Chapter VI
 

With one hand betraying Jesus, Judas tried hard with the other to frustrate his own plans. He did not indeed endeavour to dissuade Jesus from the last dangerous journey to Jerusalem, as did the women; he even inclined rather to the side of the relatives of Jesus, and of those amongst His disciples who looked for a victory over Jerusalem as indispensable to the full triumph of His cause. But he kept continually and obstinately warning them of the danger, and in lively colours depicted the threatening hatred of the Pharisees for Jesus, and their readiness to commit any crime if, either secretly or openly, they might make an end of the Prophet of Galilee. Each day and every hour he kept talking of this, and there was not one of the believers before whom Judas had not stood with uplifted finger and uttered this serious warning:

"We must look after Jesus. We must defend for Jesus, when the hour comes."

But whether it was the unlimited faith which the disciples had in the miracle-working power of their Master, or the consciousness of their own uprightness, or whether it was simply blindness, the alarming words of Judas were met with a smile, and his continual advice provoked only a grumble. When Judas procured, somewhere or other, two swords, and brought them, only Peter approved of them, and gave Judas his meed of praise, while the others complained:

"Are we soldiers that we should be made to gird on swords? Is Jesus a captain of the host, and not a prophet?"

"But if they attempt to kill Him?"

"They will not dare when they perceive how all the people follow Him."

"But if they should dare! What then?"

John replied disdainfully--

"One would think, Judas, that you were the only one who loved Jesus!"

And eagerly seizing hold of these words, and not in the least offended, Judas began to question impatiently and hotly, with stern insistency:

"But you love Him, don't you?"

And there was not one of the believers who came to Jesus whom he did not ask more than once: "Do you love Him? Dearly love Him?"

And all answered that they loved Him.

He used often to converse with Thomas, and holding up his dry, hooked forefinger, with its long, dirty nail, in warning, would mysteriously say:

"Look here, Thomas, the terrible hour is drawing near. Are you prepared for it? Why did you not take the sword I brought you?"

Thomas would reply with deliberation:

"We are men unaccustomed to the use of arms. If we were to take issue with the Roman soldiery, they would kill us all, one after the other. Besides, you brought only two swords, and what could we do with only two?"

"We could get more. We could take them from the Roman soldiers," Judas impatiently objected, and even the serious Thomas smiled through his overhanging moustache.

"Ah! Judas! Judas! But where did you get these? They are like Roman swords."

"I stole them. I could have stolen more, only some one gave the alarm, and I fled."

Thomas considered a little, then said sorrowfully--

"Again you acted ill, Judas. Why do you steal?"

"There is no such thing as property."

"No, but to-morrow they will ask the soldiers: 'Where are your swords?' And when they cannot find them they will be punished though innocent."

The consequence was, that after the death of Jesus the disciples recalled these conversations of Judas, and determined that he had wished to destroy them, together with the Master, by inveigling them into an unequal and murderous conflict. And once again they cursed the hated name of Judas Iscariot the Traitor.

But the angry Judas, after each conversation, would go to the women and weep. They heard him gladly. The tender womanly element, that there was in his love for Jesus, drew him near to them, and made him simple, comprehensible, and even handsome in their eyes, although, as before, a certain amount of disdain was perceptible in his attitude towards them.

"Are they men?" he would bitterly complain of the disciples, fixing his blind, motionless eye confidingly on Mary Magdalene. "They are not men. They have not an oboles' worth of blood in their veins!"

"But then you are always speaking ill of others," Mary objected.

"Have I ever?" said Judas in surprise. "Oh, yes, I have indeed spoken ill of them; but is there not room for improvement in them? Ah! Mary, silly Mary, why are you not a man, to carry a sword?"

"It is so heavy, I could not lift it!" said Mary smilingly.

"But you will lift it, when men are too worthless. Did you give Jesus the lily that I found on the mountain? I got up early to find it, and this morning the sun was so beautiful, Mary! Was He pleased with it? Did He smile?"

"Yes, He was pleased. He said that its smell reminded Him of Galilee."

"But surely, you did not tell Him that it was Judas--Judas Iscariot-- who got it for Him?"

"Why, you asked me not to tell Him."

"Yes, certainly, quite right," said Judas, with a sigh. "You might have let it out, though, women are such chatterers. But you did not let it out; no, you were firm. You are a good woman, Mary. You know that I have a wife somewhere. Now I should be glad to see her again; perhaps she is not a bad woman either. I don't know. She said, 'Judas was a liar and malignant,' so I left her. But she may be a good woman. Do you know?"

"How should I know, when I have never seen your wife?"

"True, true, Mary! But what think you, are thirty pieces of silver a large sum? Is it not rather a small one?"

"I should say a small one."

"Certainly, certainly. How much did you get when you were a harlot, five pieces of silver or ten? You were an expensive one, were you not?"

Mary Magdalene blushed, and dropped her head till her luxuriant, golden hair completely covered her face, so that nothing but her round white chin was visible.

"How bad you are, Judas; I want to forget about that, and you remind me of it!"

"No, Mary, you must not forget that. Why should you? Let others forget that you were a harlot, but you must remember. It is the others who should forget as soon as possible, but you should not. Why should you?"

"But it was a sin!"

"He fears who never committed a sin, but he who has committed it, what has he to fear? Do the dead fear death; is it not rather the living? No, the dead laugh at the living and their fears."

Thus by the hour would they sit and talk in friendly guise, he-- already old, dried-up and misshapen, with his bulbous head and monstrous double-sided face; she--young, modest, tender, and charmed with life as with a story or a dream.

