For the Twelve the days dragged by on leaden feet. So far there had been no open action against the Master. But there were many things which caused them disquiet and apprehension; scandalous stories were being circulated about Jesus in the poorer quarters of the city; there were dark hints of priestly intrigues against him; covert glances were exchanged by seedy-looking individuals as he moved about the Temple Courts; even in the quiet of Bethany mysterious strangers seemed to crop up from nowhere, giving the impression that the house was being watched. An atmosphere of impending disaster seemed to hang over them all.
Jesus himself showed no sign of uneasiness. In the city he continued his teaching, replied to questions and healed the sick as usual. In the evenings, he returned for rest and refreshment to the peaceful village, remaining cheerful and unruffled as was his wont. He even seemed unmoved by Judas’ strange changes of mood, which were adding to the worries of the rest. After two days of black depression, relieved only by bursts of savage irritability, Judas had drawn Thomas aside.
“I’ve not been myself the last two days,” he apologised; “I’ve been sleeping badly. My temper’s been vile, I’m afraid. Perhaps you’ll explain to the others.”
On the third afternoon he disappeared mysteriously for several hours. When he turned up at Bethany for supper there was a glint of excitement in his eyes and an air of suppressed elation which made some of the party afraid that he had been drinking. But during the meal their fears were dispelled, because he remained quiet and controlled.
“I’m sorry I cut away from you this afternoon,” he remarked casually. “I had to see some friends on business, purely a personal matter.”
The first day of the Feast broke heavy an sultry. Not a breath of wind was stirring and a thick haze hung over everything. The sun’s rays struggled through, feeble and muffled, but were unable to dispel the gloom. A sense of sullen depression was in the air as though Nature herself shared the feelings of the Twelve and anticipated the approach of tragedy.
In the early afternoon Jesus sought out Peter and John.
“I wish you two would go on to the city and make preparations for the Passover supper,” he said.
“Of course we will,” replied John, glad of something to take his mind off his anxiety; “where are we having it?”
Neither of them had been to young John’s home. How could he best direct them. After a moment’s thought he suddenly remembered old Malachi and the perfect regularity of his visits to the well.
“Take the second turning to the left after you pass through the city gate,” Jesus said; “go straight on till you come to a drinking fountain. Be there punctually at three o’clock and in a few minutes you’ll see two old men with pitchers approaching from different directions. They’ll stop and have a gossip as they fill the pitchers. Follow the one who goes up the street leading towards Temple Hill. When he reaches his destination, inquire for the young man of the house; you’ll find you know him quite well,” he added with a smile. “It’s our young friend John. Ask him to show you the guest-chamber where I have arranged to eat the Passover with the Twelve. He’ll show you a large upper room, furnished for such occasions. Probably everything will be ready for you.”
“Do you want us to buy the food?” asked Peter.
“John’s mother is seeing about the lamb and herbs,” was the answer; “and she is baking the unleavened bread. You’ll have to see about getting in some wine. Ask Judas for the money.”
“Will there be anyone besides ourselves?” Peter asked.
“Only young John; his mother is doing the cooking herself and prefers to stop downstairs.”
So Peter and John went on ahead and made ready for the meal.
The guest-chamber of Deborah’s house was a long, low room on the top floor. The latticed shutters had been flung wide open as the weather was still very close. One narrow table ran almost the whole length of the floor, and this was laid for fourteen persons. It was already dusk when the company assembled at six o’clock and a number of boat-shaped oil lamps stood ready lighted on the table. They burned with a steady glow in the still air.
Jesus seated himself on the low couch in the middle of the side facing the window; on his right sat James and his brother; the rest disposed themselves about the table. Each couch was intended for the accommodation of two people and by common courtesy the place of honour on the Master’s couch was left for the young host, who with Simon’s assistance was carrying up the meal from the kitchen.
They brought in the traditional lamb, roasted with bitter herbs, and set it on the table. Jesus took one of the flat cakes of unleavened bread, broke it across and blessed the food. Then, in accordance with the Passover custom, they all stood up in silence to eat the first few mouthfuls of the lamb; after which Jesus poured wine into a bowl and passed it round the table for all to drink.
“This is the last Passover meal I shall eat with you,” he said, “the last loving cup that we shall share. Before the next Passover the Kingdom of God will have been founded.”
A rough earthenware basin stood near the door with a pitcher of water beside it, the customary provision for washing the feet of guests. While supper was still in progress, Jesus rose from the table, wrapped the rough towel round his waist, and began to wash the feet of each man at the table. Judas looked intensely uncomfortable when his turn came, and Peter openly protested. He could not allow his Master to do this humble service for him, he said. But Jesus made it clear that it was his wish.
When he had finished, he resumed his place at the table.
“You are wondering why I did this,” he said. “I’ll tell you. You call me ‘Master’ and ‘Lord’; you are right: I am your Master. What I wanted to show you is this; whatever may be your position or rank, you should never be ashamed of doing the humblest task for others. For only those who are willing to serve have true greatness of character.”
In some mysterious way this meal seemed to sum up the three years of wonderful intimacy with the Master and with one another; as they passed the wine bowl from hand to hand, as they dipped their bread together into the gravy of the dish, the bond between them seemed closer than ever. Yet somewhere there was a discordant note which marred the perfect harmony.
It soon became clear that Jesus himself felt this too. In a low, distinct voice he suddenly broke in upon a momentary pause.
“I have often warned you that the Messiah must suffer to accomplish his purpose. Before we left Ephraim I told you that I should be betrayed to the priests. It is one of you who will betray me.”
A deathly silence fell upon the party; the Twelve felt as if the Master had suddenly struck one of them. They looked at each other in consternation, having no idea of whom he was speaking. Perhaps he meant that, quite unintentionally, one of them was to give him away by some injudicious word or act. Surely none of the band could have the desire to betray him; that was inconceivable. But anyone might make some fatal blunder.
“Master, is it I?” It was Andrew who spoke first; but all the others including Judas, followed his lead.
“It is one of the Twelve,” Jesus answered; and his tone was sad but firm; “one of the Twelve now dipping with me in the dish. The Son of Man must tread the path marked out for him. But that cannot be any excuse for the friend who is going to betray him. It would be better for him, if he had never been born.”
Peter was sitting on young John’s left. He laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder and said: “Find out who he means.”
John leant across to Jesus, until his head was almost touching his shoulder. “Who is it, Master?” he whispered.
Jesus was just dipping his bread in the gravy. He spoke in an undertone to John. “I’ll dip some bread and give it to the man I mean.”
To hide his embarrassment, Judas had risen from the table; he was stretching across it to dip his own bread in the dish.
“You can’t reach, Judas, can you?” said Jesus in his usual friendly way; “have this piece.” And he handed him the soaked bread which he held in his fingers.
It was all done so naturally, that neither the young host nor Peter knew whether the sign had been given or not.
“You’ve got something to do, haven’t you, Judas?” Jesus went on immediately. “It’s getting late. You’d better not wait much longer.”
The eyes of the two met. Then Judas muttered some inaudible remark and opened the door. It was pitch dark in the passage outside; he was swallowed up in the gloom. The door swung to with a click.
Matthew had been talking to Thomas. The sound made him turn.
“Hullo, where’s Judas off to?” he remarked.
“The Master sent him on some job, I think,” replied Thomas, “probably some food wanted for tomorrow.”
“Yes,” agreed Matthew; “or he may have to distribute the Passover alms.”
And no one thought more of the matter.
Then Jesus took one of the flat unleavened cakes and broke it into small pieces. He laid his hand upon it in blessing and gave some to each of his friends.
“Take this and eat it,” he said: “it is my body.”
In the same way he blessed the wine bowl and handed it round again. “This is my blood which is shed for the whole world,” he explained. “And the shedding of my blood establishes a new relation between God and man, bringing the Father’s forgiveness for sin and failure.”
At the time none of them understood the Master’s meaning; but one and all knew that by this simple act he had made their union with himself complete and that they were in the presence of a great mystery.
And when they asked him to explain, he smiles and said: “Continue to do this in remembrance of me. And its meaning will dawn upon you.”
He rose from the table and walked over to the open window; there, sitting on a rude bench with the others grouped round him, he talked to them for nearly an hour. Sometimes one of the Twelve would put a question, but for the most part they sat listening.
