Jesus Christ had been frequently warned that Judas of Kerioth was a man of ill repute, a man against whom one should be on guard. Some of the disciples of Jesus who had been to Judea knew him well personally, others had beard a great deal of him, and there was none to say a good word concerning him. And if the good condemned him saying that Judas was covetous, treacherous, given to hypocrisy and falsehood, evil men also, when questioned about him, denounced him in the most opprobrious terms. "He always sows dissensions among us" they would say spitting contemptuously at the mere mention of his name; "he has thoughts of his own, and creeps into a house softly like a scorpion, but goes out with noise." Even thieves have friends, robbers have comrades, and liars have wives to whom they speak the truth, but Judas mocks alike the thieves and the honest, though he is a skillful thief himself, and in appearance he is the most illfavored among the inhabitants of Judea. "No, he is not of us this Judas of Kerioth," the evil would say to the surprise of those good people who saw but little difference between them and other vicious men in Judea.
It was rumored also that Judas had years back forsaken his wife, and that the poor woman, hungry and wretched, was vainly striving to eke out her sustenance from the three rocks that formed the patrimony of Judas, while he wandered aimlessly for many years among the nations, reaching in his travels the sea, and even another sea that was further still, lying, cutting apish grimaces and keenly searching for something with his thievish eye, only to depart suddenly, leaving in his wake unpleasantness and dissension, — curious, cunning and wicked like a one-eyed demon. He had no children, and this again showed that Judas was an evil man, and that God desired no progeny from him.
None of the disciples had noticed the occasion on which this red-haired and repulsive Judean first came near the Christ. But he had been going their way for some time already, unabashed, mingling in their conversations, rendering them small services, bowing, smiling, ingratiating himself. There were moments when he seemed to fit into the general scheme, deceiving the wearied scrutiny, but often he obtruded himself on the eye and the ear, offending both as something incredibly repulsive, false and loathsome. Then they would drive him away with stern rebuke, and for a time he would be lost somewhere on the road, merely to reappear unobserved, servile, flattering and cunning like a one-eyed demon. And there was no doubt to some of His disciples that in his desire to come near Jesus there was hidden some mysterious object, some evil and calculating design.
But Jesus did not heed their counsel; their voice of warning did not touch His ear. With that spirit of radiant contradiction which irrepressibly drew Him to the rejected and the unloved, He resolutely received Judas and included him even in the circle of His chosen ones. The disciples were agitated and murmured among themselves, but He sat still, His face turned to the setting sun, and listened pensively, — perhaps to them and perhaps to something entirely different. For ten days not a breath of wind had stirred the atmosphere, and the same diaphanous air, stationary, immobile, keen of scent and perception hung over the earth. And it seemed as though it had preserved in its diaphanous depth all that had been shouted and sung during these days by man, beast or bird, — the tears, the sobs and the merry songs, the prayers and the curses; and these glassy transfixed sounds seemed to burden and satiate it with invisible life. And once more the sun was setting. Its flaming orb was heavily rolling down the firmament, setting it ablaze with its dying radiance, and all on earth that was turned toward it: the swarthy face of Jesus, the walls of houses and the foliage of trees reflected obediently that distant and weirdly pensive light. The white wall was no longer white now, nor did the crimson city on the crimson hill appear white to the eye.
And now came Judas.
He came humbly bowing, bending his back, cautiously and anxiously stretching out his misshapen large head, and looking just like those who knew had pictured him. He was gaunt, well built, in stature almost as tall as Jesus, who was slightly bent from the habit of thinking while He walked. And he seemed to be sufficiently -vigorous, though for some reason he pretended to be ailing and frail, and his voice was changeable: now manly and strong, now shrill like the voice of an old woman scolding her husband, thin and grating on the ear. And often the listener wished to draw the words of Judas out of his ears like some vile insect. His stubbly red hair failed to conceal the strange and unusual form of his skull: it seemed cleft from the back by a double blow of the sword and patched together. It was plainly divided into four parts, and its appearance inspired mistrust and even awe. Such a skull does not bode peace and concord; such a skull leaves in its wake the noise of bloody and cruel conflicts. The face of Judas, too, was double: one side, with its black, keen, observing eye was living, mobile, ready to gather into a multitude of irregular wrinkles. The other side was free from. wrinkles, deathly smooth, flat and rigid; and though in size it was equal to the other, it seemed immense because of the wide-open, sightless eye. Covered with an opaque film it never closed night or day, facing alike the light and the darkness; but its vigilant and cunning mate was so close that one was loth to credit its entire blindness. When in fear or excitement Judas happened to close his seeing eye and shake his head, it rolled with the motion of the head and gazed silently and intently. Even altogether unobserving persons realized when they looked on the Iscariot that such a man could bring no good; but Jesus took him up and even seated him at His side, at His very side!
John, the beloved disciple, moved away loathingly, while the others, loving their Teacher, looked on the ground with disapproval. But Judas sat down, and, moving his head to the left and to the right, immediately commenced to complain with a thin voice of various ailments, how his breast pained at night, how he was apt to lose breath when walking uphill or grow dizzy at the edge of the precipice, hardly restraining a stupid desire to cast himself into the abyss. And many other things he invented impiously, evidently failing to grasp that sickness comes to man not by chance but is born from a failure to shape his acts in accord with the commands of the Eternal. He rubbed his chest with his palm and coughed hypocritically, this Judas of Kerioth, amid general silence and downcast glances.
John, avoiding the Teacher's glance, whispered to Simon Peter: — "Art thou not tired of this falsehood? I cannot bear it longer and I shall go hence."
Peter looked at Jesus, and meeting His glance, swiftly rose to his feet. "Wait!" he said to his friend,
Once more he glanced at Jesus and then, impetuously, like a rock dislodged from the mountain side, he gained the side of Judas Iscariot and loudly greeted him with a wide and unmistakable cordiality: — "Now you are with us, Judas!" Then he amiably slapped the newcomer's curved back, and not seeing the Teacher, though feeling His glance, he added with that loud voice of his which dispelled all objections as water displaces air:
"Your bad looks do not matter. We get uglier creatures into our nets and they turn out the best to eat. And it is not for us, fishers for the Lord, to throw away our haul because the fish is ugly and one-eyed, I saw once in Tyre an octopus caught by the fishermen there and was scared enough to run. They laughed at me, who am a fisherman from Tiberias, and gave me a taste of it. And I asked for another helping, it was so fine. Dost Thou remember, Teacher, I told Thee of it and Thou didst laugh? And thou, too, Judas, resemblest an octopus, at least one half of thee does."
And he laughed loudly, pleased with his jest. When Peter spoke, his words sounded firm and solid as though he were nailing them down with a hammer. When Peter moved or did anything he made a noise that was heard afar off and evoked a response from the dullest objects: the stone floor groaned under his feet, the doors trembled and banged, and the very air was thrilled. In the mountain fastnesses his voice woke an angry echo, and in the morning, while they fished, it rolled sonorously over the somnolently glistening waters and beguiled the first timid rays of the sun into a responsive smile. And perhaps that was why they loved Peter so: while upon the faces of others there rested yet the shadows of the night, his massive head and bare bosom and freely swinging arms glowed already in the radiance of the rising sun,
The words of Peter, approved by the Teacher, dispelled the embarrassment of the disciples. But some of them, who had been to the seashore and had seen the octopus, were disquieted by the simile which Peter had so frivolously applied to the new disciple. They remembered the monster's immense eyes, the multitude of its greedy tentacles, its pretended calm at the very moment it was ready to embrace and to crush the victim and to suck out its life, without a single wink of its great big eyes.
What was that? Jesus was silent, Jesus smiled; He was watching them with a kindly smile while Peter spoke of the octopus, — and one after the other the confused disciples approached Judas, addressing him cordially, but they walked away quickly and in embarrassment.
And only John, the Son of Zebedee, remained obstinately silent; and Thomas too was ruminating over the incident and apparently could not make up his mind to say anything. He intently watched Christ and Judas who were seated together, and this strange proximity of divine beauty and monstrous hideousness, of the Man with the gentle glance and the Octopus with the immense, immobile lack-lustre, greedy eyes — oppressed his mind like an unfathomable mystery. He strained and wrinkled his straight and smooth forehead, half closing his eyes in an effort to see better, but his exertion had only the effect of making it appear that Judas had really eight restlessly shuffling tentacles. But that was an error. Thomas realized this and gazed again with obstinate effort.
But Judas little by little grew bolder: he stretched out his arms, which he had held cramped at the elbows, relaxed the muscles that had kept his jaws in a state of rigidity and cautiously proceeded to exhibit his redhaired skull. It was in the plain view of all, but it seemed to Judas that it had been deeply and Impenetrably hidden from sight by some invisible, opaque and cunningly devised film. And as one emerging from the grave, he first felt the rays of light touching his strangely shaped skull and then his sight met the eyes of the onlookers. He paused and suddenly revealed his entire face. But nothing happened. Peter had gone somewhere on an errand. Jesus sat musing and leaned His head upon His arm, softly swinging His sunburnt foot. The disciples were conversing quietly and only Thomas was attentively and seriously scrutinizing him like a conscientious tailor taking his customer's measure. Judas smiled, but Thomas did not respond, though he apparently took the smile into account, like everything else, and continued his scrutiny. But a disquieting sensation annoyed the left side of Judas' face and he turned around: from a dark corner John was looking upon him with his cold and beautiful eyes, handsome, pure, without a spot on his snowwhite conscience. Walking apparently like other people, but with the inward feeling of slinking away like a chastised dog, Judas approached him and said:
"Why art thou silent, John? Thy words are like golden fruit in transparent silver vessels. Give some of it unto Judas who is so poor."
John gazed at the immobile and wide-open eye and did not utter a word. And he saw Judas creep away, linger an instant irresolutely and disappear in the darkness of the open doorway.
It was the time of the full moon and many took the opportunity for a walk. Jesus, too, went forth with the others, and Judas watched the departing figures from the low roof on which he had spread his bed. In the moonlight each figure had on airy and deliberate aspect and seemed to float, with its black shadow in the rear. Suddenly the man would vanish in the gloom and then his voice would be heard. But when the people emerged again into the moonlight, they seemed silent like the white walls, like the black shadows, like that transparently hazy and moonlit night.
Most people were sleeping already when Judas heard the gentle voice of the homecoming Christ. And all had grown still in the house and about him. The cock crew; somewhere an ass, disturbed in his slumber, brayed in a loud and injured tone, and ungraciously stopped again after a few protests. But Judas slept not; he was listening intently from his hiding place. The moon illumined one half of his face and its radiance cast a queer reflection in the large and open eye, as if mirroring itself on a lake of ice.
Suddenly, as if remembering something, he coughed several times in quick succession, and rubbed with his palm his hairy and vigorous breast: someone might be awake and listening to the thoughts of Judas.
Little by little the disciples became accustomed to Judas and ceased to notice his ugliness. Jesus turned over to him the treasure chest, and with it the household cares: his task was now to purchase the necessary food and raiment, to distribute alms, and to prepare a lodging place during their wanderings. All this he accomplished skillfully and in a very short time he succeeded in gaining the goodwill of some of the disciples who observed the pains he was taking. Judas, indeed, lied incessantly, but they had become used to this also, for they failed to find any evil deed in the wake of his lying, and it added a peculiar piquancy to his tales making life appear like some absurd, and at times terrible legend.
From Judas' tales it seemed as though he knew all men, and each man whom he knew had at one time or another in his life committed an evil deed, perhaps a crime. Good people in his opinion were those who knew well how to hide their actions and thoughts; but if one were to embrace them, to set them at ease with caresses and to closely question them, he felt sure evil and falsehood would ooze from them like poison from a suppurating wound. He readily agreed that he too was wont to lie now and then, but affirmed with an oath that others lied even more, and that if there was one person in the world foully imposed upon and ill-used that person was Judas. Many people had deceived him, and more than once and in divers ways. Thus a certain steward who had charge of a nobleman's treasure had confessed to Judas that for ten years he had coveted the possession of the treasure entrusted to him, but feared his master and his conscience. And Judas believed him, but lo! suddenly he stole the treasure and deceived Judas. And again Judas believed him, but he as unexpectedly returned the stolen goods to his master — and again deceived Judas. And everybody was deceiving him — even the animals. If he petted a dog, it would snap at his fingers; if he beat it with a rod it licked his hand and looked into his eyes with a filial expression. He killed such a dog once, buried the animal deep in the ground and lay a heavy stone on the burial spot, but who knows? perhaps because he had killed it, it became endowed with a more abundant life and was no longer resting in its grave but merrily running about with other dogs.
Every one laughed at Judas' tales, and he himself smiled pleasantly, winking his live and mocking eye, and smilingly confessed again that he had lied a little: that he had never killed such a dog, but promised to find it and surely kill it, for he hated to be deceived. And they laughed still more at such words.
But sometimes in his tales he exceeded the limits of probability and verisimilitude and ascribed to people tendencies such as are foreign even to beasts and accused them of simply incredible crimes. And as he mentioned in such connection names of the most respected people, some were indignant at the slander, while others jestingly inquired:
"But thy father and mother, Judas, were they not' good people?"
Judas winked his eye, smiled and shrugged his shoulders. And as he shook his head his congealed wide open eye shook in its orbit and gazed dumbly:
"And who was my father? Perhaps the man who chastised me when I was a child, perhaps the devil, or a goat or a rooster. Can Judas know with whom his mother shared her couch? Judas has many fathers. Of whom speak you?"
But at this the ire of all was aroused, for they greatly honored their parents, and Matthew, thoroughly versed in the Scriptures, sternly repeated the words of Solomon:
"He who speaks ill of his father and his mother, his lamp will be extinguished in utter darkness."
And John of Zebedee inquired contemptuously:
"And how about us? What evil wilt thou say about us, Judas of Kerioth?"
But he, with pretended fear, threw up his hands, cringing and whining like a beggar vainly praying alms from a passer-by:
"Ah! Wouldst thou tempt poor Judas? Mock poor Judas, deceive poor guileless Judas?"
