Chapter VII
 

The moon had already risen when Jesus prepared to go to the Mount of Olives, where He had spent all His last nights. But He tarried, for some inexplicable reason, and the disciples, ready to start, were hurrying Him. Then He said suddenly:

"He that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip; and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. For I say unto you that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me: 'And he was reckoned among the transgressors.'"

The disciples were surprised and looked at one another in confusion. Peter replied:

"Lord, we have two swords here."

He looked searchingly into their kind faces, lowered His head, and said softly:

"It is enough."

The steps of the disciples resounded loudly in the narrow streets, and they were frightened by the sounds of their own footsteps; on the white wall, illumined by the moon, their black shadows appeared--and they were frightened by their own shadows. Thus they passed in silence through Jerusalem, which was absorbed in sleep, and now they came out of the gates of the city, and in the valley, full of fantastic, motionless shadows, the stream of Kedron stretched before them. Now they were frightened by everything. The soft murmuring and splashing of the water on the stones sounded to them like voices of people approaching them stealthily; the monstrous shades of the rocks and the trees, obstructing the road, disturbed them, and their motionlessness seemed to them to stir. But as they were ascending the mountain and approaching the garden, where they had safely and quietly passed so many nights before, they were growing ever bolder. From time to time they looked back at Jerusalem, all white in the moonlight, and they spoke to one another about the fear that had passed; and those who walked in the rear heard, in fragments, the soft words of Jesus. He spoke about their forsaking Him.

In the garden they paused soon after they had entered it. The majority of them remained there, and, speaking softly, began to make ready for their sleep, outspreading their cloaks over the transparent embroidery of the shadows and the moonlight. Jesus, tormented with uneasiness, and four of His disciples went further into the depth of the garden. There they seated themselves on the ground, which had not yet cooled off from the heat of the day, and while Jesus was silent, Peter and John lazily exchanged words almost devoid of any meaning. Yawning from fatigue, they spoke about the coolness of the night; about the high price of meat in Jerusalem, and about the fact that no fish was to be had in the city. They tried to determine the exact number of pilgrims that had gathered in Jerusalem for the festival, and Peter, drawling his words and yawning loudly, said that they numbered 20,000, while John and his brother Jacob assured him just as lazily that they did not number more than 10,000. Suddenly Jesus rose quickly.

"My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death; tarry ye here and watch with Me," He said, and departed hastily to the grove and soon disappeared amid its motionless shades and light.

"Where did He go?" said John, lifting himself on his elbow. Peter turned his head in the direction of Jesus and answered fatiguedly:

"I do not know."

And he yawned again loudly, then threw himself on his back and became silent. The others also became silent, and their motionless bodies were soon absorbed in the sound sleep of fatigue. Through his heavy slumber Peter vaguely saw something white bending over him, some one's voice resounded and died away, leaving no trace in his dimmed consciousness.

"Simon, are you sleeping?"

And he slept again, and again some soft voice reached his ear and died away without leaving any trace.

"You could not watch with me even one hour?"

"Oh, Master! if you only knew how sleepy I am," he thought in his slumber, but it seemed to him that he said it aloud. And he slept again. And a long time seemed to have passed, when suddenly the figure of Jesus appeared near him, and a loud, rousing voice instantly awakened him and the others:

"You are still sleeping and resting? It is ended, the hour has come-- the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of the sinners."

The disciples quickly sprang to their feet, confusedly seizing their cloaks and trembling from the cold of the sudden awakening. Through the thicket of the trees a multitude of warriors and temple servants was seen approaching noisily, illumining their way with torches. And from the other side the disciples came running, quivering from cold, their sleepy faces frightened; and not yet understanding what was going on, they asked hastily:

"What is it? Who are these people with torches?"

Thomas, pale faced, his moustaches in disorder, his teeth chattering from chilliness, said to Peter:

"They have evidently come after us."

Now a multitude of warriors surrounded them, and the smoky, quivering light of the torches dispelled the soft light of the moon. In front of the warriors walked Judas Iscariot quickly, and sharply turning his quick eye, searched for Jesus. He found Him, rested his look for an instant upon His tall, slender figure, and quickly whispered to the priests:

"Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He. Take Him and lead Him cautiously. Lead Him cautiously, do you hear?"

Then he moved quickly to Jesus, who waited for him in silence, and he directed his straight, sharp look, like a knife, into His calm, darkened eyes.

"Hail, Master!" he said loudly, charging his words of usual greeting with a strange and stern meaning.

