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For The Temple by G. A. Henty

Chapter 10: Captives.

John was received with great joy by his father; who had already heard the story brought by the injured member of the band from Gamala, and was filled with pride that his son should so have distinguished himself. He at once agreed to John's proposal that he should start, on the following day, to fetch the women from Neve, as there was no longer any fear of trouble from the Romans. Galilee was completely subdued and, whatever events might take place in Judea, those in the north would be unaffected by them.

The day after his return, then, John set out with Jonas for Neve. John charged his companion on no account to say anything of their doings at the siege of Gamala; and as communication was difficult, and they had not heard from Simon since John had left him, his friends at Neve were not aware that he had been absent from the farm. Martha and Mary were delighted to see him, and to hear that all was well at home. They had been greatly alarmed at the news of the slaughter of the fishermen on the lake, fearing that John might have gone across to Tarichea with some of his friends in the village. Their fears on this head, however, abated as time passed on and they did not hear from Simon; who, they felt assured, would have brought the news to Martha, had aught happened to their son.

They had mourned over the siege and massacre of Gamala, and had been filled with joy when the news had arrived, three days before, that the Roman army had marched away to take up its quarters for the winter; and they had looked for the summons, which John brought, for their return home.

|And does your father think, John, that there will be trouble again in the spring? Shall we have to leave home again, as soon as the winter is past?|

|He hopes not, mother. Gamala was the only town on this side of the Jordan that resisted the Roman authority and, as all the territories of Agrippa are now peaceful, there is no reason why the Romans should enter these again; and indeed, all Galilee has now surrendered. As Vespasian moved towards the sea, deputies came to him from every town and village; and I think, now, that there will be no more trouble there.|

|It has been terrible enough, my son. What tens of thousands of men have perished, what destruction has been wrought! We have been mourning, for months now, for the woes which have fallen upon our people.|

|It has been most terrible, mother; and yet, it might have been worse. Nigh a hundred and fifty thousand have fallen, at Gadara, Jotapata, Japha, Tarichea, and Gamala; besides those who were slain in the villages that had been sacked, and destroyed. Still, considering all things, it might have been worse and, were it all over now -- did no more dangers threaten our nation -- we might even rejoice that no greater evils have befallen us, for our revolt against Rome. But what has been done is but a preparation for the siege of Jerusalem.

|However, do not let us begin to mourn over the future. The storm has, for the present, passed away from us and, whatever misfortunes have befallen our countrymen, we have happily escaped. The farm stands uninjured, and no harm has come to any of us.|

|And all the villagers have escaped, John? Did none of our neighbors go out in their boats to Tarichea? We feared, when we heard of the sea fight, that some must have fallen.|

|No, mother. Fortunately, they listened to the counsels of my father, who implored them not to put out on the lake for that, did they do so, they would only bring misfortune and ruin upon themselves.|

|And have you heard, John,| Mary asked, |anything of the champion who they say has arisen? We have heard all sorts of tales of him -- how he harassed the Romans before Gamala and, with his followers, burned their camp one night and well nigh destroyed them; and how, when he goes into the fight, the Roman javelins drop off without harming him; and how, when he strikes, the Romans fall before his blows like wheat before a sickle.|

John burst into a laugh.

|I wonder, Mary, that the reports didn't say also that he could fly through the air when he chose; could render himself invisible to the enemy; and could, by a wave of his hand, destroy them as the hosts of Sennacherib were destroyed. The Romans were harassed somewhat, at Gamala, by John and his followers, who crept into their camp at night and set it on fire, and had a few skirmishes with their working parties; but when you have said that, you have said all that there is to say about it.|

|That is not like you, John,| Mary said, indignantly, for the tales that had circulated through the province had fired her imagination. |Everyone is talking of what he has done. He, alone of all our leaders, has checked the Romans; and has shown wisdom, as well as valor, in fighting. I should have thought you would have been one of the first to praise him. Everyone is talking about him and, since we heard of what he has been doing, mother and I pray for him, daily, as we pray for you and your father; and now you want to make out he has done nothing.|

|I do not want to make out that he has done nothing, Mary, for doubtless the Lord has been with him, and has enabled him to give some trouble to the Romans; but I was laughing at the fables you have heard about him, and at the reports which had converted his skirmishes with the Romans into all sorts of marvelous actions.|

|I believe they were marvelous actions,| Mary said. |Why should what people say be all wrong?

|We believe in him, don't we, mother?|

|Yes, Mary. It is true that the tales we have heard may be, as John says, exaggerated; but assuredly this new champion of our people must be a man of wisdom and valor, and I see not why, as God raised up champions for Israel in the old time, he should not do so now, when our need is so great.|

|There is no reason, mother,| John said, more quietly, |but I fear that the champion of Israel is not yet forthcoming. We have heard of the doings of this John and, as I said, he has merely had some skirmishes with the Romans -- his band being too small to admit of any regular fighting. He interrupted their work, and gave them some trouble; and his men, creeping down into the camp, set it on fire, and so caused them a good deal of loss; but more than this cannot be said of him.|

|At any rate,| Mary said disdainfully, |he has done more than your Josephus, John -- for he brought ruin on all who took his advice, and went into the cities he had fortified. It may please you to make little of what this champion has done. Others do not think so. Everywhere he is talked of, and praised -- the old men are talking of him, the Jewish maidens are singing songs in his honor I heard them, yesterday, gathered round a well near Neve. His father must rejoice, and his mother be proud of him, if they are alive.

