy the notice of a man. The manner he had there he bore with him to this, a smaller city, and hence to Ephesus, a city of another kind. It was good to see him examine the world, reject this and that and look upon his choice proudly. He made the schools observe him, consider him. He did not enter them for alteration, nor was he shut up in a shell of self-satisfaction. He entered them as a citizen of the world and as an examiner of all philosophy. Yet the world taught him nothing. It gave him merely the open school where regulation and atmosphere helped him to teach himself. O wife of a child, thou shalt not be ashamed of thy husband, man-grown!"
"How is he favored?" she asked with the first maiden hesitation showing in the question.
"He was slender and dark and promised to be tall. He was quick in movement, quick in temper, resourceful, aye, even shifty, I should say; stubborn, cold in heart, hard to please."
"Fit attributes for a king," she said, half to herself, "yet he will be no soft husband."
Costobarus looked away from her and was silent for a time.
"Daughter," he said finally, "thou hast learned indeed that thine is to be no luxurious life. In thy restrained heart there are no dreams. Let not thy youth, when thou seest him, put obstacle in the way of thy duty. Whether thou lovest him or lovest him not, he is thy husband, thy fellow in a great labor for God and for Israel. Remember the times and the portents and shut thine ears against selfish desire. Thou seest Judea. That which the Lord hath uttered against it through the prophets has come to pass. Abandon thy hopes in all save the Son of God; forget thyself; prepare to give all and expect nothing but the coming of the King! For verily thou lookest over the edge of the world past the very end of time!"
The solemn announcement of the Advent by this white-bearded prophet should have discovered in her a very human and terrified girl. But it was no new tidings to her. Since her earliest recollection she had heard it, expected it, contemplated it, till the magnitude and terror of it had been lost in its familiarity. She clasped her hands and dropped her eyes and her lips moved in a silent prayer.
Costobarus remained for a space sunk in glorified meditation. But presently he raised himself, with signs of his recent feeling showing on his face.
"Send hither thy mother; bid Aquila and our servants stand here before me a little later."
She bowed and withdrew. As she passed out a servant stepped aside to give her room and at a sign from his master approached.
"A messenger from Philip of Tyre," he said.
A moment later an old courier carrying a sheepskin wallet came into the chamber. He salaamed and produced a tablet which he handed to Costobarus.
Herewith, O my brother, I send thee one hundred talents. May it prove part of the corner-stone of a new Israel. Peace to thee and thine!
PHILIP OF TYRE.
Costobarus looked up at the old courier.
"Take my blessings to thy master. May he come to a high seat in that new Israel which he hath helped to build! Farewell."
The courier withdrew. When his footsteps died away the old merchant reached under the divan and drew forth the shittim-wood box. Producing a key he unlocked and opened it. From his bosom he drew forth the letter from Philadelphus and laid it within.
"Let her take it with her," he said, speaking aloud. "Here," lifting a cylinder of old silver exquisitely chased, "are her marriage papers; this," lifting delicately embroidered squares of linen, "her marriage tokens, and here, her dowry."
He opened the inner box and laid the sheepskin wallet in upon the gems. He closed the lid, and, locking the case, lifted it and set it beside him on the divan.
When he looked up, he saw a man standing within a few paces of him and perfunctorily gazing at anything but the display of Laodice's fortune.
He was lean, muscular, somewhat younger than forty but already gray at the temples, of nervous temperament, direct of gaze and of attractive presence. He wore a tunic of gray wool bordered with red, and a gray mantle hung negligently from his shoulders. Limbs and arms were bare and his head-covering of red wool hung from his arm.
Costobarus, a little discomfited that he had been surprised with Laodice's dowry exposed, spoke briskly.
"Well, Aquila? Prepared?"
"Everything is in order. I am ready to proceed at once."
"How many in your party?"
"Have you ever been to Jerusalem?"
"How, then," Costobarus asked, with a keen look, "came Philadelphus to appoint you to conduct Laodice to the city?"
"His retinue is small; he could not come himself, and he chose me as safer than the other member of his party," was the direct reply.
Costobarus studied this reply before he questioned his son-in-law's courier further.
"Jerusalem, they say, is in disorder. How will you get my daughter to shelter when you have reached the city?"
"Philadelphus hath instructed me that there will be a Greek at the Sun Gate daily, awaiting us. He will wear a purple turban embroidered with a golden star. He will conduct us to the house of Amaryllis the Seleucid, who is pledged to the Maccabee's cause. Philadelphus will be in her house."
"Why hers?" Costobarus persisted.
"Because it is the only secure house in Jerusalem. She stands in the good graces of John of Gischala and she is safe."
"There is too much detail; too many people to depend upon and therefore too many who may fail you. Aquila!"
"I am going to Jerusalem with you."
He turned without waiting to see the effect of this speech upon the Maccabee's courier and clapped his hands for an attendant. To the servitor who responded he said:
"Send hither our party. It is time. Bring me my cloak."
He looked then suddenly at Aquila. The Roman's face had cleared of its astonishment and discomfiture.
"Well enough," the courier said bluntly and closed his lips. The servitor reappeared with his master's cloak and kerchief. After him came Keturah, the handmaiden, and Hiram, a camel-driver, prepared for a journey. The mute Momus presently appeared. Costobarus got into his cloak without help, made inquiry for this detail and that of his business and of his journey, gave instruction to his attendants, and then asked for Laodice.
There was a moment of silence more distressed than embarrassed. Momus dropped his eyes; Keturah looked at her master with moving lips and sudden flushing of color, as if she were on the point of tears. Aquila stared absently out of the arch beyond.
Costobarus glanced from one to the other of his company and then went toward the corridor to call his daughter. As he lifted the curtain, he started and stopped.
The lifted curtain had revealed Laodice. At her feet Hannah knelt, as if she had flung herself in her daughter's path, her arms clasping the young figure close to her and an agony of appeal stamped on her upraised face. The last of the rich color had died out of the girl's face and with pitiful eyes and quivering lips she was stroking the desperate hands that meant to keep her for ever.
Except for the sudden sobbing of the woman servant, tense and anguished silence prevailed. The old merchant was confronted with a perplexity that found him without fortitude to solve. He felt his strength slip from him. He, too, covered his face with his hands.
At the opposite arch another house servant appeared, lifted a distorted, blackening face and, doubling like a wounded snake, fell upon the floor.
A moment of stupefied silence in which Hannah, with her mother instincts never so acutely alive, turned her strained vision upon the writhing figure. Then shrieks broke from the lips of the serving-woman; the hall filled with panic. Hannah leaped to her feet and thrust Laodice toward her father.
"Away!" she cried. "The pestilence! The pestilence is upon us!"
ON THE ROAD TO JERUSALEM
News of the appearance of the plague in the house of Costobarus traveled fast after the death of the gardener, who had fallen in the open and in sight of the watchful inhabitants of Ascalon. So by the time the house servants of the merchant were made aware of their peril by the death of one of their own number, Philip of Tyre with the courage of affection and loyalty stood on the threshold of the guest-chamber informed of the situation and prepared to help. Hannah, supported by the Tyrian's assurance of her rescue and protection, succeeded in urging Costobarus and Laodice not to delay for her to the peril of the thrice precious daughter.
So with his house yet ringing with the first convulsion of terror Costobarus ordered his party with all haste to the camels.
Keturah, Laodice's handmaiden, had fainted with terror and was carried parcel-wise over the great arm of Momus, the mute, out into the street and deposited summarily on the floor of Laodice's bamboo howdah. The camel-driver, Hiram, seemed only a little less stupefied than she. The mute, with a face as determined and threatening as an uplifted gad, drove him from the shelter of a dark corner out to his place on the neck of his master's camel. Aquila, the emissary, showed the immemorial composure in the face of disaster that was the badge of the Roman in the days of the degenerate Caesars, and, mounting his horse when the rest of the party were in their places, headed the procession toward the northeast.