While one side of his face was distorted in apish grimaces, the other seemed serious and stern and the neverclosed eye peered mutely and vaguely into space. Above all others, and most loudly, Simon Peter was wont to laugh at his jests. But once it happened that with a sudden frown he paused and hastily took Judas aside, almost dragging him by his sleeve:
"And Jesus? What thinkest thou of Jesus?" he inquired in a loud whisper bending over him. "But no jesting now, I pray thee."
Judas looked up with hatred:
"And what thinkest thou?"
"I think that He is the Son of the living God."
"Then why askest thou? What could Judas say whose father is a goat?"
"But dost thou love Him? It seems that thou lovest no one."
And with the same odd malice-reeking manner the Iscariot snapped out:
After this conversation Peter for a day or two loudly referred to Judas as his friend the octopus, while the other clumsily and wrathfully sought to escape from him into some obscure nook where he would sit and sulk, while his white neverclosed eye gleamed ominously in the dark.
Thomas alone regarded Judas' tales with seriousness, He was incapable of understanding jests, pretensions and lies, plays of words and of thoughts, and in everything sought the substantial and positive. All stories of Judas concerning evil people and their deeds he interrupted with brief business-like questions:
"Can you prove it? Who heard this? And who else was present? What was his name?"
Judas shrilly protested that he himself had heard and seen it all, but the obstinate Thomas persisted in questioning him calmly and methodically until Judas confessed that he had lied or until he invented a more plausible falsehood over which Thomas would pore for some time. Then discovering the deception he immediately returned and quietly exposed the liar. Judas on the whole aroused in him an intense curiosity, which brought about a queer sort of a friendship between them, noisy, full of laughter and vituperation on the one hand, and characterized by calm and insistent inquisitiveness on the other. At times Judas felt an irresistible contempt for his unimaginative friend and piercing him with a poignant glance he would inquire with irritation and almost pleadingly:
"What else dost thou want? I have told thee all, all."
"I want thee to explain to me how a goat could be thy father," insisted Thomas phlegmatically and waited for an answer. Once after listening to such a query Judas relapsed into silence and scanned the inquirer from head to foot in amazement. He saw a man of erect and lanky stature, of grey countenance, transparently clear straightforward eyes, two massive folds starting at the nose and losing themselves in the evenly trimmed rough beard, and observed with conviction:
"How stupid thou art Thomas! What seest thou in thy dreams? A tree, a wall, an ass?"
And Thomas blushed in confusion, finding no answer. But just as Judas' living and unsteady eye was about to close in sleep, he suddenly exclaimed (they both now slept on the roof):
"Thou art wrong, Judas. I do see evil dreams sometimes. How sayest thou, is a man responsible for his dreams?"
"And who else sees them but the man himself?"
Thomas softly sighed and lapsed into musing. Judas smiled contemptuously, tightly shutting his thievish eyes and calmly yielded himself up to his rebellious dreams, monstrous visions, and mad imaginings which rent to pieces his illshaped skull.
When in the wanderings of Jesus through Judea the pilgrims approached a village, the Iscariot was in the habit of relating evil things concerning the inhabitants thereof and predicting calamities. But it generally happened that the people whom he denounced met Christ and His friends joyously, surrounded them with attentions, and the treasure chest of Judas grew so heavy that he could hardly carry it.
And when he was twitted with his mistake he shrugged his shoulders in resignation and said:
"Yes, yes. Judas thought they were wicked and they are good. They believed quickly and gave us money. And again they deceived Judas, poor trusting Judas of Kerioth." But once having departed from a village where they had been cordially received Thomas and Judas had a violent dispute, and in order to settle it they chanced to turn back. A day later they caught up with Jesus and the disciples. Thomas looked confused and saddened, but Judas bore himself triumphantly, as if waiting for the others to come and congratulate him. Coming near the Teacher, Thomas announced:
"Judas was right, Lord. Those were stupid and wicked people. Thy seed fell upon rocky ground."
And then he related what had happened. Soon after Jesus and His disciples had gone an old woman discovered the loss of a kid and accused the strangers of the theft. The villagers argued with her, but she obstinately insisted that nobody else could have stolen it but Jesus. Many believed her and talked of pursuing the strangers. But soon the kid was found (it had become entangled in the bushes). The villagers, however, decided that Jesus was after all a deceiver and perhaps a thief.
"Indeed?" said Peter, distending his nostrils. "Lord, say the word and I shall return to those fools."
But Jesus, who had kept silence all this time, glanced at him sternly, and Peter stopped and hid himself behind the backs of others. And no one else spoke of the incident, as if nothing had happened, as if he, Judas, had proved to be in the wrong. Vainly he strove to show himself from every point of view, laboring to impart to his twofold predatory, birdlike beaked face an appearance of modesty. No one looked on him, except to cast a casual, very unfriendly and even contemptuous glance.
And from that day the attitude of Jesus towards him strangely changed. Until then it had somehow seemed as though Judas never spoke directly to Jesus, and as though Jesus never addressed him directly, but still the Teacher had frequently looked at him with a kindly glance, smiling at some of his conceits, and if he missed him for any length of time he was wont to inquire: "And where is Judas?" But now he looked on Judas without noticing him, though as heretofore His glance sought him out, and even more persistently than formerly, whenever He began to speak to His disciples or to the people — but He either turned His back to Judas as He sat down or cast His words at him over His shoulder or else appeared not to notice him at all. And whatever He said, though it may have been one thing today or another the next, though it were the same thing that Judas himself had in his mind, it seemed as though He always spoke against Judas. And unto all He was a tender and beautiful flower, the fragrant Rose of Lebanon, but for Judas He had only sharp thorns — as though Judas had no heart, as though he had no eyes or nostrils, as though he were not better able than all others to appreciate the beauty of tender and thornless rose leaves.
"Thomas, lovest thou the yellow Rose of Lebanon that has a swarthy face and eyes like a hind?" he once asked of his friend and Thomas indifferently replied:
"The Rose? Yes, its odor is agreeable to me, but I have never heard that roses had swarthy faces or eyes like hinds!"
"How? Dost thou not even know that the manyarmed cactus which yesterday rent thy garment has only one red flower and only one eye?"
But Thomas was ignorant of this also, though the day before a cactus had actually gripped a portion of his garment and rent it into shreds. He knew nothing this Thomas, though he inquired about everything and gazed so straightforwardly with his clear and transparent eyes through which one could see as through a Phoenician glass the wall behind him and the plodding ass hitched to it.
Before long another incident occurred when Judas again proved to have been correct. In a certain Judean village which he had severely criticized and sought to have left out of the itinerary, Christ was received with much hostility and after He had preached and denounced the hypocrites, the populace was aroused to a wild remonstrance and thought of stoning Him and His disciples.
The opponents were numerous and they would have surely succeeded in carrying out their design if it had not been for Judas of Kerioth. Seized with a mad fear for Jesus, as though perceiving already the drops of crimson on His white robe, Judas blindly and frenziedly cast himself against the mob, menacing, screaming, pleading, and lying, and thus gave Jesus and His disciples an opportunity to escape. Amazingly agile, as though scurrying on dozens of feet, ludicrous and terrible in his frenzied pleading, he rushed madly before the crowd and fascinated it with some strange spell. He screamed that the Nazarene was not at all possessed of the devil, that He was a mere deceiver, a thief, a lover of money, like all of His disciples, like he, Judas, himself, — he shook the money chest in their faces, distorted his features and pleaded with them casting himself to the ground. And gradually the wrath of the mob turned into laughter and disgust and the arms that had held the stones sank to their sides.
"Unworthy, unworthy they are to die of an honest man's hand," exclaimed some, while others musingly gazed after the speedily vanished Judas.
And again Judas expected congratulations, praises, and thanks, and made a show of his rent garments and falsely claimed that he had been beaten, but again he was inconceivably deceived. Filled with wrath Jesus walked ahead taking large steps and silent, and even John and Peter dared not approach him, while the others coming across Judas, with his rent garments, his face aglow with excitement and triumph though still a little pale with recent fright, drove him away with curt and angry remarks. As if he had not saved them, as if he had not saved their teacher whom they loved so much.
"Dost thou wish to see a pack of fools?" he remarked to Thomas who musingly plodded by his side. "Look how they walk along the roadway, like a herd of sheep, raising the dust. And thou, clever Thomas, art dragging along behind ; and I, noble and beautiful Judas, am also trudging in the rear like a filthy slave not fit to walk by the side of his master."
"Why callest thou thyself beautiful?" inquired the surprised Thomas.
"Because I am handsome," replied Judas with conviction and began to relate to him, with many additions, how he had deceived the enemies of Jesus and laughed at them and their stones.
"But thou didst lie!" remarked Thomas.
"Of course I lied," agreed the Iscariot in a matter-of-fact tone. "I gave them what they asked and they returned to me what I needed. And what is a lie, my clever Thomas? Would not the death of Jesus have been the greater lie?"
"Thou didst wrong. Now I know that thy father was the devil. He taught thee this, Judas."
The Iscariot's cheek blanched and seemed to overshadow Thomas, as though a white cloud had descended and hidden the roadway and Jesus. With a lithe movement Judas suddenly seized Thomas and pressed him to himself with a grip so tight that he could not move and whispered into his ear:
"Good. The devil taught me? Good, Thomas, good. And I saved Jesus, didn't I? Then the devil loves Jesus, then the devil needs Jesus and Truth? Good, good Thomas. But my father was not the devil, he was a goat. Mayhap the goat needs Jesus? Hey? And you, do you not want Him? Do you not want the Truth?"
Angered and slightly frightened Thomas with an effort released himself from Judas' slimy embrace and walked ahead swiftly, but soon slowed down in order to ponder over what had just happened.
But Judas plodded on quietly in the rear, falling back little by little. The wanderers had merged into one motley group in the distance and it was impossible to tell accurately which of the little figures was Jesus. Now even the tiny figure of Thomas changed into a grey dot, and suddenly they were all lost to sight behind a turn in the road; glancing around Judas turned aside from the roadway and with mighty leaps descended into the depths of a rocky ravine. His robe inflated from his swift and impetuous flight and his arms stretched upward as though he soared on wings. There on a steep decline he slipped and rapidly rolled down in a grey heap, his flesh torn by the shaggy rock, and leaped again to his feet angrily shaking his fist at the mountain.
"You too, curse you!"
And suddenly forsaking his swiftness of movement for a sullen and concentrated deliberateness he chose a spot near a large rock and slowly seated himself. He turned around as if in search of a comfortable position, pressed the palms of his hands close together against the grey rock and heavily leaned his head upon them. Thus he sat for an hour or two without stirring, deceiving the birds, motionless and grey like the rock itself. Before him, behind him and around him rose the steep sides of the ravine cutting with their sharp outline into the azure sky; and everywhere rose immense stones, rooted into the ground, as if there had passed over the place a shower of rocks and its heavy drops had grown transfixed in neverending thought. The wild and deserted ravine resembled an overturned decapitated skull and each rock therein seemed a congealed thought, and there were many of them, and they all were brooding heavy, limitless, stubborn thoughts.
There a deceived scorpion hobbled amicably past Judas on his rickety legs; Judas glanced at him without lifting his head from the stone, and again his eyes stopped rigidly fixed on some object, both motionless, both covered with an odd and whitish film, both seemingly blind and dreadfully seeing. Then from the ground, from the rocks, from the crevices began to rise the calm gloom of night; it enshrouded the motionless Judas and swiftly crept upwards to the luminously pallid sky. The night was advancing with its thoughts and dreams.
That night Judas failed to return to the lodging, and the disciples torn from their thoughts by cares for food and drink murmured at his negligence.
Once about noon time, Jesus and his disciples were ascending a rocky and mountainous path barren of shade, and as they had been over five hours on the road Jesus commenced to complain of weariness. The disciples stopped and Peter with his friend John spread their mantles and those of other disciples on the ground and fastened them overhead on two protruding rocks and thus prepared a sort of a tent for Jesus. And he reclined in that tent, resting from the heat of the sun, while they sought to divert Him with merry talk and jests. But seeing that speech wearied Him they withdrew a short distance and engaged in various occupations, being themselves but little sensitive to heat and fatigue. Some searched the mountainside for edible roots among the rocks, and brought them to Jesus, others ascended higher and higher. John had found a pretty blue lizard among the stones and bore it tenderly to Jesus, with a gentle smile; the lizard gazed with its protruding mysterious eyes into His eyes and then swiftly glided with its cold little body over His warm hand and rapidly bore away somewhere its tender and trembling tail.
Peter, caring little for such diversions, amused himself in company with Philip by detaching large stones from the mountainside and rolling them down in a contest of strength. Attracted by their loud laughter, little by little the others gathered around them and took part in the game. Straining every muscle each tore from the glen a hoary moss-covered stone, lifted it high overhead with both arms and dropped it down the incline. It struck heavily with a short, blunt contact and seemed to stop for an instant, as if in thought, then irresolutely it took the first leap, and each time it touched the earth it gathered from it speed and strength, grew light, ferocious, all-crushing. Then it leaped no longer, but flew with flashing teeth, and the air with a whizzing noise made way for the compact rotund missile. Now it reached the edge of the ravine; with a smooth final movement the stone flew up a little distance into the air, and rolled below, clumsy, heavy and circular, towards the bottom of the invisible abyss.
"Now then one more!" cried Peter. His white teeth glistened through his black beard and mustache, his powerful breast and arms were bared and the old angry stones, dully wondering at the strength that cast them, one after the other submissively passed into the abyss. Even frail John threw little pebbles, and Jesus smiling gently watched their game. "Well, Judas, why dost thou not take part in the game, it is apparently so diverting?" asked Thomas having found his queer friend motionless behind a large grey rock.
"My breast pains and they have not called me."
"Is there any need to call thee? Well, I call thee. Come. Look how large are the stones that Peter is casting down."
Judas glanced sideways at him and for the first time Thomas dimly realized that Judas of Kerioth had two faces. But hardly had he grasped the idea when Judas remarked in his wonted tone, ingratiating and at the same time sneering:
"Is there any one stronger than Peter? When he shouts all the asses in Jerusalem think their Messias has come and respond. Hast thou ever heard their braying?"
Smiling amicably and bashfully covering his breast that was covered with curly red hair Judas entered the circle of the players. And as they all felt merry they received him with glad shouts and hilarious jests and even John indulgently smiled when Judas, groaning and simulating great strain detached an immense stone. But now he easily raised it and cast it down. His blind wideopen eye shifted and fixed itself rigidly on Peter, while the other, cunning and happy twinkled with suppressed merriment.