|What do they say down by the lake, Jonas, of this captain? Are not the tales we have heard believed, there?|

|I have heard nothing about the Roman javelins not harming him,| Jonas said; |but he certainly got safely out of the hands of the Romans, when they had well-nigh taken him; and all say that he is brave and prudent, and men have great confidence and trust in him.|

|Ridiculous, Jonas!| John exclaimed angrily, and Mary and his mother looked at him in surprise.

|Truly, John,| his mother said, |what Mary said is just. This is not like you. I should have thought you would have been one of the first to admire this new leader, seeing that he is fighting in the way I have heard you advocate as being that in which the Romans should be fought, instead of the Jews being shut up in the cities.|

|Quite so, mother! No doubt he is adopting the proper way of fighting, and therefore has naturally had some success. I am only saying that he has done nothing wonderful; but has given the Romans some trouble by refusing to fight, and by merely trying to harass them. If there were a thousand men who would gather small bands together, and harass the Romans night and day in the same manner, they would render it well-nigh impossible for them to make any progress. As it was, he merely aided in delaying the fall of Gamala by a day or two.

|And now, let us talk of something else. Our father has succeeded in getting in the principal part of the harvest, but I fear that this year you will be short of fruit. We have had no time to gather in the figs, and they have all fallen from the trees; and although we have made enough wine for our own use, there will be but little to sell.|

|It matters not at all,| Martha said. |God has been very merciful towards us and, so that we have but bread to eat and water to drink, until next harvest, we shall have nothing to repine about, when ruin and destruction have fallen upon so many.|

That evening, when Mary and Martha had retired to their apartments, the former, who had been very silent all the evening, said:

|I cannot understand, mother, why John speaks so coldly of the doings of this brave leader; and why he was almost angry at our praises of him. It seems altogether unlike him.|

|It is unlike him, Mary; but you must never be surprised at men, they do not like to hear each other praised; and though I should have thought, from what I know of my son, that he was above the feeling of jealousy, I cannot but think that he showed some signs of that feeling today.|

|But it seems absurd, mother. I can understand John being jealous of any one his own age who surpassed him in any exercises -- though I never saw him so for, when in rowing on the lake, or in shooting with bows and arrows, or in other sports, some of our neighbors' sons have surpassed him, he never seemed to mind at all; and it seems almost absurd to think that he could be jealous of a great leader, who has done brave deeds for our people.|

|It does seem so, Mary, and I wonder myself; but it has been ever one of our national faults to be jealous of our leaders. From the time the people vexed Moses and Aaron, in the wilderness, it has ever been the same. I grieve to see it in John, who has distinguished himself greatly for his age, and of whom we are proud; but no one is perfect, my child, and you must not trouble because you find that your betrothed husband is not free from all weaknesses.|

|I don't expect him to be free from all weaknesses, mother; but this is one of the last weaknesses I should have expected to find in him, and it troubles me. When everything seemed so dark, it was a pleasure to think that a hero, perhaps a deliverer, had arisen; and now John seems to say that he has done nothing.|

|My dear child,| Martha said, |something may have occurred to vex John on the way and, when men are put out, they will often show it in the strangest manner. Probably John will, another time, speak just as warmly in praise of our new leader as you would, yourself.|

|Perhaps it may be so, mother,| Mary assented. |I can hardly believe that John is jealous -- it does seem so unlike himself.|

|I would not speak on the subject again, Mary, if I were you; unless he, himself, brings it up. A wise woman keeps silence on subjects which may lead to disagreement. You will learn, when you have married, that this is the easiest and best way.|

|I suppose so, mother,| Mary said, in a tone of disappointment; |but somehow it never seemed to me, before, that John and I could have any subject on which there would be disagreement.|

|My dear Mary,| Martha said, smiling, |John and you are both mortal; and although you may truly love each other -- and will, I trust, be very happy as husband and wife -- subjects will occur upon which you will differ; and then, as you know, the wisest plan is for the wife to be silent. It is the wife's duty always to give way to the husband.|

Mary gave a little shrug of her shoulders, as if to intimate that she did not regard altogether favorably this view of a wife's duties; however, she said no more, but kissed Martha, and retired to bed.

The next morning they started early, and journeyed to Capitolias, where they stayed at the house of some friends. In the evening, the talk again turned upon the new leader, who had burned the Roman camp. When they did so, John at once made some excuse, and went out. He regretted, now, that he had not at once told his mother what he had been doing. He had intended, in the first place, to give her a little surprise; but had no idea of the exaggerated reports that had been spread about and, when Mary broke out into praise of the unknown leader, it seemed to him that it would have been absurd to say that he, himself, was the person of whom she had formed so fantastically exalted an opinion. Not having said so at first, he did not see how he could say so, afterwards; and so left the matter as it stood, until they should return home.

While John was out, he heard news which caused him some uneasiness. It was said that parties of Roman horse, from Scythopolis, had been scouring the country; burning many villages -- under the pretext that some Roman soldiers, who had straggled away marauding on their own account, had been killed by the peasants -- slaughtering the people, and carrying off as slaves such young women and men as were likely to fetch good prices.