But Jesus was silent, and the disciples looked at the traitor with horror, not understanding how the soul of a man could contain so much evil. Iscariot threw a rapid glance at their confused ranks, noticed their quiver, which was about to turn into a loud, trembling fear, noticed their pallor, their senseless smiles, the drowsy movements of their hands, which seemed as though fettered in iron at the shoulders --and a mortal sorrow began to burn in his heart, akin to the sorrow Christ had experienced before. Outstretching himself into a hundred ringing, sobbing strings, he rushed over to Jesus and kissed His cold cheek tenderly. He kissed it so softly, so tenderly, with such painful love and sorrow, that if Jesus had been a flower upon a thin stalk it would not have shaken from this kiss and would not have dropped the pearly dew from its pure petals.

"Judas," said Jesus, and with the lightning of His look He illumined that monstrous heap of shadows which was Iscariot's soul, but he could not penetrate into the bottomless depth. "Judas! Is it with a kiss you betray the Son of Man?"

And He saw how that monstrous chaos trembled and stirred. Speechless and stern, like death in its haughty majesty, stood Judas Iscariot, and within him a thousand impetuous and fiery voices groaned and roared:

"Yes! We betray Thee with the kiss of love! With the kiss of love we betray Thee to outrage, to torture, to death! With the voice of love we call together the hangmen from their dark holes, and we place a cross--and high over the top of the earth we lift love, crucified by love upon a cross."

Thus stood Judas, silent and cold, like death, and the shouting and the noise about Jesus answered the cry of His soul. With the rude irresoluteness of armed force, with the awkwardness of a vaguely understood purpose, the soldiers seized Him and dragged Him off-- mistaking their irresoluteness for resistance, their fear for derision and mockery. Like a flock of frightened lambs, the disciples stood huddled together, not interfering, yet disturbing everybody, even themselves. Only a few of them resolved to walk and act separately. Jostled from all sides, Peter drew out the sword from its sheath with difficulty, as though he had lost all his strength, and faintly lowered it upon the head of one of the priests-- without causing him any harm. Jesus, observing this, ordered him to throw away the useless weapon, and it fell under foot with a dull thud, and so evidently had it lost its sharpness and destructive power that it did not occur to any one to pick it up. So it rolled about under foot, until several days afterwards it was found on the same spot by some children at play, who made a toy of it.

The soldiers kept dispersing the disciples, but they gathered together again and stupidly got under the soldiers' feet, and this went on so long that at last a contemptuous rage mastered the soldiery. One of them with frowning brow went up to the shouting John; another rudely pushed from his shoulder the hand of Thomas, who was arguing with him about something or other, and shook a big fist right in front of his straightforward, transparent eyes. John fled, and Thomas and James fled, and all the disciples, as many as were present, forsook Jesus and fled. Losing their cloaks, knocking themselves against the trees, tripping up against stones and falling, they fled to the hills terror-driven, while in the stillness of the moonlight night the ground rumbled loudly beneath the tramp of many feet. Some one, whose name did not transpire, just risen from his bed (for he was covered only with a blanket), rushed excitedly into the crowd of soldiers and servants. When they tried to stop him, and seized hold of his blanket, he gave a cry of terror, and took to flight like the others, leaving his garment in the hands of the soldiers. And so he ran stark-naked, with desperate leaps, and his bare body glistened strangely in the moonlight.

When Jesus was led away, Peter, who had hidden himself behind the trees, came out and followed his Master at a distance. Noticing another man in front of him, who walked silently, he thought that it was John, and he called him softly:

"John, is that you?"

"And is that you, Peter?" answered the other, pausing, and by the voice Peter recognised the traitor. "Peter, why did you not run away together with the others?"

Peter stopped and said with contempt:

"Leave me, Satan!"

Judas began to laugh, and paying no further attention to Peter, he advanced where the torches were flashing dimly and where the clanking of the weapons mingled with the footsteps. Peter followed him cautiously, and thus they entered the court of the high priest almost simultaneously and mingled in the crowd of the priests who were warming themselves at the bonfires. Judas warmed his bony hands morosely at the bonfire and heard Peter saying loudly somewhere behind him:

"No, I do not know Him."

But it was evident that they were insisting there that he was one of the disciples of Jesus, for Peter repeated still louder: "But I do not understand what you are saying."

Without turning around, and smiling involuntarily, Judas shook his head affirmatively and muttered:

"That's right, Peter! Do not give up the place near Jesus to any one."

