The Maccabee resolved that in spite of his heart-hunger, he must not be a frequent visitor to the house of Amaryllis because of the imminent risk of confronting the impostor Julian and the danger of exposure. Not danger to his life, but danger to his freedom to court the beautiful girl, which an unmasking might accomplish. Besides, he had made an extraordinary entry into the Greek's house in the beginning, and he was not prepared to explain himself even now, if he returned.
But his longing to look at her again was stronger than his caution. Much had happened since he had left the house of the Greek on the evening of his first day in Jerusalem, and he feared that his absorption in his own plans might result in the loss of her soon or late. So when the evening of the second week to a day of his sojourn in the city came round, unable to endure longer, he turned his steps with considerable apprehension toward the house of Amaryllis.
When he was led across the threshold of the Greek's hall, he saw Amaryllis sitting in her exedra, her slim white arms crossed back of her head, her tiring-woman, summoned for a casual attention, busy with a parted ribbon on the sandal of the lady's foot.
The Maccabee awaited her invitation. Her eyes flashed a sudden pleasure when she looked up and saw him.
|Enter,| she said, with an unwonted lightness in her voice that was usually low and grave; |and be welcome.|
He came to the place she indicated at her side and sat. In silence he waited until the tiring-woman had finished her service and departed. Then it was Amaryllis who spoke.
|You left us abruptly on occasion of your first visit.|
|The siege was of greater interest to you than I was. When I discovered the cause of the disturbance, you would have failed to remember me.|
|Yet I recall you readily after many days.|
|The city is in disorder; conventions can not always be observed in war-time. I returned when I could.|
|Our interest in you as our guest has not abated. Philadelphus is ready to see you, at any time,| she said, watching his face.
|And in time of war,| he answered composedly, |we intend many things in the first place which we do not carry out in the second. I do not care to see -- Philadelphus.|
She lifted her brows. He answered the implied question.
|I was a familiar to this Philadelphus; he is young and boastful, talkative as a woman. If he means to be king, as those who knew him in Ephesus were given to believe, it is not unnatural that some of us, without fortune or tie to keep us home, should follow him -- as parasites, if you will -- to share in the largess which he will surely give his friends if he succeeds.|
He did not face her when he made this speech, and he did not observe the amusement that crept into her eyes. He could not sense his own greatness of presence sufficiently to know that his claim to be a parasite upon so incapable a creature as the false Philadelphus would awaken doubt in the mind of an intelligent woman like Amaryllis.
He felt that he was not covering his tracks well, and put his ingenuity to a test.
|The boon-craver therefore should not sit like a dog, begging crumbs, till the table is laid. My hunger would appear as competition, if I showed it him, while he is yet unfed. Of a truth, I would not have him know I am here.|
|I will keep thy secret,| she promised, smiling.
|I thank you,| he said gravely. |I came, on this occasion, to ask after the young woman, whose name I have not learned -- her whom you have sheltered.|
Amaryllis' smiling eyes darkened suddenly.
|Pouf!| she said. |I had begun to hope that you had come to see me!|
|I had not John's permission,| he objected.
|Have you Philadelphus' permission to see her?|
He looked his perplexity.
|What,| she exclaimed, |has she not laid her claim before you yet?|
The Maccabee shook his head.
|Know, then, that this pretty nameless creature claims to be the wife of this same Philadelphus.|
He sat up in his earnestness.
|What!| he cried.
|Even so! Insists upon it in the face of the lady princess' proofs and Philadelphus' denial!|
The Maccabee's brows dropped while he gazed down at the Greek.
Julian of Ephesus was then the husband that she was to join in Jerusalem! Small wonder she had been indignant when he, the Maccabee, in the spirit of mischief, had laid a wife to Julian's door and had described her as most unprepossessing. And that was why her terror of Julian had been so abject! That was why she had flown to him, a stranger, rather than be left alone with a husband who, it seemed, would be rid of her that he might pursue his ends the better!
|What think you of it!| he exclaimed aloud, but to himself.
|And I never saw in all my life such pretensions of probity!| the Greek continued. |She is outraged by any little word that questions her virtue; she holds herself aloof from me as if she were not certain that I am fit for her companionship; and she flies with fluffed feathers and cries of rage in the face of the least compliment that comes from any lips -- even Philadelphus!|
The Maccabee continued to gaze at the Greek. He did not see the woman's search of his face for an assent to her speech. He was struggling with a desire to tell her that he was eager to exchange his wife for Julian's.