"Well, you throw another one," broke in Peter in an offended tone.
And then one after another they raised and dropped gigantic stones, and in surprise the disciples watched them. Peter would throw a large stone, but Judas a still larger one. Peter, with a frown, wrathfully turned a fragment of the rock and reeling raised it and dropped it into the depths. Judas, still smiling, searched with a glance for a still larger fragment, caressingly dug into it with his lean long fingers, clung to it, swayed with it and with blanching cheek sent it down into the abyss. Having dropped his stone, Peter fell back and thus watched its flight, while Judas bent forward, leaned over the abyss and spread out his long and creepy arms as though he meant to fly after the stone. Finally both of them, first Peter and then Judas, seized a grey stone and were unable to raise it, neither one nor the other. Flushed with his effort Peter resolutely approached Jesus and loudly exclaimed:
"Lord, I do not want Judas to be stronger than I. Help me to raise that stone and cast it down."
And Jesus softly made some reply. Peter dissatisfied shrugged his broad shoulders, but dared no rejoinder and returned with the following words:
"He said: 'And who shall help the Iscariot?'"
But glancing at Judas, who with bated breath and tightly clenched teeth still clung to the stubborn stone, Peter burst out in a laugh:
"Look at the sick man! Look at our poor ailing Judas."
And Judas himself laughed, being so unexpectedly exposed in a lie, and the others laughed also; even Thomas suffered a smile to slip past his straight, shaggy mustache.
With merry and friendly speech they started again on their way, and Peter, having made full peace with the victor, now and again nudged his ribs with his fists and laughed loudly.
"The sick man!"
Everyone praised Judas, everyone acknowledged him victor, everyone conversed with him cordially, but Jesus — Jesus even this time failed to praise Judas. Silently He walked on ahead, gnawing at a blade of grass, and little by little the disciples ceased their laughter and joined Jesus. Soon it happened that they walked all in one group ahead, but Judas, the victor Judas, the strong Judas, trudged along in the rear swallowing dust.
They paused, and Jesus laying one hand on Peter's shoulder pointed with the other into the distance, where already in the mist had appeared Jerusalem; and the big broad back of Peter carefully couched His fine sunburnt hand.
For the night's lodging they stopped in Bethany, in the house of Lazarus. And when they all gathered to converse, Judas thought it a good time to recall his victory over Peter. The disciples, however, had little to say and were unusually silent. The images of the journey just completed, the sun, the rocks, the grass, Christ reposing in the tent, floated softly through their minds, exhaling a gentle pensiveness, generating dimly sweet dreams of some eternal motion under the sun. The wearied body rested sweetly, musing of something mysteriously beautiful and great — and not one remembered Judas.
Judas went out. Then he returned. Jesus was speaking and his disciples listened in silence. Motionless as a statue, Mary sat at His feet and with head thrown back gazed into His face. John had come close to the Teacher and strove to touch the hem of His garment with his hand, but so as not to disturb him. And having touched it he sat breathlessly still. And Peter breathed hard and loud, echoing the words of Jesus with his breath.
The Iscariot stopped at the threshold and contemptuously passed his glance over those assembled, concentrating its flames upon Jesus. And as he gazed, all around him grew dim and was lost in gloom and silence; Jesus only, with uplifted hand, was radiant. But now He too seemed to rise in the air, seemed to melt and His substance seemed to change into luminous mist such as hangs over the lake when the moon goes down; and His soft-spoken words sounded somewhere afar off and gentle. And gazing deeper into this wavering vision, drinking in with his ears the tender melody of those distant and spectral words, Judas gripped his whole soul with claws of iron and silently in its unfathomable gloom commenced to rear something stupendous. Slowly in the dense darkness, he raised immense mountainous masses, piling them up one upon another, and raised others and piled them up again; and something was growing in the darkness, expanding voicelessly, spreading its outlines. Now he felt his head transformed into a vast dome, and in its impenetrable gloom there grew and grew something stupendous, and someone wrought therein, raising mountainlike masses, piling them up one upon another and raising up new ones... And gently there sounded somewhere distant and spectral words.
Thus he stood, blocking the doorway, towering tall and dark, while Jesus spoke, and Peter's loud breathing same in unison with His words. But suddenly Jesus ceased — with an abruptly incomplete sound, and Peter, like one awakened out of a trance, triumphantly exclaimed:
"Lord, Thou knowest the words of Eternal Life!"
But Jesus was gazing somewhere in silence. And when they followed his glance they saw Judas in the doorway rigid, open-mouthed and with staring eyes. And not knowing what it was about, they laughed. But Matthew, learned in the Scriptures, touched Judas' shoulder and remarked in Solomon's words:
"He who has a gentle look will be shown mercy, but he who is met in the gate will oppress others."
Judas shuddered and even uttered a faint hoarse cry of fear, and all of his body — eyes, arms and legs seemed to flee in different directions. So a beast might look when suddenly facing the eyes of man. Jesus walked straight against Judas, seemingly bearing some word on His lips, and he walked past Judas through the door which was now open and free.
Long after midnight Thomas, becoming worried, approached Judas' sleeping place and bending over him inquired:
"Thou weepest, Judas?"
"No, go away, Thomas."
"Then why groanest thou and gnashest thy teeth? Art thou ill?"
Judas was silent for a space of time, and then from his lips poured forth one after another heavy words, throbbing with yearning and wrath.
"Why does He not love me? Why does He love them? Am I not more beautiful, am I not better, am I not stronger than they? Did I not save His life while the others were running away cringing like cowardly curs?"
"My poor friend, thou art not entirely in the right. Thou are not at all beautiful and thy tongue is as disagreeable as thy face. Thou art forever lying and speaking ill of others. How dost thou expect that Jesus should love thee?"
But Judas heard him not and continued: "Why is He with those who do not love Him, instead of with Judas? John brought Him a lizard, I would have brought Him a venomous snake. Peter cast stones, I would have turned the mountain around for Him. But what is a snake? Draw its tooth and it will cling about thy neck like a necklace. What is a mountain which one can dig with his hands and trample under foot? I would have given Him Judas, daring, beautiful Judas. But now He will perish and Judas will perish with Him.
"Thou sayest strange things, Judas."
"The withered fig tree which is to be hewn down! Why, that is I, He said it of me! Why does He not hew? He dare not, Thomas. I know Him. He fears Judas! He hides before the daring, the beautiful Judas! He loves the fools, the traitors, the liars! Thou art a liar, Thomas, hast thou heard me?"
Thomas was greatly surprised, and thought of protesting, but he decided that Judas was merely brawling, and contented himself by shaking his head. But Judas' agony increased: he moaned, gnashed his teeth, and one could hear his huge body shifting restlessly under the blanket.
"What is it that pains Judas so? Who has set fire to his body? He gives his son unto the dogs, he yields his daughter into the hands of robbers for defilement. But is not the heart of Judas tender? Go away, Thomas, go away, thou fool. Leave Judas alone, strong, daring, beautiful Judas."
Judas purloined a few pieces of silver and the theft was discovered by Thomas who had chanced to note the exact sum of money given him. It was thought likely that he had stolen on previous occasions, and the indignation of the disciples knew no bounds. Bristling with wrath Peter seized Judas by the neck and half dragged him to Jesus. The pale and frightened culprit offered no resistance.
"Teacher, look. Our jester! Just look at him, the thief. Thou trustest him, but he steals our money. The rogue! If thou wilt but say the word, I shall...."
But Jesus was silent. Peter looked up curiously scanning the Teacher's expression, and with flushed face relaxed his hold on Judas. The latter smoothed his garments with a sheepish mien and assumed the downcast appearance of a penitent sinner.
"What do you think of that!" growled Peter, and walked out of the room banging the door. Everybody was annoyed, and the disciples declared that on no account would they remain together with Judas. John, however, with a sudden inspiration quietly slipped into the room whence through the open doorway was now heard the gentle and apparently cordial voice of Jesus.
When John returned, his face was pale and his eyes were red with recent tears.
"The Teacher says... The Teacher says that Judas may take all the money he likes."
Peter laughed angrily. Swiftly and reproachfully John glanced at the impetuous disciple, and suddenly, all aglow, his tears mingling with his wrath, his joy mingling with his tears, he exclaimed with a ringing voice:
"And none shall keep count of the money which Judas receives. He is our brother and all the money is his as well as ours, and if he needs much let him take much, telling no one nor taking counsel with any. Judas is our brother and you have deeply offended against him," thus sayeth our Teacher. Shame on us, brethren!"
In the doorway stood Judas, pale and with a sickly smile. John with a quick movement approached him and kissed him thrice on the cheek. And after him, exchanging glances and awkwardly, came the others, James, Philip, and the rest. After each kiss Judas wiped his mouth, though he received the kiss with a resounding smack as if the sound afforded him much pleasure. The last to kiss him was Peter.
"We are all fools, Judas. We are all blind. One alone is seeing, One alone is wise. May I kiss thee?"
"Why not? Kiss," assented Judas.
Peter cordially kissed him and whispered into his ear:
"And I almost choked thee. The others were gentler, but I seized thee by the throat. Did it pain thee?"
"I shall go to Him and tell Him. I was even angry with Him," gloomily remarked Peter striving to open the door without noise.
"And how about thee, Thomas?" sternly inquired John who was watching the actions of the disciples.
"I don't know yet. I must think."
And Thomas thought long, almost the whole day.
The disciples had gone about their business, and somewhere behind the wall Peter shouted loudly and merrily, but Thomas was still thinking. He would have finished sooner, but Judas, whose mocking glance persistently pursued his movement, disturbed him. Now and then the Iscariot inquired with a mock curiosity:
"Well, how is it Thomas? How art thou progressing?"
Then Judas brought his treasure chest and loudly jingling his coins he commenced to count them, pretending to ignore the presence of Thomas.
"... Twenty one, twenty two, twenty three. Look, Thomas, another false coin. What great rogues people are, they even offer false money unto God. Twenty four. And then they will say Judas had stolen it. Twenty five. Twenty six..."
Thomas resolutely advanced to him, (it was. already towards evening) and said:
"He was right, Judas. Let me kiss thee."
"Indeed? Twenty nine. Thirty. But it is all in vain. I shall steal again. Thirty one.."
"How canst thou steal if there is no more thine or anybody else's? Thou wilt take what thou needest, brother."
"And didst thou require all this time merely to repeat His words? Thou doest not value time, Thomas?"
"I fear thou mockest me, brother."
"And think, dost thou act correctly in repeating His words? It was He who had spoken, and they were His words, not thine. It was He who had kissed me, but you denied my mouth. I can still feel your moist lips creeping over my face. How disgusting that was, Thomas! Thirty eight. Thirty nine. Forty pieces of silver. Dost thou want to count it over?"
"But He is our Teacher. How should we not repeat His words?"
"Has Judas no longer a neck to drag him by? Is he now naked so that ye cannot seize him? The Teacher will leave the house, Judas may accidentally steal three coins, and will ye not again seize him by the neck?"
"We know now, Judas. We understand."
"But have not all disciples a poor memory? And do not the disciples deceive their teachers? The Teacher lifts the rod, the disciples cry: 'We know the lesson!' The teacher lies down to sleep and the disciples inquire: 'Is not this what our teacher taught us?' And here this morning thou didst call me thief, but now callest thou me brother. What wilt thou call me on the morrow?"
Judas laughed, and picking up with one arm the heavy and jingling money chest he continued:
"When the wind blows strongly it raises the dust and the stupid people see the dust and say: 'Behold, the wind bloweth.' But it is only dust, my good Thomas, the refuse of asses, trodden under foot. There it strikes a wall .and is now humbly lying at its foot, but the wind is flying further, the wind is flying further, my good Thomas."
Judas pointed in illustration over the wall and laughed again.
"I am glad that thou art merry, Judas," replied Thomas. "Pity it is that in thy merriment there is so much malice."
"How should not a man be merry who has been kissed so much and who is so useful ? If I had not stolen three pieces of silver, how should John have known the exaltation of joy? Is it not pleasurable to be a hook whereupon John hangs his mouldy virtue to dry and thou thy motheaten wisdom?"
"I think it is best for me to go."
"But I am merely joking. I am jesting, Thomas. I merely wished to know if thou didst really long to kiss the old and repulsive Judas who had stolen three pieces of silver and given the money to a sinful woman."
"A sinful woman?" echoed Thomas in surprise. "And didst thou tell our Teacher this also?"
"There, doubting again, Thomas! Yes, to a sinful woman. But if thou only knew what a miserable woman she was. She must have gone without food two days."
"Knowest that this circumstance for a certainty?" inquired Thomas in confusion.
"Of course. I had been with her two days myself and saw that she had eaten nothing, for she merely drank wine, red wine. And she reeled with exhaustion and I fell with her."
Thomas leaped to his feet and walking a short distance away, turned and remarked to Judas.
"Apparently Satan has entered thy body."
And as he departed he heard the heavy money chest jingle mournfully through the gloom in the hands of Judas... And it seemed as though Judas were laughing.
But the very next day Thomas had to admit that he had been mistaken in Judas: so gentle, simple and at the same time serious had become the Iscariot. He cut no more grimaces, refrained from malicious jesting, no longer cringed before people or insulted them, but attended to his household tasks quietly and unobtrusively. He was as agile as ever: as though he had not two legs like the rest of the people, but dozens of them. Now, however, he scurried about noiselessly, without squealing and screaming or the hyena laugh that had characterized his previous activity. And when Jesus now commenced to speak he sat down in a corner with folded hands and his large eyes assumed such a gentle expression that everybody noticed it. And he ceased to speak evil of people, keeping silence in preference, so that even the stern Matthew found it proper to praise him, which he did in the words of Solomon: "The fool speaketh scornfully of his neighbor, but the wise man is silent," and he raised his finger as if recalling the former proneness of Judas to speak evil. And the others also noted this change in Judas and rejoiced over it. Only Jesus still viewed him with the same look of estrangement although He in no manner expressed His disfavor. And John himself, towards whom, as the beloved disciple of Jesus and his protector, Judas now manifested a most deferential demeanor, even John's attitude towards him was softened and he occasionally held converse with him.