He told his mother what he had heard; and asked her whether she did not think that it would be better to stay where they were, for a time, or return to Neve. But Martha was anxious to be at home, again; and the friend with whom they were stopping said that these reports were a week old, and that doubtless the Romans had returned to their camp. She determined, therefore, that she and Mary would continue their journey; but that the maids should remain with their friend, at Capitolias, until the Roman excursions ceased.

They accordingly set out in the morning, as before -- the two women riding, and John and Jonas walking by the side of the donkeys. Following the road by the side of the Hieromax they kept on, without meeting anything to cause alarm, until they reached the angle of the stream, where the road to Hippos branched off from that which followed the river down to Tarichea. They had gone but a short distance, when they saw a cloud of dust rising along the road in front of them, and the sparkle of arms in the sun.

|Turn aside, mother,| John exclaimed. |Those must be the Romans ahead.|

Turning aside, they rode towards some gardens and orchards at no great distance but, before they reached them, two Roman soldiers separated themselves from the rest, and galloped after them.

|Fly, John!| Martha said, hurriedly. |You and Jonas can escape.|

|It would only ensure evil to you if we did, mother. No, we will keep together.|

The Roman soldiers rode up, and roughly ordered the party to accompany them back to the main body, which consisted of fifty men. The leader, a young officer whose garments and armor showed that he belonged to a family of importance, rode forward a few paces to meet them.

|Some more of this accursed race of rebels!| he exclaimed.

|We are quiet travelers,| John said, |journeying from Capitolias to Tarichea. We have harmed no one, my lord.|

|You are all the same,| the Roman said, scowling. |You speak us fair one day, and stab us in the back the next.

|Pomponius,| he said to a sergeant, |put these two lads with the rest. They ought to fetch a good price, for they are strong and active. As to the girl, I will make a present of her, to the general, to send to his wife in Rome. She is the prettiest Jewess I have seen, since I entered the country. The old woman can go. She is of no use to anyone.|

Illustration: Mary and the Hebrew Women in the Hands of the Romans.

Martha threw her arms round Mary; and would have striven to resist, with her feeble strength, the carrying out of the order, when John said in Hebrew:

|Mother, you will ruin us all, and lose your own life! Go home quietly, and trust to me to save Mary.|

The habit of submitting to her husband's will, which Martha had practiced all her life, asserted itself. She embraced Mary passionately, and drew aside as the Roman soldiers approached; and then, tottering away a short distance, sank weeping on the ground. Mary shed no tear but, pale as death, walked by the side of a soldier, who led her to the rear of the cavalcade, where four or five other young women were standing, in dejected attitudes.

John and Jonas were similarly placed, with some young men, in the midst of the Roman soldiers. Their hands were tied behind them, and the troop resumed its way. They were traveling by the road along which the little party had just come. Whenever a house or small village was seen, half of the troop galloped off. Flames were soon seen to rise, and parties of wretched captives were driven in.

When about halfway to Capitolias, the troop halted. The horses were turned into a field of ripe corn, to feed. Half the men sat down to a meal, while the remainder stood on guard over the captives. John had whispered to Jonas to work his hands so as to loosen his cords, if possible; and the lad, whose bones were very small, soon said that he could slip the ropes off without difficulty.

It was harder work for John and, indeed, while on the march he did not venture to exert himself, fearing that the movements would be noticed by his guards. But when they halted, he got into the middle of the group of captives, and tried his best to loosen the cords. Jonas was close beside him.

|It is of no use, Jonas,| he said. |The cords are cutting into my flesh, and they will not yield in the slightest.|

|Let me try, John.

|Stand round close,| Jonas said to the other captives, in Hebrew. |I want to loosen my friend's knots. If he can get away, he will bring rescue to you all.|

The others moved so as to completely cover the movements of Jonas; and the lad, stooping down, applied his teeth to the knot in John's cords, and soon succeeded in loosening it.

|That will be enough, Jonas. I can draw my hand through, now.|

Jonas again stood up.

|When I make an effort to escape, Jonas, do you dash between the horsemen, and run for it. In the confusion you will get a start, and they will not overtake you until you are across the river. Once on the hill, you are safe. If you remain behind and I get away, as likely as not one of the soldiers would send a javelin through you, as being my companion.|

After half an hour's halt, the Romans again mounted their horses and turned to retrace their steps. Two Romans rode on either side of the captives, who were about fifty in number; and John gradually made his way to the front of the party, between the two leading horsemen.

The officer, talking to his sergeant, rode a few paces ahead, in the middle of the road. Since the cords had been loosened, John had continued to work his fingers until the circulation was restored. Suddenly he slipped his hands from their fastenings, gave three bounds forward, and vaulted on to the back of the horse behind the officer. He had drawn the knife which had been hidden in his girdle; and he threw one arm round the officer, while he struck the knife deep into the horse's flank. The animal reared in the air and then, at a second application of the knife, sprang forward at the top of his speed, before the astonished Roman knew what had happened. John held him in his arms like a vice and, exerting all his strength, lifted him from the saddle and hurled him headlong to the ground; where he lay, bleeding and insensible.

John had now time to look round. Struck with astonishment at the sudden incident which had passed under their eyes, the Romans had, at first, instinctively reined in their horses. The sergeant had been the first to recover himself and, shouting to the five leading soldiers on each side to follow him, had spurred in pursuit, just as his officer was hurled to the ground. But John was already some fifty yards away, and felt sure that he could not be overtaken.

