Julian of Ephesus, now the presumptive Philadelphus Maccabaeus, rode up the broad brown bosom of a hill that had confronted him for miles to the south, and the sun had sloped until its early spring rays struck level from the west. At the summit, he drew up his horse suddenly with a quick intaking of the breath.
Below him lay Jerusalem.
South and east the barren summits of brown hills shaped a depression in which the city lay. North, clean-white and regular, the wall of Agrippa was printed against the cold blue of the sky. Below on three lesser mounts and overflowing the vales between was the goodliest city in all Asia.
About it and through it climbed such walls, planted on such bold natural escarpment, that made it the most inaccessible fortification in the world. On its highest hill stood a vision of marble and gold -- a fortress in gemstone -- the Temple. Behind it towered Roman Antonia. Westward the Tyropean Bridge spanned a deep, populous ravine. The high broad street upon which the giant causeway terminated was marked by the solemn cenotaphs of Mariamne and Phaselis and ended against the Tower of Hippicus -- a vast and unflinching citadel of stone. Under the shadow of this pile was the high place of the Herods; in sight was a second Herodian palace. South was the open space of the great markets; near the southernmost segment of the outer wall was the semicircular Hippodrome. Cut off from its neighbor by ancient walls were Ophlas, overlooking Tophet and under the shadow of the Temple; Mount Zion which the Lord had established, Akra of the valley, Moriah, the Holy Hill, and Coenopolis or Bezetha which Agrippa I had walled. About the immense outer fortifications crawled the shadowy valleys of Tophet, of Brook Kedron and of Hinnom. Thickly scattered like fallen patches of skies the pools of Siloam, Gihon, Shiloh, En-Rogel, the Great Pool, the Serpent's Pool and the Dragon's Well reflected the color of the mountain heavens. Between them wandered the blue threads of certain aqueducts that supplied them. Everywhere rose the shafts of monuments and memorials, old as the pride of Absalom, new as the folly of the Herods; everywhere the aggressive paganism of Rome and Greece, which would have paganized this monotheistic race out of very rancor against its uprightness, violated with insolent beauty the hieratic severity of the city's face. Rich, bold, strong, beautiful, Jerusalem was at that hour, as viewed from the hill to the north, the perfection of beauty and the joy of the whole earth.
For a moment ambition struggled nobly in the breast of the man that overlooked it. Except for the obstacles he had placed in his own way by his misdeeds, Julian of Ephesus at that moment might have become great. But he had struck down his kinsman on the way, and such deeds were remembered even in war-ridden Judea; he had come to Jerusalem wearing his kinsman's name that he might despoil that kinsman's bride of her dowry; a hundred other crimes of his commission stood in the way to peace and success.
But about him the Passover pilgrims, catching their first glimpse of the Holy City, gave way to the storm of emotion that had gradually gathered as they drew near to the threatened City of Delight.
It had moved him to look upon this most majestic fortification, embattled and begirt for resistance against the most majestic nation in the world. But he who came as a stranger could not feel within him the tenderness of old love, the sanctity of old tradition, and the desperation of kin in his blood as he gazed upon Jerusalem. Yonder was a roof-garden; to him, no more than that. But the inspired Jews beside him knew that in that place the sun of noon had shone upon Bathsheba, the beautiful; and in that neighboring high place the heart of the Singing King had melted; to the north was a stretch of monotonous ground overgrown with a new suburb; but that was the camp of Sennacherib, the Assyrian whom the Angel of the Lord smote and his army of one hundred and four score and five thousand, before the morning. Yonder were squalid streets, older than any others. But the Kings had walked them; the Prophets had helped wear trenches in their stones; the heroes and the strong-hearted women of the ancient days had gone that way. No house but was holy with tradition; no street but was sanctified by event. Small wonder, then, that these who came to this Passover, the most momentous one since that calamity which had occurred forty years ago on Golgotha, wept, cried aloud to Heaven; became beatified and made prophecies; railed; anathematized Jerusalem's enemies; assumed vows and were threatening. Julian of Ephesus was shaken. He looked about him on the tempestuous host, then touched his horse and rode down to the city.
On the Hill Scopus over which he approached an inferior number of Romans were camped, and these had maintained a semblance of siege only sufficiently effective to close all the gates on three sides. The Sun Gate to the south of the city was therefore the most accessible point of entry for the pilgrims. Following the people who had preceded him, Julian approached this portal, left his horse with the stable-keeper without and prepared to enter Jerusalem.