Afterwards, when they tried to recall what the Master had said, they found to their sorrow that memory had played them false. They all recollected very clearly that he had warned them that he would soon be leaving them; and he had promised that the Spirit of God, which had guided his life and shaped his character, should enter into them after his departure. He had spoken of the Spirit as the source of Power. So much they remembered; but about the rest of his talk they were very hazy. The events of the next few days had so engrossed their minds that they could think of little else. And if it had not been for young John, who had sat spellbound in the background, the Master’s great words would have been forgotten and lost for ever.
When he had finished speaking, Jesus got up. “It’s stifling in the city,” he said; “I’m going out to Gethsemane. Come with me, if you care to. But I warn you that there’s some risk in being found with me; before long you’ll all be ashamed of being my friends.”
“Ashamed, Master?” Peter burst out; “how could we ever be ashamed of you?”
“Peter,” said his Master sadly, “I warn you that before the first cock crows tomorrow morning, you will have three times denied that you know me.”
“Master, you mustn’t say things like that,” Peter protested warmly; “I’d die rather than deny you.” And there was a chorus of assent from the rest.
They sang the great psalm of deliverance, “When Israel came out of Egypt.” Then they started for the Mount of Olives.
As he reached the door, Jesus noticed that young John was not preparing to accompany then. “Aren’t you coming, John?” he asked.
“I promised to help Mother clear away and wash up,” the boy replied. “And after that I’ve got some work to do.”
“Work?” questioned Jesus. “Your exam’s finished.”
John smiled. “My work tonight,” he said quietly, “is more important than any philosophy paper. I may perhaps come out later, if you’re not back.”
“I don’t think I should, John,” said Jesus; and there was a hint of warning in his voice; “when you’ve done your work, get off to bed and have a good night’s rest.” He closed the door.
Up at the Temple barracks Captain Nimshi was giving his orders.
“Our information suggests that Jesus of Nazareth will be on the Mount of Olives, or more probably in the Garden of Gethsemane, below the hill, by ten o’clock tonight. He is likely to remain there till nearly midnight. It’s important that he and his gang should not be put on their guard; so you must not be there too early so as to be seen by them when they reach the place. You’ll start in three squads from the barracks at ten o’clock punctually; there’ll be ten men in each squad and to each will be attached ten civilians who will meet you outside the city gate. They are to carry cudgels; you’ll wear your swords. You’ll also carry smouldering torches concealed in pitchers, like the soldiers of Gideon in the Scriptures. I’ve always thought that a clever dodge and have wanted a chance of trying it out. The torches and pitchers will be issued to you in the armoury just before you start. Sergeant Aaron will be in command of the first squad which will approach the place from the east, making a detour over the Kidron bridge; the second squad will be under Sergeant Ehud and will advance from the north west; the third under Sergeant Reu will come upon them from the south west. When you reach the place, spread out until you establish contact with the squads to your right and left, so that you have the whole place surrounded. Then close in slowly, keeping under cover of the olive-trees, until you have the party in sight. You’ll then halt and wait for the signal. All movements are to be carried out in absolute silence. Now which of you know the Nazarene by sight?”
About a dozen men held up their hands.
“There must be no mistake, mind you,” continued the captain; “in the half-light it would be easy to make a mistake. The High Priest won’t be best pleased if we bring him the wrong bird. So no one stirs till the signal’s given.”
“What is the signal, sir?” asked one of the sergeants.
“I’m just coming to that, Sergeant Reu,” returned the captain with a touch of impatience. “This man knows the Nazarene well; stand out, Judas of Kerioth, so that all the men can have a good look at you.”
Judas advanced defiantly. Sergeant Aaron held a lantern close to his face, so that everyone could see him clearly.
“This fellow will be attached to Sergeant Ehud’s squad. As soon as he sees the Nazarene, he’ll go up to salute him; just the usual kiss of greeting. That kiss is your signal, boys. Don’t take your eyes off the man he kisses. Sergeant Ehud will give Judas time to join the rest of the Nazarene’s party; then he’ll give two loud whistles. Show them how, Sergeant.”
Sergeant Ehud put two fingers in his mouth and blew two ear-piercing blasts. Then he stood to attention, grinning self-consciously.
“Well, you ought to be able to hear that,” remarked Captain Nimshi with dry humour. His sally was greeted with a roar. “Now the moment you hear Sergeant Ehud’s musical effort, whip your torches out of the pitchers and close in on Jesus of Nazareth. There’s to be no violence, mind; the High Priest’s most particular about that.”
“What if he or his gang show fight, sir?” asked Sergeant Aaron, a cheerful, burly ruffian who was obviously aching for a scrap.
“They’re not likely to,” answered his superior officer. “After all they’re only a pack of fishermen and labourers. They’ll be taken by surprise and will see at once they’re outnumbered. They’ll probably take to their heels.”
“I suppose we arrest the lot, sir?” said Sergeant Reu.
“No, Sergeant,” said the Captain decisively; “we want Jesus of Nazareth, nobody else. Those are my orders, and now I’ve handed them on to you. The small fry would be just in the way, so let them go; they can do no harm without their leader, you can bet your shields on that. No, no; no one but the Nazarene. As soon as you’ve got him, march him straight back here. You’ll find me in the guardroom. Leave a few men, Sergeant Aaron, to keep an eye on the garden until the rest are back in the city. None of his gang are likely attempt a rescue, but we must be on the safe side. Now then, are all those instructions clear?”
“Quite clear, sir,” replied the three sergeants together.
“Very good,” said the Captain crisply; “you can be off to the canteen for half an hour to get a drink. Take this fellow Judas of Kerioth with you and fill him up. Be back in the armoury at a quarter to ten sharp. And good hunting to you, boys.”
The men saluted and trooped out, laughing and joking.
It was well before ten o’clock when Jesus and the rest of the Twelve crossed the brook Kidron on their way to Gethsemane. On reaching the first belt of olive-trees, he took on Peter, James and John to the middle of the garden, telling the others to sit down and wait for their return.
The four walked on in silence. His three companions noted the tense look of strain in Jesus’ face. They knew instinctively that a crisis in all their lives was at hand. They longed to express their sympathy with the Master, to give him some assurance of their affection and loyalty; but the words would not come. Suddenly he stopped and faced them. His reserve gave way.
“My soul is weighed down by a deadly load of depression,” he said. “Stop here; I’m going over to that tree to pray. You must stay awake and pray for me too.”
He strode away to where, about a stone’s throw from them, an ancient olive lifted its gaunt, distorted trunk, like some vast misshapen gnome, from a huddled mass of twisted roots. The full moon, veiled by the thick shroud of sultry haze overhead, peered through balefully, an indistinct ball of phosphorescence. But there was no ground mist and every object stood out clearly in the sickly, unnatural light.
His three companions followed the Master with anxious eyes. They saw him fall on his knees, then, as if weighed down by some unseen load, bow his head upon the gnarled roots of the olive-tree. He was speaking aloud. In the utter stillness of the night every word smote upon their ears.
“Father,” he was saying, “to you all things are possible. Remove from me this cup of suffering.”
There was a pause. Feebly they tried to add their silent prayers to his. But their thoughts were clouded by the Master’s agony. Never before had they known him like this.
Their eyes never left that form, prostrate by the tree. It seemed an interminable time before he lifted his face; in the ghostly moonlight the haggard features were plainly visible; his forehead glistened with great drops of sweat. But even as they watched, a look of strength, of resolution, almost of peace came into his face. Involuntarily they followed the direction of his gaze, as if they expected to see an angel from Heaven standing near; but they saw nothing.
Jesus stood up, calm and resolute. Once more he spoke and his voice was quiet and steady. “It must not be as I wish, Father. Your will must be done.”
He sat down and leant back against the trunk of the tree. He remained perfectly still. This was the Master they knew. He was having one of those long, silent communions with the Father. A great wave of relief surged over them. Again they tried to pray with him.
The next thing Peter knew was that Jesus was touching his shoulder. He must have dozed off. He sat up quickly, feeling guilty and ashamed. His sudden movement roused the other two.
“Were you asleep, Peter?” The Master’s voice was tired and rather sad. “Couldn’t you stay awake for one hour? Be on the alert; and pray that when the great test comes, your loyalty and courage may not fail.”
How long it was before Judas appeared they had no idea. They remembered Jesus walking back to the tree. They remembered hearing his words: “I know now that I must drain the cup of shame and suffering to the dregs. Let your will be done, Father.” Dimly they remembered his rousing them again. But they had dropped off once more. James had a vague recollection that later the Master had stood, looking down at them as they slumbered. Through his dreams, he fancied he heard Jesus speaking: “Sleep on now and take your rest. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of evildoers.”
