Chapter IV
 

Judas had concealed some denarii, and the deception was discovered, thanks to Thomas, who had seen by chance how much money had been given to them. It was only too probable that this was not the first time that Judas had committed a theft, and they all were enraged. The angry Peter seized Judas by his collar and almost dragged him to Jesus, and the terrified Judas paled but did not resist.

"Master, see! Here he is, the trickster! Here's the thief. You trusted him, and he steals our money. Thief! Scoundrel! If Thou wilt permit, I'll--"

But Jesus held His peace. And attentively regarding him, Peter suddenly turned red, and loosed the hand which held the collar, while Judas shyly rearranged his garment, casting a sidelong glance on Peter, and assuming the downcast look of a repentant criminal.

"So that's how it's to be," angrily said Peter, as he went out, loudly slamming the door. They were all dissatisfied, and declared that on no account would they consort with Judas any longer; but John, after some consideration, passed through the door, behind which might be heard the quiet, almost caressing, voice of Jesus. And when in the course of time he returned, he was pale, and his downcast eyes were red as though with recent tears.

"The Master says that Judas may take as much money as he pleases." Peter laughed angrily. John gave him a quick reproachful glance, and suddenly flushing, and mingling tears with anger, and delight with tears, loudly exclaimed:

"And no one must reckon how much money Judas receives. He is our brother, and all the money is as much his as ours: if he wants much let him take much, without telling any one, or taking counsel with any. Judas is our brother, and you have grievously insulted him--so says the Master. Shame on you, brother!"

In the doorway stood Judas, pale and with a distorted smile on his face. With a light movement John went up to him and kissed him three times. After him, glancing round at one another, James, Philip and the others came up shamefacedly; and after each kiss Judas wiped his mouth, but gave a loud smack as though the sound afforded him pleasure. Peter came up last.

"We were all stupid, all blind, Judas. He alone sees, He alone is wise. May I kiss you?"

"Why not? Kiss away!" said Judas as in consent.

Peter kissed him vigorously, and said aloud in his ear--

"But I almost choked you. The others kissed you in the usual way, but I kissed you on the throat. Did it hurt you?"

"A little."

"I will go and tell Him all. I was angry even with Him," said Peter sadly, trying noiselessly to open the door.

"And what are you going to do, Thomas?" asked John severely. He it was who looked after the conduct and the conversation of the disciples.

"I don't know yet. I must consider."

And Thomas thought long, almost the whole day. The disciples had dispersed to their occupations, and somewhere on the other side of the wall, Peter was shouting joyfully--but Thomas was still considering. He would have come to a decision more quickly had not Judas hindered him somewhat by continually following him about with a mocking glance, and now and again asking him in a serious tone--

"Well, Thomas, and how does the matter progress?"

Then Judas brought his money-box, and shaking the money and pretending not to look at Thomas, began to count it--

"Twenty-one, two, three.... Look, Thomas, a bad coin again. Oh! what rascals people are; they even give bad money as offerings. Twenty-four... and then they will say again that Judas has stolen it... twenty-five, twenty-six...."

Thomas approached him resolutely... for it was already towards evening, and said--

"He is right, Judas. Let me kiss you."

"Will you? Twenty-nine, thirty. It's no good. I shall steal again. Thirty-one...."

"But how can you steal, when it is neither yours nor another's? You will simply take as much as you want, brother."

"It has taken you a long time to repeat His words! Don't you value time, you clever Thomas?"

"You seem to be laughing at me, brother."

"And consider, are you doing well, my virtuous Thomas, in repeating His words? He said something of His own, but you do not. He really kissed me--you only defiled my mouth. I can still feel your moist lips upon mine. It was so disgusting, my good Thomas. Thirty-eight, thirty-nine, forty. Forty denarii. Thomas, won't you check the sum?"

"Certainly He is our Master. Why then should we not repeat the words of our Master?"

"Is Judas' collar torn away? Is there now nothing to seize him by? The Master will go out of the house, and Judas will unexpectedly steal three more denarii. Won't you seize him by the collar?"

"We know now, Judas. We understand."