Collecting at the causeway of the Sun Gate the pilgrims came with such impetus that the foremost were rushed struggling and protesting through the tunnel under the wall and forced well into Jerusalem before they could control their own motion. Once within, the host spread out so that one looking at the immense space they instantly covered wondered how so great a mass ever passed through the circumscribed limits of a fifty-foot gate. At times stopping was impossible. Again there were momentary lulls, as when the sea recoils upon itself and is stilled for an instant. They who stood to watch, wearied of days of such invasion, unconsciously wished that the interval might endure till they could rest their number-wearied brains. But, as if the stagnation were the result of congestion somewhere without the walls, when the wave returned it came with redoubled height and power and the Sun Gate would roar with the noise of their entry.
After the Ephesian had been swept in with his own company of pilgrims, he saw that which even few of the new-comers had expected to see. The immediate vicinity of the gate was laid waste. Up Mount Zion opposite Hippicus and along the margin of the Tyropean Valley where the Herodian and Sadducean palaces had seemed so fair from the north were great blackened shells of walls and leaning pillars, partly buried in ruin and rubbish. Far and wide the streets were littered with debris and charred fragments of burned timbers. At another place on the breast of Zion was a chaos of rock where a mansion had been literally pulled down. Somewhere near Akra pale columns of pungent, wind-blown smoke still rose from a colossal heap of fused matter that the Ephesian could not identify. About it were neglected houses; not a sign of festivity was apparent; windows hung open carelessly; the hangings in colonnades were stripped away entirely or whipped loose from the fastenings and abandoned to the winds. Numbers of dwellings appeared to have been sacked; others were so closely barred and fortified that their exteriors appeared as inhospitable as jails.
Confusion prevailed on the smoked and untidy marble Walk of the Purified leading down from the Temple. Here those who held fast to the Law met and contested for their old exclusiveness with wild heathen Idumean soldiers, starvelings, ruffians and strange women from out-lying towns. Far and wide were wandering crowds, surly, defiant, discourteous, exacting. Manifestly it was the visitors who were the aggressors. They had been overthrown and driven from their own into an unsubjugated city which was secure. They felt the rage of the defeated which are not subdued, and the resentment against another's unearned immunity. The citizens of Jerusalem had not welcomed them and they were enraged. Half a dozen fights of more or less seriousness were in sight at once. A column of black wiry men in some semblance of uniform pushed across the open space toward the Essene Gate. They took no heed for any in their path. Those who could not escape were overturned and trampled on. Meeting a rush at the gate they drew swords and coolly hacked their way through screams of fear and pain and amazement. After them went a wave of curses and complaint. Citizens against the visitors; visitors against the citizens; soldiers against them all!
|And this cousin of mine meant to pacify all this!| the Ephesian exclaimed to himself.
Jerusalem, that had for fifteen hundred years adorned herself at this time with tabrets and had gone forth in the dance of them that make merry, was drunken with wormwood and covered with ashes.
All at once the Ephesian saw four soldiers standing together and with them, manifestly under their protection, was a Greek of striking beauty. He wore on his fine head a purple turban embroidered with a golden star.
Without a moment's hesitation, the Ephesian approached. The spears of the four soldiers fell and formed a barrier around the Greek. The new-comer smiled confidently.
|Greeting, servant of Amaryllis,| he said. |I am your lady's expected guest.|
The Greek came forth from the square formed by his guard.
|I am that servant of Amaryllis,| he said courteously. |But show me yet another sign.|
The Ephesian drew from his bosom the Maccabaean signet and flashed its blue fires at the Greek. The servant stepped hastily between the soldiers and the new-comer.
|Thy name?| he asked in a whisper.
|I am Philadelphus Maccabaeus.|
The servant bent and taking the hem of the woolen tunic pressed it to his lips.
|Happy hour!| he exclaimed. |I pray you follow me.|
The pretender breathed a relieved sigh and joined his protector.
They passed down into Akra and approached the straight column of pungent smoke towering up from a charred heap that the Ephesian in spite of his haste inspected curiously.
|What is that?| he asked of the Greek.
|That, master, is the city granaries.|
|The granaries!| the Ephesian cried, aghast.