Then suddenly they were all wide awake. The Master’s voice, loud and stern, cut through their slumber. “Get up! It’s time to move. Here comes the traitor!”
They sprang to their feet, ready for action. Peter fingered the short sword which he had concealed beneath his tunic. Why he had brought it with him, he hardly knew; as they were leaving the upper room, Jesus had made some remark about swords; someone had pointed to two old-fashioned ones hanging on the wall; Peter and Simon had each brought one; “Just in case,” they had said. But now Peter was glad he was armed. If anyone tried to lay hands on the Master, he would be at his side.
“Here comes the traitor.” Those had been his words.
They strained their ears, but could hear nothing. Their eyes searched the shadows; nothing stirred. They waited, tense and expectant.
From out of the dense shade of a great holly bush stepped a solitary figure; it advanced towards Jesus. The three remained motionless, ready to spring. Then their fears evaporated into relief; it was only Judas rejoining the party.
“Hullo, Master,” he said, “there you are.” And leaning forward, he kissed him on the cheek.
There was nothing peculiar about that; it was the customary mode of greeting; yet it seemed rather unnecessary when Judas had been absent such a short time.
But the Master seemed to find it strange; he stood still, searching his friend’s face with his steady eyes. For a moment Judas returned his gaze; then he lowered his eyes.
“So that’s the way you are betraying the Son of Man, Judas;” Jesus’ voice came distinctly; “with a kiss!”
A shrill whistle rent the silence; a ring of fire sprang up all round them; it glinted on armour, lit up the faces of men, creeping slowly towards them; it revealed the enigmatic smile on the face of Judas of Kerioth, a smile which seemed to say: “Now you’ve got to do something about it.”
Jesus advanced a few steps to the top of a little knoll to meet the men approaching from in front. “Who are you looking for?” he asked in ringing tones.
A rough voice replied: “Jesus of Nazareth.”
“I am Jesus of Nazareth,” he answered at once.
His tall, thin figure illumined at once by the wan moonlight and the dull glare of the torches, seemed to assume almost unearthly proportions; some of the men recoiled a few paces; two or three caught their feat in the rough grass and fell backwards.
“I said, who are you looking for?” he asked again.
“Jesus of Nazareth;” several voices spoke this time.
“I am Jesus of Nazareth, I tell you. If you want me, you can let these friends of mine go.”
Simultaneously three men leapt at Jesus, and seized his arms. Peter saw red. With his old, blunt sword he slashed at the head of the fellow nearest to him; he ducked and the weapon slithered down the side of his face.
Like a flash Jesus turned. “Put up that sword!” he cried peremptorily. “We want no bloodshed. If you start that sort of thing, they’ll cut down you and all the rest in no time.”
But Peter hardly heard him; he was staring fascinated at the man whom he had struck. Blood was streaming down one side of his face; his right ear was hanging by a sickening string of flesh on his cheek. With an almost comic expression of bewilderment he was fingering the pulpy void where his ear should have been.
“Let me have the use of my hand for a moment;” Jesus spoke with such authority that the soldier mechanically obeyed. Jesus raised his left hand to the man’s ear.
“Look out, Malchus!” cried a voice. “He’s going to hit you.”
But before the words were spoken the injury was healed. Malchus again touched the place; there was the ear where he had always been accustomed to find it; it was not even bleeding.
“Well, I’m damned!” he muttered and slunk away ashamed.
“Why have you come out with swords and cudgels to seize me, as if I was a robber?” Jesus was saying: “I’ve been teaching every day in the Temple and you left me alone there. But this is your hour; the powers of darkness are triumphant.”
He made no resistance while they bound his hands behind his back. The three squads of soldiers fell in on the word of command. Four men were detailed to escort the prisoner. Pickets were posted in accordance with Captain Nimshi’s instructions. The roughs hired to supplement the guard straggled back to the city in a disorderly rabble to drink away their easily-earned money. Another sharp order rang out. The troops marched away, the prisoner in their midst.
Half dazed, Peter stood watching the light of the torches flickering among the olive-trees as they receded along the winding path which led down to the main road. He glanced round to see if James and John were still with him. They were nowhere in sight; there was no sign of Judas either. Vaguely he wondered what had become of them all. A surly voice addressed him; it was one of the sentries.
“Here, you! You’d better give up that thing.”
Involuntarily Peter looked down at the rusty old sword, which he still held in his right hand. In the anguish of his mind he had forgotten all about it.
“Hand it over, d’you hear?” the sentry said again.
“Leave me alone, can’t you!” Peter muttered angrily.
“Oh, that’s it, is it?” The man chaffed him; “if you’re feeling like that, it’s really hardly safe for you to have playthings of this sort. And what good is it to you now? Your friend the prophet will be in quod tomorrow—unless they take him to the governor. Then ten to one it’s Skull Hill.”
All the pent up emotion in Peter’s soul found vent in a sudden gust of fury. He raised the sword above his head. With the swiftness of long practice, the sentry parried the blow, sending Peter’s sword skimming in circles among the trees. At the same time his left fist shot out and caught the astonished fisherman full on the jaw. He went down like a felled ox.
Whistling cheerfully, the soldier strolled over to the spot where the battered sword had fallen. He grinned as he examined the poor old thing.
“I’ll hang onto this as a keepsake,” he chortled to himself. “Exhibit number one: sword used by Galilean rebel. Casualties among loyal troops, half an ear of the High Priest’s under-porter. Or I might give it to old Malchus if he has a mind to it.”
On the first appearance of the soldiers James and John had hurried back to the place where the rest of the Twelve had been awaiting their return. They had vanished. There was no hope of help from that quarter.
They crept back behind the ring of soldiers and watched all that happened. So rapidly had everything occurred that in ten minutes it was all over. The Master was in the hands of his enemies; the torches were retreating now along the main road to the city.
A mocking laugh sounded a short distance from them. A voice which they recognised at once as Judas’ began to taunt them.
“That’s James and John, isn’t it? Can’t you find the rest of the Twelve? They all took to their heels at the first sign of danger, you know. By now they’ll be on their way back to Galilee. You’ll catch them up, if you’re quick. But you’ll have to hurry.”
James dug his finger-nails into his palms. “I’ll wring your neck, Judas, if I lay hands on you. You’re responsible for all this, you damnable traitor!”
“And what have the sons of Zebedee done to establish the Kingdom of God? You tried to wangle the best places in it, didn’t you? But have you moved a finger to bring it nearer?”
“At least we’ve been loyal to the Master,” shouted John, white with fury. He pointed towards the city, where the torches could now be seen winding their way like a fiery snake up the zigzag path leading to the east wall. “That’s your doing, Judas of Kerioth!”
The mocking laugh came again from the shadows. “Yes, sons of Zebedee, that’s my doing. There’s one of the Twelve who has the brains to see how the Kingdom can be founded; the rest of you were content to sit back and do nothing. It is I, Judas of Kerioth, who has given the Messiah his chance. Let him take it.”
James moved forward a step; but Judas had faded into the dappled shadows of the olive grove.
Another voice sounded close by. One of the patrols had spotted them.
“Hi! You two! Clear out of here, if you don’t want to get into trouble. Be sharp now!”
The brothers turned and ran.
The voice of Judas pursued them. “That’s not the way to Galilee, sons of Zebedee! Get back to your fishing boats; that’s all you’re good for. If I meet your friend, the rocklike Peter, I’ll tell him you’ve gone on ahead.”
But Peter was lying on his back a few yards away, staring with unseeing eyes at the hazy moon which stared unwinkingly back at him.
Young John had just finished his self-imposed task. He had been writing steadily for more than two hours, making a record of those wonderful words which the Master had spoken after supper. He rolled up the parchment and put it away carefully with a number of others which he had completed in the last few months.
A knock sounded on the outer door; he looked up in surprise; it was late for callers. He heard his name spoken in a low, urgent tone: “John! John!”
He hurried to the door. Nicodemus stood outside his face half muffled in a cloak. Without ceremony he pushed his way past John into the house.
“The Master is in danger,” he began breathlessly. “Is he here?”
“He’s gone down to Gethsemane with the Twelve,” the boy replied quickly.
