SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Image Map
SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : Chapter IV THE TRAVELERS

The City Of Delight by Elizabeth Miller

Chapter IV THE TRAVELERS

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.

He spoke.

|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.

|Why?|

|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?|

Julian's face blackened. A foolhardy daring born of rage resolved him at that instant. He flung himself out from his saddle and raised his hand with a knife clenched in it. But the Maccabee with a composed laugh caught the hand and wrenching it about, dropped it, red and contracting with pain, at his companion's side.

|Tut! Julian, you are a bad combatant. If you must make way with a man,| the Maccabee advised, |stab him in the back. It is sure -- for you. Ha! Is this Emmaus we see?|

They had ridden up a slight eminence and below them was a disorder of fallen or decrepit Syrian huts in the hollow place in the hills.

It had been the history of Emmaus for centuries to be known. The feet of the Crucified One had pressed its ruined streets and His devoted chroniclers had not failed to set it down in their illuminated gospels. Army after army in endless procession had thundered through it since the first invader humbled the glory of Canaan, and few of the historians had forgotten to record the unimportant incident. Warfare had hurtled about it for centuries; the Roman army had come upon it and would continue to come. It had not the spirit to resist; it was not worthy of conquest. It simply stood in the path of events.

A single citizen appeared at the doorway of the most habitable house and looked absently over the heads of the new-comers. As they approached, the villager did not observe them. Instead, he looked at the near horizon lifted on the shoulder of the hills and meditated on the signs of the weather. It was Emmaus' habit to find strangers at its door.

Julian, with natural desire to be first on this perilous ground and away from the side of the man who had defeated him and laughed at him, rode up to the door. The villager, seeing the traveler stop, gazed at him.

Julian had about him an air of blood and breeding first to be remarked even before his features. The grace of his bearing and the excellence of his bodily condition were highly aristocratic. His height was good, his figure modestly athletic as an observance of fine form rather than a preparation for the arena. He was simply dressed in a light blue woolen tunic. A handkerchief was bound about his head. His forehead was very white and half hidden by loose, curling black locks that escaped with boyish negligence from his head-dress. His eyes were black, his cheeks tanned but colorless, his mouth mirthful and red but hard in its outlines. Clean-shaven, lithe, supple, he did not appear to be more than twenty-two. But there was an even-tempered cynicism and sophistication in the half-droop of his level lids, indifference, hauteur and self-reliance in the uplift of his chin. His soul was therefore older, more seasoned and set than the frame that housed it. Now there was considerable agitation in his manner, enough to make him sharp in his speech to the villager.

|Is there a khan in Emmaus?| he demanded.

|There is,| the villager responded calmly.

|Where?|

The citizen motioned toward a low-roofed rambling structure of stone picked up on the native hills.

|Ask there,| he said and passing out of his door went his way.

Julian touched his horse and rode through the worn passage and into the court of the decrepit khan of Emmaus. The Maccabee followed.

The Syrian host who was both waiter and hostler met Julian entering first.

|Quick!| Julian said, leaning from his horse. |Is there a young man here with gray temples? A pagan?|

The Syrian, attracted by the anxiety in the demand, followed a train of surmise before his answer.

|No pagans, here. Naught but Jews,| he observed finally.

|Or a young woman of wealth? Quick!|

|No wealth at all; but plenty of women. The Passover pilgrims.|

Julian heaved a sigh of relief and dismounted. The Maccabee rode into the court of the khan at that instant.

The khan-keeper took their horses and a little later the two men were led into the single cobwebby chamber, low-ceiled, gloomy, cold and cheerless as a cave. There they were given food and afterward a corner of the hall where a straw pallet had been laid and a stone trough filled with water for a bath. After refreshing himself the Maccabee lay down and slept with supreme indifference to the rancor of the man who had attempted to kill him.

But Julian had another idea than pressing his vengeful advantage at that time. He went out into Emmaus and engaging the unemployed of the thriftless town sent them broadcast into the hills in search of a pagan who was young, yet gray at the temples.