From an upper window behind a lattice, Hannah cried her farewells and fluttered her scarf. She was smiling the drawn, white smile of a mother who is forcing herself to be cheerful in the face of danger, for the peace of those she loves. Laodice understood the tender deception and when a sharp turn of the street cut off the sight of the plumy trees of the garden, she covered her face and wept inconsolably.
On either side of the passage there came muffled sounds from houses; out of open alleys leading into interior courts stole the fetor of death that even the spice of burning unguents could not smother. The whole air shuddered with the drumming of heathen physicians in the pagan quarters, through which the silence of long stretches of ominously quiet houses shouted its meaning. At times frantic barefoot flights could be glimpsed as households deserted stricken houses, but whatever outcry arose came from bedsides. Ascalon fled as a frightened animal flees, silently and under cover.
They rode now through a shrieking wind, burdened with sallow smoke and dreadful odors. Denser and denser the cloud grew till the streets ahead were hidden in yellow vapor and near-by houses loomed with dim outlines as if far off, and even the sounds of death and disaster became choked in the immense prevalence of smell. Blinded, with scarf and kerchief wrapped over mouth and nostril, the fleeing party swept down upon the very heart of that stifling mystery. Through it presently, as the houses thinned out, they saw cores of great heat surmounted by black-tipped flames that crackled savagely. Momus, now in the lead, turned sharply to his right and the next instant had the wind behind him. Almost involuntarily each member of the party looked back. Outside the breach of the broken wall, standing clear to view with the wind from the hills sweeping townward from them, were diabolical figures, naked and black, feeding immense pyres with hideous fuel.
Past this grisly line, a camel with a single rider swept in from seaward. The traveler lifted an arm and signaled to the party. Aquila seemed not to see this hail, and rode on; but Costobarus, after the traveler motioned to them once more, spoke:
"Does not this person make signs to us, Aquila?"
The pagan looked back.
"Why should he?" he asked.
"He can tell us," the master observed and spoke to Momus and Hiram, who drew up their camels. The traveler raced alongside.
It was a woman, veiled and wrapped with all the jealous care of the East against the curious eyes of strangers. Aquila took in her featureless presence with a single irritated look and apparently lost interest.
"Greeting, lady," Costobarus said.
"Peace, sir, and greeting," she replied respectfully. Her tones were marked with the deference of the serving-class and Costobarus gave her permission to speak.
"Art thou a Jew and master of this train?" she asked.
"I was journeying to Jerusalem with a caravan of which my master was owner, but the Romans came upon us and took every one prisoner, except myself. I escaped, but I am without protection and without friends. In Jerusalem, I have relatives who will care for me, yet I fear to make the journey alone. I pray thee, with the generosity of a Jew and the authority of a master, permit me to go in the protection of thy company!"
Costobarus reflected and while he hesitated he became aware that Momus was looking at him with warning in his eyes. But Laodice, so filled with loneliness and apprehension, was moved to sympathy for the solitary and friendless woman. She leaned toward her father and said in a low voice:
"Let her come with us, father; she is a woman and afraid."
Aquila heard that low petition and he flashed a look at the stranger that seemed reproachful. But Costobarus was speaking.
"Ride with us, then, and be welcome," he said.
The woman bowed her shawled head and murmured with emotion after a silence:
"The blessings of a servant be upon you and yours; may the God of Israel be with you for evermore."
She dropped back to the rear of the party and the train moved on.
Meanwhile, Keturah, who sat huddled on the floor of Laodice's howdah, had not moved since they had left the doorway of Costobarus' house. Momus, on the neck of Laodice's camel, had observed her once or twice, and now he reached back and touched her. He jerked his hand away and brought up his camel with a wrench. Hiram, following close behind, by dint of main strength managed to avoid a collision with Momus' beast so suddenly halted. The mute leaped down from his place and in an instant Costobarus joined him. Alarmed without understanding, Laodice had risen and was drawn as far as she might from the serving-woman. Momus, lifting himself by the stirrup, seized the stiff figure and laid it down upon the sands. Aquila dismounted and the three men bent over the woman. Then Costobarus glanced up quickly at Laodice, made a sign to Momus, who, with a face devoid of expression, climbed back into his place on the neck of the camel.
The strange woman who had stood her ground was heard to say in a low voice, half lost in the muffling of her wrappings:
Momus drove on leisurely and Laodice, knowing that she must not look, slipped down in her place and wrapped her vitta over her face.
Pestilence was riding with them.
After a long time, Costobarus' camel ambled up beside hers, and she ventured to uncover her eyes. Her father smiled at her with that same heart-breaking smile which her mother had for her in face of trouble.
"The frosts! The frosts!" he whispered to Momus, and the mute laid goad about his camel.
Aquila, seeing this haste, checked his horse's gait and fell back beside the strange woman. Together they permitted the rest of the party to ride ahead, while they talked in voices too restrained to be heard.
"There is pestilence in this company," Aquila said angrily; "will that not persuade you to abandon this plan?"
"No. When all of you are like to die and leave this great treasure sitting out in the wilderness without a guardian?" she said lightly. There was no trace of a servant's humility in her tone.
"Hast had the plague that thou seem'st to feel secure from it?" he demanded.
"O no; then there would be no risk in this game. There is no sport in an unfair advantage over conditions. No! But how comes this Costobarus with you?"
"He would not trust his daughter and a dowry to me, alone."
"How shall we get to Emmaus, then?" she asked.
"We shall not get to Emmaus; so you must inform Julian, who will expect us there," he declared.
The woman played with the silken reins of her camel. Behind her veil a sarcastic smile played about the corners of her mouth. Aquila watched her resentfully, waiting with an immense reserve of caustic words for her refusal to accept the charge.
"So, my Mars of the gray temples, thou meanest in all faith to deliver up this lady and her treasure to Julian?"
"By those same gray temples, I do! And hold thy peace about my white hairs. Nothing made them so but thyself—and this evil plot in which I am tangled. What does Julian mean to do with this poor creature?"
"He has not got her yet and by the complication thou seest now, wearing its turban over one ear in yonder howdah, it may come to pass that he will never have her—and her dowry."
"Pfui! How little you know this Julian! Besides, I am pledged to deliver him—at least the treasure."
"And thou meanest to line his purse with this great treasure because he paid thee to do it?"
"I shall; and be rid of it!"
The woman smiled sarcastically.
"And scorn it for thyself?"
Aquila made no answer, but rode on in sulky silence.
"Perpol, it must be pleasant to be a queen," the woman observed with an assumption of childishness in her voice.
"Peril's own habit!" Aquila declared.
"Peril! Fie! That is half the pleasure of this game of life. It is tiresome to live any other way than hazardously."
"Thou shalt have pleasure enough in this journey thou art to take," Aquila declared a little threateningly.
The woman laughed. When Aquila spoke again, his voice was full of concern.
"I was a fool for not forcing you to stay in Ascalon. You are reckless—reckless!"
"It was that which made me attractive," the woman broke in, "to Nero, to Vitellius and to you."
"Reckless and useless!" Aquila went on decisively. "Hear me, now; I trifle no longer. Sometime to-night thou'lt leave us and journey to Emmaus and inform Julian what has wrecked his plans, and send him with despatch to Zorah. This thou wilt do, by all the Furies, or when I do catch thee as I shall, since there is no other fool in Judea who will undertake to feed thee, I shall leave the print of my displeasure on thee from thy head to thy heel! Mark me!"
The woman laughed aloud, with such peculiar insolence and amusement that one of the servants heard her and turned his head that way.