“Hurry after him,” Nicodemus’ words came like a torrent; “tell him to leave Jerusalem immediately. Captain Nimshi has an order for his arrest. I only heard about it a few minutes ago. I knew he was supping here. You can run faster than I; besides it will be wiser for me not to be seen with him. It may be too late already.”
Without stopping to answer, John sped from the house. As he ran, his brain raced too; he must have help; the Master might be anywhere in the Garden of Gethsemane or on the Mount of Olives; in this uncertain light he might miss him alone. His way led past Mark’s home; he stopped outside and called up at the window: “Mark! Mark!” There was no reply. He shouted louder: “Mark! Mark!”
“Hullo,” grumbled a sleepy voice from inside: “What’s the trouble?”
“Mark,” shouted John again, almost crying with impatience; “Come to the window!”
A tousled head and bare shoulder appeared. “Is that John! What’s the matter?”
“The Master’s gone down to Gethsemane,” John hastened to explain; “there’s a warrant out for his arrest. We’ve got to find him and warn him. I want your help.”
“I’ll be down in a minute,” said Mark. “I’m going on,” called John; “every second may be of importance. You come on after me.”
John broke into a run again.
Agitated and still half asleep, Mark snatched up his sandals. His fingers fumbled with the straps. Snatching a sheet off the bed he fastened it round his waist and threw the spare end over one shoulder. He ran down the stairs and out into the heavy night air. John was a good runner and he knew he would never overtake him. But once down at Gethsemane, he could give him a hail and establish contact. The whole thing seemed like a bad dream as he raced down the hill from the east postern, clad in nothing but a sheet whose insecure folds he clutched to prevent their slipping with the motion.
As he neared the garden, he slowed down. When he reached the first trees, he called cautiously: “John!”
But it was not John’s voice that answered. “Come here, sonny! Let’s have a look at you.”
The utter unexpectedness of the challenge rooted Mark to the spot. Two men in uniform emerged from the shadows.
“Here, what’s all this?” said one of them with heavy humour; “going for a midnight dip in Kidron? Or trying to frighten old soldiers by playing at ghosts in the moonlight?”
“You have no right to stop me,” Mark stammered; “the garden is open to the public.”
“It certainly seems to be tonight,” remarked the second sentry with a guffaw. “Quite a lot of funny stuff going on in Gethsemane this evening.”
“You’d better tell us what you’re after, laddie;” said the first man; “our orders are to keep a check on everyone who comes here.”
There were no signs of John. He must have spotted the picket and slipped by unobserved. Mark was determined to follow his friend into the garden, if that were in any way possible. He had been taking stock of the two guards. Both were heavily built. He felt sure he could outpace and outwit them, if once he could get past. He made a sudden dive for a low bush a few yards away. The nearer man made a grab at him and seized the sheet coiled round his waist. The loose fastenings gave way and the sheet came away in his hand; Mark snatched at it, but the fellow tossed it to his neighbour. Mark stood in the moonlight stark naked.
“Don’t he look nice in his birthday suit?” said the man with a coarse laugh. “Right you are, sonny, go on with your walk in the garden if you want to. It’s a warm night. You won’t catch cold.”
Mark waited no longer. He turned and ran. Across the fields and up the rocky face of the hill he went to avoid the highway; when he reached the city wall, he crept along it, then made a quick dash through the open postern and turned up a deserted alley. His home was not far-off, and at this hour the streets were almost deserted. A few pedestrians returning home late turned to stare at the unwonted sight of a young man running naked through the streets; but before they could stop him he was past them like a flash. When he reached home and was safely inside the door, he stood listening; he couldn’t bear his mother knowing what had befallen him; tomorrow he might laugh about it, but not tonight. The house was still and he tiptoed up to his room. He flung himself upon his bed and lay there, overcome with exhaustion and with the shame of his naked flight. But gradually these things were thrust into the background by one consuming regret; he had failed John and he had failed the Master. His active young body was shaken with dry convulsive sobs.
John had met with more success. As he approached Gethsemane he stopped, took cover and looked about him. He soon caught sight of some of the sentries who were making no attempt to conceal their presence. Seizing his opportunity, he slipped past and dodged from tree to tree, keeping as much as possible in the shadows. At some distance away he saw a man standing motionless; it was not a soldier, but in the uncertain light he could not recognise him. He made his way cautiously forward until he could see him clearly. It was Peter.
John slipped up behind him and touched his arm; in a dazed kind of way, Peter slowly turned and looked at him.
“Oh, it’s you, is it?” he said vaguely; “what brought you here?”
“I’ve come to warn the Master,” replied John. “Where is he?”
“They’ve got him, boy, they’ve got him,” answered the fisherman dully. “Now what are we to do?”
“Is it the Temple Guard?” asked John quickly.
“The Temple Guard, yes.”
“Then they must have taken him to the High Priest’s palace,” said the boy. “I think I can get in there. Are you coming?”
“They won’t let me in,” said Peter.
“I may be able to manage it,” John answered. “At least we can try.”
“What good can we do?” was the hopeless comment.
“We can see what’s going on,” the boy replied; “that’s better than this uncertainty.”
“I shall be recognised,” Peter objected; “they saw me in here in the garden with the Master. I attacked one of them.”
“Of course you must do as you think best,” said John with a touch of impatience. “I’m going.”
For very shame Peter could not let this lad see that he was afraid.
“Well, if you will push your young head into the lion’s mouth,” he remarked, “I suppose I shall have to come and take care of you. So let’s be off.”
They made their way cautiously to the outer fringe of trees without seeing any of the soldiers. Just as they emerged onto the open track leading to the main road, a jeering voice sounded behind them.
“Woken up, old cock?” it said jocosely. “How’s the jaw?”
Peter seized John’s arm and hurried him along the path.
“Going back to look for your leader?” went on the voice. “You’ll find him at the Palace—if you can get inside.” The remark ended in a chuckle of merriment. “You’ve only got to show your pass.” This was the parting shot.
They hurried on in silence.
They were almost at the city gate before either spoke again. “How do you hope to get in?” Peter asked suddenly.
“The porter’s daughter used to work for my mother,” replied John. “I feel sure she’ll let me in.”
By a piece of luck the girl opened the great door. “Good evening, Rache,” said John cheerfully. “You’ve got a bit of excitement on here, I gather. Can we come in?”
“I can let you in, of course Master John,” the girl answered; “but I’m not so sure about your friend. Dad said not to let in any strangers. He’s not anyone we know is he?” she inquired, peering into the semi-darkness.
“No, he’s up for the Passover,” John replied; “surely it’s good enough if he’s with me?”
“Well, I don’t rightly know,” the girl said dubiously; “I don’t suppose it would hurt really. All right, you can come in, if you want to.”
Peter muttered his thanks and followed John in. He found himself at the lower end of a great hall; the space inside the door was like a flagged courtyard, from which wide semicircular steps led up to the main building; a double row of cedar pillars, supporting the flat, ceiling, ran the whole length of the vast chamber from the top of the steps. In spite of the warmth outside, the chill of the air inside those massive stone walls sent a shiver down Peter’s spine.
“Cold in here, isn’t it?” remarked the girl, glad enough to have someone to chat to. “There’s plenty of room by the fire while you’re waiting.” She nodded towards a small group of men sitting on rough wooden benches about a brazier in which a fire of red-hot charcoal glowed with a comforting warmth. “The fun’s not likely to start for half an hour or more. They’ve taken the prisoner to old Lord Annas first; those were the High Priest’s orders. Lord Annas’ll just tie the prophet up in knots if he starts questioning him. When he’s done with him, he’ll be brought along here to the High Priest. That’s where the High Priest sits, in the big chair on the dais at the other end. He’s a fine looking man in his robes, Lord Caiaphas is; but I expect you’ve seen him already. I feel quite sorry for this prophet chap, and that’s a fact. He’s nothing but a working man, so they say, from some poky little town in Galilee. What he’s done, I don’t rightly know; but I wouldn’t be in his shoes, I do know that. By the time Lord Annas has finished with him, he’ll hardly know if he’s standing on his head or his heels. And Lord Caiaphas is no joke either when he really means business. But you’re both getting cold; go over to the fire and warm yourselves.”
With an air of assurance which he was far from feeling, Peter followed John across to the brazier. Some of the men looked up inquisitively as they approached; one of two muttered a surly, “Good evening,” and made room for them on a bench. Peter looked round quickly as the door swung heavily to with a dull clang.