|Perchance she is right,| he said instead. |What know we of this paganized young Jew? He has been separated from his lady from childhood. It is right easy to marry, once we fall into the way.|
|No, no! Her claim is hopeless. She confesses it. But she maintains the assumption, nevertheless.|
|Absolutely? No little sign of lapse among thy handsome servants, here?|
|I do not see her when she is with the servants,| she said astutely.
|What will you do with her?| he asked.
|She is beautiful, unique, and so eligible to my collection of arts and artists under this roof. She shall stay till fate shows its hand for all of us.|
|You have housed Discord under your roof, then,| he said. |Laodice, the wife to this Philadelphus, will not be a happy woman; and I -- I shall not be a happy man. Let me return favor for your favor to me. I will take her away.|
She laughed, though it seemed that a hard note had entered her voice.
|You will permit me, then, to surmise for myself why you came to Jerusalem. You seem to have known this girl before. I shall not ask you; in return for that promise that I may conclude what I will.|
|If you are too discerning, lady,| he answered, while his eyes sought down the corridor for a glimpse of the one he had come to see, |you are dangerous.|
|And what then?|
|I must devise a way to silence you.|
She lifted her brows. In that very speech was the portrait of the Maccabee that she had come to love through letters.
|There is something familiar in your mood,| she said thoughtfully. |It seems that I have known you -- for many years.|
He made no answer. He had said all that he wished to say to this woman. She noted his silence and rose.
|I shall send the girl to you.|
|Thou art good,| he answered and she withdrew.
A moment later Laodice came into the chamber. She was not startled. In her innocent soul she did not realize that this was a sign of the depth of her love for him. He rose and met her half-way across the hall; took her hand and held it while they walked back to the exedra, and gazed at her face for evidence that her sojourn in this house had been unhappy or otherwise; noted that she had let down her hair and braided it; observed every infinitesimal change that can attract only the lover's eye.
|Sit,| he said, giving her a place beside him. |I came of habit to see you. Of habit, I was interrupted. Is there no way that I can talk to you without the resentment of some one who flourishes a better right to be with you than I can show?|
|Where hast thou been,| Laodice asked, |so long?|
|Was it long,| he demanded impulsively, |to you?|
|New places, new faces, uncertainty and other things make time seem long,| she explained hastily.
|Nay, then,| he said, |I have been busy. I have been attending to that labor I had in mind for Judea, of which we spoke in the hills that morning.|
Laodice drew in a quick breath. Then some one, if not herself or the husband who had denied her, was at work for Judea.
|There is no nation, here, for a king,| he went on. |It is a great horde that needs organization. It wants a leader. I am ambitious and Judea will be the prize to the ablest man. Seest thou mine intent?|
|You -- you aspire -- | she began and halted, suddenly impressed with the complication his announcement had effected.
|Go on,| he said.
|You would take Judea?|
|But it belongs of descent to the Maccabees!|
|To Philadelphus Maccabaeus, yes; but what is he doing?|
She dropped her head.
|Nothing,| she said in a half-whisper.
|No? But let me tell you what I have done already. Three days ago Titus took revenge upon Coenopolis for her sortie against Nicanor by firing the suburbs. The citizens could not spare water to fight the fire, and after futile attempts they gathered up food and treasure and fled into Jerusalem. Now, a thousand householders in the streets of this oppressed city, with their gods and their goods in their arms, made the pillagers of Simon and John laugh aloud. They fell upon these wandering, bewildered, treasure-laden people and robbed them as readily and as joyously as a husbandman gathers olives in a fat year. Oh, it was a merry time for the men of Simon and the men of John! But I in my wanderings over the city came upon a party of Bezethans, reluctant to surrender their goods for the asking, and they were fighting with right good will a body of Idumeans twice their number. In fact they fought so well, so unanimously, so silently that I saw they lacked the essential part of the fight -- the shouting. That I supplied. And when they had whipped the Idumeans and had a chance for flight before reinforcements came, they obeyed my voice in so far as they followed me into a subterranean chamber beneath a burned ruin on Zion.
|We were not followed and our hiding-place was not discovered. In fact, their resistance was a complete success. Whereupon, they were ready to unite and take Jerusalem! No -- it was not strange! It is the nature of men. I never saw a wine-merchant in Ephesus, who, after clearing his shop of brawlers single-handed, was not ready thereupon to march upon Rome and besiege Caesar on the Palatine! So it was with these Bezethans.
|I, with my voice, expressed the yearnings that they felt in their victorious breasts, and plotted for them. After council and organization we went forth by night and finding Idumean patrols by the score sleepy and inert from overfeeding we robbed them of that which was our own. Then we sought out hungry Bezethans and fed them when they promised to become of our party. Nothing was more simple! By dawn we had a hundred under our ruin, bound to us by oath and the enticements of our larder, and hungry only for fight! Will you believe me when I boast that I have an army in Jerusalem?|
She heard him with a strange confusion of emotions. In her soul she was excited and eager for his success; but here was a strong and growing enemy to Philadelphus, who was reluctant to become a king! Her impulsive joy in a forceful man struggled with her sense of duty to the man she could not love.