"Pah! What a timid villain thou art," the woman said, when the servant looked away again. "How much better it would have been had Julian fixed upon me as his confederate!"
"Not for Julian! You plot against him even now. But say what you will, you go to Emmaus to-night, without fail. I have spoken!"
Aquila touched his horse and riding away from the woman came up beside Costobarus who was gazing over the country through which they were passing.
It was a great plain, advancing by benches and slopes to the edge of a rocky shore. Without forests, spotted only with verdure, vast, barren, exhausted with the constant production of fourteen centuries, it was a cheerless sea-front at its best. To the west the wash of the tideless Mediterranean tumbled along an unindented coast; to the east the sallow stony earth went up and up, toward an ever receding sallow horizon. Between lay humbled towns, wholly abandoned to the bats and to the ignoble wild life of the Judean wilderness. There were no sheep or cattle. Vespasian had passed that way and required the flocks of the nation for the subsistence of his four legions. There were no olive or fig groves. They had been the first to fall under the Roman ax, for the policy of Roman warfare was that the first step in subduing a rebellious province was to starve it. The vineyards had suffered the same end. The enriched soil of these inclosures, made one now with the wild at the leveling of their hedges, produced acres of profitless weeds, green against the rising brown bosom of the hill-fronts. Here and there were the fallen walls of isolated homes—wastes of masonry already losing all domestic signs. There were no gardens; it had been two seasons since the wheat and the barley had been reaped last, and the seaboard of southern Judea, in the path of Rome the destroyer, was a wilderness.
Over all this immense slope the eyes of Costobarus wandered. However he had felt in the preceding days when he looked upon this ruin of the land of milk and honey, he realized now suddenly and in all its fearful actuality the predicament of Judea, its despair and the gigantic travail before those who would save it from the united sentence passed upon it by God and the powers. Immense dejection seized him. He looked from the face of the country, upon which not a single thing of profit showed, toward the bowed head and oppressed figure of his young and inexperienced daughter who was to put her tender self between Ruin and its victim. Chills, succeeded by flashes of fever, swept over him. He raised himself as if to give command to Aquila but settled back under the canopy, grown immeasurably older and feebler in that moment of helpless surrender to conditions of which he had been part an artificer. It was not as if he had made an incautious move in a political game; it was, as it seemed to him undeniably then, that he had advanced against the Lord God of Hosts, and there was no turning back!
He settled slowly into a stunned anguish that seemed to rise gradually, like a filling tide, shutting out the sunset and the seaboard, the bald earth and the streaming wind, and engulfing him in roaring darkness and intense cold.
They were in sight of a cluster of Syrian huts, the first inhabited village they had come upon since leaving Ascalon, but he was not aware of it. The sudden halting of his camel and a hoarse strained cry at hand seemed to bear some relation to his condition, but he did not care. He felt his howdah lurch to one side as some one leaped up beside him; he felt remotely the great grasp of hands on him, which must have been Momus'; the quick military voice of Aquila he heard and then, keen and distinct as a call upon him, the sound of Laodice's tones made sharp with terror.
He opened his eyes and saw her, holding him in her arms. Somewhere in the background were the faces of Momus and Aquila. Between the pagan and the old servant passed a look that the old man caught. Then he heard Aquila say:
"The village—his sole chance, if there is a physician there."
Laodice held him fast only for a moment, when it seemed that she was wrenched away. The dying man was glad. If this were pestilence, she should not come near. The hiss of the lash and the bound of the stung camel disturbed him but he lapsed into the immense cold again as they raced down the slight declivity toward the Syrian village. But Pestilence was riding with them and the odds were with it.
But the dwellers of that little huddle of huts had nothing to do but to sit in their doorways and suspect. Whatever came their way from the sea for many months had brought them disaster and long since they had learned to defend themselves. So now, when a party riding at breakneck speed, bearing with them an old man on whom the inertia of death was plain, came across the frontiers of their little town, they met them with the convenient stones of their rocky streets, with their savage, stark-ribbed dogs, with offal from kitchen heap and donkey stall and with insults and curses.
"Away, ye bringers of plague! Out, lepers; be gone, ye unclean!"
Laodice and Aquila who rode in the open were fair targets for half the hail that fell about them. The girl groaned as the missiles fell into the howdah upon the helpless shape of Costobarus, who did not lift a hand to fend off the stones. The pagan, bruised and raging, drew his weapon and spurred his horse to ride down his assailants, but they scattered before him and from safe refuge continued their assault with redoubled determination.
Momus, seeing only injury in attempting to enforce hospitality, turned his camel and, swinging around the outermost limits of the settlement, fled. Aquila followed him, and a moment later the rest of the party joined them.
Without the range of the village, the party halted. Momus and Aquila lifted Costobarus down and laid him on a rug that Laodice had spread for him. But when she would have knelt by him, he motioned to Aquila not to permit her to approach. The mute stood by his master. In that countenance fast passing under shade was written charge and injunction as solemn as the darkness that approached him.
"Here, O faithful servant, is the wife of a prince, the daughter of thy master, the joy of thine own declining days. Shield her against wrong and misfortune by all the strength that in thee lies, as thou hopest in the King to come and the reward of the steadfast. Promise!"
They were silent lips that once knew the art and the sound of speech. The old habit never entirely fell away from them. Under this anguish they moved—fruitlessly; over the deformed face flitted the keen agony of regret; then he lifted his great left arm and bent it upward at the elbow; the huge, even monstrous muscles, knotted and kinked from shoulder to elbow, sank down under the broad barbarian bracelet of bronze and rippled under and rose again from elbow to wrist, ferocious, superhuman! In that movement the dying man read the mute's consecration of his one great strength to the protection of the tenderly loved Laodice. Costobarus motioned to the shittim-wood casket and Momus undid it and strapped it on his own belt.
"The frosts! The frosts!" the dying man whispered. The mute understood. Then the father's eyes wandered toward the figure of his daughter fended away from him by the pagan. The agony of her suffering and the agony of his distress for her bridged the space between them. And while they yearned toward each other in a silence that quivered with pain, the light darkened in Costobarus' eyes.
When Laodice came to herself, she was laid upon a spot of rough grass, in the shelter of an overhanging bluff. It was not the scene upon which her sorrow-stunned eyes had closed a while before. The village was nowhere in sight; the plain had been left behind; any further view was shut off by Aquila's horse, and the two camels whose bridles were in the hands of Hiram. Beside the stricken girl knelt Momus and Aquila; standing at her feet was a new-comer, on whom her wandering and half-conscious gaze rested.
He was an old man, clad in a short tunic, ragged of hem and girt about him with a rope. Barefoot, bareheaded and provided only with a staff and a small wallet, he was to outward appearances little more than one of the legion of mendicants that infested the poverty-stricken land of Judea. But his large eyes, under the tangle of wind-blown white hair and white shelving brows, were infinitely intelligent and refined. Now, they beamed with pity and concern on the bereaved girl.
But she forgot him the next instant, for returning consciousness brought back like a blow the memory of the death of her father.
From time to time she caught snatches of conversation between the old wayfarer and Aquila. They were spoken in low tones and only from time to time did they reach her.
"He was Costobarus, principal merchant of this coast," she heard Aquila explain shortly.
"I shall go on to Ascalon; I do not fear," the old man said next. "I shall bring his people to fetch his body. I marked the spot. Comfort her with that, when she can bear to talk of it."
"We go to Jerusalem," Aquila went on, some time later, "else we should turn back with him ourselves. But we dare not risk the pestilence on her account, for it seems that she is very necessary to the Jews at this hour—very necessary."
"I follow to the Holy City," the old wayfarer added at last. "The Passover is celebrated there within two weeks. But I shall not fail; nothing will harm me."