Less than an hour after Jesus left Lazarus’ house, four donkeys halted at the garden gate. Joanna’s manservant, who had been escorting the three women, dismounted and walked up to the door. Martha opened it.
“Excuse me, miss,” said the man politely. “Is this the house where Jesus of Nazareth and his friends are staying?”
“You had better see my brother,” returned Martha cautiously. She closed the door.
In a few minutes Lazarus appeared. “You are a stranger, I think,” he remarked. “What is it you want?”
“My mistress Joanna, the wife of the Lord Chuza, King Herod’s chamberlain,” explained the man, “wishes to know whether the teacher Jesus of Nazareth is here.”
“Where is your mistress?” asked Lazarus.
“At the gate,” said the man promptly. “With her are my young mistress and Mary of Nazareth, the Rabbi’s mother.”
Lazarus hurried down to the gate to welcome the visitors.
“Jesus and the Twelve have gone into the city for the Passover supper,” he explained as he escorted them up to the house. “They’ll be back this evening, probably before eleven. Won’t you come in and eat the Passover meal with us and wait for them? Your man can take the donkeys round to the stable.”
And thus Mary of Bethany had her ambition fulfilled of meeting her namesake of Magdala. And at once a friendship sprang up between them.
By half past eleven the whole party was beginning to feel a little anxious. Lazarus had several times been down to the gate and returned to report that no one was in sight.
“Jesus is in danger, I know,” said his mother, and her voice was steady; “that’s why you’re worried, isn’t it?”
“People are saying that the priests are plotting to arrest him,” replied Lazarus; “but there’s very likely nothing in such rumours.”
“Please don’t try to spare me,” answered Mary. “I only want to know the truth.”
And as she said it, Lazarus realised the strength and nobility of this tired, middle-aged woman.
“I’m afraid there’s real cause for anxiety,” he said.
Another hour passed. There was no attempt now to conceal their fears. The room was strangely silent.
There was a sound of running feet labouring up the steep lane. Lazarus hurried to the gate. It was Nathaniel and Philip. They were pale and out of breath.
“Are any of the others back?” panted Philip.
“Not yet,” replied Lazarus; “what’s happened?”
“He’s been arrested—the Master, I mean—by the Temple Guard.” Philip’s words came in gasps.
“Jesus’ mother is here,” said Lazarus quietly. “Come in and tell her.”
“Jesus has been arrested by the Temple Guard,” he announced as they entered the room.
A swift intake of breath from Mary of Magdala was the only sound which greeted his words. Philip and Nathaniel told their story; they had not been on the spot and knew no details; the Master had gone ahead with Peter and the sons of Zebedee; suddenly torches had flared all round the garden; they had seen men in the Temple uniform; they themselves had escaped; they had hidden for over an hour in the shelter of some bushes, but had lost touch with their companions; when they thought the coast was clear, they had hurried back to Bethany.
“You’re sure they found Jesus?” asked Lazarus.
“I’m afraid there’s no doubt of that,” said Nathaniel; “it was all over in a few minutes. There was nothing like a search. The men were very quickly fallen in and marched back to the city.”
“We must go on there,” said Jesus’ mother.
It was the Lady Joanna’s practical common-sense which overruled this suggestion.
“We can do nothing tonight,” she said; “If Lazarus and his sisters will let us sit here till daybreak, we’ll go on then.”
And at dawn the donkeys were saddled, and the three friends rode on to Jerusalem.
Mary had refused an invitation from Joanna to stay in the great house reserved for the officials of King Herod’s court.
“I am a poor woman, my lady,” she had said; “I should feel overwhelmed in a place like that. If I am to face tomorrow, I can meet it better in the kind of house I am used to.”
“But where shall you find a lodging?” asked Joanna anxiously.
“My second son James is in Jerusalem,” was the reply; “he’s staying with his aunt, Mary, the wife of Clopas the potter; he and his cousin James are studying together. I know they’ll put me up.”
And Philip had promised to send news there as soon as they heard anything.
Slowly and noiselessly Andrew groped his way up the pitch black staircase to the upper room, where five hours before they had all eaten the Passover supper with the Master.
The door stood open; the room was empty, the tables cleared. It was long past midnight, but he had lost all count of time. The lattice windows were still wide open; the subdued moonlight lay like great pools of milk on the uneven floorboards. Vaguely he wondered what had happened to all the others since that headlong flight, when, in a moment of panic, they had deserted the Master and left him to his fate. His brother and Zebedee’s sons had been with Jesus; had they been taken too? If not, where were they?
He walked wearily round the long table and seated himself again in the very spot where he had listened to the Master’s words after supper. Some of those words came back to him: “For a little while you will not see me; and again in a little while you will see me once more.” They had all been puzzled as to what he meant. But now there returned to Andrew’s mind other words, far more definite, which he had spoken several times in the past—warning of events to come: “The Son of Man will be betrayed into the hands of the Chief Priests and Scribes, who will hand him over to the Romans to scourge and kill. And on the third day he will rise again.” None of them had believed he had meant all this quite literally. Yet now the first of these things had happened; the Master had fallen into the hands of the Priests. It was more than likely they would bring him before the Proconsul for trial. That might mean the death sentence. Then the second part of Jesus’ warning would be accomplished.
Andrew gazed over the flat roofs of the city, washed in the moonlight; but he saw them not. In his eyes was the same far-away look with which he had often searched the horizon of his beloved lake. His simple mind was beginning to have an inkling of the truth—a truth so profound that no mind but the simplest could apprehend it. “On the third day he will rise again.” The Master had meant it just as a statement of fact; and it fitted in with what he had said this evening: “For a little while you will not see me;” of course that was when he was dead and buried; “and again in a little while you will see me once more.” “On the third day he will rise again.” The meaning was the same; the Master was to die and on the third day return to life.
It had never occurred to Andrew to doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. With childlike trust he had accepted this as a fact on that day three years ago at the Baptiser’s cave by the Jordan. There floated into his mind memories of events which had strengthened that conviction—the storm on the Lake—the feeding of the five thousand—the walk across the waves—perhaps most strongly of all, the quiet fishing nights when Jesus had spoken of the Father’s love. He remembered the restoration of Jairus’ daughter, of the young man at Nain, and, only a few weeks ago, of Lazarus of Bethany. The Messiah had triumphed over death; how then could death triumph over the Messiah? “On the third day he shall rise again;” that was what the Master had said; that was in sober truth what he had meant.
A heavy footfall sounded on the stairs; the door was flung open; young Simon of Cana peered into the half lit room.
“Is that you, Andrew?” he said morosely. “Where are the others?”
“I’ve seen nothing of them since we ran away;” Andrew did not mince his words.
Simon unbuckled the old sword which he was still wearing; with a gesture of impatience he hung it again on its rusty nail. “A sword’s precious little use if you don’t draw it,” he remarked savagely; “and it’s a lot of good being trained as a soldier, if you just bolt like a rabbit at the first sign of danger. Andrew, we’re a pack of cowards.”
“We’re a very ordinary lot of chaps, Simon,” said Andrew sadly; “and most men are cowards if they’re suddenly scared. Still, that’s no excuse for leaving the Master in the lurch and saving our own skins.”
“And we were all boasting this evening,” added the younger man bitterly, “that we’d rather die than forsake him. Of course we had no chance against that crowd; but we might at least have had a cut at it. We could have died fighting for our leader.”
“Do you think that’s what the Master’s trained us for these last three years—just to die fighting?” queried Andrew.
“God knows what he’s trained us for.”
The two turned quickly. It was Thomas who had spoken. He had entered unobserved by the others.
“I seem to have lost my way,” he added hopelessly. “If Jesus were the Messiah, as we thought, how could this have happened?”
“The Master has often told us,” said Andrew, “that the Messiah must suffer.”
“Suffer, yes,” answered Thomas, “but not fail. The Messiah can’t be a failure.”
“Isn’t it up to us to see that he’s not a failure?” suggested Andrew with the wisdom born of simple philosophy. “Don’t you think that’s just what he’s trained us for, to spread his teaching everywhere, when he’s no longer there to do it?”
“You think they’re going to put him to death?” asked Simon quickly.
“That’s what he told us himself, isn’t it?” Andrew replied.
“But if he’s to die,” put in Thomas in a puzzled tone, “he can’t be the Messiah. Even death can’t triumph over God’s chosen agent.”
“No,” Andrew answered with conviction; “the Messiah will triumph over death. ‘After three days he will rise again.’ That’s what the Master said. We none of us saw what he meant.”