|Why do you tell me these things?| she said uneasily. |It is perilous for any one to know that you are constructing sedition against these ferocious powers in Jerusalem.|
|Ah, but you fear for me; therefore you will not betray me. None else but those as deeply committed know of it.|
He had confided in her, and because of it his ambitions took stealthy hold upon her.
|But -- but is there no other way to take Jerusalem, except -- by predatory warfare?| she hesitated.
|No,| he laughed. |We are fighting thieves and murderers; they do not understand the open field; we must go into the dark to find them.|
|Then -- then if your soldiers have the good of the city and the love of their fellows in their hearts, and if you feed them and shelter them -- why shall you not succeed?| she asked, speaking slowly as the sum of his advantages occurred to her.
He dropped his hand on hers.
|It lacks one thing; if I have discouragement in my soul, it will weaken my arm, and so the arm of all my army.|
Intuition bade her hesitate to ask for that essential thing; his eyes named it to her and she looked away from him quickly that he might not see the sudden flush which she could not repress.
|Tell me,| she said, |more of that night -- |
|That would be recounting the same incident many times. But one thing unusual happened; nay, two things. In the middle of the night, after we had brought in our second enlistment of patriots, we were feeding them and I was giving them instruction. At the entrance, I had posted a sentry; none of us believed that any one had seen us take refuge in that crypt. Indeed, we were all frank in our congratulations and defiant in our security. Suddenly, I saw half of my army scuttle to cover; the rest stood transfixed in their tracks. I looked up and there before me in the firelight stood a young man, whom I had not, I am convinced, brought in with me. He was tall, comely, dressed as I have seen the Hindu priests dress in Ephesus, but in garments that were fairly radiant for whiteness. But his face gave cause enough to make any man lose his tongue. Believe me, when I say he looked as if he had seen angels, and had talked with the dead. His eyes gazed through us as if we had been thin air. So dreadful they were in their unseeing look that every man asked himself what would happen if that gaze should light upon him. He stood a moment, walked as soft-footed and as swiftly as some shade through our burrow and vanished as he had come. In all the time he tarried, he made not one sound!|
Laodice was looking at him with awed, but understanding eyes.
|It was Seraiah,| she said in a low voice. |He entered this place on a day last week. All the city is afraid of him.|
|So my soldiers told me afterward, between chattering teeth. He almost damped our patriotism. We uttered our bombast, sealed our vows and made our sorties, thereafter, every man of us, with our chins over our shoulders! Spare me Seraiah! He has too much influence!|
|Is he a madman?| she asked.
|Or else a supernatural man. Would I could manage men by the fall of my foot, as he does. I should have Jerusalem's fealty by to-morrow night. But it was near early morning that the other incident occurred. That was of another nature. We stumbled upon a pair huddled in the shadow of a building. We stumbled upon many figures in shadows, but one of these murmured a name that I heard once in the hills hereabout, and I had profited by that name, so I halted. It was an old man, starved and weary and ill; with him was a gray ghost of a creature with long white hair, that seemed to be struck with terror the instant it heard my voice. At first I thought it was a withered old woman, but it proved to be a man -- somehow seeming young in spite of the snow-white hair and wasted frame. I had them taken up, the gray ghost resisting mightily, and carried to my burrow where they now lie. They eat; they take up space; they add nothing to my cause. But I can not turn them out. The old man disarms me by that name.|
He looked down at her with softening eyes.
|And the shepherd held thy hand?| he said softly. She turned upon him in astonishment. How much of joy and surprise and hope he could bring in a single visit, she thought. Now, behold he had met that same delightsome child that had passed like a dash of sunlight across her dark day.
|Did you meet the shepherd of Pella?| she asked. Instant deduction supplied her the name that had moved him to compassion. |And did he serve you in the name of his Prophet?| she whispered.
|He saved my life in the name of his Christ, but was tender of me in thy name,| he replied.
|His is a sweet apostasy,| she ventured bravely, |if it be his apostasy that made him kind. And I -- I owe him much, that he repaired that for which I feel at fault.|
He smiled at her and stroked her hand once, soothingly.