"What talisman do you carry to protect you?" the pagan asked a little irritably.
"No talisman, but the love of Jesus Christ, the Saviour!"
"A Christian!" Aquila exclaimed.
Even through her stupor of grief and hopelessness, Laodice heard this exclamation. Here, then, was one of the Nazarenes, that mysterious sect whose tenets she had never been permitted to hear; But also, she knew that the old apostate had braved the plague and had buried her father. She turned to look at him in time to see him extend his hands in blessing over her.
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and his comfort be with you, for ever; amen. Farewell."
He was gone. Momus raised her in his arms and, lifting her into her howdah, laid her tenderly on the improvised reclining seat that had been made of the chair therein. In a twinkling the whole party had mounted, and passed swiftly on toward Jerusalem. As they moved forward, the strange woman murmured softly:
Laodice's camel mounted the slope toward the east and stretched away on a comparative level toward an immense white moon. Aquila's horse kept up with the matchless speed of the tall camel only at times, and Laodice, dully sensing that they were going at hot haste, realized that a race was on between them and the pestilence. Momus was wielding the goad for a run to the frosts.
A camel raced up beside Aquila.
"Look!" the woman said to him in a lowered tone, showing back over the road by which they had come. Aquila turned in his saddle and looked. Momus rose in his seat and looked. Behind them only one camel rocked along in their wake. The other and its driver had disappeared.
"Deserted!" Aquila exclaimed under his breath.
"Three!" the woman said.
"A pest on your counting for a Charon's toll-taker!" Aquila whispered savagely. "We will have no more of it!"
"No?" the woman said with a meaning that made the pagan shiver.
Momus laid goad about his camel.
The way continually ascended toward the east; the soil was no longer sandy, but rocky; no longer given up to desolate gardens, but black with groves of cedars and highland shrubs. They swung off a plateau that would have ended in a cliff, down a shaly sheep-path into a wady. Under the moonlight, the bottom was seen to be scarred with marks of hoof and wheel. It debouched suddenly into a Roman road, straight, level, magnificently built and running as a bird flies on to Jerusalem.
The camel's gait increased. Momus settled himself in a securer position and Laodice, careless of the outcome of this breathless hurry, yielded herself to the careen of her howdah. At times, her indifferent vision caught, through moonlit notches and gaps, glimpses of great blue vapors, crowned with pale fire and piled in glorious disorder low on the eastern horizon. They were the hills encompassing Jerusalem. The stream of wind on her face cooled and drove stronger.
Aquila rode closer to her, his horse panting under the effort. His face looked strange and distressed.
"Lady," he said in low tones, "necessity forces me to speak to you in your grief; do not blame me for indifference to your desire to be alone. But we must care for you, though in your heart this moment you may resent a wish to live. But your father commanded me!"
She gave him attention.
"Let us not carry peril with us," he added in a half-whisper. "Let us not carry food for pestilence with us."
"I do not understand," she answered, adopting his low tone.
"The more we are, the more of us to die. You must live; I must live," he explained, nodding toward Momus.
After a little silence, she asked:
"Do we not ride toward the frosts?"
"Yes; but even now pestilence may ride on beside us—your servant and this woman. Let us save ourselves."
"Abandon them?" she questioned.
"Lest they go on without us," he added.
Momus turned suddenly and gazed at Aquila. Then he imperiously signed the pagan to fall back.
They rode on.
The pagan slackened his horse's gallop and reined in beside the woman. They talked together, argumentatively, for a single tense minute and then Aquila, with a bitter word, put spurs to his animal and dashed up beside Laodice's camel. In his one uplifted hand a knife gleamed. The other reached toward the casket bound to Momus' hip. Laodice, raised to an upright attitude in her fresh fright, saw that his face was black and twisted and that he wavered stiffly in his saddle.
But the mute did not await the attack. He seized the pagan's outstretched hands with that monstrous left and flung him backward. Without an effort to save himself, falling rigidly and with a strange cry, Aquila dropped back over his horse's crupper into the dust of the road.
"Momus!" Laodice screamed.
Back of her the woman cried out:
"On! On! It is the pestilence!"
Momus wielded his goad. Laodice, shaking and crying aloud, looked back to see the strange woman swerve her camel past the dark shape lying with out-flung arms in the road and sweep quickly on after them.
The scourge had overtaken Aquila.
All night the camels fled east, all night the soft footfall of the woman's beast pursued them; all night the wind freshened until Laodice's bared face stiffened with the cold and the breath of the mute that sat upon her camel's neck steamed in the moonlight. Up and up, by steep and winding wadies they mounted; under overhanging cliffs and past bald towers of hill-rock staring white in the moon, along black passes between brooding eminences of solid night, crowned with ghost-light; over high plateaus darkened with groves, down dales with singing, invisible streams running seaward and up again and on until the hills engulfed them wholly and those before were higher than any they had seen. Then their flying beasts, leaving the Roman road over which they had sped for some distance, followed a sheep-path and burst into an open immersed in moonlight. Below in the distance was a cluster of huts, white and lifeless. But abroad, over the crisp grass and misty white on all the exposed slopes, sparkled the deep hoar frost!
THE SHEPHERD OF PELLA
Momus drew up his camel. The woman who had followed halted. Except for the hurried breathing of their beasts, a critical silence brooded over the moon-silvered wilderness. The moment was tense with the agony of human bitterness against the immitigable despatch of death. There could be no thanksgiving for their own safety from those who were not glad to be given life. Laodice resented her preservation; old Momus, aside from the wound of personal loss sore in his heart, was stricken with the realization of the grief of his young mistress, which he could not help. He did not raise his eyes to her face when he turned toward her; there was no speech. In the young woman's heart the pain was too great for her to venture expression safely. The silence was poignant with unnatural restraint.
Presently Momus inquired of her by signs if she wished to go on to the lifeless village below the camp. She did not observe his gestures, and Momus decided for her. He drove on and the woman, who had wrapped her cloak about her as the biting wind of the hills heightened through the narrow defiles to the north, followed.
But almost the next instant Momus drew up his mount so suddenly that Laodice was roused. He turned and began to make rapid signs. Laodice half rose as she read them and pressed her hands together.
"Seven days!" she exclaimed in dismay. There was silence.
Momus made the camel kneel. He dismounted slowly, and began to undo the tent-cloth in a roll beside the howdah. The woman rode up and instantly the mute stepped between her and his young mistress and went on with his work.
Laodice understood the question in the woman's attitude although, with true sense of an inferior's place, the stranger did not speak.
"We are unclean," Laodice said with effort. "We have come from a pestilential city and we have touched the dead. We can not enter a town with these defilements upon us, except to present ourselves to a priest for examination and separation. Furthermore, we must burn our unessential belongings. If you are a Jewess all these things are known to you."
The woman extended her hands, palms upward, with a grace that was almost dainty.
"Lady," she said behind her unlifted veil, "I am an unlettered woman and have been accustomed to the instruction of my masters. I am obedient to the laws of our people."
"You would have been in less peril to have ridden alone," Laodice sighed. "Our company has been no help to you."
"We can not say that confidently. There are worse things than pestilence in the wilderness," the woman replied.
Momus seemed to observe more confidence than was natural in the ready answers of this professed servant, and before he would leave Laodice to pitch camp, he helped her to alight and drew her with him. The woman remained on her mount.
Gathering up sticks, dead needles of cedar and last year's leaves, he made a fire upon which he heaped fuel till it lighted up the near-by slopes of the hills and roared jovially in the broad wind.