He had remarked the horse ridden by the officer, while they were eating; and saw that it was of far higher blood and swifter pace than any of those ridden by the soldiers. His own weight, too, was far less than that of the heavy-armed men in pursuit of him and, with a shout of scornful defiance, and a wave of his hand, he continued his course. Before a mile had been passed he had left his pursuers far in the rear and, seeing the hopelessness of the pursuit, they presently reined up and returned to the main body.

Jonas had carried out John's instructions and, the instant the latter sprang on the officer, he slipped under the belly of the horse next to him and ran, at the top of his speed, for the river. It was but a hundred yards away, and he had gone three quarters the distance before any of the soldiers -- confused at the attack upon their officer, doubtful whether the whole of the captives were not about to fall upon them, and without orders how to act, set out in pursuit.

Jonas plunged into the stream, dived to the other side, and then sprang forward again, just as three or four soldiers reached the bank he had left. Their javelins were hurled after him, but without effect and, with a shout of triumph, he sprang up the hillside, and was soon safe from pursuit.

As soon as he saw that the Romans had turned back, John sprang from his horse, unstrapped the heavy armor which covered its chest and sides, and flung it away; and then, mounting, resumed his course. At the first house he came to he borrowed a shepherd's horn and, as he approached the first village, sounded his signal for the assembly.

Two or three young men ran out from their houses, as he dashed up; for there was not a village in those parts from which some of the young men had not gone up to the mountains to join him, after the fall of Gamala, and all were ready to follow him anywhere. He rapidly gave them orders to go to all the villages round; and instruct the young men to assemble, with all speed possible, at their old trysting place near Jabez Galaad; and to spread the news as they went, some from each village being sent as messengers to others. Then he pursued his way at full speed and, by sunset, had issued his orders in some twenty villages.

Being convinced that, by night, a sufficient number of men would have gathered in the mountain for his purpose, he rode back to the river, swam his horse across; and then, leaving it to shift for itself, made his way up the mountain. Some seventy or eighty men had already arrived at the appointed place, and fresh parties were coming in every minute. Jonas was already there, John having arranged with him to watch the movements of the Romans until the sun set, and then to bring word to the place of meeting as to their movements.

|Well, Jonas, what is your news?|

|The Romans have halted, for the night, at a spot about a mile this side of where we left them. They remained where they were, until the party who had ridden after you returned; then they went slowly back, after having made a litter with their spears, on which four of them carried the officer you threw from his horse -- what a crash he made! I heard the clang of his arms, as I was running. They stopped near one of the villages they burned as we went past; and when I turned to make my way here their fires were burning, so there's no doubt they mean to halt there for the night.|

|That is good news, indeed!| John said. |Before morning we will rouse them up in a way they little expect.|

John's followers arrived eager for the fight, for the news of the devastations committed by this party of Romans had roused the whole district to fury. As a rule the Romans, except when actually on a campaign, abstained from all ill treatment of the inhabitants -- the orders against plundering and injuring the people being here, as in other countries held by the Roman arms, very stringent. In the present case, there was no doubt that Roman soldiers had been killed; but these had brought their fate upon themselves, by their ill treatment and insult of the villagers, and no notice would have been taken of the slaying of men while acting in disobedience of orders, had it not been that they belonged to the company of Servilius Maro.

He was a young noble, possessed of great influence in Rome, and of a ferocious and cruel disposition; and he had urged the general so strongly to allow him to go out, to inflict punishment upon the country people, that consent had reluctantly been given. But even at this time, although the Jews were not aware of it, a messenger was on his way to Servilius with peremptory orders to him to return at once to Scythopolis, as most serious reports as to his cruelty to peaceful inhabitants had come to the general's ears.

But that message Servilius was never to receive. By midnight, upwards of four hundred men had gathered at the rendezvous in the mountains. John divided the force into four bodies, and gave each their orders as to the part that they were to take; and then marched down the hill, crossed the river, and advanced towards the Roman bivouac.

When within a quarter of a mile of the fires, the band broke up into sections and proceeded to surround the enemy. When each company reached the position John had marked out for it, the men began to crawl slowly forward towards the Romans. John sounded a note on his horn and, with a shout, the whole band rushed to their feet and charged down upon the enemy. Before the latter could spring to their feet, and mount their horses, the Jews were among them.

John, with a picked band of twenty men, at once made his way to the center of the camp; where the captives, ignorant of the cause of this sudden alarm, stood huddled together. Placing his men around them, to prevent any Roman soldier injuring them, John joined in the fray.

It was short. Taken by surprise, unable to get together and form in order of defense, the Roman soldiers were surrounded and cut down, each man fighting stubbornly to the last. One of the first to fall was their leader who, springing to his feet at the alarm, had rushed just as he was, without helmet or armor, among his soldiers, and was stabbed in a dozen places before he had time to draw his sword.

The moment the conflict was over, and the last Roman had fallen, John ordered his men to disperse, at once.

|Regain your homes before morning,| he said. |There may be other parties of Romans out, and it is as well that none, even of your friends, should see you return; and then the Romans will have no clue as to those who have taken part in this night's business. Take not any of their arms, or spoils. We have fought for vengeance, and to relieve our friends, not for plunder. It is well that the Romans should see that, when they hear of the disaster and march out to bury the dead.|

The men were already crowding round the captives, relieving them from their bonds and, in many cases, embracing and weeping on their necks, for among them were many friends and relations of the rescuing party.