“I may be very dull, Andrew,” returned Thomas, “but I still can’t see what he meant.”
James and John burst into the room.
“Here are some of them, at any rate,” exclaimed John.
“We were afraid they might have caught you as well as the Master,” said Simon.
“Where did all you fellows get to?” asked John explosively; “if you’d stuck to your post, we might have done something. James and I came back to call you and you’d all vanished.”
“What’s the use of throwing the blame on the others, John?” his brother said. “You and I didn’t make much of a show.”
“That’s all very well,” John began hotly. Then he pulled himself together. “You’re right, James. We’re all a pack of lousy funks—all except Peter; he at least tried to do something.”
“Where is Peter?” asked Andrew anxiously.
“We’ve seen nothing of him since the Master was arrested,” replied James. “Peter showed fight; they may have taken him too.”
“Yes. I see,” said Andrew.
A silence fell on the group. Each man was busy with his own thoughts. Each was blaming himself for doing nothing—and at the same time wondering what he could have done. Andrew was thinking of his brother—the brother who had played with him as a child—the brother who had toiled with him as a man. Had they made their last fishing trip together? Was Simon Peter even now setting out on a longer voyage?
His fears were soon set at rest. It was a little after four o’clock when they heard Peter’s voice in the street below. “Is Andrew up there?” He spoke urgently, looking up at the open window.
Andrew sprang to his feet and looked out. “Five of us are here,” he said, “come on up and tell us what’s happened.”
“I must see you alone,” was the reply.
Without a word Andrew left the room and joined his brother in the street below.
“I can’t face the others, Andrew,” said Peter, and his voice shook, “but I must tell you. I’ve let the Master down, Andrew. Three times tonight I said I’d never seen him before. He warned me too, Andrew; you heard him yourself, didn’t you? ‘Before the cock crows, you’ll three times deny that you know me;’ that’s what he said, wasn’t it? And I bragged that I’d sooner die than deny him. I didn’t think I could be such a worm. But the Master was right, Andrew. It all happened as he said. Three times before the cock crew.”
“Tell me about it, Simon.” Instinctively Andrew had called his brother by the old name.
They had wandered away from the house, not caring where they went. And as they roamed the narrow byways, the man whom Jesus had named the Rock poured out his admission of weakness and failure. And the brother, who had always been content to take a back seat, now gave him courage and strength by the silence of sympathy and affection.
“It all happened like this, Andrew,” Peter began. “Down there in the garden I tried to defend the Master; struck at one of the fellows who seized him and nearly sliced his ear off. Soon after, I got a straight left to the jaw which knocked me senseless. When I came to, there was young John beside me; where he turned up from I don’t know. ‘Come along with me,’ he says; ‘I’m going to the High Priest’s palace.’ And he told me the porter’s daughter had been servant to his mother, and would let us in. So I went along with him. Well, the girl let us in all right and asked us to sit down by the fire; she wasn’t a bad sort really—a bit of a chatterbox, you know, like most girls are. But I fancy she was a bit uncomfortable about letting me in; she kept on looking at me in a funny sort of way; and there I was with the door locked behind me and no chance of slipping away, feeling just like a rat in a trap. It was not so bad while John was sitting beside me; she knew I was his friend and she didn’t like to say anything. But soon the boy caught sight of somebody he knew, and went off to talk to him. Well, then the girl came over and touched me on the arm; she didn’t want to make any fuss, you see; so I got up and went back to the door with her. ‘You’re sure you’re not one of the prophet’s friends?’ she said. ‘Never set eyes on the chap,’ I answered; ‘that’s why I’m here. I’ve heard a lot about him and I want to see what he’s like.’ The words were out of my mouth almost before I knew it, you see. ‘Oh, that’s all right, then,’ she says, but she sounded a bit uncertain; and she gave me a queer look, as if to say, ‘Anyway you’re from the North, you are. We don’t talk like that.’ Well, just at that moment there was a stir in the hall: everybody stood up; the High Priest came in at the other end and a whole crowd of other priests with him; the guards lining the room saluted and a servant hurried out of a side door, just above where I was standing at the foot of the great steps.
“Then they brought the Master in. I found there was a great lump in my throat; there he was, strong and calm in his trouble, and I’d just said I’d never set eyes on him. I must have given myself away somehow, for the girl was looking oddly at me again; so I walked back to the fire; this time I didn’t sit down, but while I stood there, pretending to warm my hands, I watched what was happening. They led the Master right up the hall and stood him close up to the platform where the High Priest was sitting. The High Priest seemed to be asking him questions, but I was too far-off to hear what he said. Then I heard some whispering behind me and looked round to see what it was. The girl was talking to a little red-faced man, her father I suppose, and two other chaps. She nodded towards me and they all turned and stared. I pretended not to notice, but I was just sweating all over. In half a minute the little man came bustling up: ‘Here, you,’ he said to me. ‘I want a word with you. Come outside for half a minute.’ You can imagine what I felt like, Andrew, the courage just oozing out of my toes as I followed him into the porch outside. The girl came out, too, and another with her, and the two chaps I told you about. Well, then the porter started in on me: ‘Now, look here,’ he began, ‘My girl here says you got in here under false pretences. She believes you’re one of the Nazarene’s friends; and what’s more, my pal here,’ and he nodded at one of the men, ‘is pretty sure he’s seen you before with this Jesus of Nazareth. Now, what have you got to say to that, eh?’ ‘Here, what are you getting at,’ said I, a bit jaunty life. ‘I say you’re a friend of this fellow, Jesus of Nazareth,’ he said again. Like a fool I didn’t stop to think; ‘My good man, I’m not,’ I said. Then the second girl chirps up: ‘That’s a lie,’ she said; ‘I’ve seen you with him over and over again at the Courts.’ Well, Andrew, I fair lost my temper at that. ‘Damn your meddling tongue!’ I said. ‘I tell you, I don’t know the man!’ That’s what I said, Andrew,—” and Peter’s voice shook as he recalled the scene,— “‘Damn your meddling tongue! I tell you, I don’t know the man.’”
Peter stopped; his emotion seemed to be choking him.
“Don’t go on, Simon,” said his brother, “you can’t do any good by thinking too much about it.”
“I’ve got to get it off my chest, Andrew,” and Peter spoke almost sharply; “and what’s more, you’ve got to listen. If I bottle it up inside myself, I shall go off my head. We’ve been together all our lives, in fair weather and in foul, and I don’t know how it is, but I’ve come to depend on you somehow. And now I’ve run my craft on the rocks through my own fault, it’s you I turn to. I don’t want you to make light of what I’ve done, because I know well enough what it means; and I don’t want you to tell me I’ve done a mean cowardly thing, because no one knows that better than I. I just want you to hear me out. I’ll tell the others sometime, but not tonight, Andrew; I couldn’t do that tonight. Let me see, we were out in the porch, weren’t we? And I’d just cursed that poor young woman, who was only doing her duty after all. Well, the porter just looked me up and down and at last he said: ‘All right, you can go in again.’ Now if I’d had any sense, I’d have told him I’d seen all I wanted and have slipped away. But I hadn’t even the guts to do that. I just slunk back to the fire with my tail between my legs. But the two men had got back there before me and were whispering to the others. All their eyes were fixed on me as I came up. Then one of the two started in on me; he was quite civil and friendly and I wasn’t to know he was just throwing a bait over me; ‘You mustn’t mind what that empty-headed hussy said, stranger,’ he said; ‘it only comes of you being a Galilean; anyone can tell that by your accent.’ ‘Oh yes, I’m from Galilee all right,’ I answered, feeling a bit more comfortable; ‘I’m a fisherman from Capernaum.’ ‘Capernaum, eh?’ said the other chap at once; ‘that’s where the prisoner yonder did most of his teaching, isn’t it? It’s funny you should never have seen him.’ ‘Oh, I don’t know,’ I said, ‘Capernaum’s a big place.’ Then, as bad luck would have it, a hulking great fellow strolled up; he was wearing the High Priest’s livery. ‘Who’s the stranger?’ he asked. ‘I’ve seen you before, haven’t I?’ he said to me. ‘You were out in the garden, weren’t you?’ ‘Garden,’ I said, ‘what garden? I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ but he took no notice of that. He held up a lantern he was carrying so the light fell full on my face. ‘Here boys,’ he sang out, ‘this is one of them. It’s the blighter that tried to chop off old Malchus’ ear. If you don’t believe me, send for Malchus himself and ask him. I don’t see why my cousin should lose half an ear for nothing. Go and find Malchus, I say.’ ‘Who the hell’s Malchus?’ I cried; and then I fairly let fly; I damned and swore; ‘I don’t know the man, I swear I’ve never set eyes on him till tonight.’ Well, Andrew, just as I said this, I looked up and saw the Master not five yards from where I stood. You see, I was so upset I hadn’t noticed the High Priest and all the others had left the hall and the soldiers were bringing the Master down to the little side door again. He passed quite close to me; and as he went by, he turned and looked straight at me.”