Some of them went -- and they were chiefly boys who were not old enough to know that these strangers who come in pagan guise to Emmaus are full of guile. But none returned to him. They had neither seen nor heard of a pagan who was young though the white hair of an old man snowed on his temples.

So Julian storming within went out into the hills himself, to search.

Meanwhile the Maccabee, a light sleeper and readily restored, awoke and found himself alone. The khan-keeper informed him on inquiry that Julian had ridden away.

|Too fair a hope to think that he has deserted me,| the Maccabee observed. |I shall await him a decent time. He will return.|

He tramped about the chamber waiting for something that was not Julian, intending to do something but unable to define that thing. There was a vague admission that this last pause before his entry into Jerusalem where he must accomplish so much was an opportunity for some sort of preparation, but he lacked direction and resource. He was irritable and purposeless.

Out of the low door that opened into the lewen of the khan he caught glimpses of the town spread over the tilt of the hill before him. It had become active since he had looked upon it in the very early hours of the day. Over the gate he could see the toss of canopies and the heads of camels passing; he could hear the ring of mule-hooves on the stones and the tramp of wayfarers. There were shoutings and debate; the cries of servants and the gossip of parties. All this moved on always in the direction of Jerusalem. Few paused. The single shop in Emmaus became active; the khan caught a little of the drift, but the great body of what seemed to be an unending stream of pilgrims passed on. The Maccabee spoke to his host.

|What is this?| he asked.

The publican raised his brows.

|Hast never heard of the Passover?| he asked.

The Maccabee started. How far he had drifted from the customs of his people, to fail to remember its vital feast -- he who meant to be king over the Jews!

He turned away a little abashed. The train of thought awakened by the khan-keeper's answer led him back to the hieratic customs of his race. What was his status as a Jew after all these years of delinquency? What atonement did he owe, what offering should he make?

He went out over the cobbled pavement of the lewen to the gate. Here he should see part of his people and learn from simple observation what material he would have in his work for Israel.

From his memories of the old Passovers of his boyhood, he saw instantly that there had come a change over Judea and the worshiping sons of Abraham.

They went in bodies, in numbers from a handful from some remote but pious hamlet to great armies from the leveled cities of Joppa, Ptolemais and Anthedon, from Caesarea and Tyre and Sidon, from the enthusiastic towns in Galilee, and even from far-off Antioch and Ephesus. They were not fewer in number, because of a year of warfare and the menace of an approaching army upon the city in which they were to take refuge. But there were more -- double, even triple the number that usually went up to Jerusalem at this time. For of the millions of inhabitants in Judea in the unhappy year of 70 A.D., a third of them were plundered and homeless refugees from ruined cities. Therefore, instead of the armies of men, happy, hopeful and enthusiastic, who had journeyed in former years to Jerusalem, there passed before the Maccabee a mixed multitude of men and women and children. Thousands carried with them all that warfare had left to them -- pitiful parcels of treasure or household goods, or extra clothing; other thousands bore nothing in their hands, and by the wear in their garments and the hunger in their faces, it seemed that they owned nothing to carry.

The Maccabee noted finally the entire absence of the travelers who fared in state. Not in all that long procession that wound up the stony passage from the west, did he see a single Sadducee. There went mobs of laborers and farmers, tradesmen, servants and small merchants, but the Jewish friends of Rome that had once made part of the Passover pilgrimage a royal progress were nowhere to be seen. Under the vast, vivid blue of the mountain skies they moved, indifferent to the splendid benevolence of the untroubled day. The pure wind swept in from the radiance in the east, flinging out multi-colored garments and scarves, rushing with its bracing chill without obstruction through even the compactest mass of wayfarers. The cedars on the hills about the little town whistled continuously and at times some extremely narrow defile with an uninterrupted draft would take voice and cry humanly. But there was no responsive exhilaration to the vigor of morning on a mountain-top. The great ever-growing migration was dark, dangerous and moody.