John soon found Mary.

|Is this a miracle you have performed, John?| the girl said. |Can it be true that our captors have been slain, and that we are free?|

|Yes, dear, we can continue our journey.|

|But how has it happened, John; how has it all come about?|

|Jonas and I escaped, as I suppose you know, Mary.|

|There was a great confusion and stir upon the road,| Mary said, |but I did not know what had happened, until we got here. Then some of the men said that two of the captives had escaped; and that one of them jumped on to the horse of the officer and overthrew him, and had ridden off. They said they were both young and, as I missed you both from among the party, I thought it must have been you.

|But how did all these men come together?|

|I rode round the country, calling upon the young men in the villages to take up arms, to rescue their friends who had been carried away captive into slavery, and to revenge the destruction which this band of ruffians had caused. There were plenty of brave men ready to undertake the task and, as you see, we have carried it out.

|And now, Mary, we had best be going. You see, the others are dispersing fast; and it is as well to be as far from here, by morning, as possible. A troop of Roman horse may come along, journeying between Scythopolis and Capitolias; and if they came upon this camp, they might scour all the country.|

|I am ready, John. What a fate you have saved me from! I have seemed in a dream, ever since the Romans met us this afternoon. I have tried to think of what my life was going to be, but could not. When we got here I tried to weep, but no tears would come. I have been sitting there, as still and cold as if frozen, till I heard the notes of a horn.

|Oh, John, do you know John of Gamala was there?|

|How do you know, Mary?| John asked, in surprise.

|One of the young men who was a captive was lying near, and he leaped to his feet when the horn sounded, and shouted, 'There is John of Gamala's horn; we are saved.' Did you know he was with you?|

|Yes, I knew he was,| John said.

|You won't say anything against him, again,| Mary said. |Why did you not bring him here to us, that we might thank him?|

|Certainly I will not say anything against him, in future, Mary.

|And now, let us be going. I am very anxious about my poor mother. We will follow the road to the spot where we left her. By the time we get there, morning will be breaking. We will inquire for her, at every village we pass through; for I am sure she cannot have gone far. The Romans did not take the asses but, even with them, she could not have traveled far, and probably took shelter at the first place which she came to.|

This proved to be the case. At the first village they arrived at after passing the spot at which they had been taken captives, they heard that, late the evening before, a woman had arrived in sore distress. She was leading two asses, which she seemed too feeble to mount. She stated that her son and daughter had been carried away by the Romans; and she had been received, for the night, in the principal house in the village.

Martha's delight, when John and Mary entered the house where she had been sheltered, was beyond words. She fell on their neck and kissed them, with broken sentences of thankfulness to God at their deliverance; and it was some time before she was sufficiently calm to hear how their escape had been effected, by the night attack upon the Romans by the country people. She was scarcely surprised when she heard that John had effected his escape, and summoned the people to rise to rescue them.

|You told me to trust to you to save Mary, John; and I have kept on saying your words, over and over again, to myself. It seemed to me as if I did not quite understand them, and yet there was comfort in them. I could not even think what you could do to help Mary; and yet it appeared as if you, yourself, must have some hope.|

As soon as Martha was sufficiently recovered from her emotions to resume their journey, the party again started. They made a detour to avoid Hippos for, as John said, there might be inquiries as to everyone who was noticed coming from the direction of the scene of the struggle. They made many halts by the way, for Martha was scarcely able to retain her seat on the donkey, and even Mary was greatly shaken by the event of her captivity and rescue. During the heat of the day they remained under the shade of some trees, and the sun was setting when they approached the farm.

Simon and the men hurried out, when the sound of the asses' feet was heard. Martha burst into tears, as he assisted her to alight.

|What ails you, wife? I trust that no evil has befallen you by the way. Where are the maids?

|Why, Mary, my child, you look pale, too!|

|No wonder, uncle, that aunt is shaken, and that I look pale. For John, and I, and Jonas were taken captives by the Romans, who carried us off to sell as slaves, leaving poor mother behind.|

|And how then have you escaped, child?|

|John and Jonas got away from them, and raised all the country; for the Romans had done much harm, killing, and carrying away captives, and burning. So when he called them the men took up arms, and fell upon the Romans at night and slew them all, and rescued me, and some fifty other captives who had fallen into their hands.|

Simon asked no further questions, for the time, but helped Martha into the house, and then handed her over to the care of Mary and, half an hour later, she had recovered sufficiently to return to the room; and sit there, holding Simon's hand in quiet happiness, and watching Mary as she resumed her accustomed tasks, and assisted old Isaac in preparing supper.

|Everything looks just as it was, mother. I could hardly have believed things would have got on so well, without me to look after them. And there are quantities of grapes on the vines, still. They are too ripe for wine, but they will last us, for eating, for months, and that is ever so much better than making them into wine -- |

She stopped, for Simon had taken his place at the head of the table; and offered up thanks, in the name of the whole household, for the mercies that had been vouchsafed to them; and especially that they were all, once again, assembled together in their house, without there being one vacant place.