It was a pocket in the heart of high hills into which they had fled. The bold, sure line of a Roman road divided it, cutting tyrannically through the cowed hovels of the town as an arrow drives through a flock of pigeons. On either side were the dim shapes of great rocks and semi-recumbent cedars. Retiring into shadow were the darker outlines of the surrounding circle of hills, rived by intervals of black night where wadies entered. From their summits the flying arch of the heavens sprang, printed with a few faint stars, but all silvered with the flood-light of a moon cold and pure as the frost itself. It was unsympathetic, aloof and wild—a cold place into which to bring broken hearts to assume banishment from the comfort and companionship of mankind.
Laodice slowly and with effort began to separate those belongings which were to be laid upon the fire from those which were too necessary to be burned. The woman alighted but, on offering to assist, was warned away from the girl with a menacing gesture of Momus' great arm. The stranger drew herself up suddenly with a wrath that she hardly controlled but came no nearer Laodice. When the girl finally finished her selection, the woman begged permission to attend to the camels and getting the beasts on their feet led them together to be tethered.
Laodice, assisted by Momus, took up the condemned supplies and flung them one at a time upon the roaring fire. Little by little, with growing reluctance, the heap of spare belongings was examined and condemned, until finally only the garments they wore, the tents that were to shelter them and the essential harness of the camels were left. Then Momus drew from his wallet a fragment of aromatic gum and cast it on the blaze. While it ignited and burned with great vapors of penetrating incense, he unstrapped the precious casket, set it down between his feet, stripped off his comfortable woolen tunic and passed it through the volumes of white smoke piling up from the fire.
And while he stood thus a deft hand seized the casket from behind. There was a sharp, warning cry from Laodice. The old man staggered only a moment from the tripping that the wrench gave him, but in that instant of hesitation the pillager vanished.
The old mute shouted the infuriated, half-animal yell of the dumb and started in pursuit, but at his second step he saw the fleeter camel swing down the declivity, at top-speed, with the other trailing with difficulty at full length of its bridle behind. The next instant the muffled beat of the padded hooves drummed the solid bed of the Roman road, and the shapes of camels and fugitive were lost in blue darkness beyond the town.
There was no need for the pair left behind to await a realization of all that the loss meant to them. One running swiftly as a fine young creature can run when spurred by desperation, and the other, lamely but doggedly, as an old determined man, rushed down the rough side of the slope, leaped into the roadway and ran irrationally after the fugitive mounted upon a camel, fleeter than the fastest horse.
Momus saw with fear that Laodice on this straight inviting road would out-distance him to her peril. He shouted inarticulately after her, but her reply came back, high with desperation and terror.
"The corner-stone of Israel! All his treasure! God's portion, lost, lost!"
She was out of his sight. The sudden barking of dogs told him that she had crossed the outskirts of the village, and groaning with alarm for her the old man stumbled on after her. He saw lights flash out; heard shouts, and out of the confusion distinguished Laodice's, vehement and urging. The yapping of the town curs became less threatening and, by the time Momus reached the settlement, half-dressed Jews were hurrying east out of the village after the flying feet of the girl, in pursuit of the robber.
For unmeasured time, while the moon crossed its meridian and sloped down the west, the search continued. Momus did not overtake the fleet-footed party that preceded him. Stragglers that lost interest dropped back with him from time to time; but finding him dumb and immensely distressed, they disappeared eventually and returned to the town. One by one, at times by twos and threes the party dropped off. The three or four who remained helpful continued against hope, for simple pity for the girl. But when she dropped suddenly by the wayside, exhausted with the strain of many troubles, they stopped to tell her that the chase was fruitless and to offer their rough condolences.
Then Momus hobbled up to them. Laodice refused to raise her head to listen to them and they turned to the old man. But by signs, he showed them that his tongue was dead, and finally, with suppressed remarks upon the exceeding misfortune of the pair, they, too, disappeared. A thoughtful one invited them to return to the village. Laodice, careless now of what he should think of his exposure to pestilence, told him bluntly that they were unclean. Hastily he exclaimed at the sum of their troubles, hastily blessed them, and hastily departed.
There was a pallor along the under-rim of the east; the wind freshened with the sweet vigor of early morning.
Over the stunned silence came the sound of the infinite trotting of tiny hooves and a high, wild, youthful yell. Laodice, too worn to observe, sat still; but Momus, with a rush of old fairy-tales in mind, sprang to her side and seized her arm. His alarmed eyes searched the dark landscape for whatever visitation it had to reveal.
There was the rush of countless hoof-beats and a low cloud of dust obscured the crest of the hill just above them. The soft tremolo of multitudinous bleating came out of it. The quick excited bark of a fresh Natolian sheep-dog wakened an echo in one of the ravines through a hill on the opposite side of the road, while strong and insistent and happy the young cry preceded this sudden animation in the wilderness.
There was a fall of gravel on the slope over their heads and the next instant a fourteen-year-old boy descended upon the pair in a fall of earth, his sandaled feet planted one ahead of the other, his bare arms thrown above his head as he balanced himself, his long, stiff, crinkled black locks blowing backward, his face bright with the eager enjoyment of his simple feat.
After him came a veritable avalanche of Syrian sheep, scrambling to right and left as they parted behind Momus and Laodice and eddying around the young shepherd who stopped at seeing the pair. His yell died away at once, though the effort of sliding down a frozen, rocky slope had not interfered with a single note.
He might well have been a young satyr, fresh from the groves of Achaia, with his big, serious mouth and its range of glittering teeth, his shining deer-like eyes, wide apart, his faun curls low on his forehead, his big head set on a short neck, his shoulders yet childish, his slim brown body half smothered in skins, half bare as he was born, his large hard hand gripping a crook of horn and wood. His gaze at Momus was frank with boyish curiosity. His bright eyes plainly remarked on the oddity of the old servant's appearance. Having catalogued old Momus as worthy of further inspection, he looked then at Laodice. Under the lowering moon and the listless effort of coming day, her unmantled dress of silver tissue made of her a moon-spirit, banished out of her world of pallor and solitude. Before her splendid young beauty, pale with distress and weariness, he was not abashed. His simple eyes studied her with equal frankness, but with an admiration beyond words.
Feeling somehow that his sudden appearance might have distressed her, he said finally:
"Go on, lady, or stay as it pleases you. I will not hurt you."
Momus' shoulders submerged his ears in an indignant shrug. That this young calf of the pastures should insure him safe passage!
But Laodice was still filled with the calamity of her loss.
"Hast seen a robber, here, along this road?" she asked.
"Many of them," was the prompt answer.
"With a chest of jewels?"
The boy shook his head.
"I never examined their booty," he said with perfect respect.
"Or then a woman riding one camel and leading another?"
"Never anything like that."
Laodice, with this hope gone, let her face fall into her hands.
"His fortune given freely to Israel," she groaned. "His whole life's ambition reduced to material form for the help of his brethren—gone, gone!"
The shepherd grew instantly distressed. He looked at Momus and asked in a whisper what had happened. But the old servant signed to his lips irritably, and stroked his young mistress' hair in a dumb effort to comfort her. The silence grew painful. In his anxiety to relieve them, he bethought him of their uncovered heads and houseless state.
"Do you live in the village; or do you camp near by?"
Momus shook his head. Laodice appreciated the boy's concern for them but could not make an attempt to explain.
"Then," he offered promptly, "come have my fire and my rock. It is the best rock in all these hills; and my tent," he added, showing the skins that wrapped him. "I wear my tent; it saves my carrying it. Indeed I do not need it; you may have it. Come!"
He spoke hurriedly, as if he would thrust his desire to comfort between her and the wave of disconsolation that he felt was about to cover her.
Old Momus, sensibly accepting the boy's suggestion as the wisest course, raised Laodice and motioning the shepherd to lead on, led his young mistress up the hill as the boy retraced his steps. The flood of Syrian sheep turned back with him and followed bleating between the urging of the sheep-dog, as the boy climbed.
