When Nathan, the Christian, stepped into the streets once more there was an immense accession of tumult about him.
He turned to look toward the corner of the Old Wall in time to behold Jews in armor and Romans in blazing brass rush together in a great cloud of dust as the Old Wall went in and Titus swept down upon Jerusalem.
At the same instant from the ruined high place upon Zion came a roar of stupendous menace. The Christian, with sublime indifference to danger, kept his path toward the concourse from which he had taken Laodice. As he ascended the opposite slope of the ravine, he saw, descending toward the battle, the front of a rushing multitude, as irresistible and as destructive as a great sea in a storm.
He saw that the mob was turning toward Akra, and to avoid it, the Christian climbed up to the Tyropean Bridge, and from that point viewed the whole of Jerusalem sweeping down upon the heathen.
At the head of the inundation passed a melodious voice crying:
|An end, an end is come upon the four corners of the land! Draw near every man with his destroying weapon in his hands for the glory of the Lord! For His house is filled with cloud and the Court is full of the brightness of the Lord's glory! A sword! A sword is sharpened! The way is appointed that the sword may come! For the time for favor to Zion is here; yea, the set time is come!|
After this poured a gaunt horde numbering tens of thousands. They bore paving-stones, stakes, posts, railings, garden implements, weapons from kitchens, from hardware booths and from armories; anything that one man or a body of men could wield; torches and kettles of tar; chains and ropes; knotted whips, and bundles of fagots; iron spikes, instruments of torture, anything and everything which could be turned as a weapon or to inflict pain upon the Roman, who believed at this moment that Jerusalem was his!
The Christian overlooked this ferocious inundation and shook his head. On a mound near him stood the spirit of the mob concentrated and personified. It was crazed Posthumus.
He was screaming: |It is finished; the law is run out! All prophecy is fulfilled!|
And over his head he was swinging a parchment fiercely burning.
It was the Scroll of the Law!
After uncounted minutes, vibrating with roar, the terrible flood rushed by. Feeble arms clasped the Christian about the knees and he looked down on the tangled white locks of the palsied man, who had searched for him until he had found him. The Christian laid his hand on the man's head but did not speak.
At the breach in the Old Wall, the watchers on that almost deserted street saw the brazen wave of four legions gather and sweep forward to gain ground in the city before the mob swept down on them.
Between the two warring bodies, one orderly, prepared but apprehensive, the other mad and perishing, was a considerable space. Fighting still went on at the breach in the walls, but the supreme conflict of a comparatively small body of soldiers and an uncounted horde was not yet precipitated.
Ordinarily, the Roman army could have reduced any popular insurrection with half that number of men. But at present the legionaries confronted desperate citizens who were simply choosing their own way to die. Reason and human fear long since had ceased to inspire them. They were believing now and following a prophet because it was the final respite before despair. There was no alternative. It was death whatever they did, unless, in truth, this splendid sorceress was indeed the Voice of the Risen Prince. Force would be of no avail against them. Madness had flung them against Rome; only some other madness would turn them back.
The Christian, from his commanding position, expected anything.
It was the moment which would show if the false prophet would triumph. If the four legions went down before the multitude, it would mean the ascendancy of a strange woman over Israel, and the obliteration of the faith in Jesus Christ in the Holy Land.
It can not be said that the Christian watched the crisis with a calm spirit. He did not wish to see the heathen overthrow the ancient people of God, nor could he behold the triumph of a false Christ. He put his hands together and prayed.
A figure appeared between the two bodies of combatants, rushing on intensely, to grapple.
It was a tall commanding form, clothed in garments that glittered for whiteness. By the step, by the poise of the head, the Christian recognized Seraiah.
The front of the multitude fell on their faces at that moment as if he had struck them down.
Out of the forefront, the prophetess appeared. The Christian heard her splendid voice out of the uproar, and while he gazed, he saw mad Seraiah turn away from her, with the front of the mob turning after him, as a needle turns to the pole.