Then the meal began. While it was eaten, many questions were asked, on both sides; Simon inquiring about his brother-in-law, and his family, and the life they had led at the farm; Martha asking after their neighbors -- who had suffered, and who had escaped without loss or harm. When Isaac and the men retired, Jonas rose also to go, but Simon stopped him.

|Remain with us, Jonas. Your life has been strangely cast in that of John's, and I would that, henceforth, you take your place as one of the family. You saved his life at Jotapata, and you will henceforth be as an adopted son to me.

|Martha, I know that you will spare some of your affection for the lad, who is as a younger brother to John; and who would, I believe -- nay I feel sure -- if need be, give his life for his friend.|

|I would do so, indeed,| Jonas said, simply. |He found me an outcast, whom none cared for. He has treated me like a brother, and I would gladly die for him.|

Martha said a few kind words to Jonas, whose quiet and somewhat subdued manner, and whose evident affection for John, had greatly pleased her; and Mary gave him a little nod, which signified that she gladly accepted him as one of the family.

|And now, Martha,| Simon said, |you have not yet told me how proud you must feel, in the doings of our son. Our friends here are never weary of congratulating me; and truly I feel thankful that a son of mine should have done such deeds, and that the Lord should have chosen him, to use him as an instrument of his will.|

|My dear father,| John interrupted, |I have told you that there is nothing at all out of the way in what we have done. Jonas and the others did just as much as I did, and methinks that some of them make much more than is needful of our skirmishes, and praise me because in so doing they praise themselves, who did as much as I did.|

|But I do not understand you, Simon,| Martha said. |I know that John fought bravely at Jotapata, and that it was marvelous that he and Jonas escaped, when so many fell. Is it this that you are speaking of?|

|What! Has John said nothing about what he has been doing, since?| Simon asked, in surprise.

|No, father, I said nothing about it,| John said, before his mother could speak. |I thought, in the first place, that you would like to tell them; and in the next, the people there had heard such magnified reports that I could not, for very shame, lay claim to be the hero they had pictured to themselves.|

|But what has he done?| Martha asked, more and more surprised; while Mary, at his last words, sprang to her feet, and stood looking at him with an intent and eager face.

|He should have told you, Martha,| Simon said. |It is no light thing that this son of ours has done. Young as he is, the eyes of the people are upon them. For with a small band, which he gathered here, he harassed the enemy several days and, boldly entering their camp, destroyed it by fire.|

|Oh, John!| Mary said, in a low voice; while Martha exclaimed:

|What! Is the John, of whom we have heard so much -- the young man, of whom the people speak as their future leader -- our boy? You cannot mean it, Simon!|

|There is no mistake about it, Martha. The lad came to me; and said he thought that, with a small band, he could cause much trouble to the Romans. So I told him he could go, not knowing whether he spoke from the restlessness of youth, or because it was the will of the Lord that he should go and fight for the country. Indeed, it seemed to many that his marvelous escape from Jotapata showed that God had need of him. So I did not withstand him. There were many from the villages round who were ready to join themselves to him, and follow him, for the fame of his escape had made him much talked of.

|So he went, with twenty-four followers and, of course, Jonas here; and truly he did, as all men say, great things. And though he saved not Gamala -- as indeed could not have been done, save by a miracle of God, with so small a band -- he did much and, by the burning of their camp, not only struck a heavy blow upon the Romans, but he inspired the people with hope.

|Before, it seemed that to resist the Romans was to bring certain destruction upon those who adventured it; now men see that with prudence, united with bravery, much may be done and, in the spring, John will be followed by a great gathering of fighting men, from all the country round.|

Martha sat, in speechless surprise, looking at her son.

|My dear mother,| John said, |what I told you before, when you were praising the unknown John, is equally true now that it is John your son. We acted with common sense which, so far, no one seems to have exercised in our struggle with the Romans. We just kept out of their reach, and took good care never to come to actual blows with them. We constantly threatened them; and compelled them, who knew nothing of our numbers or strength, to cease working.

|As to the burning their camp, of course there was a certain amount of danger in it, but one cannot make war without danger. We crept through their sentries into the camp, in the night, and set it on fire; and then made our escape, as best we could. As only one of our number was killed; and he from falling over a precipice, and not by the sword of the Romans, you see the peril could not have been very great.

|It was just as I said, that because we did not throw away our lives, but were prudent and cautious, we succeeded. People have made a great fuss about it, because it is the only success, however small, that we have gained over the Romans but, as my father says, it has certainly had a good effect. It has excited a feeling of hopefulness and, in the spring, many will take the field with the belief that, after all, the Romans are not invincible; and that those who fight against them are not merely throwing away their lives.|

It was some time before Martha could realize that the hero, of which she had heard so much, was the quiet lad standing before her -- her own son John.

|Simon,| she said, at last, |morning and night I have prayed God to protect him of whom we heard so much, little thinking that it was my own son I was praying for. Tonight, I will thank him that he has so blessed me. Assuredly, God's hand is with him. The dangers he has run and the success that he has gained may, as he says, be magnified by report; nevertheless he has assuredly withstood the Romans, even as David went out against Goliath. Tomorrow I will hear more of this; but I feel shaken with the journey, and with this strange news.

|Come, Mary, let us to bed!|

But Mary had already stolen away, without having said a single word, after her first exclamation.

