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.
[Illustration: At her feet Hannah knelt.]
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!|