In that fatal moment of pause, out of which the warning cry of the prophetess rang wildly, the Roman tribune, in view for a moment under the blowing veils of smoke, flung up his sword, the Roman bugle sang, and the brassy legions of Titus hurled themselves upon the halted mob.
The Christian dropped his head into the bend of his elbow and strove to shut out the sound. The nervous arms of the palsied man at his feet gripped him frantically.
Up from the corner of the Old Wall, came the prolonged |A-a-a-a!| of dying thousands.
Jerusalem had fallen.
The foremost of the mob, turning with Seraiah, escaped the onslaught of the Romans, and as the mad Pretender strode toward the broad street from which the Tyropean Bridge crossed to the demesnes of the Temple, they followed him fatuously, blind to the death behind them and the oncoming slaughter in which they might fall.
Seraiah passed above the spot where the sorrowful Christian stood, crossed the great causeway leading toward the Royal Portico and after him six thousand blind and insane enthusiasts followed, expecting imminent miracle. Above them towered the heights of Moriah, now veiled in smoke. Up the great white bank of stairs they rushed after him, facing an ordeal which must mean a baptism in fire, and on through a curtain of luminous smoke into a gate pillared in flame, up into the Royal Portico, resounding with the tread of the advancing Destroyer, out into the great Court of Gentiles wrapped in cloud through which the Temple showed, a stupendous cube of heat, through the Gate Beautiful where the Keeper no longer stood, thence into the Women's Court, raftered with red coals, up smoking stones tier upon tier till the roof of the Royal Portico was reached.
At the brink of the pinnacle, they saw through tumbling clouds Seraiah towering. He was looking down through masses of smoke upon the City of Delight, perishing. They who had followed watched, uplifted with terror and frenzy, and while they waited for the miracle which should save, the roof crumbled under them and a grave of thrice heated rock received them and covered them up.
Below, Nathan, the Christian, seized upon the shoulders of the Maccabee as he was dashing after the thousands. His face was black with terror for Laodice. He struggled to throw off Nathan, crying futilely against the uproar that Laodice was perishing.
|Comfort thee!| the Christian shouted in his ear. |She is saved. She sent me to thee.|
The Maccabee stopped, as if he realized that he need not go on, but had not comprehended what was said to him.
Nathan dragged him out of the way, still choked with people struggling to pass on to the Temple or to flee from it. Half-way down the Vale of Gihon, where speech was a little more possible, the Maccabee, who had been crying questions, made the old man hear.
|Where is she? Where is she?|
|She has returned to her husband. In love with thee, she has done that only which she could do and escape sin. She has gone to shelter with him whom she does not love!|
The Maccabee seized his head in his hands.
|It is like her -- like her!| he groaned.
In the Christian's heart he knew how narrowly Laodice had made her lover's mark for her.
|It is her wish,| Nathan continued, |that I teach thee Christ whom she hath received.|
|How can I receive Him, when He sent her from me?| the unhappy man groaned, unconscious of his contradictions.
|How canst thou reject Him when His teaching led thy love to do that which thine own lips have confessed to be the better thing?|
|Then what of myself, when I love where I should not love?| the Maccabee insisted.
|You may suffer and sin not,| the Christian said kindly.
The unhappy man dropped to his knees.
|O Christ, why should I resist Thee!| he groaned. |Thou hast stripped me and made me see that my loss is good!|
The Christian laid his hands on the Maccabee's head.
|Dost thou believe?| he asked.
|Will Christ accept me, coming because I must?|
|It is not laid down how we shall baptize in the thirst of a famine,| Nathan said, |yet He who sees fit to deny water never yet hath denied grace.|
But the Christian's hand extended over the kneeling man was caught in a grip steadied with intense emotion. The unknown had seized him.
But for his feeling that this interruption was necessary to the welfare of another soul, the Christian would not have paused in his ministry.
The phantom straightened himself with a superb reinvestment of manhood.
|Thou, son of the Maccabee, Philadelphus!| he exclaimed to the kneeling man.
The Ephesian's arms sank.
|Who art thou that knoweth me?| he asked in a dead voice.
|I am all that plague and sin hath left of thy servant Aquila,| the phantom declared.