Peter could not go on for a moment. Andrew said nothing, but waited for him to recover his composure.
“It was a funny kind of a look,” he continued at last—and his voice was constrained and unnatural. “He didn’t look angry, Andrew, not a bit angry; he seemed to be sorry for me, as if he knew how I should curse myself afterwards. And I could almost have sworn he was saying to me, ‘Peter, I know how difficult it must have been for you. You felt right up against it, didn’t you? But you needn’t have been ashamed of owning to being my friend.’ You know the way he had, Andrew, when any of us had done anything mean or unworthy—just showed us he understood quite well how it had all happened, but made it very plain we’d let ourselves down. Well, that’s just what his look seemed to say. And it may seem a queer thing to you, but I almost felt that besides all this there was a half-smile on his face, just as if he were secretly amused about something. I could hear him saying, ‘I warned you, Peter; and you talked so big about never denying me. And look at you now.’ That may just have been my fancy, of course. Yet somehow it seemed to bring it all home to me more than anything else; I thought of all the little jokes we’d had together; I saw those little lines that flickered up and down at the corners of his eyes, when he was amused. And that was the friend I’d let down.”
Peter blew his nose vigorously; in the half darkness he drew the back of his hand savagely across his eyes.
“It’s taken me a long time to tell you all that, Andrew, but really it was all over in a flash. He just looked at me as he passed. And I knew I’d been a coward. They hurried him through the side door, and just at that moment a cock crowed. The main door was open and a lot of folk were going out; it was the end of the first sitting, you see. So I took the chance and slipped out too. When I got outside. I sat down on one of the stone benches and, you may not believe it, Andrew, I just blubbed like a kid.”
Peter’s confession was finished. He had told his brother everything and felt better. They walked the whole length of one narrow street and halfway up another, before Andrew spoke.
“Seems to me, Simon,” he said at last, “we’re all in the same boat. Not one of us had the courage to stand by the Master. You at least went up to the palace; the rest of us just left him and ran away. We are all ashamed of ourselves, but what’s the good of that?”
Now that Peter had ended his story, their steps seemed automatically to drift back to the house from which they had started.
James, Thaddaeus and Matthew had already been there for some time, having spent the greater part of the night at their old home with Tobias and Rebecca. Philip and Nathaniel had just returned from the House of Simon the Leper, after leaving Jesus’ mother at her sister’s, home and escorting Joanna and Mary of Magdala to their quarters.
On his entry Peter was assailed with questions; he could give them no information except that the Master had been taken to the High Priest’s palace and that young John was probably there still and might bring some news.
“When we know something definite,” said James, “We shall have to consider whether there’s anything we can do. We’re all hero now.”
“Except Judas,” someone volunteered.
“By the way, where is Judas?” asked young Simon. “Has anyone seen him?” For a moment no one spoke.
“I suppose none of you know about Judas,” said James quietly, “except Peter, John and myself. It was he who gave the Master away. He guided the soldiers to the place.”
“Judas!” exclaimed young James. “One of the Twelve!” said Philip; his tone suggested that they were all disgraced and humiliated by the treachery of one of their number.
“If I could get my fingers on the traitor’s throat,” cried John passionately, “I’d squeeze the life out of him.”
“Have we any right to judge him?” put in Peter sadly; “have we got anything to be proud of tonight?”
They all glanced at him in surprise. This mild rebuke was so unlike the impetuous Peter. But they realised the justice of his words and said nothing. They had all failed the Master.
Light footsteps were running up the stairs; they all turned as young John burst into the room. His face was very pale and there were dark smudges beneath his eyes; but he seemed possessed of almost feverish energy.
“They’ve taken him before the Council,” he burst out; “the meeting’s just started.”
“What’s been happening, John?” asked Thomas.
“It was horrible—horrible,” said the boy; and he shuddered. “I saw and heard everything. Before they brought the Master in, I managed to get up near the front with some of my friends from the College; we stood behind one of the pillars. When the High Priest had taken his place with other senior councillors, the escort brought Jesus up to the dais. They had taken him first to Annas, but that was a private cross-examination. Caiaphas began by asking him about his followers and his teaching; to every straightforward question he gave a courteous answer; never once did he seem rattled or overawed. Sitting not far away was a group of men who had obviously been called as witnesses. The High Priest had them up one by one, and questioned them about the Master’s teaching; but the priests didn’t get much satisfaction from that, because they all seemed to be contradicting one another. Then two man were called. Do you remember that strange saying of the Master’s about rebuilding the Temple in three days if it were destroyed?”
Some of John’s hearers nodded. They remembered wondering themselves what the Master meant, and discussing it afterwards.
“Well,” continued John, “one of these fellows began, ‘This man said, I can destroy the Temple of God and build it up in three days.’—Of course that wasn’t what he said, but it was very much like it. Then the other man gave a different account of it, so there again the evidence didn’t agree. Caiaphas was becoming more and more impatient; he was obviously trying to get a clear case supported by reliable evidence. He suddenly shot a question at Jesus: ‘Well, you hear what these two witnesses have said. What is your version of it?’”
“What did the Master say?” asked young James.
“Nothing. He would give no answer at all. He stood there, dignified and calm, looking straight at the High Priest, who seemed uncomfortable under his steady gaze. You might almost have thought that Caiaphas was the prisoner and the Master the judge. After tapping the arms of his chair restlessly for a few moments, the High Priest asked another question about his teaching; I really don’t quite remember what it was, but it was evidently meant to trap him into giving a hasty, ill-considered answer. Jesus’ answer was characteristic: ‘I have taught quite openly, in the synagogues and here in the Temple Courts where the public is freely admitted. I have made no secret of what I teach. Why do you question me, my lord? Would it not be more satisfactory to yourself to ask those who have heard me. They will be able to answer your questions.’ What offence Caiaphas saw in this reply I couldn’t quite understand, but he glared furiously at his prisoner; one of the soldiers guarding him, taking his cue from the High Priest’s face, hissed at him, ‘What do you mean by answering his Lordship like that?’ and struck him in the face.”
Thaddaeus could stand it no longer. He got up abruptly and walked over to the window, where he stood looking out gloomily.
“Don’t forget that the Master’s hands were tied,” John went on quickly; “but he showed nothing of what he must have felt. ‘If I have said anything offensive, tell me what it is,’ he said; ‘but if there is nothing to object to, why do you strike me?’ I can’t help thinking the High Priest himself felt that the incident had been an undignified one, for at this point he rose and ordered the escort to bring back the prisoner in half an hour’s time. The priests and councillors followed him into the committee room, while the Master was taken out again at the door by which he had been brought in.”
“It was a cowardly thing, to hit a defenceless prisoner,” muttered young Simon.
“There’s worse to come,” John said, his voice rising in agitation, “far worse. Apart from that one blow, the proceeding in this first investigation had been conducted with some show of dignity. Of course it was a packed meeting; you could see that at a glance. Neither Nicodemus nor Joseph had been asked to attend; they are suspected of sympathy with our movement. But none even of the moderate party on the Council were present. For the full meeting going on now, of course, all the Councillors have to be summoned. But at the preliminary enquiry I saw no one except those whom I know to be hostile.”
“That’s not justice,” said Matthew to his brother; “and these are the men who are supposed to set the religious and moral standards of the country!”
John was by now too much worked up to heed the interruption.
“At the end of the half hour, the Councillors returned and Jesus was brought in again. I fancy he must have been taken for a second interview with old Annas, for the sergeant in command of the escort handed a note to the High Priest. Caiaphas read it and whispered to some of his colleagues; a short consultation took place in undertones and I saw some of them nod, as if in agreement. Then they sat back in their chairs and the High Priest stood up. ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ he said gravely, ‘I have only one more question to put to you. I adjure you by God to speak the truth. Do you claim to be the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?’”