"Have not all pupils a bad memory? Have not all masters been deceived by their pupils? But the master has only to lift the rod, and the pupils cry out, 'We know, Master!' But the master goes to bed, and the pupils say: 'Did the Master teach us this?' And so, in this case, this morning you called me a thief, this evening you call me brother. What will you call me to-morrow?"

Judas laughed, and lifting up the heavy rattling money-box with ease, went on:

"When a strong wind blows it raises the dust, and foolish people look at the dust and say: 'Look at the wind!' But it is only dust, my good Thomas, ass's dung trodden underfoot. The dust meets a wall and lies down gently at its foot, but the wind flies farther and farther, my good Thomas."

Judas obligingly pointed over the wall in illustration of his meaning, and laughed again.

"I am glad that you are merry," said Thomas, "but it is a great pity that there is so much malice in your merriment."

"Why should not a man be cheerful, who has been kissed so much, and who is so useful? If I had not stolen the three denarii would John have known the meaning of delight? Is it not pleasant to be a hook, on which John may hang his damp virtue out to dry, and Thomas his moth-eaten mind?"

"I think that I had better be going."

"But I am only joking, my good Thomas. I merely wanted to know whether you really wished to kiss the old obnoxious Judas--the thief who stole the three denarii and gave them to a harlot."

"To a harlot!" exclaimed Thomas in surprise. "And did you tell the Master of it?"

"Again you doubt, Thomas. Yes, to a harlot. But if you only knew, Thomas, what an unfortunate woman she was. For two days she had had nothing to eat."

"Are you sure of that?" said Thomas in confusion.

"Yes! Of course I am. I myself spent two days with her, and saw that she ate and drank nothing except red wine. She tottered from exhaustion, and I was always falling down with her."

Thereupon Thomas got up quickly, and, when he had gone a few steps away, he flung out at Judas:

"You seem to be possessed of Satan, Judas."

And as he went away, he heard in the approaching twilight how dolefully the heavy money-box rattled in Judas' hands. And Judas seemed to laugh.

But the very next day Thomas was obliged to acknowledge that he had misjudged Judas, so simple, so gentle, and at the same time so serious was Iscariot. He neither grimaced nor made ill-natured jokes; he was neither obsequious nor scurrilous, but quietly and unobtrusively went about his work of catering. He was as active as formerly, as though he did not have two feet like other people, but a whole dozen of them, and ran noiselessly without that squeaking, sobbing, and laughter of a hyena, with which he formerly accompanied his actions. And when Jesus began to speak, he would seat himself quickly in a corner, fold his hands and feet, and look so kindly with his great eyes, that many observed it. He ceased speaking evil of people, but rather remained silent, so that even the severe Matthew deemed it possible to praise him, saying in the words of Solomon:

"'He that is devoid of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace.'"

And he lifted up his hand, hinting thereby at Judas' former evil-speaking. In a short time all remarked this change in him, and rejoiced at it: only Jesus looked on him still with the same detached look, although he gave no direct indication of His dislike. And even John, for whom Judas now showed a profound reverence, as the beloved disciple of Jesus, and as his own champion in the matter of the three denarii, began to treat him somewhat more kindly, and even sometimes entered into conversation with him.

"What do you think, Judas," said he one day in a condescending manner, "which of us, Peter or I, will be nearest to Christ in His heavenly kingdom?"

Judas meditated, and then answered--

"I suppose that you will."

"But Peter thinks that he will," laughed John.

"No! Peter would scatter all the angels with his shout; you have heard him shout. Of course, he will quarrel with you, and will endeavour to occupy the first place, as he insists that he, too, loves Jesus. But he is already advanced in years, and you are young; he is heavy on his feet, while you run swiftly; you will enter there first with Christ? Will you not?"

"Yes, I will not leave Jesus," John agreed.

On the same day Simon Peter referred the very same question to Judas. But fearing that his loud voice would be heard by the others, he led Judas out to the farthest corner behind the house.

"Well then, what is your opinion about it?" he asked anxiously. "You are wise; even the Master praises you for your intellect. And you will speak the truth."

"You, of course," answered Iscariot without hesitation. And Peter exclaimed with indignation, "I told him so!"