On a slope to the west as a wady bent upon itself abruptly before it debouched upon the hillside, there was a deep glow illuminating a space in the depression. The shepherd dropped down out of sight. His voice came over the shuffle and bleat of the sheep.
"Follow me; this is my house."
Momus led his mistress over to the wady. There the shepherd with uplifted hands helped her down with the superior courtesy of a householder offering hospitality. There was a red circle of fire in the sandy bottom of the dry wady, and beside it was a flat boulder at the foot of which were prints of the shepherd's sandals and, on the bank behind it, the mark where his shoulders had comfortably rested. He made no apology for the poverty of his entertainment; he had never known anything better.
"Now, brother," he said busily to Momus, "if thou'lt lend me of thy height, thou shalt have of my agility and we will set up a douar for the lady."
With frank composure he stripped off the burden of skins that covered him until he stood forth in a single hide of wool, with a tumble of sheep pelts at his feet. In each one was a thorn preserved for use and with these he pinned them all together, scrambled out on the bank, emitting his startling cry at the sheep that obstructed his path. From above he shouted down to Momus.
"Stretch it, brother, over thy head. I shall pin it down with stones on either side. Now, unless some jackal dislodges these weights before morning, ye will be safe covered from the cold. There! God never made a man till He prepared him a cave to sleep under! I've never slept in the open, yet. How is it with thee now, lady?"
He was down again before her with the red light of the great bed of coals illuminating him with a glow that was almost an expression of his charity.
She saw that he had the straight serious features of the Ishmaelite, but lacked the fierce yet wondering gaze of the Arab. Aside from these superior indications in his face there was nothing to separate him from any other shepherd that ranged the mountainous pastures of Palestine.
She, who all her life had never known anything but to expect the tenderest of ministrations, was humbly surprised and grateful at the free-handed generosity of the young stranger. Momus looked at him with grudging approval.
"It is kindly shelter," she said finally with effort, "and it is warm. You are very good to us!"
"But you have not eaten of my salt," he declared.
Momus showed interest. It had been long since the last meal in the luxurious house of Costobarus. The boy in the meantime produced unleavened loaves from the carry-all of sheepskin that hung over his shoulders, and without explanation disappeared among his flock. Presently he returned with a small skin of milk.
"We have goats in the flock," he said. "A shepherd can not live without a goat. You do not know about shepherds," he added.
Laodice thought that she detected tactful inquiry in his last remark and roused herself painfully to make due explanations to her host. But he waved his hands at her, with the desert-man's courtesy which covers fine points better than the greater ones.
"Eat my fare; I do not purchase thy history with salt and shelter," he said, with a certain sublimity of honor.
Momus ate, and looked with growing grace at his young host. But Laodice succeeded only in drinking the goat's milk and lapsed into benumbed gazing at the red glow of fire that cast its warmth about her. The shepherd talked on, attempting to interest her in something other than her consuming sorrow.
"These be Christian sheep about you, friends," he said, "and I am a Christian shepherd."
Momus sat up suddenly with a bit of the boy's bread arrested on its way to his lips. He was eating the fare of an apostate, of a despised Nazarene. The boy went on composedly.
"We are from Pella, the Christian city. We are, my sheep, my city and I, the only secure people in all Judea. We, I and the sheep, have been in the hills since the first new grass in February. We are many leagues from home."
"So am I," Laodice said wearily.
"Jerusalem?" the shepherd asked, glad he had brought out a response. "No? Yet all Judea is going to Jerusalem at this time. Are you fugitives?"
"Come then to Pella," the shepherd urged. "You will be fed there; Titus will not come there. We are poor but we are happy—and we are safe."
Laodice thanked him so inertly that he sensed her disinterest, and while he sat looking at her, searching his heart for something kind to say, she put out her hand impulsively and took his.
"God keep thee and forget thy heresy," she said. "If thou livest in Pella, Pella is indeed happy."
He laughed with a flush stealing up under the brown of his cheeks. A faint light came into Laodice's eyes as she looked at him; he returned her gaze with a gradual softening that was intensely complimentary. Between the two was effected instant and lasting fellowship. Before Momus' indignant eyes the shepherd was blushing happily.
"Who art thou?" Laodice asked.
"They call me Joseph, son of Thomas."
After a silence she said softly,
"I am not at liberty to tell my name." She remembered the secrecy of Philadelphus' mission. "Yet perchance if the God of my fathers prosper me and my husband, I may come to Pella—as thy queen."
The boy's eyes brightened and he drew in a sharp breath, but almost instantly the animation died and he looked at her sorrowfully. It seemed that she read dissent and sympathy commingled in his gaze. But he was a Christian; he could not believe and hope as she hoped.
"Can I do aught for you?" he asked disjointedly.
"Our duty is rather toward you, child," she answered, suddenly arousing to the peril they might bring their free-handed host. "We have newly come from a country where there is pestilence."
But he smiled down on her uplifted face, with immense confidence.
"I am not afraid. Besides, if I perish giving you comfort, I have done only as Jesus would have me do."
"Who is Jesus?" Laodice asked.
The shepherd made a little sign and bent his knee.
"The Christ!" he responded.
Momus plucked quickly at Laodice's sleeve and shook his head at her in an admonitory manner. He had laid down his bread unfinished. But the shepherd looked at him sympathetically.
"Never fear," he said. "It will not hurt her to hear about Him. He makes Pella safe from armies. Let her come there and see for herself."
Laodice pressed his hand.
"I shall come," she said.
He heaved a contented sigh—contented with himself, contented with her promise to come. Then he drew his hands away.
"The sheep are noisy; they will not let you sleep. We shall go." Then as if afraid of her thanks he drew away, and halted at the threshold of the shelter. Then the boy extended his hands with a gesture so solemn that both of his guests bowed their heads instinctively.
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you for evermore. Farewell," he said in a half-whisper.
He was gone.
Presently the rush of little feet swept after him and his high, wild, youthful yell rang faintly in the distance. The delicate crackling from the heated bed of coals was all that was heard in the sheltered wady roofed with skins.
For the second time within the past few hours, Laodice had met a Christian. Both had helped her; both had blessed her. And one was an old man and one was a child.
The interest of the recent interview and the excitement of the night slowly died away, leaving Laodice in the dead hopelessness of weary despair. She lay down suddenly with her face against the warmed sand and wept. Momus sat down beside her, covered her with a leopard skin taken from his own swarthy shoulders, and soothed her with awkward touches on cheek and hair, till her tears exhausted her and she slept.
Stealthily then the old man rolled up her own mantle and put it under her head and prepared to watch. And then as he sat with his knee drawn up, his head bowed upon it, the weakness of slumber gradually stole away his watchfulness and his concern.
Some time later, before the deliberate dawn of a March day had put out the last of the greater stars, two men on horses descended the declivity just above the shelter of sheepskins and attracted by the dull glow of the fire drew up cautiously.
At a word from one of the men, the other alighted and, peering from the shelter of a prostrate cedar, inspected the pair. After assuring himself that there were but two about the camp, one a woman and both asleep, he tiptoed back to his fellow.
"Only a man and a woman," he said. "Jews on their way to the Passover. Their fire is almost out. Let us ride on."
"What haste!" the one who had kept his saddle said. "One would think it were you going forward to meet a bride and her dowry! I am hungry. Let us borrow of this fire and get breakfast."
"Emmaus is only a little farther on," the first man protested. "I am tired of wayside meals, Philadelphus. I would eat at a khan again before I forget the custom."
"How is the pair favored?" the other said provokingly.
"I did not approach near enough," the other retorted. "It seemed to be an old man and a girl."
"Pretty?" the one called Philadelphus asked.
"I did not see."
"How could I tell?" Julian flared.
Philadelphus laughed, and dismounted.