“Good God!” ejaculated James; “what did the Master say to that?”
“He didn’t hesitate a moment,” said John; “firmly and without flinching he replied, ‘Yes, I am the Messiah. And there will come a time when you will see the Son of Man sitting in power on God’s right hand and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ At this Caiaphas stood up; quite deliberately he lifted the skirt of his robe and tore it up the middle; yet the look of satisfaction on his face bellied the symbolism of his action; it was not a mark of grief, but of triumph. ‘He has spoken blasphemy,’ he cried in ringing tones; ‘what is your opinion, gentlemen?’ And like the angry surge of breakers on a stony beach, the answer rumbled back. ‘He is worthy of death.’ The High Priest turned to the Sergeant; ‘The Council meeting is fixed for six o’clock, Sergeant,’ he said, ‘bring your prisoner to the Council-chamber at that time.’ The sergeant saluted and Caiaphas moved towards the door, followed by the councillors. Before he was out of the hall it started; the man, who had struck the Master before, caught him another great clout on the ear: ‘Take that, you blaspheming dog!’ he cried. The High Priest turned; I thought he was going to rebuke the fellow for ill-treating his prisoner. But without saying a word of protest, he swept out.”
“That was a direct encouragement to the men to insult him further,” ejaculated Nathaniel indignantly.
“That was how they took it anyway,” agreed John; “the sergeant took off his sash and tied it round the Master’s eyes. ‘We’ll try out this Messiah, boys,’ he shouted with a great wink at the men, ‘if he can tell us the names of the fellows who hit him, we’ll believe in him. Do you hear that, Jesus if Nazareth? Answer, can’t you?’ and with his great horny hand he hit him a stinging blow on the mouth. With a yell of laughter the other began dodging round him, hitting and kicking him and singing in a sort of chant, ‘Prophesy, Messiah! Who caught you that one?’ The servants in the court below came surging up the steps to join in. One great coarse fellow wearing the High Priest’s livery stood in front of the Master and shouted, ‘Your face must be getting warm, Messiah! I’ll cool it for you!’ and he spat straight in his face.”
“What did the Master do to that?” whispered Matthew.
“He did nothing, said nothing,” answered the boy; “he just stood there and let them have their way.”
“‘If a man strikes you on one cheek, turn the other and let him hit that;’ do you remember him saying that, Andrew?” said Peter. “None of us would have had the courage to stand and be hit without saying a word.”
“I must get back,” said young John; “I’ll bring you news of the Council’s decision as soon as I know anything.”
“And I must go and report at the house of Clopas the potter,” put in Philip; “Mary of Nazareth is there.”
“The Master’s mother?” asked young Simon aghast.
“The Master’s mother.”
“You won’t tell her what John’s just told us?” said Thomas.
“Only what really matters,” returned Philip, “that Jesus, after a preliminary investigation, has been taken before the Council. I’ve promised to let her have news.”
“I’ll run down to her from time to time and report how things are going,” volunteered young John. “I know Clopas’ house well; I’ve never met the Master’s mother. But that’s something definite I can do for him. I’ll get Mark to come here and keep you informed.”
And so to the house of Clopas and to the upper room of Deborah’s home the two boys raced from time to time with news. Hopes and fears succeeded one another throughout the long morning, as their reports came in; first they brought word that the Council had referred the case to the proconsul; then that Pilate had pronounced the prisoner innocent; the priests had asked him to reconsider his verdict; he had sent Jesus to King Herod; the crowd was becoming impatient, was demanding his crucifixion; Herod had sent him back; Pilate had suggested releasing him in accordance with the Passover custom; the crowd had yelled for Barabbas, who had been tried and condemned to death only the day before; finally the proconsul had given way; the prisoner, with two of Barabbas’ band, was to be led out forthwith to Skull Hill.
Mary received John’s reports quietly and gratefully; at his first call she said to him: “Philip told me you had offered to bring me news. I want to thank you. But you’ll tell me everything, won’t you? Everything. I can bear it, whatever it is.”
And John had promised to conceal nothing.
Sometimes Mary’s sister, the wife of Clopas, was with her, sometimes her son James, the scribe. John could not help contrasting him with his elder brother; there was a certain superficial likeness, but there the resemblance ended; James had none of the spontaneous charm or dignity of the Master. His face was cold and unsympathetic, the face of a virtuous man who understands little of the difficulties of others less virtuous than himself. He was clearly doing his best to show kindness to his tortured mother; but it was no less obvious that he was bitterly conscious of the humiliation which her elder son’s disgrace would bring upon the family.
“We shall never be able to hold up our heads again;” those were the words which John had overheard on one occasion when he opened the door.
When the boy brought the last fateful message, Mary was alone. For some minutes she sat quite still.
“John,” she said at last; “will you come with me to Skull Hill?” Then, seeing him hesitate, she added: “My son James thinks I oughtn’t to go. He is trying to be kind to me, I know—to spare me suffering. But he doesn’t understand. Will you come with me, John?”
The boy traced a pattern with his foot on the stone floor. “Are you sure James isn’t right?” he ventured.
“You have a mother, haven’t you?” said Mary; and John nodded. “Would she sit at home, if you were in Jesus’ place?”
And John understood. They started out together.
They stopped just inside the narrow gate through which the melancholy procession would have to leave the city.
Mary of Magdala was there already. “I heard from Chuza,” was all she said.
The morning was stiflingly hot. The sun, like a great ball of molten bronze, already stood high in the heavens. The haze of the previous night had grown thicker and was dyed to a lurid copper, which made the faces of the silent, waiting crowd look pale and ghastly.
Standing next to them was an immense man with a cheerful friendly face; with him were two younger men, almost as big as himself: his sons, John guessed. “Three prisoners, they tell me,” the big man said to John. “Know who they are, lad?”
“Two are robbers—brigands,” John replied. “The third is the teacher, Jesus of Nazareth.”
“The devil it is,” exclaimed the giant. “I’ve met him; thought him a very decent chap. What’s he been doing?”
“He’s the best and greatest man on earth!” said John passionately.
“So you’re a friend of his, too,” said the man kindly.
“It’s hard to see a pal in trouble. We’re strangers here, my boys and I, come from Africa. Simon’s my name; Simon of Cyrene.”
Further conversation was cut short by a distant burst of yells.
“They’re starting,” said Simon of Cyrene.
Slowly the noise increased in volume until the listeners could hear individual shouts above the general hubbub. Howls of execration, floods of filthy abuse, showers of stones and mud greeted the appearance of the three heavy crosses, under the weight of which the bearers staggered forward. As they approached the gate, the second cross began to sway; the Roman soldier marching alongside put out his hand to steady it. The prisoner stumbled and would have fallen unless the man had held him up. The centurion called a halt; the three crosses were rested on the ground, the three crossbeams rising like the sloping masts of a ship above the heads of the escort. The centurion hurried up and spoke to the soldier who had assisted the second prisoner.
“Looks pretty bad, sir,” muttered the man; “I doubt if he’ll make it.”
“Better try him again,” said the centurion; “up with the crosses now.”
The beam of the second cross was raised a few inches, then fell again with a heavy bump on the flagstones.
The prisoner, his thin face streaming with sweat, stood upright. “I’m sorry, centurion,” he said hoarsely; “I’m afraid I can’t manage this thing. I’ve had no food since yesterday evening and no chance of sleep. And your Roman scourges take it out of one. If you want to get me to Skull Hill, you’ll have to give me some help.”
The centurion looked nonplussed. It was contrary to regulations to order one of his men to carry a cross. That would be degrading for a Roman citizen. He turned to the crowd.
“Will anyone carry this prisoner’s cross?” he asked.
A shout of laughter, hoots and catcalls answered his appeal. But two men had stepped forward.
John spoke to the officer: “Let me carry it, sir.”
“Don’t be a fool, boy,” said the centurion not unkindly. “You’d never manage the weight. Here you,” he went on to the other volunteer, “you’re the man for this job. Up with it! We’re a bit behind time.”
The man from Libya lifted the heavy timber with ease and the procession was reformed.
“Jesus; my son.” That was all that Mary said, but her son heard her.
“Courage, Mother,” he whispered. And then he quoted from a psalm, which they had often said together in the old days at home. “‘Heaviness may endure for a night; but joy cometh in the morning.’”
“Are you ready, men?” said the centurion.
“Ready, sir,” came the reply.
Created from a nineteenth or early twentieth century text by Athelstane E-Texts