But time rolled by unconcernedly, while the thirty pieces of silver lay under the stone, and the terrible day of the Betrayal drew inevitably near. Already Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem on the ass's back, and the people, strewing their garments in the way, had greeted Him with enthusiastic cries of "Hosanna! Hosanna! He that cometh in the name of the Lord!"

So great was the exultation, so unrestrainedly did their loving cries rend the skies, that Jesus wept, but His disciples proudly said:

"Is not this the Son of God with us?"

And they themselves cried out with enthusiasm: "Hosanna! Hosanna! He that cometh in the name of the Lord!"

That evening it was long before they went to bed, recalling the enthusiastic and joyful reception. Peter was like a madman, as though possessed by the demon of merriment and pride. He shouted, drowning all voices with his leonine roar; he laughed, hurling his laughter at their heads, like great round stones; he kept kissing John and James, and even gave a kiss to Judas. He noisily confessed that he had had great fears for Jesus, but that he feared nothing now, that he had seen the love of the people for Him.

Swiftly moving his vivid, watchful eye, Judas glanced in surprise from side to side. He meditated, and then again listened, and looked. Then he took Thomas aside, and pinning him, as it were, to the wall with his keen gaze, he asked in doubt and fear, but with a certain confused hopefulness:

"Thomas! But what if He is right? What if He be founded upon a rock, and we upon sand? What then?"

"Of whom are you speaking?"

"How, then, would it be with Judas Iscariot? Then I should be obliged to strangle Him in order to do right. Who is deceiving Judas? You or he himself? Who is deceiving Judas? Who?"

"I don't understand you, Judas. You speak very unintelligently. 'Who is deceiving Jesus?' 'Who is right?'"

And Judas nodded his head and repeated like an echo:

"Who is deceiving Judas? Who?"

And the next day, in the way in which Judas raised his hand with thumb bent back,[1] and by the way in which he looked at Thomas, the same strange question was implied:

"Who is deceiving Judas? Who is right?"

[1] Does our author refer to the Roman sign of disapprobation, vertere, or convertere, pollicem?--Tr.

And still more surprised, and even alarmed, was Thomas, when suddenly in the night he heard the loud, apparently glad voice of Judas:

"Then Judas Iscariot will be no more. Then Jesus will be no more. Then there will be Thomas, the stupid Thomas! Did you ever wish to take the earth and lift it? And then, possibly hurl it away?"

"That's impossible. What are you talking about, Judas?"

"It's quite possible," said Iscariot with conviction, "and we will lift it up some day when you are asleep, stupid Thomas. Go to sleep. I'm enjoying myself. When you sleep your nose plays the Galilean pipe. Sleep!"

But now the believers were already dispersed about Jerusalem, hiding in houses and behind walls, and the faces of those that met them looked mysterious. The exultation had died down. Confused reports of danger found their way in; Peter, with gloomy countenance, tested the sword given to him by Judas, and the face of the Master became even more melancholy and stern. So swiftly the time passed, and inevitably approached the terrible day of the Betrayal. Lo! the Last Supper was over, full of grief and confused dread, and already had the obscure words of Jesus sounded concerning some one who should betray Him.

"You know who will betray Him?" asked Thomas, looking at Judas with his straight-forward, clear, almost transparent eyes.

"Yes, I know," Judas replied harshly and decidedly. "You, Thomas, will betray Him. But He Himself does not believe what He says! It is full time! Why does He not call to Him the strong, magnificent Judas?"

No longer by days, but by short, fleeting hours, was the inevitable time to be measured. It was evening; and evening stillness and long shadows lay upon the ground--the first sharp darts of the coming night of mighty contest--when a harsh, sorrowful voice was heard. It said:

"Dost Thou know whither I go, Lord? I go to betray Thee into the hands of Thine enemies."

And there was a long silence, evening stillness, and swift black shadows.

"Thou art silent, Lord? Thou commandest me to go?"

And again silence.

"Allow me to remain. But perhaps Thou canst not? Or darest not? Or wilt not?"

And again silence, stupendous, like the eyes of eternity.

"But indeed Thou knowest that I love Thee. Thou knowest all things. Why lookest Thou thus at Judas? Great is the mystery of Thy beautiful eyes, but is mine less? Order me to remain! But Thou art silent. Thou art ever silent. Lord, Lord, is it for this that in grief and pains have I sought Thee all my life, sought and found! Free me! Remove the weight; it is heavier than even mountains of lead. Dost Thou hear how the bosom of Judas Iscariot is cracking under it?"

And the last silence was abysmal, like the last glance of eternity.

"I go."

But the evening stillness woke not, neither uttered cry nor plaint, nor did its subtle air vibrate with the slightest tinkle--so soft was the fall of the retreating steps. They sounded for a time, and then were silent. And the evening stillness became pensive, stretched itself out in long shadows, and then grew dark;--and suddenly night, coming to meet it, all atremble with the rustle of sadly brushed-up leaves, heaved a last sigh and was still.

There was a bustle, a jostle, a rattle of other voices, as though some one had untied a bag of lively resonant voices, and they were falling out on the ground, by one and two, and whole heaps. It was the disciples talking. And drowning them all, reverberating from the trees and walls, and tripping up over itself, thundered the determined, powerful voice of Peter--he was swearing that never would he desert his Master.

"Lord," said he, half in anger, half in grief: "Lord! I am ready to go with Thee to prison and to death."

And quietly, like the soft echo of retiring footsteps, came the inexorable answer:

"I tell thee, Peter, the cock will not crow this day before thou dost deny Me thrice."