"I shall see for myself," he declared, walking over to the sheltering cedar to look.
Julian followed him nervously, saying under his breath:
"You waste time deliberately!"
"Tut! You merely wish to keep me from seeing this girl," Philadelphus retorted.
He, too, stopped at the prostrate cedar and gazed under the sagging shelter of skins.
"Shade of Helen!" he exclaimed under his breath as the firelight gave him perfect view of the sleeping girl. "What have we here?"
Julian made no response. He drew nearer and looked in silence.
"Now what are they to each other?" Philadelphus continued. "Father and daughter; lady and servant or—a courtezan and her manager?"
At the continued silence of his companion, he argued his question himself.
"No such ill-fashioned peasant loins as his ever begat such sweet patrician perfection as that!" he declared. "And a lady rich enough to have one servant would travel with more than one or not at all—"
Julian broke in with sudden avid interest.
"Look at that deal of feminine flummery—that dress of silver tissue, the ends of that silken scarf you see below the covering—all those jewels and trinkets! Odd garb for travel afoot, is it not? It is a badge not to be put off even in as barren a market as this. She is going to Jerusalem for the Passover. He will carry the purse, however, mark me."
"How well you know the marks of delinquency!" Philadelphus said with a glimmer of resentment in his eyes.
"Who does not? What do the Jewish psalmists and proverbialists and purists depict so minutely as that migrating iniquity, the strange woman?"
"But look at her!" Philadelphus insisted. "I have not seen anything so bewitching since I left Ephesus!"
"No; nor a long time before!" Julian declared. "I must have a nearer look."
"Careful! You will wake her!"
Julian's face showed a sneer at his companion's concern.
"I'll have a care not to wake the old Boeotian," he said.
He stepped between Laodice and her sleeping servant. The mute with the stupor of slumber further to disable his dulled hearing, did not move.
"Young!" Philadelphus exclaimed in a whisper. "And new to the life!"
"Pfui!" Julian scoffed. "Sleep makes even Venus look innocent!"
"Then this is the most innocent wickedness I have seen in months!"
"So you catalogue innocence as a charm! It's not here. But if she had no beauty but that eyelash I'd be speared upon it!"
Philadelphus turned toward the old servant plunged in the exhausted sleep of weary age.
"Thou grizzled nightmare!" he exclaimed vindictively.
He glanced again at the girl. Julian had knelt beside her. Between the two men passed a look that was mutually understood.
"Remember," Julian whispered, "you are a married man."
Philadelphus paled suddenly with anger as the intent of his companion dawned upon him, but he put off his temper shrewdly.
"And so approaching a time when wayside beauties will no longer be free to me," he said, cutting off his fellow in the beginning of his preemption. "And you have a long freedom before you."
There was so much challenge in his manner that Julian accepted it. He reached into his tunic and drew forth a pair of dice.
"We will play for her," he said.
The Maccabee put the tesserae aside.
"We will not use them," he said. "I know them to be cogged. Let us have the judgment of a coin."
A bronze coin of Agrippa was produced. Julian in getting at his purse brushed against the sleeping girl and as the pair glanced at her before they tossed, her large eyes opened full in Julian's face. A moment, almost breathless for the two, and terror flared up in her eyes. She started up, but Julian's hand dropped on her.
"Peace, Phryne!" he said.
She shrank from his touch, literally into the arms upon which Philadelphus rested his weight. She looked up into his eyes, and saw them soften with a smile, and moved no farther. Philadelphus took the coin.
"Let Vespasian decide for me," he said.
"For me Fortunatus," said Julian.
Philadelphus filliped the coin and flung out a strong and fending hand against his fellow covering it. Under the brightening day, the lowering profile of the old plebeian emperor Vespasian showed distinctly on the newly minted bronze.
Julian made a sharp menacing sound, and with clenched hands rose on his knees. But Philadelphus looked at him steadily, half-amused at the implied threat, half-inviting its fulfilment, and under his gaze, Julian rose slowly and drew away. Philadelphus tossed the coin after him. His cousin picked it up and put it in his purse.
Philadelphus looked down at his prize.
She had not flinched from him when she had found him beside her, with Julian threatening her. But now her wide open eyes fixed upon his brimmed with an agony of appeal. Innocent of the world's wickedness, she could only sense supreme peril in this mysterious game without understanding the stake. Momus was not in sight—dead for all she knew—and the desert was an ally against her. Over her, now, bent a face characteristic of a great spirit, yet one which was coeval with the times—times of violence and the supremacy of force. His lips were thin, the contour of his face angular at the jaw, the nose straight and long, his brows black and low over dark blue eyes of a fathomless depth, the forehead strongly molded, and marked with deep perpendicular lines between the eyes. He was dark, heavy-haired, young, lean, broad and of fine height even as he knelt beside her. Laodice did not note any of these things. She was only conscious of the immense power her terror and her helplessness had to combat. Back of all this iron selfishness, she hoped that somewhere was a gentleness, even if inert and useless. All her strength was concentrated in the effort to bring it to life.
He gazed at her, apparently unconscious of the desperation in the face lifted to him. The slow smile that presently grew again in his eyes was none the less unthoughted. He slipped his hand under a strand of her rich hair that had fallen and drew it out, slowly, at full length. Slowly his eyes followed it as inch by inch it slipped through his fingers. Old memories seemed to struggle to the surface; old tendernesses; recollection of pure hours and holy things; paganism dropped from him like a husk and the spiritual hauteur of a Jew brought the expression of the unhumbled house of Judah into his face. Through a notch in the hills a golden beam shot from the sun and penetrating this inwalled valley lay like an illuminating fire on the man's face and glorified it. Laodice's breath stopped.
Slowly his fingers slipped along the fine silken length of that shining strand until his arm extended to the full; and the end of the lock yet rested on her breast. Thus might have been the hair of that Rahab, who was no less a patriot because she was frail; thus, the hair of Bathsheba, who was the mother of the wisest Israelite though she sinned; thus the hair of that mother of Samson, who slew armies single-handed! Badge of Judah, mark of the haughty strength of the oldest enlightenment in the world! He would not initiate his succor of Israel with violence against its purest type.
He smiled slowly; slowly let the strand fall through his fingers. He looked into her eyes and she saw a sudden light immeasurably compassionate and tender grow there. A weakness swept over her; she felt that she had been longing for that light. Then he rose quickly and moved away.
Old Momus, the mute, with his head on his knees slept on.
Julian, who had been halted involuntarily by the attitude of his companion and had been an amazed witness of this extraordinary end of the incident, looked at Philadelphus' face in frank stupefaction. But Philadelphus laid a hand so forceful and compelling on his companion's shoulder that it left the pink print of his fingers on the flesh, turned him toward the horses and led him away.
"We will breakfast farther on," he said.
A moment and they were swinging down the stony side of the hill toward the east, and Laodice, with her hand clutching her excited heart, had not thought of flinging herself upon Momus. She raised herself gradually to watch them as far as she could see, and her fixed and stunned gaze rested with immense homesickness and longing on the taller man radiant against the background of a risen sun.
The Maccabee rode on, unconscious of Julian's critical gaze. The smile on his lips flickered now brightly, now very faint. The incident in the hills had not made him entirely happy, but it had awakened in him something which was latent in him, something which he had never felt before, but which held a sweet familiarity that the blood of his fathers in him had recognized.
Julian was intensely disgusted and disappointed. But there was still a sensation of shock on his shoulder where the Maccabee's iron hand had rested and his famous caution stood him in stead at this moment when a quarrel with such intense and executive earnestness in his companion's manner might prove disastrous. If quarrel they must before they reached Emmaus, now but a few leagues east of them, he must insure himself against defeat much less likely to be suffered from a man reluctant to quarrel. He had been hunting for a pretext ever since they had left Caesarea, but this one, suddenly opened to him, startled him. He admitted now that it would not be wise to force a fight. Whatever must be done should be done with least danger to himself. It were better, he believed, to allay suspicion.