"How thinkest thou, Judas," said he once condescendingly, "which of us twain, Peter or I, will be nearest to Christ in His heavenly kingdom?"
Judas thought for a moment and replied:
"I think thou wilt."
"And Peter thinks he will," smiled John.
"No. Peter's shouting would scatter the angels. Hearest thou him? Of course, he will dispute with thee and will strive to come first and occupy the place, for he claims that he too loves Jesus. But he is growing old, while thou art young. He is slow, while thou art fleet-footed and thou wilt be the first to enter with Christ. Am I not right?"
"Yes. I shall never leave Jesus' side, " assented John.
That same day Simon Peter addressed the very same question to Judas. But fearing that his loud voice would be heard by others he led Judas to the furthest corner of the house.
"Well how thinkest thou?" he inquired anxiously. "Thou art wise. Even the Teacher praises thy wisdom. Thou wilt tell me the truth."
"Thou, of course," the Iscariot replied without hesitation. And Peter indignantly exclaimed:
"I told him so."
"But, of course, even there he will try to dispute the first place with thee."
"Of course he will."
"But what can he do if he find the place already occupied by thee? Thou wilt not leave Him alone. Did he not call thee a Rock?"
Peter laid his hand on Judas' shoulder and fervently exclaimed:
"I tell thee, Judas, thou art the wisest among us. Pity thou art so malevolent and sneering. The Teacher does not like it. And thou couldst be a beloved disciple no less than John. But even unto thee I shall not yield my place by the side of Jesus, neither here on earth nor over there. Hearest thou me?" And he raised his hand with a threatening gesture.
Thus Judas sought to please both, the while he was harboring thoughts of his own. And remaining the same modest, quiet and unobtrusive Judas, he strove to say something agreeable to all.
Thus he said to Thomas: "The fool believeth every word, but the man of wisdom takes heed of his ways." But to Matthew who loved to eat and drink and was ashamed of this weakness he cited the words of Solomon.
"The righteous shall eat his fill, but the seed of the lawless is in want."
But such pleasant words he spoke rarely, which lent to them a special value. Now he remained silent for long periods and listened attentively to others, though he kept thinking thoughts of his own. Judas in his musing mood had a disagreeable and ludicrous, and at the same time a disconcerting appearance. While his cunning live eye was mobile he appeared to be genuine and gentle, but when both of his eyes assumed that fixed and rigid look, and the skin on his forehead gathered into queer wrinkles and folds, one received the disquieting impression that within that skull there swarmed very peculiar thoughts, utterly strange, quite peculiar thoughts that had no language of their own and they enveloped the cogitating Iscariot with a shroud of mystery so disturbing that the beholder longed to have him break the silence quickly, to stir a little or even to lie. For even a lie uttered by a human tongue seemed truth and light in the face of this hopelessly mute and unresponsive silence.
"Lost in thought again, Judas?" rang out the sonorous voice of Peter, suddenly breaking through the dull silence of the Iscariot's musing. "What art thou thinking of?"
"Of many things," replied the Iscariot with a quiet smile. And observing the unpleasant effect of his silence upon the others, he began more and more frequently to separate himself from the disciples, taking lonely walks or spending hours alone on the flat roof of the house. More than once Thomas collided on the roof with a grey bundle out of which suddenly disentangled themselves the ungainly limbs of Judas and was startled by the well known mocking accents of the Iscariot's voice.
Only once again the man of Kerioth oddly and abruptly recalled to the memory of the disciples the Judas of former days, and this occurred during the dispute concerning the first place in the Kingdom of heaven. In the presence of the Teacher, Peter and John hotly and with mutual recriminations defended their claims to the place nearest to Jesus. They enumerated their merits, compared the degree of their love of Jesus, shouted angrily and even abused one another incontinently, — Peter, all flushed with wrath and thundering, John pale and still, with trembling hands and stinging words. Their dispute was fast becoming unseemly and the Teacher was commencing to frown, when Peter chanced to look up at Judas and laughed out exultingly. John also glanced at Judas and smiled contentedly. Each remembered what the wise Iscariot had told him. With the foretaste of certain triumph they both summoned Judas to be their judge, and Peter cried out: "Hey, thou wise Judas. Tell us who will be first and nearest to Jesus, he or I?"
But Judas was silent. He breathed heavily and fixed his gaze longingly, questioningly, on the deep and calm eyes of Jesus.
"Yes," condescendingly agreed John, "tell him who will be the first and nearest to Jesus."
With his glance still fixed on Christ, Judas rose slowly to his feet and replied calmly and gravely:
Jesus slowly dropped his eyes, while the Iscariot, beating his breast with a bony finger sternly and solemnly repeated:
"I! I shall be near Jesus."
And with these words he went out leaving the disciples dumbfounded by this insolent outbreak. Only Peter, as if suddenly recollecting something, whispered to Thomas in an unexpectedly quiet tone:
"This is then what he is thinking about. Didst thou hear him?"
It was just about this time that Judas Iscariot took his first decisive step towards betrayal: he paid a secret visit to the high priest Annas. He was received very sternly, but this did not disconcert him and he demanded a prolonged private interview. Left alone with the stern ascetic old man who eyed him contemptuously from under his bushy eyebrows, he told him that he, Judas, was a pious man who had become a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth with the sole aim of exposing the deceiver and of betraying him into the hands of the law.
"And who is He, this Nazarene?" slightingly inquired Annas, as if he had heard the name of Jesus for the first time.
Judas for his part pretended to take this strange ignorance of the high priest at its face value and reported to him at length concerning the sermons of Jesus, His wonders, His hatred of the Pharisees and the Temple, the violations of the Law by Him, and His desire to snatch the power from the hands of the ecclesiastics and to establish His own kingdom. And so skillfully did he mingle truth with falsehood that Annas glanced at him more attentively, while he indolently observed :
"Are there so few deceivers and madmen in Judea?"
"No. But He is a dangerous man," hotly replied Judas. "He violates the Law. And it is better for one man to perish than for the whole people."
Annas nodded approvingly.
"But He has, methinks, many disciples."
"And they probably love Him devotedly?"
"They say that they love Him; that they love Him more than themselves."
"But if we should want to seize Him, would they not take His part? Will there be no uprising?"
Judas laughed long and bitterly.
"They? They are cowardly curs who run as soon as a man stoops to pick up a stone. They!"
"Are they so bad?" coldly inquired Annas.
"And do the bad flee from the good? Do not rather the good flee before the bad? Ha! They are good and therefore they will run. They are good and therefore they will hide themselves. They are good and therefore they will only appear when Jesus is ready for burial. And they will bury Him themselves, do thou but put Him to death."
"But do they not love Him? Thou saidst so."
"Their Teacher they love always, but more in death than living. As long as the Teacher lives He is apt to examine the pupils, and woe then unto the latter. But when the Teacher is dead, they become teachers in their turn, and woe then unto others! Ha!"
Annas looked searchingly at the traitor, and his shriveled lips wrinkled slightly: it was a sign that Annas was smiling.
"They have injured thee. I see it."
"Can anything remain a secret to thy insight, O wise Annas? Thou hast penetrated the very heart of Judas. Yes, they injured poor Judas. They said that I had stolen three pieces of silver, as if Judas were not the most honest man in Israel."
And for a long time they spoke of Jesus, of His disciples, and of His pernicious influence on the people of Israel. But the cautious and cunning high priest Annas did not give his final answer on this occasion. He had been watching Jesus for a long time and had long since sealed the fate of the prophet of Galilee in the secret councils of his relatives and friends, the chiefs and the Sadducees. But he distrusted Judas who had been reported to him as an evil and doubledealing man. He did not attach much faith to his frivolous remarks on the cowardice of the disciples and the people. Annas had entire confidence in his own might, but he feared bloodshed, he feared to stir up a tumultuous uprising into which the stiffnecked and volatile people of Jerusalem could be so easily harangued; he feared finally the sternly repressive interference of Roman authorities. Fanned by resistance, fructified by the crimson blood of the people which endows with life all whereon it falls, the heresy might spread all the more rapidly and engulf Annas himself, his rule and his friends. And when the Iscariot sought admission for the second time, Annas was perturbed and refused to receive him. But a third and a fourth time the Iscariot called, insistent as the wind that knocks day and night against the closed door and breathes through the fissures.
"I see that wise Annas has some apprehensions," said Judas when finally admitted to the High Priest.
"I am strong enough to fear nothing," haughtily replied Annas, and the Iscariot made a servile obeisance, "What wouldst thou?"
"I want to betray unto you the Nazarene,"
"We do not want Him."
Judas bowed low and lingered humbly, fixing his eye upon the high priest.
"But I must come again. Is it not so, venerable Annas?"
"Thou wilt not be admitted. Go."
But again and again Judas of Kerioth knocked at the high priest's portal and was once more admitted into the presence of the aged Annas. Shriveled and angry, oppressed with thought, he regarded the betrayer in silence and seemed to be counting the hairs on his illshaped head. Judas also was silent, as if, for his part, counting the hairs in the silvery thin beard of the high priest.
"Well, thou art here again?" haughtily ejaculated the irritated high priest, as though spuing the words on his visitor's head.
"I want to betray unto you the Nazarene."
They both lapsed into silence, scanning intently one another's features, the Iscariot gazing calmly, but a feeling of subdued malevolence, dry and cold like the morning frost in the winter time, was beginning to gnaw at the heart of Annas.
"And what askest thou for thy Jesus?"
"And what will ye give?"
With a feeling of quiet elation Annas insultingly retorted:
"You are a band of rascals, all of you. Thirty pieces of silver, that is all we will give for Him."
And his heart was filled with delighted gratification as he observed how Judas' whole body was set agog by this announcement. The Iscariot turned and scurried about, agile and swift, as if he had not two but a dozen legs.
"For Jesus? Thirty pieces of silver?" cried Judas in a tone of wild amazement that rejoiced the heart of Annas. "For Jesus of Nazareth? You would buy Jesus for thirty pieces of silver? And you think that Jesus can be sold unto you for thirty pieces of silver?"
Judas swiftly turned to the wall and laughed into its smooth and whited face, waving wildly arms.
"Hearest thou? Thirty pieces of silver! For Jesus!"
With quiet enjoyment Annas indifferently replied:
"If thou wilt not have it, go. We shall find some man who will sell more cheaply."
And like sellers of old raiment who shout and swear and scold, fighting over the price of some worthless garment, they commenced their monstrous and frenzied haggling.
Thrilled with a strange ecstasy Judas ran about twisting his limbs and shouting, and enumerating on the fingers of his hand the merits of Him whom he was betraying.
"And that He is good and heals the sick, is that nothing? Is that worth nothing in your estimation? Hey? No? Tell me like an honest man?"
"If thou," interposed the high priest whose cold disfavor was rapidly fanned into violent wrath by the taunting words of Judas, — but the later interrupted him unabashed.
"And that He is youthful and beautiful like the narcissus of Sharon, like the lily of the valley? Hey? Is that nothing? Perhaps you will say that He is aged and worthless?"
"If thou," still strove to cry Annas, but his senile voice was drowned in the storm of Judas' protests.
"Thirty pieces of silver! That makes hardly an obolus for a drop of blood. Less than half an obolus for a tear. Quarter an obolus for a groan. And the cries of pain! and convulsions! What is the stopping of His heart? And the closing of His eyes? Is that all for naught?" screamed the Iscariot towering over the high priest, encircling him with the frenzied whirlwind of his gestures and words.
"For all! For all!" replied the breathless high priest.
"And how much will you earn on the deal? Hey? Would you rob poor Judas? Tear the piece of bread out of his children's mouths? I shall go out into the market place and shout: 'Annas has robbed poor Judas. Help!'"
Wearied and dizzy, Annas in futile frenzy stamped the floor with his soft slipper and waved him away:
But Judas suddenly made a humble obeisance and spread out his arms: "And if so, why art thou angry with poor Judas who is seeking the good of his children? Thou too hast children, fine, handsome young men."
"We shall get another... We shall get another... Begone!"
"And did I say that I would not give in? Do I not believe thee that another may come and give up Jesus unto you for fifteen oboli? For two oboli? For one obolus?"
Then with another low obeisance, and with ingratiating words, Judas submissively agreed to accept the money offered him. With a trembling and wrinkled hand Annas, now silent and flushed with excitement, gave him the money. He sat with averted face and in silence, biting his lips and waited until Judas had tested every silver coin between his teeth. Now and then Annas looked around and then, as quickly turned his glance to the ceiling and again bit his lips.
"There are so many false coins about now," calmly explained Judas. "This is money offered up by pious people for the Temple," remarked Annas looking around hastily and still more quickly turning to Judas the back of his bald head which was now crimson with anger.
"But can pious people distinguish false coins from the genuine? Only rogues can do this."
Judas did not take home the money received from the high priest, but going beyond the city he buried it beneath a stone. And he returned with slow, heavy and cautious steps, like a wounded animal creeping to its lair after a cruel and mortal combat. But Judas had no lair of his own to which he might creep, though there was a house and in that house he saw Jesus. Tired, emaciated, worn out with his incessant war against the Pharisees who daily surrounded Him in the Temple like a wall of white, shining, learned foreheads, He was seated, leaning against the wall and was apparently fast asleep. Through the open window entered the restless echoes of the city, behind the wall was heard the knocking of Peter who was making a new table for the common meal and sang a Galilean ditty as he worked. He heard nothing and slept soundly and firmly, and this was He who had been bought for thirty pieces of silver.
Advancing noiselessly, Judas with the gentle care of a mother fearing to awaken her ailing babe, with the amazement of a dumb brute that has crept from its lair and lingers in fascination before some pretty white flower, Judas touched His soft hair and precipitately withdrew his hand. He touched it again and as noiselessly crept out.
"Lord!" he exclaimed. "Lord!"
And going to a deserted spot he wept there a long time, writhing, twisting his limbs, scratching his breast with his nails and biting his shoulders. Suddenly he ceased to weep, to groan and to gnash his teeth and lapsed into deep thought, turning his moist face to one side in the attitude of listening. And thus he stood for a long time, immobile, determined and a stranger to all like his very fate.
