Chapter III
 

Once, about mid-day, Jesus and His disciples were walking along a stony and hilly road devoid of shade, and, since they had been more than five hours afoot, Jesus began to complain of weariness. The disciples stopped, and Peter and his friend John spread their cloaks and those of the other disciples, on the ground, and fastened them above between two high rocks, and so made a sort of tent for Jesus. He lay down in the tent, resting from the heat of the sun, while they amused Him with pleasant conversation and jokes. But seeing that even talking fatigued Him, and being themselves but little affected by weariness and the heat, they went some distance off and occupied themselves in various ways. One sought edible roots among the stones on the slope of the mountain, and when he had found them brought them to Jesus; another, climbing up higher and higher, searched musingly for the limits of the blue distance, and failing, climbed up higher on to new, sharp-pointed rocks. John found a beautiful little blue lizard among the stones, and smiling brought it quickly with tender hands to Jesus. The lizard looked with its protuberant, mysterious eyes into His, and then crawled quickly with its cold body over His warm hand, and soon swiftly disappeared with tender, quivering tail.

But Peter and Philip, not caring about such amusements, occupied themselves in tearing up great stones from the mountain, and hurling them down below, as a test of their strength. The others, attracted by their loud laughter, by degrees gathered round them, and joined in their sport. Exerting their strength, they would tear up from the ground an ancient rock all overgrown, and lifting it high with both hands, hurl it down the slope. Heavily it would strike with a dull thud, and hesitate for a moment; then resolutely it would make a first leap, and each time it touched the ground, gathering from it speed and strength, it would become light, furious, all-subversive. Now it no longer leapt, but flew with grinning teeth, and the whistling wind let its dull round mass pass by. Lo! it is on the edge--with a last, floating motion the stone would sweep high, and then quietly, with ponderous deliberation, fly downwards in a curve to the invisible bottom of the precipice.

"Now then, another!" cried Peter. His white teeth shone between his black beard and moustache, his mighty chest and arms were bare, and the sullen, ancient rocks, dully wondering at the strength which lifted them, obediently, one after another, precipitated themselves into the abyss. Even the frail John threw some moderate-sized stones, and Jesus smiled quietly as He looked at their sport.

"But what are you doing, Judas? Why do you not take part in the game? It seems amusing enough?" asked Thomas, when he found his strange friend motionless behind a great grey stone.

"I have a pain in my chest. Moreover, they have not invited me."

"What need of invitation! At all events, I invite you; come! Look what stones Peter throws!"

Judas somehow or other happened to glance sideward at him, and Thomas became, for the first time, indistinctly aware that he had two faces. But before he could thoroughly grasp the fact, Judas said in his ordinary tone, at once fawning and mocking--

"There is surely none stronger than Peter? When he shouts, all the asses in Jerusalem think that their Messiah has arrived, and lift up their voices too. You have heard them before now, have you not, Thomas?"

Smiling politely; and modestly wrapping his garment round his chest, which was overgrown with red curly hairs, Judas stepped into the circle of players.

And since they were all in high good humour, they met him with mirth and loud jokes, and even John condescended to vouchsafe a smile, when Judas, pretending to groan with the exertion, laid hold of an immense stone. But lo! he lifted it with ease, and threw it, and his blind, wide-open eye gave a jerk, and then fixed itself immovably on Peter; while the other eye, cunning and merry, was overflowing with quiet laughter.

"No! you throw again!" said Peter in an offended tone.

And lo! one after the other they kept lifting and throwing gigantic stones, while the disciples looked on in amazement. Peter threw a great stone, and then Judas a still bigger one. Peter, frowning and concentrated, angrily wielded a fragment of rock, and struggling as he lifted it, hurled it down; then Judas, without ceasing to smile, searched for a still larger fragment, and digging his long fingers into it, grasped it, and swinging himself together with it, and paling, sent it into the gulf. When he had thrown his stone, Peter would recoil and so watch its fall; but Judas always bent himself forward, stretched out his long vibrant arms, as though he were going to fly after the stone. Eventually both of them, first Peter, then Judas, seized hold of an old grey stone, but neither one nor the other could move it. All red with his exertion, Peter resolutely approached Jesus, and said aloud--

"Lord! I do not wish to be beaten by Judas. Help me to throw this stone."

Jesus made answer in a low voice, and Peter, shrugging his broad shoulders in dissatisfaction, but not daring to make any rejoinder, came back with the words--

"He says: 'But who will help Iscariot?'"

Then glancing at Judas, who, panting with clenched teeth, was still embracing the stubborn stone, he laughed cheerfully--

"Look what an invalid he is! See what our poor sick Judas is doing!"

And even Judas laughed at being so unexpectedly exposed in his deception, and all the others laughed too, and even Thomas allowed his pointed, grey, overhanging moustache to relax into a smile.

And so in friendly chat and laughter, they all set out again on the way, and Peter, quite reconciled to his victor, kept from time to time digging him in the ribs, and loudly guffawed--

"There's an invalid for you!"

All of them praised Judas, and acknowledged him victor, and all chatted with him in a friendly manner; but Jesus once again had no word of praise for Judas. He walked silently in front, nibbling the grasses, which He plucked. And gradually, one by one, the disciples craved laughing, and went over to Jesus. So that in a short time it came about, that they were all walking ahead in a compact body, while Judas--the victor, the strong man--crept on behind, choking with dust.