John was at work soon after daybreak, next morning, for there was much to be done. The men were plowing up the stubble, ready for the sowing, Jonas had gone off, with Isaac, to drive in some cattle from the hills; and John set to work to dig up a patch of garden ground, near the house. He had not been long at work, when he saw Mary approaching. She came along quietly and slowly, with a step altogether unlike her own.

|Why, Mary, is that you?| he said, as she approached. |Why, Miriam herself could not walk slower.

|Are you ill this morning, child?| he asked, with a change of voice, as he saw how pale she was looking.

Mary did not speak until she came quite close; then she stopped, and looked at him with eyes full of tears.

|Oh, John,| she began, |what can I say?|

|Why, my dear Mary, what on earth is the matter with you?| he said, throwing down his spade, and taking her hands in his.

|I am so unhappy, John.|

|Unhappy!| John repeated. |What is making you unhappy, child?|

|It is so dreadful,| she said, |to think that I, who ought to have known you so well -- I, your betrothed wife -- have been thinking that you were so mean as to be jealous; for I did think it was that, John, when you made light of the doings of the hero I had been thinking about so much, and would not allow that he had done anything particular. I thought that you were jealous, John; and now I know what you have done, and why you spoke so, I feel I am altogether unworthy of you.|

|Well, Mary, I never thought you were a little goose, before. What nonsense you are talking! It was only natural you should have thought I was jealous; and I should have been jealous, if it had been anyone else you were praising so much. It was my fault, for not telling you at once. Concealments are always stupid; but I had thought that it would give you a pleasant surprise, when you got home, to hear about it; but instead of causing you pleasure, I have caused you pain. I was not vexed, in the slightest; I was rather amused, when you answered me so curtly.|

|I think it was cruel of you, John, to let me go on thinking badly of you, and showing yourself in so unworthy a light. That does not make it any the less wrong of me. I ought to have believed in you.|

|You are making a mountain out of a molehill, Mary, and I won't hear any such nonsense. You heard an absurd story, as to what someone had been doing, and you naturally made a hero of him. You were hurt by my speaking slightingly of this hero of yours, and naturally thought I was jealous at hearing such praises of another from my betrothed wife. It was all perfectly natural. I was not in the least offended with you, or put out in any way; except that I was vexed with myself for not telling you, at once, that all these fables related to your cousin John.

|Now, dry your eyes, and don't think any more about it. Go and pick two of the finest bunches of grapes you can find, and we will eat them together.|

But it was some time before Mary recovered her brightness. The changes which the last few months had made almost depressed her. It was but a year ago that John and she had been boy and girl, together; now he had become a man, had done great deeds, was looked upon by many as one chosen for the deliverance of the nation. Mary felt that she, too, had aged; but the change in her was as nothing to that in her old playfellow. It was but a year ago she had been gravely advising him; treating him, sometimes, as if she had been the elder.

She would have treated him now, if he would have let her, with something of the deference and respect which a Jewish maiden would usually pay to a betrothed husband -- one who was shortly to become her lord. But the first time he detected this manner, John simply laughed at her, and said:

|My dear Mary, do not let us have any nonsense of this sort. We have been always equals, you and I; friends and companions. You know, just as well as I do, that in all matters which we have had in common, you have always had quite as much sense as I and, on a great many matters, more sense.

|Nothing has occurred since then to alter that. I have grown into a young man, you into a young woman; but we have advanced equally. On matters concerning warfare, I have gained a good deal of knowledge; in other matters, doubtless, you have gained knowledge. And if, dear, it is God's will that I pass through the troubles and dangers that lie before us, and we become man and wife, I trust that we shall always be the friends and comrades that we have been, as boy and girl together.

|It is all very well, when young men and maidens have seen nothing of each other until their parents bring them together as man and wife, for the bride to affect a deep respect -- which I have not the least doubt she is generally far from feeling, in her heart -- for the man to whom she is given. Happily, this has not been the way with us. We have learned to know each other well; and to know that, beyond the difference in strength which a man has over a woman, there is no difference between us -- that one will rule the house, and the other will rule the farm, but that in all things, I trust, we shall be companions and equals. I do hope, Mary, that there will be no change in our ways, the few months we have to be together, now.

|In the spring, I go up to help to defend Jerusalem; and it is no use hiding the fact from ourselves that there is but little chance of my returning. We know what has befallen those who have, hitherto, defended cities against the Romans; and what has happened at Jotapata, and Gamala, will probably happen at Jerusalem. But for this reason, let us have no change; let us be as brother and sister to one another, as we have been, all along. If God brings me back safe to you, and you become my wife, there will be plenty of time to settle exactly how much deference you shall pay me; but I shall expect that, when the novelty of affecting the wifely obedience, which is enjoined upon the females of our race, is past, you will be quite ready to take up that equality which is, after all, the rule in practice.|

|I shall remember your words,| Mary said, saucily, |when the time comes. It may be you will regret your expressions about equality, some day.|

So, during the winter, Mary tried to be bright and cheerful; and Martha, whose heart was filled with anxiety as to the dangers and trials which lay before them -- Jerusalem and the Temple threatened, and John away, engaged in desperate enterprises -- often wondered to herself, when she heard the girl's merry laugh as she talked with John, and saw how completely she seemed to put aside every sort of anxiety; but she did not know how Mary often spent the entire night in weeping and prayer, and how hard was her struggle to keep up the brave appearance which was, she knew, a pleasure to John.