... With a calm love and tender solicitude Judas surrounded the doomed Jesus during these last days of His brief life. Coy and timorous like a maiden in her first love, strangely intuitive and keen of perception, he divined the slightest unexpressed wish of Jesus, penetrated into the hidden depths of His feelings, His fleeting instants of yearning, His heavy moments of weariness. And no matter where the foot of Jesus stepped it rested on something soft, no matter where He turned His glance it met something pleasant. Formerly Judas had held in disfavor Mary Magdalene and the other women who were near Jesus, playing rude jokes at their expense and causing them much annoyance. Now he became their friend, their ludicrous and awkward confederate. With a profound interest he discussed with them the little intimate and beloved traits of Jesus, quizzing them insistently for a long time concerning one and the same thing. With a great show of secrecy he thrust coins into their hands, and they bought ointments, the precious and fragrant myrrh so beloved of Jesus, and anointed His feet. Haggling desperately he bought expensive wine for Jesus and then growled when Peter drank it all with the indifference of a man to whom only quantity matters. In that rocky country surrounding Jerusalem and almost bare of trees and flowers, tie managed to obtain fresh spring flowers and green herbs, and offered them to Jesus through the mediation of these same women. For the first time in his life he fetched in his arms little children, finding them somewhere in the neighboring homesteads or in the highways, and forcedly caressed them to keep them from weeping'. And it frequently happened that there crawled on the knees of Jesus, while he sat in deep thought, a tiny, curly haired little fellow with a soiled little nose, and insistently sought His caress. And while the two rejoiced in one another, Judas sternly walked a short distance off with the air of a jailer who has admitted a butterfly into the cell of his prisoner and then with a show of asperity grumbles about the disorder.
In the evenings, when darkness and fear stood guard at the door, the Iscariot artfully contrived to bring into the conversation Galilee, a land unknown to him but dear to Jesus, with its peaceful lakes and green shores. And he worried the clumsy Peter until stifled memories awoke in his heart and before his eyes and ears appeared vivid pictures and sounds of the beautiful life of Galilee. Avidly attentive and with mouth half-opened like a child's, with the twinkling of anticipated laughter in His eyes, Jesus listened to Peter's impetuous, ringing and merry speech, and at times He so loudly laughed at his conceits that the disciple had to stop his recital for minutes at a time. But better even than Peter's was the speech of John. There was nothing ludicrous, nothing unexpectedly grotesque in his words, but his descriptions were so thoughtful, unusual and beautiful that tears appeared in the eyes of Jesus, and Judas nudged Mary Magdalene, whispering triumphantly into her ears: "How he speaks! Listen!"
"I am listening."
"But listen still better. You women never listen well."
And when they all dispersed to seek their bedsides, Jesus kissed John with a tender gratitude and cordially patted the shoulder of Peter.
Without envy, with a contemptuous indulgence, Judas witnessed these caresses. What signified all these tales, these kisses, these sighs, compared with that knowledge which he had, he, Judas of Kerioth, redhaired, repulsive Judas, born amid the rocks.
Betraying Jesus with one hand, Judas took great pains to destroy his own plans with the other. He did not attempt to dissuade Jesus from embarking on that last perilous journey to Jerusalem, as did the women, he even inclined to side with the relatives of Jesus and with those of his disciples who considered the victory over Jerusalem indispensable to the complete triumph of the cause. But he stubbornly and insistently warned them of its dangers and depicted in vivid colors the formidable hostility of the Pharisees, their readiness to commit any crime and their unflinching determination either openly or privily to slay the prophet of Galilee.
Daily and hourly he spoke of it and there was not a believer whom Judas failed to admonish shaking his uplifted finger impressively and severely:
"Jesus must be guarded! Jesus must be guarded! Jesus must be protected when the time comes."
Whether it was the boundless faith of the disciples in the marvelous power of their Teacher, or the consciousness of the righteousness of their cause or sheer blindness, Judas' anxious words were met with a smile, and his endless warnings elicited even murmurs of remonstrance.
Judas managed to obtain somewhere a couple of swords, but only Peter was pleased with his foresight, and only Peter praised Judas and the swords, while the others remarked disapprovingly:
"Are the warriors to gird ourselves with swords. And is Jesus a general and not a prophet?"
"But if they will want to slay Him?"
"They will not dare when they see that the whole people is following Him."
"But if they should dare after all? What then?"
And John scornfully retorted:
"One might think, Judas, that thou alone lovest the Teacher."
And greedily clinging to these words, taking no offence, Judas began to question them eagerly, fervently, with a solemn impressiveness:
"But do ye love Him? Truly?"
And each believer who came to see Jesus he repeatedly questioned:
"And dost thou love Him? Dost thou love Him truly?"
And all answered saying that they truly loved Him.
He frequently drew Thomas into conversation and warningly raising his bony forefinger crowned with a long and untidy finger nail he significantly admonished' him:
"Look to it, Thomas. A terrible time is approaching. Are ye prepared? Why didst thou not take the sword which I brought?"
And Thomas sententiously replied:
"We are men unaccustomed to the use of arms. And if we take up the struggle with the Roman soldiers we shall all be slain. Besides didst thou not bring only two swords? What can be done with two swords?"
"We can get others. And we might take them away from the soldiers," said Judas with a show of impatience, and even Thomas, the serious, smiled through his shaggy beard.
"Judas, Judas! What thoughts be these? And where didst thou procure these swords? For they resemble the swords of the Roman soldiers."
"I stole them. I might have stolen more, but I heard voices and fled."
Thomas answered reproachfully and sadly:
"There again thou didst wrong. Why stealest thou, Judas?"
"But nothing is another's property."
"Good, but the warriors may be questioned to-morrow 'Where are your swords?' and not finding them they may suffer punishment innocently."
And later, after the death of Jesus, the disciples remembered these words of Judas and concluded that he had purposed to destroy them together with their Teacher by luring them into an unequal and fatal combat. And once more they cursed the hateful name of Judas of Kerioth, the Traitor.
And Judas, after such conversation, sought out the women in his anger and complained to them tearfully. And the women heard him eagerly. There was in his love to Jesus something feminine and tender and it brought him nearer to the women, making him simple, intelligible and even goodlooking in their eyes, though there still remained a certain air of superiority in his attitude towards them.
"Be these men?" he bitterly denounced the disciples, turning confidingly his blind and immobile eye towards Mary, "No they are not men. They have not an obolus worth of blood in their veins."
"Thou art forever speaking evil of people," replied Mary.
"Am I ever speaking evil of people?" exclaimed Judas in surprise. "Well, I may sometimes say something evil of them, but could they not be just a trifle better? Ah Mary, stupid Mary, why art thou not a man to carry a sword?"
"I fear I could not lift it, it is so heavy," smiled Mary.
"Thou wilt wield it, if men prove too evil to draw a sword. Didst thou give unto Jesus the lily which I found this morn in the hills? I rose at dawn to seek it and the sun was so red today, Mary. Was He glad? Did He smile?"
"Yes, He was very glad. He said that it was fragrant with the odors of Galilee."
"Of course, thou didst not tell Him Judas had gotten it, Judas of Kerioth?"
"Thou badest me not to tell,"
"Truly, truly," sighed Judas. "But thou mightest have mentioned it inadvertently, women are so prone to talk. Then thou didst not tell it Him by any chance? Thou wast so firm? Yes, yes, Mary, thou art a good woman. Thou knowest I have a wife somewhere. I should like to see her now: perhaps she was not a bad woman. I do not know. She used to say: 'Judas is a liar. Judas, son of Simon, is wicked!' And I left her. But it may be that she is a good woman. What thinkest thou?"
"How can I know, who have never seen her?"
"Truly, truly, Mary. And what thinkest thou, thirty pieces of silver... is it a large sum of money?"
"I think it is not so much."
"Truly, truly. And what didst thou earn when thou wast a sinner? Five pieces of silver or ten? Wast thou high in price?"
Mary Magdalene blushed and dropped her head till her luxuriant golden hair hid her entire face leaving merely the rounded white chin visible:
"How mean art thou, Judas. I seek to forget it, but thou remindest me,"
"No, Mary, thou shouldest not forget it. Why? Let others forget that thou wast a sinner, but thou forget not. It is meet that others forget it, but why shouldest thou?"
"I lived in sin."
"Let him fear who has committed no sin. But he who has committed sin, why should he fear? Do the dead fear death and not the living? No, the dead mock the living and their fear of death."
Thus cordially talking they sat together for hours, he, well on in years, gaunt hideous to behold, with illshaped head and weirdly disproportioned face, she youthful, coy, gentle, fascinated with life as though with some legend or strange dream.
But the time passed heedlessly and the thirty pieces of silver were reposing under the stone, and the terrible day of betrayal was approaching inexorably. Already Jesus had entered Jerusalem riding on the foal of an ass, and the people had acclaimed Him, spreading their garments in His path, with cries of triumphant welcome:
"Hosannah, Hosannah! Blessed be He that cometh in the name of the Lord."
And so great was the jubilation, and so irrepressible was the love that strove heavenward in these welcoming shouts that Jesus wept and His disciples proudly exclaimed:
"Is this not the Son of God who is with us?"
And they also cried out in triumph:
"Hosannah! Hosannah! Blessed be He that cometh in the name of the Lord."
And that night for a long time they remained awake thinking over the solemn and triumphant entry, and Peter was like unto a madman; he was as one possessed by the demon of merriment and pride. He shouted loudly, drowning the speech of others with his leonine roar, he laughed uproariously, flinging his laughter at the heads of others like large rolling boulders, he embraced John, and James and even kissed Judas. And he boisterously admitted that he had harbored fears concerning Jesus, but now feared no longer, for he saw the love the people bore for Him. The Iscariot's unsteady eye strayed from face to face in amazement. He mused for a while, listened and looked around again, and then led Thomas aside. Then, as if impaling him against the wall with his piercing glance he questioned him with wonderment and fear not unmixed with some dim hopefulness:
"Thomas, and if He is right? If it be He that has the rock beneath His feet, and I merely shifting sand? What then?"
"Of whom art thou speaking?" inquired Thomas.
"What will Judas of Kerioth do then? Then I shall have to strangle Him myself to bring out the Truth. Who is playing Judas false, ye or Judas himself? Who is deceiving Judas? Who?"
"I cannot understand thee, Judas. Thou speakest in riddles. Who is deceiving Judas? Who is right?"
And shaking his head Judas repeated like an echo:
"Who is deceiving Judas? Who is right?"
And still more surprised was Thomas, and he felt even worried when during the night there rang out the loud and almost joyous voice of Judas:
"Then there will be no Judas of Kerioth. Then there will be no Jesus. There will be only.... Thomas, stupid Thomas! Didst thou ever wish to seize this earth of ours and raise it in thy hands? And then perhaps to drop it?"
"That were impossible, what sayest thou Judas?"
"That is possible," replied the Iscariot with conviction. "And we shall seize it some day and lift it up in our hands while thou art asleep, stupid Thomas. Sleep. I am merry, Thomas. When thou sleepest, the flutes of Galilee play in thy nostrils, Thomas. Sleep."
But already the believers had scattered throughout Jerusalem and disappeared within their houses, behind walls, and the faces of the people who still walked abroad were now inscrutable. The rejoicing had ceased Already dim rumors of peril crept out of some crevices. Peter was gloomily trying the edge of the sword given him by Judas, and ever sadder and sterner grew the face of the Teacher. Time was swiftly passing and inexorably approached the dread day of the Betrayal. Now also the Last Supper was over, pregnant with sadness and dim fears, and the vague words of Jesus of someone who would betray Him had been spoken.
"Knowest thou who will betray Him?" inquired Thomas gazing at Judas with his straight and limpid, almost transparent eyes.
"Yes, I know," replied Judas, sternly and resolutely. "Thou, Thomas, wilt betray Him. But He does not believe Himself what He is saying. It is time. It is time. Why does He not call to His side Judas, the strong and the beautiful?"
And time, the inexorable, was now measured no longer by days but by fast fleeting hours. And it was even, and the stillness of even, and lengthy shadows gathered over the earth, the first piercing arrows of the impending night of great conflict, when a sad and solemn voice sounded through the darkness. It was Judas who spoke:
"Thou knowest where I am going, Lord? I am going to betray Thee into the hands of Thine enemies."
And there was a long silence, and the stillness of even and piercing black shadows.
"Thou art silent. Lord? Thou commandest me to go?"
And silence again.
"Bid me stay. But Thou canst not? Or darest not? Or wilt not?"
And again silence, immense as the eyes of Eternity...
"But Thou knowest that I love Thee. Thou knowest all. Why lookest Thou thus upon Judas? Great is the secret of Thy beautiful eyes, but is mine the less? Bid me stay... But Thou art silent. Thou art ever silent? Lord, Lord, why in anguish and with yearning have I sought Thee always, sought Thee all my life and found Thee? Make Thou me free. Lift from me the burden; it is greater than mountains of lead. Hearest Thou not the bosom of Judas of Kerioth groaning beneath it?"
And final silence, unfathomable as the last glance of Eternity.
And the stillness of even was not broken, it cried not out nor wept, nor faintly echoed the fine and glassy air — so still was the sound of his departing steps. They sounded and were lost. And the stillness of even relapsed into musing, it stretched its lengthening shadows, and blushed darkly, then suddenly sighed with the yearning rustle of stirring foliage; it sighed and was still, lost in the embrace of Night.
Other sounds now invaded the air, rapping, tapping, knocking: as if someone had opened a cornucopia of vivid sonorous noises and they were dropping upon the earth, not singly or in twos, but in heaps. And drowning them all, echoing against the trees, the shadows and the wall, enveloping the speaker himself roared the resolute and lordly voice of Peter: he swore that he would never leave his Teacher.
"Lord!" he cried, longingly, wrathfully. "Lord! With Thee I am ready to go to prison and even unto death."
And softly, like the faint echo of someone's departed steps, the merciless answer sounded:
"I say unto thee, Peter, that ere the cock crow thrice today thou wilt have denied me thrice."
The moon had already risen when Jesus started towards Mount Olivet where he was wont of late to pass his nights. But He lagged strangely, and His disciples, who were ready to proceed, urged Him on. Then He suddenly spoke:
"He who has a sack let him take it, likewise a staff. And He who has none, let him sell his raiment and buy a sword. For I say unto you that this day it shall happen unto me as even was written: he was counted among the transgressors!"