The Greek inclined his head.
|What -- what -- fired them?| the Ephesian asked.
|John and Simon differed on the point of its control and each fired it to keep the other from possessing it!|
For a moment the Ephesian was thunderstruck. Then he quickened his pace.
|By the horns of Capricornus!| he avowed. |The sooner one gets out of this, the wiser he must be counted!|
The Greek looked at him with lifted brows and led on.
They crossed the Tyropean Valley and approached a small new house of stone, abutting the vast retaining wall that was built against Moriah. A line of soldiers was thrown out from the entrance to the house and his conductor, after whispering a word to the captain, led the way up to a double-barred door. A long time after he had rapped, there was the sound of falling chains and the door swung open. A second Greek servant of no less beauty bowed the new-comer and his companion within. The noise of the streets was suddenly cut off. Soft dusk and quiet proved that the doors of Amaryllis had been shut upon unhappy Jerusalem.
The second servant drew a cord and a roller of matting lifted and showed a skylight. Philadelphus the pretender was in the andronitis of a Greek house.
It was typical. None but a Greek with the purest taste had planned it. Walls and pavement were of unpolished marble, lusterless white. A marble exedra built in a semicircle sat in the farther end, facing a chair wholly of ivory set beside a lectern of dull brass. At either end of the exedra on a pedestal formed by the arms, a brass staff upheld a flat lamp that cast its luster down on the seat by night. Against an opposite wall built at full length of the hall, was a pigeonholed case, which was stacked with brass cylinders. This was the library of the Greek. At a third side was a compound arch concealed by a heavy white curtain. There were low couches spread with costly white material which were used when Amaryllis set her table in her andronitis, and at the arches leading into the interior of the house there were draperies. But the chamber, with all its richness, had a splendid emptiness that made it imposing, not luxurious.
After a single admiring survey of the hall in which he had been left alone, the pretended Philadelphus fortified himself against his most critical test.
Without a sound, without even so much as the rustling of a garment to announce her, a woman emerged from a passage leading into the interior of the house. He confronted the only person in Jerusalem who might know him as an impostor.
The woolen chiton of her countrywomen draped a figure almost too slender, yet perfect in its delicate modeling. Though her eyes were black, her hair was fair and brilliant with a wash of gold powder. Her features were Hellenic, cold, pure and classic, and for all her youth and beauty there was an atmosphere about her of middle-age, immense experience, and old sagacity.
The pretender braced himself for the scrutiny the eyes made of him.
|You are that Philadelphus, as my servant tells me?| she asked.
|I am he.|
She inclined her head.
|Welcome; in the name of all the need of you!|
After a silence he came closer and lifted her hand to his lips. He added nothing, but presently raised his eyes softened with feeling and unexpressed appreciation.
|Certainly you have suffered, lady,| he said finally in a subdued tone. |But please God you will not suffer alone hereafter.|
Amaryllis' non-committal front changed.
|You are gentler of speech than is common among the Maccabees,| she said.
|Nevertheless the Maccabees are the more touched by devotion,| he maintained.
He led her to the exedra, unslung his wallet and laid it on the lectern before them.
|When thou hast leisure, perchance thou wilt find interest in these papers here.|
She thanked him and there was a moment's silence. Under his lashes the impostor saw that he had not filled her fancied picture of the Maccabee made from long years of correspondence. She was disappointed; her intuition was perplexed. He would complete his work and get away in time.
|My wife is here?| he asked.
|She came yesterday,| Amaryllis responded, clapping her hands in summons. A female servant of such prepossessing appearance that Philadelphus looked at her again, bowed in the archway.
|Send hither the princess,| Amaryllis said.
|The princess,| Philadelphus repeated to himself. |Then, by Ate, I am the prince!|
|While we wait,| Amaryllis continued, |let us talk of details which you may not have patience to hear after she comes. Jerusalem, as you have learned, is in grave danger -- |
|Jerusalem should fear the Roman army less than herself. I have seen its disease.|
|The citizens will hail Titus as a deliverer. But this week's ceremonies are bringing us disaster. Should Titus be forced to lay siege about us, how shall we feed this multitude of a million on the supplies gathered for only a third of that number?|
|Gathered and burned.|
|Even so. But of your creature comforts. My house is open to your chief enemy. It must be so. You must be hidden -- not concealed, but disguised. You know my weakness for people of charm and people of ability. My house is full of them. The master of this place is indulgent; he permits me to add to my collection whatever pleases me in the way of society. Therefore, you are come as a student of this wonderful drama to be enacted in Jerusalem presently. You may live under part of your name. Substitute, however, your city for your surname. Be Philadelphus of Ephesus. No one then will question your presence here.
|I have bound to me by oath and by fear one hundred Idumeans who will rise or fall with you. They are of John's own army and alienated to you without his knowledge. Hence they are in armor and ready at any propitious moment. This house is provisioned and equipped for siege; everything is prepared.|
|At what cost, my Amaryllis?| he asked tenderly.