He was not much at home, being often absent for days together. Strangers came and went, frequently. John had long conversations with them; and sometimes went away with them, and did not return for three or four days. No questions were asked, by his parents, as to these visitors or his absence. They knew that they had reference to what they considered his mission; and as, when he returned home, he evidently wished to lay aside all thought of other things, and to devote himself to his life with them, they asked no questions as to what he was doing.

He spoke, sometimes, of these things to Mary, when they were together alone. She knew that numbers of young men were only waiting his signal to join him; that parties of them met him among the hills, and were there organized into companies, each with officers of their own choice over them; and that, unknown to the Romans at Scythopolis, there were daily held, throughout the country on both sides of the Jordan, meetings where men practiced with their arms, improved their skill with the bow and arrow, and learned to obey the various signals of the bugle, which John had now elaborated.

John was resolute in refusing to accept any men with wives and families. There were other leaders, he said, under whom these could fight; he was determined to have none but men who were ready to sacrifice their lives, and without the care of others dependent upon them. He was ready to accept youths of fifteen, as well as men of five-and-twenty; believing that, in point of courage, the one were equal to the other. But each candidate had to be introduced by others, who vouched for his activity, hardihood, and courage.

One of his objects was to avoid increasing his band to too great dimensions. The number of those ready to go up to defend Jerusalem, and eager to enroll themselves as followers of this new leader -- whose mission was now generally believed in, in that part of the country -- was very large; but John knew that a multitude would be unwieldy; that he would find it impossible to carry out, with thousands of men, tactics dependent for success upon celerity of movement; and, moreover, that did he arrive in Jerusalem with so great a following, he would at once become an object of jealousy to the leaders of the factions there.

He therefore limited the number to four hundred men; urging upon all others who presented themselves, or sent messages to him, to form themselves into similar bands; to choose leaders, and to act as independent bodies, hanging upon the rear of the Romans, harassing them with frequent night alarms, cutting off their convoys, attacking their working parties; and always avoiding encounters with strong bodies of the Romans, by retreating into the hills. He said that, although he would not receive more men into his own force than he thought could be easily handled, he should be glad to act in concert with the other leaders so that, at times, the bands might all unite in a common enterprise; and especially that, if they entered Jerusalem, they might hold together, and thus be enabled to keep aloof from the parties of John of Gischala, or Eleazar, who were contending for the mastery of the city.

His advice was taken, and several bands similar to his own were formed; but their leaders felt that they needed the prestige and authority which John had gained, and that their followers would not obey their orders with the faith which was inspired, in the members of John's own band, by their belief in his special mission. Their representations on this subject were so urgent that John, at their request, attended a meeting at which ten of these chiefs were present.

It was held in a farmhouse, not far from the spot where Gamala had stood. John was embarrassed at the respect which these men, all of them several years older than himself, paid him; but he accepted the position quietly, for he felt that the belief that existed, as to his having a special mission, added greatly to his power of utility. He listened to their representations as to their want of authority, and to the rivalries and jealousies which already existed among those who had enrolled themselves. When they had finished, he said:

|I have been thinking the matter well over. I am convinced that it is absolutely necessary that none of the commands shall exceed the numbers I have fixed upon -- namely, four hundred men, divided into eight companies, each with a captain -- but at the same time, I do not see any reasons why all our corps should not be nominally under one leader. If, then, you think it will strengthen your position, I am ready to accept the general leadership, and to appoint you each as commanders of your troops. Then you will hold my commissions; and I will support you, in your commands, with any authority I may have.

|At the same time you will understand that you will, in reality, act altogether independently of me; save and except when, it seems to me, that we can unite in any enterprise. If we enter Jerusalem, we will then hold together for mutual protection from the factions; but even there you will each command independently for, did I assume a general command, it would excite the jealousy of the leaders of the factions, and we should be forced to take part in the civil strife which is devastating the city.|

A cordial consent to this proposition was given by the other leaders, who said that the knowledge that they were John's officers would add immensely to their authority; and would also raise the courage and devotion of their men, who would not believe that they were being led to victory, unless they were acting under the orders of John, himself.

|Remember,| John said, |that if misfortune befalls us, I have never laid claim to any divine commission. We are all agents of God, and it may be that he has specially chosen me as one of his instruments; but this I cannot say, beyond the fact that, so far, I have been carried safely through great dangers, and have been enabled to win successes over the Romans. But I do not set up as a specially-appointed leader.

|I say this for two reasons: in the first place, that you should not think that I am claiming authority and command on grounds which may not be justified; and in the second place that, if I should fall early in the fighting, others should not be disheartened, and believe that the Lord has deserted them.

|I am but a lad among you, and I recognize that it is God who has so strangely brought me into eminence but, having done that much, he may now choose some other instrument. If this should be so -- if, as may well be, one of you should obtain far greater success than may attend me -- I shall be only too glad to lay aside this authority over the rest, with which you are willing to invest me, and to follow him as cheerfully as you now propose to follow me.|

The meeting soon afterwards broke up, and the news that John of Gamala -- as he was generally called, from the success he had gained over the Romans before that town -- had assumed the supreme command of the various bands which were being raised, in eastern Galilee and on the east of Jordan, spread rapidly; and greatly increased the popular feeling of hope, and confidence. Fresh bands were formed, the leaders all receiving their appointments from him. Before the spring arrived, there were twenty bands formed and organized, in readiness to march down towards Jerusalem, as soon as the Roman legions got into motion.

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