The disciples were amazed and exchanged confused glances.
But Peter replied:
"Lord! Here are two swords."
He glanced searchingly into their kindly faces, dropped His head and gently replied:
"It is enough."
Loudly echoed the steps of the wanderers through the narrow streets and the disciples were terrified at the sounds of their own steps. Their black shadows lengthened upon the white moon-illuminated walls and they were terrified at the sight of their own shadows. Thus silently they passed through the sleeping city. Now they passed out of the gates of Jerusalem and in a deep cleft among the hills that were filled with mysterious and immobile shadows the brook of Kedron met their gaze. Now everything terrified them. The soft gurgling and the splashing of the water against the stones sounded to them like voices of people lying in ambush. The shapeless fanciful shadows of rocks and trees obstructing their way worried them, and the motionless stillness of the night appeared to them endowed with life and movement. But as they ascended and neared the garden of Gethsemane where they had spent so many nights in security and peace they gradually gained courage. Now and then they cast a backward glance at the sleeping city now reposing white in the light of the moon and discussed their recent fright; and those who walked in the rear heard an occasional fragment of the Teacher's words. He was telling them that they would all forsake Him.
They stopped in the very outskirts of the garden. Most of the disciples remained right there and with subdued voices commenced to make preparations for sleep, spreading their mantles in the transparent lacework of shadows and moonlight. But Jesus, torn with disquietude, with four of His nearest disciples plunged further into the depths of the garden. There they sat down on the ground that had not yet grown cold from the heat of the day, and while Jesus observed silence, Peter and John lazily exchanged meaningless remarks. Yawning with weariness they spoke of the chilly night and remarked how dear the meat was in Jerusalem, while fish was not to be had at all. They were guessing at the number of worshippers that would gather in Jerusalem during the holidays, and Peter, stretching his words into a prolonged yawn, affirmed that they would amount to twenty thousand, while John, and his brother James indolently claimed that the number would not exceed ten thousand. Suddenly Jesus quickly rose to His feet.
"My soul is sorrowful even unto death. Tarry ye here and watch a while," He said and with swift steps He retired into the grove where He was lost in the impenetrable maze of light and shadows.
"Where did He go?" wondered John raising himself on his elbow. Peter turned his head in the direction of the departed Teacher and wearily answered:
"I don't know."
And once more loudly yawning he reclined on his back and lay still. The others too had quieted down by this time and the vigorous sleep of healthy fatigue chained their stolid figures. Through his heavy sleep Peter dimly saw something white bending over him and seemed to hear some voice that sounded afar off and died leaving no trace in his dulled consciousness:
"Simon Peter, sleepest thou?"
And once more he was fast asleep, and again some still voice reached his ear and died away leaving no trace:
"Could ye not watch with me one brief hour?"
"Lord, if Thou knewest how sleepy I am," he thought in half slumber, but it seemed to him as if he had said it aloud. And again he slept and a long time passed when suddenly there stood beside him the form of Jesus and a sonorous waking voice roused him and the others:
"Are ye still sleeping and resting? It is finished. The hour has come for the Son of Man to be betrayed into the hands of sinners."
The disciples leaped to their feet, picking up their mantles in confusion and shivering with the chill of sudden awaking. Through the maze of trees, illuminating them with the lurid light of their torches, with heavy tramping of feet and loud noise, and the crack of breaking twigs, a crowd of warriors and temple attendants was seen approaching. And from the other side the rest of the disciples came running, trembling with the cold, with terrified, sleepy faces, failing to realize what had occurred and anxiously inquiring:
"What is this? Who are these with torches?"
Thomas, pale, with his beard awry, with chatting teeth, remarked to Peter:
"Apparently these men are after us."
Now the crowd of warriors surrounded them and the smoking unsteady glare of the torches had chased the quiet and serene radiance of the moon somewhere into the heights over the treetops. At the head of the warriors was Judas of Kerioth; scurrying hither and thither and keenly rolling his seeing eye he searched for Jesus. At last he found Him, and resting for a moment his glance on the tall and slender form for the Master he hurriedly whispered to the attendants: "He whom I shall kiss the same is the man. Take Him and lead Him carefully. But be careful, do you hear me?"
Then hurriedly moving toward Jesus, who awaited him in silence, he plunged like a dagger a steady and piercing glance into His calm, dark eyes.
"Rejoice, Rabbi," he exclaimed loudly, imbuing the words of common salutation with a strange and terrible significance.
But Jesus was silent, and the disciples gazed awestricken upon the Traitor, unable to fathom how the soul of Man could contain so much wickedness. With a hasty look the Iscariot measured their confused ranks, noted the tremor that threatened to change into the abject palsy of terror, noted their pallor, the meaningless smiles, the nerveless movements of arms that seemed to be gripped with iron clamps at the shoulder; and his heart was set aflame with bitter anguish not unlike the agony which had oppressed Jesus a short time since. His soul transformed into a hundred ringing and sobbing chords, he rushed forward to Jesus and tenderly kissed His windchilled cheek, so softly, so tenderly, with such agony of love and yearning that were Jesus a flower upheld by a slender stem, that kiss would not have shaken from it one pearl of dew or dislodged one tender leaf.
"Judas," said Jesus, and the lightning of His glance bared the monstrous mass of forbidding shadows that were the soul of the Iscariot, but did not reveal its boundless depths. "Judas! With a kiss betrayest thou the Son of Man?"
And He saw that hideous chaos quivering, stirring and agog through and through. Speechless and stern as Death in his haughty majesty stood Judas of Kerioth and all of his being within him groaned, thundered and wailed with a myriad of stormy and fiery voices:
"Yes! With a kiss of love we betray Thee. With a kiss of love we betray Thee unto mockery, torture and death. With a voice of love we summon torturers from their dark lairs, and rear a cross. And high above the gloom of the earth upon the cross we raise up love crucified by love!"
Thus stood Judas, wordless and cold as death, and the cry of his soul was met by the cries and the tumult that encircled Jesus. With the rude indecision of armed force, with the awkwardness of a dimly grasped purpose the soldiers had already seized Him by the hand and were dragging Him somewhere, mistaking their own aimlessness for resistance, their own terror for their victim's mockery and scorn. Like a herd of frightened lambs the disciples had huddled together, offering no resistance, though impeding everybody including themselves; and only a few had any thought of going or acting for themselves, apart from the rest. Surrounded on every side, Peter, son of Simon, with an effort, as if having lost all strength, drew the sword from its sheath . and weakly dropped it with a glancing blow upon the head of one of the servants, — but failed to harm him in the least. And observing this Jesus commanded him to drop the useless weapon. With a faint rattle the sword fell to the ground, a piece of metal so manifestly bereft of its power to pierce and to injure that none troubled to pick it up. Thus it lay in the mud and many days later some children found it in the same spot and made it their plaything.
The soldiers were dispersing the disciples and the latter again huddled together stupidly getting into the soldiers' way, and this continued until the soldiers were seized with a contemptuous wrath. There one of them with a frown walked up to the shouting John, while another roughly brushed aside the arm of Thomas who had placed it upon his shoulder in an endeavor to argue with him, and in his turn shook threateningly a powerful balled fist before a pair of very straightlooking and transparent eyes. And John ran, as also did Thomas and James; and all the disciples, as many as were there, forsaking Jesus, ran helter-skelter to save themselves. Losing their mantles, running into the trees, stumbling against stones and falling they fled into the mountains, driven by terror and in the stillness of the moonlit night the ground resounded under their fugitive feet. Some unknown, who had evidently just risen from sleep, for he was covered with only a blanket, excitedly scurried to and fro in the crowd of warriors and servitors. But as they tried to seize him he cried out in fear and started to run, like the others, leaving his raiment in the hands of the soldiers. Thus perfectly nude, he ran with desperate leaps and his naked body gleamed oddly in the moonlight.
When Jesus was led away Peter emerged from his hiding place behind the trees and from a distance followed his Teacher. And seeing ahead of him another man who walked in silence, he thought it was John and softly called to him:
"John, is it thou?"
"Ah, thou Peter?" replied the other stopping, and Peter recognized the Betrayer's voice. "Why then Peter didst thou not flee with the others?"
Peter stopped and loathingly replied:
"Get thee behind me, Satan."
Judas laughed and paying no more attention to Peter walked on towards the place where gleamed the smoking torches and the rattle of arms mingled with the tramp of feet. Peter followed him cautiously and thus almost together they entered the court of the high priest's house and joined a crowd of servants warming themselves at the fire. Judas was sullenly warming his bony hands over the logs when he heard somewhere, in the rear the loud voice of Peter:
"No, I don't know Him."
But someone evidently insisted that he was a disciple of Jesus, for even more loudly Peter repeated:
"But no and no, I don't know whereof ye are speaking."
Without looking around and smiling involuntarily Judas nodded his head affirmingly and murmured:
"Just so, Peter. Yield to none thy place at the side of Jesus."
And he did not see how the terror-stricken Peter departed from the court in order not to be caught again. And from that evening until the very death of Jesus Judas never saw near Him any of His disciples: and in that multitude there were only these two, inseparable unto death, strangely bound together by fellow-suffering, — He who was betrayed unto mockery and torture end he who had betrayed Him. From one chalice of suffering they drank like brothers, the Betrayed and the Traitor, and the fiery liquid seared alike the pure and the impure lips.
Gazing fixedly at the fire which beguiled the eye into a sensation of heat, holding over it his lanky and shivering hands, all tangled into a maze of arms and legs, trembling shadows and fitful light, the Iscariot groaned pitifully and hoarsely:
"How cold! My God, how cold!"
Thus in the night time, when the fisher folk have set out in their boats leaving ashore a smouldering campfire some strange denizen of the deep may come forth from the bowels of the sea and creeping to the fire gaze on it fixedly and wildly, stretching its limbs towards the flames and groan pitifully and hoarsely:
"How cold! Oh, my God, how cold!"
Suddenly behind his back the Iscariot heard a tumult of loud voices, cries, the sound of rude laughter, full of the familiar, sleepily-greedy malice, and the thud of sharp, quick, blows raining on a living body. He turned around, pierced through and through with agonized pain, aching in every limb and in every bone — they were beating Jesus.
It has come then.
He saw the soldiers lead Jesus into the guard-house. The night was passing, the fires were going out, ashes began to cover them, and from the guard-house there came still the noise of hoarse shouts, laughter and oaths. They were beating Jesus. As one who has lost his way the Iscariot scurried about the empty court, stopping himself suddenly on a run, raising his head and starting off again, stumbling in surprise against the campfires and the walls. Then he glued his face to the walls of the guard-house, to the cracks in the door, to the windows and greedily watched what was going in within. He saw a stuffy, crowded, dirty little room, like all the guard-houses in the world, with a floor that had been diligently spat on and with walls that were greasy and stained as if hundreds of filthy people had walked or slept upon them. And he saw the Man who was being beaten. They smote Him on the face and on the head, they flung Him from one to another across the room like a sack. And because He did not cry out or resist after minutes of strained observation it actually appeared as though it were not a living being but some limp manikin without bones or blood that was thrown about. And the figure bent over oddly, just like a manikin, and when in falling it struck the floor with its head the impression of the contact was not like that of some hard object striking another, but as of some thing soft and incapable of pain. And after watching it long it seemed like some weird and interminable game, something that almost amounted to an illusion. After one vigorous blow the man or the manikin smoothly dropped on the knees of a soldier. He pushed it away and it turned and fell on the next man's knees, and so on. Shouts of wild laughter greeted this game and Judas also smiled — as if some powerful hand with fingers of steel had torn open his mouth. The lips of Judas had played him false this time.
The night seemed to drag and the campfires still smouldered. Judas fell back from the wall and slowly trudged over to one of the fires, stirred up the coals, revived the flames, and though now he did not feel cold, he held over it his slightly trembling hands. And longingly he murmured:
"Ah, it hurts, little son, it hurts, child, child, child. It pains, very, very much."
Then he walked over to the window that gleamed yellow from the dim lantern within the bars and once more he commenced to watch the chastisement of Jesus. Once before the very eyes of Judas flitted the vision of His dark face, now disfigured and encircled in a maze of tangled hair. There someone's hand seized this hair, felled the Man and methodically turning the head from side to side began to wipe with His face the filthy floor. Under the very window a soldier slept opening his wideopen mouth wherein two rows of teeth gleamed white and shiny. Now somebody's broad back with a fat bare neck shut out the view from the window and nothing more could be seen. And suddenly all grew still.
"What is it? Why are they silent? What if they have comprehended?"
Instantly the head of Judas was filled with the roaring, shouting and tumult of a thousand frenzied thoughts. What if they have realized? What if they have comprehended that this was — the very best among men. This is so plain, so simple. What is going on there now? Are they kneeling before Him, weeping softly, kissing His feet? There He will emerge in an instant, and behind Him will come forth in abject submission the others; how He will come forth and draw near to Judas, the conqueror, the Son of Man, the Lord of Truth, God...
Who is deceiving Judas? Who is right?
But no. Shouts and uproar again. They are beating Him again. They have not comprehended. They have not realized and they are beating Him with greater violence, more cruelly. And the fires are burning low, being covered with ashes, and the smoke over them is as transparently blue as the air, and the sky is as light as the moon. It is the dawn of day.
"What is day?" asked Judas.
Now everything is ablaze, everything glows, everything has grown young, and the smoke above is no longer blue but pink. The sun is rising.
"What is the sun?" asketh Judas.
They pointed him out with their fingers, and some contemptuously, while others with hatred and terror added:
"See, this is Judas, the Traitor."
This was the beginning of his shameful infamy to which he condemned himself for all ages. Thousands of years will pass, nation will succeed nation, and still the words will be heard in the air, uttered with contempt and dread by the good and the evil:
"Judas, the Traitor! Judas, the Traitor!"