She drew away from him quickly, as if his tone had touched a place of deeper disappointment.
|That I do not remember. I am your minister; you need no other. More than the one would be multiplying chances for betrayal.|
|And what wilt thou have out of all this for thyself?| he asked.
Slowly she turned her face back to him.
|I would have it said that I made a king,| she said.
There was a step in the corridor leading into the andronitis, and, smiling, Amaryllis rose. Philadelphus got upon his feet and looked to catch the first glimpse of the woman who was bringing him two hundred talents.
A woman entered the hall. Behind her came a servant bearing a shittim-wood casket.
Had Amaryllis been looking for suspicious signs, she would have observed in the intense silence that fell, in the arrested attitude of the pair, more than a natural embarrassment. Any one informed that these were a pair of impostors would have seen that there was no confusion here, but amazement, chagrin and no little fear.
Instead, Amaryllis, nothing suspecting, glanced from one set face to the other and laughed.
|Poor children! Married fourteen years and more than strangers to each other! I will take myself off until you recover.|
She signed to the servant to follow her and passed out of the hall.
Philadelphus then put off his stony quiet and gazed wrathfully at the woman who had entered.
Hers was a fine frame, broad and square of shoulder, tall and lank of hip as some great tiger-cat, and splendid in its sinuosity. She had walked with a long stride and as she dropped into the chair she crossed her limbs so that her well-turned ankles showed and the hands she clasped about her knees were long and strong, white and remarkably tapering. Her features were almost too perfect; her beauty was sensuous, insolent and dazzling. Withal her presence intimated tremendous primal charm and the mystery of undiscovered potentialities. And she was royal! No mere upstart of an impostor could have assumed that perfect hauteur, that patrician bearing.
But the pretended Philadelphus was not impressed by this beauty.
|How now, Salome?| he demanded. |What play is this?|
The Ephesian actress motioned toward the shittim-wood casket.
|For that,| she said calmly.
Her voice became, instantly, her foremost charm. It was a deep voice; the profoundest contralto with an illimitable strength in suggestion.
|Where is -- what is that?|
|Two hundred talents.|
Philadelphus took a step toward her.
|What!| he exclaimed evilly. |Whose two hundred talents?|
There was silence in which the man's fingers bent, as if he felt her throat between them. Then he recovered himself.
|But -- this woman -- where is she?|
The actress lifted her shapely shoulders.
|Where is the Maccabee?| she asked in return.
He made no answer.
|Did you get that treasure here -- since yesterday?| he asked at last querulously.
|No, by Pluto! I got it in the hills near to Emmaus. You would have had it in another day.| She laughed impudently, in spite of the murderous blackening in his face.
|Then, since you are such a shrewd thief, why did you come here at all, since you had the gold?| he demanded, astonished in spite of his rage.
She waved a pair of jeweled hands.
|They said that the Maccabee was strong and ambitious and forceful, that he would be king over Judea. Knowing you, I believed he would still come to Jerusalem in spite of you. How did you do it? In his sleep? Now, I,| she continued with an assumption of concern, |failed in that detail. She was guarded by a monster. I could not get near her. But I got the casket.|
|She will come here then!| Philadelphus exclaimed.
|What of it! Amaryllis does not know her; no one else does. And I have her proofs -- and her dowry!|
After a silence in which she read the expression on his face, she rose and came near him with determination in her manner.
|You will have the wisdom not to recognize her,| she said, |lest I suddenly discover that you are not the Philadelphus I expected.|
He made rapid survey of her advantage over him, and submitted.
|But there will be no need of waiting for such an issue,| he fumed, after a silence. |I am here and not the Maccabee, whose crown you coveted. We shall get out of this perilous city.|
|So?| she said, lifting her finely penciled brows. |No, we shall not.|
|Why?| he stormed.
|Because,| she answered, |John of Gischala may yet be king of Judea -- and John hath a queen's diadem for sale at two hundred talents -- or a heart which I can have for nothing.|
There was malevolent and impotent silence in the andronitis of Amaryllis, the Greek.