"How far is it to Jerusalem?"
"About eighty furlongs."
"Then if we continue, we shall approach the gates after nightfall."
"We shall not continue," Philadelphus remarked. "We shall halt at Emmaus."
"Do you think it would be better for us to camp here in the hills rather than to stop without the walls of Jerusalem between the city forces and the winter garrison of Titus and await the opening of the Gates?" Julian asked after thought.
"We shall wait in Emmaus," the Maccabee repeated, his soul too filled with dream to note the change in his companion's manner.
"You have already lost three days," Julian charged him irritably.
"Jerusalem may be besieged; it may be long before I can ride in the wilderness again," the Maccabee answered.
"Right; your next journey through this place may be afoot—at the end of a chain," Julian averred.
The Maccabee raised his brows.
"Losing courage at the last end of the journey?" he inquired.
"No! I never have believed in this project," Julian declared.
"Who believes in the prospects of a man determined to leap into Hades?"
But the Maccabee was already riding on with his head lifted, his eyes set upon the blue shadows on the western slopes of hills, lifted against the early morning sun. Julian went on.
"You go, cousin, on a mission mad enough to measure up with the antics of the frantic citizens of Jerusalem. It will not be even a glorious defeat. You will be swallowed up in an immense calamity too tremendous to offer publicity to so infinitesimal a detail as the death of one Philadelphus Maccabaeus. Agrippa has deserted the city and when a Herod lets go of his own, his own is not worth the holding. The city is torn between factions as implacable as the sea and the land. The conservatives are either dead or fled; pillage and disorder are the main motives of all that are left. And Titus advances with four legions. What can you hope for this mob of crazed Jews?"
Julian's words had been more lively than the Maccabee had expected. He was obliged to give attention before his kinsman made an end.
"You are fond of summaries, Julian," he said, "dealt in your own coin. Look you, now, at my hope. You confess that these Jews lack a leader. They have lacked him so long that they hunger and thirst for one. Also they have suffered the distresses of disorder so intensely that peace in any form is most welcome to them. Titus approacheth reluctantly. He had rather deliver Jerusalem than besiege it. I am of the loved and dethroned Maccabaean line—acceptable to every faction of Jewry, from the Essenes to the Sicarii. Titus is my friend, unless he suspects me as coming to undermine his better friend, the pretty Herod. I shall help Jerusalem help herself; I shall make peace with Rome; I shall be King of the Jews!—Behold, is not my summary as practical as yours?"
Julian laughed with an amusement that had a ring of contempt in it.
"There is naught to keep an astronomer from planning a rearrangement of the stars," he said.
But the Maccabee rode on calmly. Julian sighed. After a while he spoke.
"Well, how do you proceed? You tell me that these very visionaries whom you would succor have never laid eyes on you. What marks you as royal—as a sprig of the great, just and dead Maccabee?"
"I bear proofs, Roman documents of my family and of my birth. Certain of my party are already organized in Jerusalem and are expecting me, and I wear the Maccabaean signet. Is not that enough?"
"Nothing of it worth the security of private citizenship and a whole head!"
"No? Not when there is a dowry of two hundred talents awaiting my courage to come and get it?"
"Ha! That wife! But will you enter that sure death for a woman you do not know?"
"And for a fortune I have not possessed and for a kingdom that I never owned."
"She will not be there! Old Costobarus is not so mired in folly as to send his daughter into the Pit to provide you with money to—pay Charon."
"Aquila sent me a messenger at Caesarea," Philadelphus continued calmly, "saying that Costobarus was transfigured when he had my summons. He feels that his God has been good to him to choose his daughter to share the throne of Judea. Hence, by this time my lady awaits me in Jerusalem."
Again Julian sighed.
"And there is none in Jerusalem who knows your face?" he asked after a silence.
"None, except Amaryllis, and she has not seen me since I was sixteen years old."
"And there also is an obstacle which I had forgotten to enumerate," Julian said argumentatively. "You have put your trust in a frail woman."
"Amaryllis may be frail," the Maccabee admitted, "but she is sufficiently manly to have all that you and I demand of a man to put faith in him. She is a good companion and she will not lie."
"Impossible! She is a woman!" Julian exclaimed.
"Even then," the Maccabee returned patiently, "her own ambition safeguards me. She can not succeed except as I am successful, and her purposes are of another kind than mine. She helps herself when she helps me. Therefore I am depending on her selfishness. It is usually a dependable thing."
"What does she want?"
"The old classic times of the heterae in Greece. She wants to be the pioneer of art in Jerusalem. It is a fertile and a neglected field. She had rather be known as the mother of refinement in Judea than as the queen of kings over the world."
"A modest ambition!"
"A great one. How many monarchs are forgotten while Aspasia is remembered! Who were the reigning kings during Sappho's time?"
"But go on. You repose much on her influence. Perhaps she has the will but not the power to help you."
"Power! She is the mistress of John of Gischala and actual potentate over Jerusalem at this hour."
"Unless Simon bar Gioras hath taken the upper hand within the last few days. Remember the fortunes of factionists are ephemeral."
Philadelphus jingled his harness. He was sorry that he had permitted this discussion. Now its continuance was particularly irritating, when he had rather think of something else. He was near Jerusalem; but he was not going forward, now, with the same eagerness, nor with the same enthusiasm for his cause. The incident in the hills had marked the change in him. It was not, then, with a patient tongue that he defended his intentions, which had grown less inviting in the last hour.
"How little your wife will enjoy her," Julian's smooth voice broke in once more, "seeing that the frail one is lovely."
"I do not know that she is lovely."
"What!" Julian exclaimed in genuine amazement. "You do not know that she is lovely! Years of correspondence with a woman whom you do not know to be lovely! Reposing kingdoms on a woman's influence whom you do not know to be beautiful!"
"Beauty is no tie," the Maccabee retorted. "Have you forgotten Salome, the Jewish actress who could play Aphrodite in the theaters of Ephesus, to the confusion of the goddess herself? They said she snared three procurators and an emperor at one performance and lost them in a day!"
"Have you seen her?" Julian asked with a sidelong glance. "Till your own eyes prove it, you should not accept that she is so bewitching."
"There is no need that I should see her; Aquila swears it! And I would take his word against the testimony of even mine own eyes."
Julian looked up in a startled manner and hurriedly looked away again. A half-frightened, half-amused smile played about his lips.
"Aquila is no judge of woman," he said finally. "And furthermore, they say she got to trifling with magic and prowling about the temples to see if the gods came true. They were afraid she would get them blasted along with her sometime for her sacrilege. I know all this because Aquila declared she attached herself to him in sheer poverty in Ephesus and swore to follow him to the ends of the earth."
The Maccabee smiled.
"Nevertheless, he told me that he was afraid of her, but that she was a woman and in need and he could not reject her."
Julian's eyes grew insinuating.
"How much then your behavior this morning would have shocked him!" he murmured.
The smile died on the Maccabee's face. Reference to the girl in the hills seemed blasphemy on this man's lips.
"And you do not recall your wife's face?" Julian persisted.
The Maccabee's face hardened more. But he shook his head.
"Fourteen years can change a woman from a beauty to—a—a Christian, ugly and old and cold," Julian augured.
The Maccabee turned his head away from his tormentor and Julian's laughter trailed off into a half-jocular groan.
"How much you harp on beauty!" the Maccabee said deliberately. "Are you then going to regret the actresses you left behind when I tore you from your exalted calling as the forelegs of the elephant in the theaters at Ephesus?"