But he listened with indifference to the words spoken concerning him, absorbed in a feeling of a supreme curiosity. From the very morn that Jesus was led out of the guard-house after His chastisement Judas followed Him, his heart strangely free from longing, pain or joy. It was only filled with the unconquerable craving to see and to hear all. Though he had not slept all night he felt as though walking on air; where the people would not let him pass he elbowed his way forward and with agility gained a point of vantage. During the examination of Jesus by Kaiaphas he held his hand to his ear so as not to lose a word and nodded his head approvingly, whispering:
"That's so. That's so. Hearest Thou this, Jesus?"
But he was not free — he was like a fly tied to a thread: buzzing it flies hither and thither but not for an instant the pliant and obstinate thread releases it. Thoughts that seemed hewed out of stone weighed down his head and he could not shake them off. He knew not what thoughts these were, he feared to stir them up, but he felt their presence constantly. And at times they threatened to overwhelm him, almost crushing him with their incredible weight as though the roof of some rocky vault slowly and terribly subsided over his head. Then he held his hand to his heart and shook himself as though shivering with the cold, and his glance straying to another and still another spot as Jesus was led out from the presence of Kaiaphas, he met His wearied glance at quite close quarters, and without rendering account to himself of his action, he nodded his head a few times with a show of friendliness and murmured:
"I am here, sonny, I am here." Then he wrathfully shoved aside some gaping countryman who stood in his way. Now they were moving, an immense and noisy throng, on to Pilate, for the last examination and trial, and with the same insupportable curiosity Judas eagerly and swiftly scanned the faces of the people. Many were entirely unknown to him; Judas had never seen them before; but some there were who had shouted "Hosannah!" to Jesus, and with every step the number of such seemed to increase.
"Just so!" flashed through the mind of Judas. He reeled like a, drunken man. "It is all finished. Now they will shout: He is ours! He is our Jesus! What are ye doing? And everyone will see it..."
But the believers walked in silence, with forced smiles on their faces, pretending that all this did not concern them in the least. Others discussed something in subdued tones, but in the tumult and commotion, in the uproar of frenzied shouts of Christ's enemies, their timid voices were drowned without leaving a trace. And again he felt relieved. Suddenly Judas noticed Thomas, who was cautiously proceeding not afar off, and with a sudden resolve he rushed forward intending to speak to him. Seeing the Traitor, Thomas was frightened and sought to escape, but in a narrow and dirty lane, between two walls, Judas caught up with him:
Thomas stopped and solemnly holding up both hands exclaimed:
"Depart from me, Satan."
With a gesture of impatience the Iscariot replied:
"How stupid thou art, Thomas! I thought that thou hadst more sense than the others. Satan! Satan! This must be proved."
Dropping his hands, Thomas inquired in surprise:
"But didst thou not betray the Teacher? I saw with my own eyes that thou broughtest the soldiers. Didst thou not point out Jesus unto them? If this is not betrayal, what is a betrayal?"
"Something else, something else," hastily interposed Judas. "Listen. There are many of you here. It behooves you to meet and to demand loudly: 'Give unto us Jesus. He is ours.' They will not refuse you, they will not dare. They will understand themselves..."
"What art thou saying!" replied Thomas shaking his head. "Didst thou not see the number of armed soldiers and servants of the temple? And, besides, a court has not been held yet, and we must not interfere with, the court. Will not the court understand that Jesus is innocent and will not the judges immediately order Him released?"
"Dost thou think so too?" musingly inquired Judas. "Thomas, Thomas, but if this be the truth? What then? Who is right? Who deceived Judas?"
"We argued all night and we decided that the judges simply could not condemn the Innocent one. But if they should..."
"Well?" urged the Iscariot.
"... then they are not true judges. And they will fare ill some day when they give account to the real Judge..."
"The real Judge! Is there a real one?" laughed Judas.
"And the brethren have all cursed thee, but as thou sayest that thou art not a Traitor, I think thou oughtest to he judged..."
Without waiting to hear the end Judas abruptly turned on his heels and rushed off in pursuit if the departing multitude. But he slowed down and walked deliberately, realizing that a crowd never proceeds very fast and that by walking apart one can always catch up with it.
When Pilate led Jesus out of his palace and placed Him in full view of the people, Judas, pinned to a column by the heavy backs of some soldiers, frenziedly twisted his head in order to see something between two shining helmets. He suddenly realized that now all was over indeed. The sun shone high over the heads of the multitude and under its very rays stood Jesus, bloodstained, pale, with a crown of thorns the sharp points of which had pierced His brow. He stood at the very edge of the elevation, visible from His head to His small sunbrowned feet, and so calmly expectant He was, so radiant in His sinlessness and purity that only a blind man unable to see the very sun could fail to see it, only a madman could fail to realize it. And the people were silent, so silent that Judas heard the breathing of the soldier in front of him, and the scraping of his belt as he took each breath.
"That's it. It is all over. They will now understand," thought Judas; and suddenly some strange sensation not unlike the blinding joy of falling from an infinite altitude into the gaping abyss of blue stopped his heart. Contemptuously stretching his lip down to his cleanshaven, rotund chin, Pilate flings at the people dry curt words as one might cast bones at a horde of hungry hounds to cheat their thirst for fresh blood and living quivering flesh.
"Ye have brought unto me this Man as a corrupter of the people. I have examined Him before you and have found the Man guilty of nothing whereof ye accuse Him..."
Judas closed his eyes. He was waiting.
And the whole people began to shout, scream and howl with a thousand bestial and human voices:
"Death unto Him! Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"
And now, as if deriding their own souls, as if craving to taste to the dregs in one moment all the infinity of fall, frenzy and shame, these very people screaming and howling demand:
"Release unto us Barabbas. But Him crucify! Crucify!"
But the Roman has not yet spoken his final word. His haughty cleanshaven face is twitching with loathing and wrath. He understands... He has comprehended. There He is speaking softly to the servants of the temple, but his voice is drowned in the uproar of the multitude. What is he saying? Does he command them to take up their swords and to fall upon the madmen?
"Bring me water!"
Water? What kind of water? What for?
There he is washing his hands... why is he washing his white, clean ringcovered hands? And now he cries out angrily raising his hands in the face of the amazed people:
"I am Innocent of the blood of this righteous man. See ye to it."
The water is still dripping from these white fingers down on the marble slabs of the floor, but some white mass is already limply groveling at the feet of Pilate, someone's burning and sharp lips are kissing his weakly resisting hand, clinging to it like a leech, sucking at it, drawing the blood to the surface and almost biting it. With loathing and dread he looks down and sees a gigantic and writhing body, a wild face that looks as though it had been split in twain, two eyes so strangely unlike one another, as though not one creature but a multitude lay clutching at his feet and hands. And he hears a fervent and broken whisper:
"Thou art wise! Thou art noble! Thou art wise!"
And this savage face seems to glow with such truly satanic joy that Pilate cannot repress a cry as he repels him with his foot, and Judas falls down to the ground. And lying on the flagstones, like an overturned devil, he still stretches out his hand towards Pilate and shouts as one infatuated:
"Thou art wise! Thou art noble! Thou art wise!"
Then he swiftly leaps to his feet and flees accompanied by the laughter of the soldiers. All is not yet over. When they see the cross, when they see the nails, they may comprehend then... What then? Passingly he notices Thomas, breathless and pale, and for some reason nods to him assuringly. Then he catches up with Jesus on the way to the execution. The path is hard; the little stones roll from under one's feet; Judas suddenly realizes that he is tired. He concentrates his mind on finding a good foothold, and as he looks about he sees Mary Magdalene weeping, he sees a multitude of weeping women, with dishevelled hair, red eyes, distorted lips, all the infinite grief of the feminine soul given over unto despair. Suddenly he revives and taking advantage of an opportune moment, he rushes forward to Jesus:
"I am with Thee," he whispers hurriedly.
The soldiers drive him away with stinging blows of their whips, and writhing to escape the leash, gnashing his teeth at the soldiers, he hurriedly explains:
"I am with Thee. Thither. Understandest Thou? Thither!"
Wiping the blood from his face he shakes his fist at the soldier who turns around and points him out to his comrades. He looks about for some reason in search of Thomas, but finds neither him nor any of the other disciples in the accompanying crowd. Again he feels weary and heavily shuffles his feet, carefully scanning the sharp little crumbling stones underfoot.
... When the hammer was raised to nail the left hand of Jesus to the tree Judas shut his eyes and for an eternity neither breathed, nor saw, nor lived, only listened. But now iron struck iron with a gnashing sound, and blow after blow followed blunt, brief, low. One could hear the sharp nail entering the soft wood distending its particles.
One hand. It is not yet too late.
Another hand. It is not yet too late.
One foot, another. Is really all over? Irresolutely he opens his eyes and sees the cross rise unsteadily and take root in the ditch. He sees how the hands of Jesus convulse under the strain, extend agonizingly, how the wounds spread and suddenly the collapsing abdomen sinks below the ribs. The arms stretch and stretch and grow thin and white, they twist at the shoulders, the wounds under the nails redden and expand; they threaten to tear in an instant... But, they stop. All motion has stopped. Only the ribs move lightly, raised by His deep quick breathing.
On the very brow of the Earth rises the cross and on it hangs Jesus crucified. The terror and the dreams of Judas are accomplished — he rises from his knees (he had been kneeling for some reason) and looks around coldly. Thus may look some stern conqueror having purposed in his heart to visit ruin and death upon all as he takes one last look on the wealthy vanquished city, still living and noisy, but already spectral beneath the cold hand of death. And suddenly as clearly as his terrible triumph the Iscariot sees its ominous frailty. What if they realize? It is not yet too late. Jesus is still living. There He gazes with his beckoning, yearning eyes...
What can keep from tearing the thin veil that covers the eyes of the people, so thin that it almost is not? What if they suddenly comprehend? What it they move in one immense throng of men, women and children, silent, without shouting, and overwhelm the soldiers, drowning them in their own blood, root out the accursed cross and the hands of the survivors raise aloft upon the brow of the Earth the released Jesus? Hosannah! Hosannah!
Hosannah? No. Let Judas lie down on the ground, let him lie down and bare his teeth like a dog and watch and wait until they all rise. But what has happened to time? Now it stops and one longs to kick it onward, to lash it like a lazy ass, now it rushes on madly downhill, cutting off one's breath, and one vainly seeks to steady oneself. There Mary Magdalene is weeping. There weeps the mother of Jesus. Let them weep. As if her tears meant anything, for that matter the tears of all the mothers, all the women in the universe!
"What are tears?" asks Judas and frenziedly pushes onward the disobliging time, pummels it with his fists, curses it like a slave. It is someone else's, that is why it does not obey. If it were Judas! but it belongs to all these who arc weeping, laughing', gossiping as if they were in the marketplace. It belongs to the sun, it belongs to the cross and to the heart of Jesus who is dying so slowly.
What a miserable heart is that of Judas. He is holding it with his hands but it shouts Hosannah! so loudly that all will soon hear it. He presses it tightly to the ground, and it shouts Hosannah! Hosannah! like a poltroon scattering sacred mysteries in the street.
Suddenly a loud broken cry... Dull shouts, a hurried commotion around the cross. What is it? Have they comprehended ?
No, Jesus is dying. And can this be? Yes, Jesus is dying. The pale arms are limp, but the face, the breast and the legs are quivering with short convulsions. And can this be? Yes, He is dying. The breath comes less frequently. Now it has stopped. No, another sigh, Jesus is still upon earth. And still another? No... No... No... Jesus is dead.
It is finished. Hosannah! Hosannah!
The terror and the dreams arc accomplished. Who will snatch the victory from the Iscariot's hands? It is finished. Let all nations, as many as there be, flock to Golgotha and cry out with their millions of throats: Hosannah! Hosannah ! let them pour out seas of blood and tears at its foot, — they will only find a shameful cross and a dead Jesus.
Calmly and coldly Judas scrutinizes the figure of the Dead, resting his glance an instant upon the cheek on which but the night before he had impressed his farewell kiss, and then deliberately walks away. Now the hole earth belongs to him, and he walks firmly like a commander, like a king, like He who in this universe is so infinitely and serenely alone. He notes the mother of Jesus and addresses her sternly:
"Weepest thou, mother? Weep, weep, and a long time will weep with thee all the mothers of earth. Until we shall return together with Jesus and destroy death."
What is he saying? Is he mad or merely mocking? But he seems serious and his face is solemn, and his eyes no longer scurry about with insane haste. There he stops and with a cold scrutiny views the earth, so changed and small. How little it now is, and he feels the whole of the orb beneath his feet. He looks at the little hills gently blushing under the last rays of the sun, and he feels the mountains beneath his feet. He gazes on the sky gaping wide with its azure mouth, he gazes on the round little sun futilely striving to burn and to blind, and lie feels the sky and the sun beneath his heel. Infinitely and serenely alone he has proudly sensed the impotence of all the powers that are at work in the world and has cast them all down into the abyss.
And he walks on with calm and masterful steps. And the time moves neither ahead of him nor in the rear:
obediently with its invisible mass It keeps pace with him.
It is finished.
Like an old hypocrite, coughing, smiling ingratiatingly, bowing profusely, Judas of Kerioth, the Traitor, appeared before the Sanhedrim. It was on the day following the murder of Jesus, towards noon. They were all there. His judges and murderers, the aged Annas with his sons, those accurate and repulsive copies of their father, and Kaiapahs, his son-in-law, wormeaten with ambition, and other members of the Sanhedrim, who had stolen their names from the memory of the people, wealthy and renowned Sadducees, proud of their power and their knowledge of the law. They received the Traitor in silence and their haughty faces remained unmoved as if nothing had entered the room. And even the very least among them, a nonentity utterly ignored by the others, raised to the ceiling his birdlike features and looked as if nothing had entered. Judas bowed, bowed and bowed, but they maintained their silence: as if not a human being had entered, but some unclean and unnoticeable insect had crept into their midst. But Judas of Kerioth was not a man to feel embarrassed: they were silent, but he kept on bowing and thought that if he had to keep on bowing until night he would do so.
At last the impatient Kaiaphas inquired:
"What dost thou want?"
Judas bowed once more and modestly replied:
"It is I, Judas of Kerioth, who betrayed unto you Jesus of Nazareth."
"Well, what now? Thou hast received thy reward. Go," commanded Annas, but Judas kept on bowing as if he had not heard the command. And glancing at him Kaiaphas inquired of Annas:
"How much was he given?"