|Let us not remember blames or injury. It damages my happiness. But of this apostasy that the shepherd preached me. I passed the stones of the Palace of Antipas to-day, a ruin, black and shapeless. Thought I, where is the majesty of order and the beauty of strength that was this place? And then,| his voice fell to a whisper, |beshrew the boy's tattle, I said, the footprints of his Prophet before the throne of Herod are erased.|
|Even then,| she whispered when he paused, |you do not forget!|
|No! Why, these streets, that should ring for me with the footsteps of all the great from the days of David, are marked by the passage of that Prophet. I might forget that Felix and Florus and Gessius were legates in that Roman residence, but I do not fail to remember that they took that Prophet before Pilate there. By my soul, the street that leads north hath become the way of the Cross, and there are three crosses for me on the Hill of the Skull!|
She looked at him gravely and with alarm. What was it in this history of the Nazarene which won aristocrats and shepherds alike? She would see from this man if there were indeed any truth in the story that Philadelphus had told her.
|I have heard,| she began, faltering, |I have heard that -- | She stopped. Her tongue would not shape the story. But after a glance at her, he understood.
|And thou hast heard it, also?| he whispered. |Thou believest it?|
It seemed that to acknowledge her fear that the King had come and gone would establish the fact.
|No!| she cried.
|It is enough,| he said nervously. |We do not well to talk of it. I came for another reason. Tell me; hast thou other shelter than this house?|
|No,| she answered.
|Hast thou talked with this Philadelphus, here?| he asked after silence.
She assented with averted face.
|Is he that one who was with me in the hills?| he persisted.
Again she assented, with surprise.
His hands clenched and for a moment he struggled with his rage.
|This house is no place for you!| he declared at last.
|What manner of house is this?| she asked pathetically. |It is so strange!|
|Why did you come here?|
|Because there was nowhere else to go.|
He was silent.
|Who is this Amaryllis?| she asked.
She shrank away from him and looked at him with horror-stricken eyes.
|Hast thou not yet seen him, who buys thy bread and meat and insures this safe roof?| he persisted.
|And -- and I eat bread -- bought -- bought by -- | she stammered.
Her hands dropped at her sides.
|Are the good all dead?| she said.
|In Jerusalem, yes; for Virtue gets hungry, at times.|
She had risen and moved away from him, but he followed her with interested eyes.
|Then -- then -- | she began, hesitating under a rush of convictions. |That is why -- why I can not -- why he -- he -- |
He knew she spoke of Philadelphus.
|Go on,| he said.
|Why I can not live in safety near him!|
He, too, arose. Until that moment it had not occurred to him that Julian of Ephesus, as repugnant to her as she had shown him ever to be, might prove a peril to her life as he had been to the Maccabee who had stood in his way.
|What has he said to you?| he demanded fiercely. |How do you live, here in this house?|
She threw up her head, seeing another meaning in his question.
|Shut in! Locked!| she said between her teeth.
|But even then you are not safe!|
She drew back hastily and looked at him with alarm. What did he mean?
He was beside her.
|Tell me, in truth, who you are,| he said tenderly, |and I shall reveal myself.|
Then, indeed, Amaryllis had told him her claim and had convinced him that it was fraudulent.
|And she told you?| she said wearily.
|Tell me,| he insisted. |I have truly a revelation worth hearing!|
She made no answer.
|You owe it me,| he added presently. |Behold what damaging things I have intrusted to you. You can ruin me by the droop of an eyelash.|
|I should have told you at first who I am,| she said finally. |I will not betray what you told me in ignorance -- |
|But Amaryllis told me this before you came.|
|Nevertheless, tell me no more; if I must be a partizan, I shall be a partizan to my husband.|
|There is nothing for you here, clinging to this man,| he continued persuasively. |This woman brought him a great dowry. She is ambitious and therefore jealous. You will win nothing but mistreatment, and worse, if you stay here for him.|
|It is my place,| she said.
After a moment's helpless silence, he demanded bitterly:
|Dost thou love that man?|
The truth leaped to her lips with such wilful force that he read the reply on her face, though her eyes were down and by intense resolution she restrained the denial. He was close to her, speaking quickly under the pressure of his earnestness.
|I have sacrificed name, birthright, fortune -- even honor -- that I might be free to love thee!|
She drew back from him hurriedly, afraid that his very insistence would destroy her fortitude.
|Let me not have bankrupted myself for a trust thou wilt not give!|
|It -- it is not mine to give,| she stammered.
|Otherwise -- otherwise -- | he prompted, leaning near her. But she put him back from her, desperately.
|Go, go!| she whispered. |I hear -- I hear Philadelphus!|
He turned from her obediently.
|It is not my last hope,| he said to himself. |Neither has she suffered her last perplexity in this house. I shall come again.|
He passed out into the streets of Jerusalem.