"But, of course, he will try even there to oust you from the first place."

"Certainly!"

"But what can he do, when you already occupy the place? Won't you be the first to go there with Jesus? You will not leave Him alone? Has He not named you the ROCK?"

Peter put his hand on Judas' shoulder, and said with warmth: "I tell you, Judas, you are the cleverest of us all. But why are you so sarcastic and malignant? The Master does not like it. Otherwise you might become the beloved disciple, equally with John. But to you neither," and Peter lifted his hand threateningly, "will I yield my place next to Jesus, neither on earth, nor there! Do you hear?"

Thus Judas endeavoured to make himself agreeable to all, but, at the same time, he cherished hidden thoughts in his mind. And while he remained ever the same modest, restrained and unobtrusive person, he knew how to make some especially pleasing remark to each. Thus to Thomas he said:

"The fool believeth every word: but the prudent taketh heed to his paths."

While to Matthew, who suffered somewhat from excess in eating and drinking, and was ashamed of his weakness, he quoted the words of Solomon, the sage whom Matthew held in high estimation:

"'The righteous eateth to the satisfying of his soul: but the belly of the wicked shall want.'"

But his pleasant speeches were rare, which gave them the greater value. For the most part he was silent, listening attentively to what was said, and always meditating.

When reflecting, Judas had an unpleasant look, ridiculous and at the same time awe-inspiring. As long as his quick, crafty eye was in motion, he seemed simple and good-natured enough, but directly both eyes became fixed in an immovable stare, and the skin on his protruding forehead gathered into strange ridges and creases, a distressing surmise would force itself on one, that under that skull some very peculiar thoughts were working. So thoroughly apart, peculiar, and voiceless were the thoughts which enveloped Iscariot in the deep silence of secrecy, when he was in one of his reveries, that one would have preferred that he should begin to speak, to move, nay, even, to tell lies. For a lie, spoken by a human tongue, had been truth and light compared with that hopelessly deep and unresponsive silence.

"In the dumps again, Judas?" Peter would cry with his clear voice and bright smile, suddenly breaking in upon the sombre silence of Judas' thoughts, and banishing them to some dark corner. "What are you thinking about?"

"Of many things," Iscariot would reply with a quiet smile. And perceiving, apparently, what a bad impression his silence made upon the others, he began more frequently to shun the society of the disciples, and spent much time in solitary walks, or would betake himself to the flat roof and there sit still. And more than once he startled Thomas, who has unexpectedly stumbled in the darkness against a grey heap, out of which the hands and feet of Judas suddenly started, and his jeering voice was heard.

But one day, in a specially brusque and strange manner, Judas recalled his former character. This happened on the occasion of the quarrel for the first place in the kingdom of heaven. Peter and John were disputing together, hotly contending each for his own place nearest to Jesus. They reckoned up their services, they measured the degrees of their love for Jesus, they became heated and noisy, and even reviled one another without restraint. Peter roared, all red with anger. John was quiet and pale, with trembling hands and biting speech. Their quarrel had already passed the bounds of decency, and the Master had begun to frown, when Peter looked up by chance on Judas, and laughed self-complacently: John, too, looked at Judas, and also smiled. Each of them recalled what the cunning Judas had said to him. And foretasting the joy of approaching triumph, they, with silent consent, invited Judas to decide the matter.

Peter called out, "Come now, Judas the wise, tell us who will be first, nearest to Jesus, he or I?"

But Judas remained silent, breathing heavily, his eyes eagerly questioning the quiet, deep eyes of Jesus.

"Yes," John condescendingly repeated, "tell us who will be first, nearest to Jesus."

Without taking his eyes off Christ, Judas slowly rose, and answered quietly and gravely:

"I."

Jesus let His gaze fall slowly. And quietly striking himself on the breast with a bony finger, Iscariot repeated solemnly and sternly: "I, I shall be nearest to Jesus!" And he went out. Struck by his insolent freak, the disciples remained silent; but Peter suddenly recalling something, whispered to Thomas in an unexpectedly gentle voice:

"So that is what he is always thinking about! See?"