And he did not see the frightened Peter walk away from the courtyard. And from that night until the very death of Jesus, Judas did not see a single one of the disciples of Jesus near Him; and amid all that multitude there were only two, inseparable until death, strangely bound together by sufferings--He who had been betrayed to abuse and torture and he who had betrayed Him. Like brothers, they both, the Betrayed and the betrayer, drank out of the same cup of sufferings, and the fiery liquid burned equally the pure and the impure lips.

Gazing fixedly at the wood-fire, which imparted a feeling of warmth to his eyes, stretching out his long, shaking hands to the flame, his hands and feet forming a confused outline in the trembling light and shade, Iscariot kept mumbling in hoarse complaint:

"How cold! My God, how cold it is!"

So, when the fishermen go away at night leaving an expiring fire of drift-wood upon the shore, from the dark depth of the sea might something creep forth, crawl up towards the fire, look at it with wild intentness, and dragging all its limbs up to it, mutter in hoarse complaint:

"How cold! My God, how cold it is!"

Suddenly Judas heard behind him a burst of loud voices, the cries and laughter of the soldiers full of the usual sleepy, greedy malice; and lashes, short frequent strokes upon a living body. He turned round, a momentary anguish running through his whole frame--his very bones. They were scourging Jesus.

Has it come to that?

He had seen the soldiers lead Jesus away with them to their guardroom. The night was already nearly over, the fires had sunk down and were covered with ashes, but from the guardroom was still borne the sound of muffled cries, laughter, and invectives. They were scourging Jesus.

As one who has lost his way, Iscariot ran nimbly about the empty courtyard, stopped in his course, lifted his head and ran on again, and was surprised when he came into collision with heaps of embers, or with the walls.

Then he clung to the wall of the guardroom, stretched himself out to his full height, and glued himself to the window and the crevices of the door, eagerly examining what they were doing. He saw a confined stuffy room, dirty, like all guardrooms in the world, with bespitten floor, and walls as greasy and stained as though they had been trodden and rolled upon. And he saw the Man whom they were scourging. They struck Him on the face and head, and tossed Him about like a soft bundle from one end of the room to the other. And since He neither cried out nor resisted, after looking intently, it actually appeared at moments as though it was not a living human being, but a soft effigy without bones or blood. It bent itself strangely like a doll, and in falling, knocking its head against the stone floor it did not give the impression of a hard substance striking against a hard substance, but of something soft and devoid of feeling. And when one looked long, it became like some strange, endless game--and sometimes it became almost a complete illusion.

After one hard kick, the man or effigy fell slowly on its knees before a sitting soldier, he in turn flung it away, and turning over, it dropped down before the next, and so on and on. A loud guffaw arose, and Judas smiled too,--as though the strong hand of some one with iron fingers had torn his mouth asunder. It was the mouth of Judas that was deceived.

Night dragged on, and the fires were still smouldering. Judas threw himself from the wall, and crawled to one of the fires, poked up the ashes, rekindled it, and although he no longer felt the cold, he stretched his slightly trembling hands over the flames, and began to mutter dolefully:

"Ah! how painful, my Son, my Son! How painful!"

Then he went again to the window, which was gleaming yellow with a dull light between the thick grating, and once more began to watch them scourging Jesus. Once before the very eyes of Judas appeared His swarthy countenance, now marred out of human semblance, and covered with a forest of dishevelled hair. Then some one's hand plunged into those locks, threw the Man down, and rhythmically turning His head from one side to the other, began to wipe the filthy floor with His face. Right under the window a soldier was sleeping, his open mouth revealing his glittering white teeth; and some one's broad back, with naked, brawny neck, barred the window, so that nothing more could be seen. And suddenly the noise ceased.

"What's that? Why are they silent? Have they suddenly divined the truth?"

Momentarily the whole head of Judas, in all its parts, was filled with the rumbling, shouting and roaring of a thousand maddened thoughts! Had they divined? They understood that this was the very best of men--it was so simple, so clear! Lo! He is coming out, and behind Him they are abjectly crawling. Yes, He is coming here, to Judas, coming out a victor, a hero, arbiter of the truth, a god....

"Who is deceiving Judas? Who is right?"

But no. Once more noise and shouting. They are scourging Him again. They do not understand, they have not guessed, they are beating Him harder, more cruelly than ever. The fires burn out, covered with ashes, and the smoke above them is as transparently blue as the air, and the sky as bright as the moon. It is the day approaching.

"What is day?" asks Judas.

And lo! everything begins to glow, to scintillate, to grow young again, and the smoke above is no longer blue, but rose-coloured. It is the sun rising.

"What is the sun?" asks Judas.