"Thirty pieces of silver."
Kaiaphas smiled and even the senile Annas smiled also. A merry smile flitted over all the haughty faces: and he of the birdlike countenance even laughed. Paling perceptibly Judas broke in:
"Quite so. Quite so. Of course, a very small sum, but is Judas dissatisfied? Does Judas cry out that he was robbed? He is content. Did he not aid a sacred cause? A sacred cause, to be sure. Do not the wisest of men listen now to Judas of Kerioth and think: 'He is one of us, Judas of Kerioth, he is our brother, our friend, Judas of Kerioth, the Traitor.' Does not Annas long to kneel before Judas and kiss his hand? Only Judas will not suffer it, for he is a coward, he fears that Annas might bite."
"Drive this dog away. Why is he barking here?"
"Go hence. We have no time to listen to thy babbling," indifferently remarked Annas.
Judas straightened up and shut his eyes. That hypocrisy which he had so lightly borne all his life he felt now as an insupportable burden, and with one movement of his eyelids he cast it off. And when he looked up again at Annas his glance was frank and straight and dreadful in its naked truthfulness. But they paid no attention even to this.
"Wouldst thou be driven out with rods?" shouted Kaiaphas.
Suffocating with the burden of terrible words which he sought to lift higher and higher as if to cast them down upon the heads of the judges Judas hoarsely inquired:
"And do ye know who He was, He whom ye yesterday condemned and crucified?"
"We know. Go."
With one word he will now tear that thin veil that clouds their eyes, and the whole earth will shake with the impact of the merciless truth. They had souls — and they will lose them. They had life — and they will be deprived of it. Light had been before their eyes — and eternal gloom and terror will engulf them.
And these are the words that rend the speaker's throat:
"He was not a deceiver. He was innocent and pure. Hear ye? Judas cheated you. Judas betrayed unto you an Innocent One."
He waited and heard the indifferent senile quaver of Annas: "And is that all thou wouldst tell us?"
"Perhaps ye have not comprehended me?" Judas replied with dignity, all color fading from his cheeks. "Judas deceived you. You have killed an Innocent One."
One of the judges, a man with a birdlike face, smiled, but Annas was unmoved. Annas was bored, Annas yawned. And Kaiaphas joined him in a yawn and wearily remarked: "I was told of the great mind of Judas of Kerioth. But he is a fool, and a great bore as well as a fool."
"What?" cried Judas shaken through and through with a desperate rage. "And are ye wise? Judas has deceived you, do you hear me? Not Him did he betray, but you, ye wise ones, you, ye strong ones, he betrayed unto shameful death which shall not end in eternity. Thirty pieces of silver! Yes. Yes. That is the price of your own blood, blood that is filthy as the swill which the women cast out from the gates of their houses. Oh Annas, Annas, aged, grey-bearded, stupid Annas, choking with law, why didst thou not give another piece of silver, another obolus? For at that price thou wilt be rated forever!"
"Begone!" shouted Kaiaphas trembling with wrath. But Annas stopped him with a gesture and as stolidly asked Judas:
"Is this all now?"
"If I shall go into the desert and cry out to the wild beasts: 'Beasts of the desert, have ye heard the price they have put on their Jesus?' What will the wild beasts do? They will creep out of their lairs, they will howl with wrath; they will forget the fear of man and they will rush here to devour you. If I tell unto the sea: 'O sea, knowest thou the price they have put upon their Jesus?' If I shall tell unto the mountains: 'Ye mountains, know ye the price they have placed upon their Jesus?' The sea and the mountains will leave their places appointed unto them since eternity and rush towards you and fall upon your heads."
"Would not Judas like to become a prophet? He speaks so loudly," remarked he of the birdlike face mockingly and ingratiatingly peering into the eyes of Kaiaphas.
"Today I saw a pallid sun. It looked down in terror upon this earth inquiring: 'Where, O where is man?' I saw to-day a scorpion. He sat upon a rock and laughing inquired: 'Where, O where is man ?' I drew nearer and glanced into his eyes. And he laughed and repeated: 'Where, O where is man ?' Where, oh, where is man? Tell me, I do not see. Has Judas become blind, poor Judas of Kerioth?"
And the Iscariot wept loudly. And in that moment he resembled a madman. Kaiaphas turned away contemptuously, but Annas thought awhile and remarked:
"I see, Judas, that thou didst really receive but a small reward, and this evidently agitates thee. Here is more money, take it and give unto thy children."
He threw something that jingled abruptly. And hardly had that sound died when another oddly resembling it succeeded: it was Judas casting handfuls of silver coins and oboli into the faces of the high priest and the judges, returning his reward for Jesus. In a crazy shower the coins flew about, striking the faces of the judges, the tables and scattering on the floor. Some of the judges sought to shield themselves with the palms of their hands, others leaping from their seats shouted and cursed. Judas aiming at Annas threw the last coin for which he had fished a long time with his trembling hand, and wrathfully spitting upon the floor walked out.
"Well. Well," he growled passing swiftly through lanes and scaring little children. "Methinks thou didst weep, Judas, hey? Is Kaiaphas really right in calling Judas of Kerioth a stupid fool? He who weepeth in the day of the great vengeance is not worthy of it, knowest thou this, Judas? Do not let thine eyes get the best of thee, do not let thy heart play false. Do not put out the flames with thy tears, Judas' of Kerioth."
The disciples of Jesus sat sadly and silently anxiously listening to the sounds outside. There was still danger that the vengeance of the foes of Jesus would not content itself with His death, and they all ' expected the intrusion of soldiers and perhaps further executions. Near John, who as the favorite disciple of Jesus felt the death of the Teacher most, sat Mary Magdalene and Matthew, gently comforted him. Mary, whose face was swollen with weeping softly stroked his luxuriant wavy hair, while Matthew instructively quoted the words of Solomon:
"He that is longsuffering is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth his heart than he that taketh a city."
At that moment loudly banging the door Judas Iscariot entered the room. They leaped to their feet in terror and for an instant failed to recognize the newcomer, but when they observed his hateful countenance and the redhaired illshaped head they raised an uproar. Peter lifted up his hands and cried out:
"Begone, Traitor, begone lest I kill thee."
But scanning the face and the eyes of the Traitor they lapsed into silence, whispering with awe:
"Leave him. Leave him. Satan has entered his body."
Taking advantage of the silence Judas exclaimed:
"Rejoice, rejoice, ye eyes of Judas the Iscariot. Ye have just seen the coldblooded murderers, and now ye behold the cowardly traitors. Where is Jesus? I ask of you, where is Jesus?"
There was something commanding in the hoarse voice of the Iscariot and Thomas meekly replied:
"Thou knowest, Judas, that our Teacher was crucified yesterday."
"How did you suffer it? Where was your love? Thou, beloved disciple, thou, O Rock, where were ye when they crucified your friend upon the tree?"
"But what could we do, judge thyself?" replied Thomas shrugging his shoulders.
"Thou askest this, Thomas? Well, well," replied Judas craning his head and suddenly he broke out with vehemence: "He who loves asks not what to do. He goes and does all. He weeps, he snaps, he strangles his foe, he breaks his limbs. He who loves! When thy son is drowning, goest thou into the marketplace and askest the passer-by: 'What am I to do? My son is drowning.' Dost thou not leap into the water and drown with the son together? He who loves!"
Peter sullenly replied to the frenzied harangue of Judas:
"I unsheathed the sword but He himself bade me put it up."
"He bade thee? And thou didst obey?" laughed the Iscariot. "Peter, Peter, was it meet to obey Him? Does He understand aught of men and of fighting?"
"He who disobeys Him will go down to the Gehenna of fire."
"Then why didst thou not go? Why didst thou not go, Peter? Gehenna of fire, indeed, what is Gehenna? And why didst thou not go? Why hast thou a soul if thou darest not throw it into the fire at will?"
"Silence, He himself desired this sacrifice," exclaimed John rising to his feet. "And His sacrifice was beautiful."
"Is there a beautiful sacrifice? What sayest thou, beloved disciple? Where there is a sacrifice, there is the slayer and the betrayer also. Sacrifice is suffering for one and shame for the others. Traitors, traitors, what have ye done with this earth? They are gazing upon this earth from above and from below with derision, saying: 'Look at this earth, on it they crucified Jesus.' And they spit upon it even as I do."
Judas spat wrathfully.
"He took upon Himself the sins of all mankind. His sacrifice is beautiful," insisted John.
"Nay, but ye upon yourselves have taken all sin. Beloved disciple! Will there not spring up from thee a race of traitors, a brood of little-souled liars? Ye blinded men, what have ye done with this earth? Ye compassed about to destroy it. You will soon kiss the cross whereon ye crucified Jesus. Yes, indeed, you will kiss the cross, Judas promises you that."
"Judas, do not blaspheme," roared Peter flushing. "How could we kill all his foes? There were so many of them."
"And thou, Peter," angrily retorted John. "Dost thou not see that he is possessed of Satan. Get thee hence, tempter. Thou art full of lies. The Teacher commanded not to slay."
"But did He forbid you to die? Why are ye living whereas He is dead? Why do your legs walk, your tongues utter folly, your eyes wink, whereas He is dead, immovable, voiceless? How dare thy checks be red, John, whereas His are pale? How darest thou shout, Peter, whereas He is silent? What ye should have done, ye ask of Judas? And Judas replies to you, beautiful, daring Judas of Kerioth: ye should have died. Ye should have fallen on the way, clutching the soldiers' swords and hands. Ye should have drowned them in a sea of your own blood; ye should have died, died. His very Father should have called out with dread if ye all had entered."
Judas paused, raised his hand, and suddenly noticed on the table the remains of a meal. And with a queer amazement, curiously, as if he were looking at food for the first time, he closely scrutinized it and slowly inquired: "What is this? Ye have eaten? Perhaps slept also?"
"I have slept," curtly replied Peter, dropping his head, scenting already in Judas' manner a tone of command. "I have slept and eaten."
Thomas resolutely and firmly interposed: "This is all wrong, Judas. Think: if we had all died, who would have been left to tell about Jesus? Who would carry the teachings of Jesus to the people, if all of us had died, John and Peter and I?"
"And what is truth in the lips of traitors? Does it not turn to falsehood? Thomas, Thomas, dost thou not understand that thou art now a watchman at the grave of dead truth? The watchman falleth asleep, a thief cometh and carrieth away the truth — tell me where is the truth? Be thou accursed, Thomas! Fruitless and beggarly wilt thou be forever, and ye are accursed with Him."
"Be thou thyself accursed, Satan," retorted John, and his words were repeated by James and Matthew and all the other disciples. Peter alone was silent.
"I go to Him!" said Judas raising aloft his masterful hand. "Who will follow the Iscariot to Jesus?"
"I! I! I am with thee," cried Peter rising. But John and the others stopped him with terror, saying: "Madman, dost thou forget that he betrayed our Teacher into the hands of His enemies?"
Peter smote his breast with his fist and wept bitterly.
"Whither shall I go, Lord? O Lord, whither?"
Long ago, during his solitary rambles, Judas had picked out the spot whereon he intended to kill himself after the death of Jesus. It was on the side of the mountain, high over Jerusalem, and only one tree was growing there, twisted all out of shape, knocked about by the wind which tore at it from all sides and half-withered. One of its gnarled and leafbare branches it stretched out over Jerusalem as though blessing the city or perhaps threatening it, and this one Judas selected whereon to fasten his noose. But the path to the tree was long and difficult, and Judas of Kerioth was very tired. Still the same sharp little stones rolled from under his feet as if dragging him back, and the mountain was high, windswept and gloomy. And Judas sat down for a rest several times, breathing heavily, while from the back through the crevices there swept over him the chilling breath of the mountain.
"Thou too, accursed hill," contemptuously muttered Judas and breathing heavily he shook his benumbed head wherein all thoughts had turned to stone. Then suddenly he raised it, opening wide his chilled eyes and wrathfully growled:
"No, they are too bad altogether for Judas. Hearest thou, Jesus? Now wilt thou believe me? I am coming. Meet me kindly, for I am weary. I am very weary. Then together, with a brother's embrace, we shall return to this earth. Is it well?"
And again opening wide his eyes he murmured:
"But perhaps even there thou wilt be angry with Judas of Kerioth? And perhaps thou wilt not believe? And peradventure, thou wilt send me to hell? Well, what then? I shall go to hell. And in the flames of thy hell I shall forge the iron to wreck thy heaven. Well? Wilt thou believe me then? Wilt thou then go back with me to this earth, O Jesus?"
Finally Judas reached the top of the mountain and the gnarled tree and here the wind commenced to torture him. But when Judas had chided it it began to whistle soft and low; the wind started off in another direction and was bidding him farewell.
"Well, well. But those others are curs," responded Judas making a noose. And as the rope might play him false and break he hung it over the abyss, — if it did break he would still find his death upon the rocks. And before pushing himself away from the edge and hanging himself over the precipice, Judas once more carefully admonished Jesus:
"But Thou meet me kindly, for I am very weary, Jesus."
And he leaped. The rope stretched to its limit, but sustained the weight. The neck of Judas grew thin, while his hands and legs folded and hung down limply as if wet. He died. Thus within two days, one after the other, departed from this earth Jesus of Nazareth and Judas of Kerioth, the Traitor.
All night like some hideous fruit the body of Judas swung over Jerusalem; and the wind turned his face now towards the city now to the desert. But whichever way his death-marred face turned, its red and bloodshot eyes, both of which were now alike, like brothers, resolutely gazed upon the sky. Towards morning some observant one noticed Judas suspended over the city and cried out in terror. Men came and took him down, but learning his identity threw him into a deep ravine where they cast the carcasses of horses, dogs, cats and other carrion.
That same night all believers learned of the terrible death of the Traitor, and the next day all Jerusalem knew it. Rocky Judea heard it, and green-clad Galilee too; and from one sea even to another more distant one the news of the death of the Traitor was carried. Not swifter nor slower than the passing of time, but step by step with it, the message spread; and as there is no end to time there will be no end to the stories of Judas' betrayal and his terrible death. And all — the good and the bad alike — will curse his shameful memory, and among all nations, as many as there are or will ever be, he will remain alone in his cruel fate — Judas of Kerioth, the Traitor.