The Maccabee lifted his face for what should follow this revelation. It was only a manifestation of his subjection to another will than his own. He was not interested -- he who was hoping to die.
|Hear me, and curse me!| Aquila went on. |But save thy wife yet. I say unto thee, master, that she whom thou hast sheltered in the cavern is thy wife, Laodice!|
The Maccabee struggled up to his feet and gazed with stunned and unbelieving eyes at this wreck of his pagan servant, who went on precipitately.
|Her I plotted against at the instigation of Julian of Ephesus. Her, my mistress, Salome the Cyprian, robbed and hath impersonated thus long to her safety in the house of the Greek. This hour, through ignorance of thine own identity, through my fault, she hath gone reluctantly to his arms. Curse me and let me die!|
The Maccabee seized the hair at his temples. For a moment the awful gaze he bent upon Aquila seemed to show that the gentler spirit had been dislodged from his heart. Then he cried:
|God help us both, Aquila! My fault was greater than thine!|
He turned and fled toward the house of the Greek.
The four legions of Titus swept after him.
Aquila lifted his eyes for the first time and gazed at Nathan.
|I cursed thee for sparing me to such an existence as was mine! Behold, father, thou didst bless me, instead. I am ready to die.|
|Wait,| the Christian said peacefully.
A moment later, the Maccabee dashed into the andronitis of Amaryllis.
After him sprang a terrified servant crying:
|The Roman! The Roman is upon us!|
A roar of such magnitude that it penetrated the stone walls of Amaryllis' house, swept in after the servant. Quaking menials began to pour into the hall. Among them came the blue-eyed girl, the athlete and Juventius the Swan. These three joined their mistress who stood under a hanging lamp. Into the passage from the court, left open by the frightened servants, swept the prolonged outcry of perishing Jerusalem. Over it all thundered the boom of the siege-engines shaking the earth.
The slaves slipped down upon their knees and began to groan together. The silver coins on the lamp began to swing; the brass cyanthus which Amaryllis had recently drained of her last drink of wine moved gradually to the edge of the pedestal upon which she had placed it.
The dual nature of the uproar was now distinct; organized warfare and popular disaster at the same time. The Roman was sweeping up the ancient ravine. Jerusalem had fallen.
The gradual crescendo now attained deafening proportions; the hanging lamp increased its swing; the silver coins began to strike together with keen and exquisitely fine music. Juventius the Swan, with his dim eyes filled with horror, was looking at them. The peculiar desperate indifference of the wholly hopeless seized him. His long white hands began to move with the motion of the lamp; the music of the meeting coins became regular; he caught the note, and mounting, with a bound, the rostrum that had been his Olympus all his life, began to sing. The melody of his glorious voice struggled only a moment for supremacy with the uproar of imminent death and then his increasing exaltation gave him triumph. The great hall shook with the magnificent power of his only song!
The Maccabee confronted Amaryllis, with fierce question in his eyes. She pointed calmly at the heavy white curtain pulled to one side and caught on a bracket. The brass wicket over the black mouth of the tunnel was wide.
Without a word, the Maccabee plunged into it and was swallowed up.
Amaryllis looked after him.
|And no farewell?| she said.
The thunder of assault began at her door. Juventius sang it down. The athlete and the girl crept toward the mouth of the black passage, wavered a moment and plunged in. After them tumbled a confusion of artists and servants who were swallowed up, and the hall was filled only with music.
The woman by the lectern and the singer on the rostrum had chosen. To live without beauty and to live without love were not possible to the one who had known beauty all his life, to the one who had learned love so late -- after she had been beggared of her dowry of purity.
There was hardly an appreciable interval between the time of the desertion of her artists and the thunder of assault at her door, but in that space there passed before Amaryllis that useless retrospect which is death's recapitulation of the life it means to take. And out of that long procession, she singled one conviction which made the step of the Roman on her threshold welcome. It was an old, old moral, so old that it had never had weight with her, who believed it was time to reconstruct the whole artistic attitude of the world.
And that was why she waited impatiently at her doorway for death, which was a kinder thing than life.