Somewhere beyond the highest of the blue hills to the east, the white walls of the city of David were receiving all this. Somewhere to the west the four brassy legions of Titus were marching down upon all this. About the Maccabee were assembling all the circumstances that govern a tremendous struggle. Eagerness, earnestness, all the strength and resolution of his strong and resolute nature surged into his soul. It was his hour. It should find him prepared.

He turned out of the gate and crowding along by the stone wall to pass in the opposite direction from the flood of pilgrims pouring through Emmaus, he searched for the synagogue of the little town.

He came upon it, a solid square building of stone with an Egyptic facade and an architrave carved with a great stone flower set in an olive wreath. Without was the proseuchae, paved with boulders now worn smooth by the summer sittings of the congregation who gathered around the reader's stone. The Maccabee stopped at the gate and unlacing his pagan sandals set them outside the threshold.

Once over the stone sill with the imminent gloom covering him, he felt the old sanctity envelop him with a reproach in its forgotten familiarity. Old incense, old litanies, old rites rushed back to him with the smell of the stagnant fragrance. He heard again from the farther depths of the dark interior the musical monotone of a rabbi reciting a ritual. The voice was young and low. Presently he heard the responses spoken in a woman's voice, so tender, so soft and so sad that he sensed instantly the meaning of the sympathy in the young priest's voice. Out of the incense-laden dusk he found old custom stealing back upon him. His lips anticipated words unreadily; gladly he realized that he could say these formulas, also; he had not forgotten; he had not forgotten!

In this little synagogue in a poor town there were no privacies; communicants had to depend on the courtesy of their fellows for uninterrupted devotion. The wanderer had not forgotten this. So he effaced himself in the darkness and awaited his own turn.

He hardly knew why he had come. For what should he ask -- forgiveness or for the hope of the King who was to come? What should he do -- make atonement or promises; give an offering or ask encouragement? He did not doubt for an instant that he had done wisely in seeking the synagogue, but what had he for it, or what had it for him?

Meanwhile the voice of the priest, disembodied in the gloom, had put off its ritualistic tone and was delivering a charge:

|Since you are in haste to reach Jerusalem, you may depart, so that you will give me your word that you will in all faith abide upon the road seven days; and that at the end of the separation you will present yourselves for examination and cleansing at Jerusalem, and that you will in nowise transgress the law of separation on the journey hence.|

The Maccabee heard the woman give her word. After a little further communication, he heard them move toward the entrance.

The white light from the day without revealed to him in a few steps, a veiled woman, a deformed old man and a young rabbi. He did not need to take the evidence of her dress or of her companion to recognize under this veil the girl whom he had won from Julian of Ephesus, in the hills, that very morning.

As if in response to his inner hope that she would see him, she raised her eyes at the moment she passed, and started quickly. Even under the shelter of her veil he saw her flush.

The next instant she was out of the synagogue and gone.

The Maccabee hesitated restlessly, forgot his mission to the synagogue and then, with no definite purpose, followed.

At the edge of town, where the huddle of huts left off and the gravel and rock and cedar began, he saw the priest dismiss the pair with his blessing and turn back.

Undecided, restless and regretful, the Maccabee lingered, looking after her as she went into the hills, unattended, except for an anomalous old man. The sun of noon shone on her silver dress that the dust of the wayside had not tarnished. He was gloomy and wistful without understanding his discomfort, and afraid for the beautiful unknown going out for seven days into the unfriendly wilderness.

There was the click of a horse's hoof beside him. He glanced up with a nervous start to see Julian of Ephesus, scowling, at hand.

|It is time,| he said, |for us to be off.|

The Maccabee instantly determined that Julian of Ephesus should not come up with this defenseless girl again.

|I am not ready,| he returned promptly.

|It was three days, this morning, that you have lost. To-morrow it will be four.|

|And Sabbath, it will be seven. A long time, a long time!|

The Maccabee turned and went back to the khan. A gap in the hills had hidden the girl in the silver tissue, and the blitheness of the Maccabee's spirit had gone with her.

<<  Contents  >>





©2002-2020 SermonIndex.net
Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Affiliate Disclosure | Privacy Policy