And lo! they stood still, and Jesus laid His hand on Peter's shoulder, while with His other He pointed into the distance, where Jerusalem had just become visible in the smoke. And the broad, strong back of Peter gently accepted that slight sunburnt hand.

For the night they stayed in Bethany, at the house of Lazarus. And when all were gathered together for conversation, Judas thought that they would now recall his victory over Peter, and sat down nearer. But the disciples were silent and unusually pensive. Images of the road they had traversed, of the sun, the rocks and the grass, of Christ lying down under the shelter, quietly floated through their heads, breathing a soft pensiveness, begetting confused but sweet reveries of an eternal movement under the sun. The wearied body reposed sweetly, and thought was merged in something mystically great and beautiful--and no one recalled Judas!

Judas went out, and then returned. Jesus was discoursing, and His disciples were listening to Him in silence.

Mary sat at His feet, motionless as a statue, and gazed into His face with upturned eyes. John had come quite close, and endeavoured to sit so that his hand touched the garment of the Master, but without disturbing Him. He touched Him and was still. Peter breathed loud and deeply, repeating under his breath the words of Jesus.

Iscariot had stopped short on the threshold, and contemptuously letting his gaze pass by the company, he concentrated all its fire on Jesus. And the more he looked the more everything around Him seemed to fade, and to become clothed with darkness and silence, while Jesus alone shone forth with uplifted hand. And then, lo! He was, as it were, raised up into the air, and melted away, as though He consisted of mist floating over a lake, and penetrated by the light of the setting moon, and His soft speech began to sound tenderly, somewhere far, far away. And gazing at the wavering phantom, and drinking in the tender melody of the distant dream-like words, Judas gathered his whole soul into his iron fingers, and in its vast darkness silently began building up some colossal scheme. Slowly, in the profound darkness, he kept lifting up masses, like mountains, and quite easily heaping them one on another: and again he would lift up and again heap them up; and something grew in the darkness, spread noiselessly and burst its bounds. His head felt like a dome, in the impenetrable darkness of which the colossal thing continued to grow, and some one, working on in silence, kept lifting up masses like mountains, and piling them one on another and again lifting up, and so on and on... whilst somewhere in the distance the phantom-like words tenderly sounded.

Thus he stood blocking the doorway, huge and black, while Jesus went on talking, and the strong, intermittent breathing of Peter repeated His words aloud. But on a sudden Jesus broke off an unfinished sentence, and Peter, as though waking from sleep, cried out exultingly--

"Lord! to Thee are known the words of eternal life!"

But Jesus held His peace, and kept gazing fixedly in one direction. And when they followed His gaze they perceived in the doorway the petrified Judas with gaping mouth and fixed eyes. And, not understanding what was the matter, they laughed. But Matthew, who was learned in the Scriptures, touched Judas on the shoulder, and said in the words of Solomon--

"'He that looketh kindly shall be forgiven; but he that is met within the gates will impede others.'"

Judas was silent for a while, and then fretfully and everything about him, his eyes, hands and feet, seemed to start in different directions, as those of an animal which suddenly perceives the eye of man upon him. Jesus went straight to Judas, as though words trembled on His lips, but passed by him through the open, and now unoccupied, door.

In the middle of the night the restless Thomas came to Judas' bed, and sitting down on his heels, asked--

"Are you weeping, Judas?"

"No! Go away, Thomas."

"Why do you groan, and grind your teeth? Are you ill?"

Judas was silent for a while, and then fretfully there fell from his lips distressful words, fraught with grief and anger--

"Why does not He love me? Why does He love the others? Am I not handsomer, better and stronger than they? Did not I save His life while they ran away like cowardly dogs?"

"My poor friend, you are not quite right. You are not good-looking at all, and your tongue is as disagreeable as your face. You lie and slander continually; how then can you expect Jesus to love you?"

But Judas, stirring heavily in the darkness, continued as though he heard him not--

"Why is He not on the side of Judas, instead of on the side of those who do not love Him? John brought Him a lizard; I would bring him a poisonous snake. Peter threw stones; I would overthrow a mountain for His sake. But what is a poisonous snake? One has but to draw its fangs, and it will coil round one's neck like a necklace. What is a mountain, which it is possible to dig down with the hands, and to trample with the feet? I would give to Him Judas, the bold, magnificent Judas. But now He will perish, and together with him will perish Judas."

"You are speaking strangely, Judas!"

"A withered fig-tree, which must needs be cut down with the axe, such am I: He said it of me. Why then does He not do it? He dare not, Thomas! I know him. He fears Judas. He hides from the bold, strong, magnificent Judas. He loves fools, traitors, liars. You are a liar, Thomas; have you never been told so before?"

Thomas was much surprised, and wished to object, but he thought that Judas was simply railing, and so only shook his head in the darkness. And Judas lamented still more grievously, and groaned and ground his teeth, and his whole huge body could be heard heaving under the coverlet.

"What is the matter with Judas? Who has applied fire to his body? He will give his son to the dogs. He will give his daughter to be betrayed by robbers, his bride to harlotry. And yet has not Judas a tender heart? Go away, Thomas; go away, stupid! Leave the strong, bold, magnificent Judas alone!"