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- The Valley of Vision - 30/31 -
Then they made believe that the bridegroom was killed by a robber, and they had a mock funeral. The Boy took always the lowest part. He was the hired mourner who followed the body, wailing; he was the flute-player who made music for the wedding-guests to dance to.
So readily did he enter into the play that the children at first were pleased with him. But they were not long contented with anything. Some of them would dance no more for the wedding; others would lament no more for the funeral. Their caprices made them quarrelsome.
"Yalilean fool," they cried, "you play it all wrong. You spoil the game. We are tired of it. Can you run? Can you throw stones?"
So they ran races; and the Boy, trained among the hills, outran the others. But they said he did not keep to the course. Then they threw stones; and the Boy threw farther and straighter than any of the rest. This made them angry.
Whispering together, they suddenly hurled a shower of stones at him. One struck his shoulder, another made a long cut on his cheek. Wiping away the blood with his sleeve, he turned silently and ran to the Sheep Gate, the other boys chasing him with loud shouts.
He darted lightly through the crowd of animals and people that thronged the gateway, turning and dodging with a sure foot among them and running up the narrow street that led to the sheep-market. The cries of his pursuers grew fainter behind him. Among the stalls of the market he wound this way and that way like a hare before the hounds. At last he had left them out of sight and hearing.
Then he ceased running and wandered blindly on through the northern quarter of the city. The sloping streets were lined with bazaars and noisy workshops. The Roman soldiers from the castle were sauntering to and fro. Women in rich attire, with ear-rings and gold chains, passed by with their slaves. Open market-places were still busy, though the afternoon trade was slackening.
But the Boy was too tired and faint with hunger and heavy at heart to take an interest in these things. He turned back toward the gate, and, missing his way a little, came to a great pool of water, walled in wit, white stone, with five porticos around it. In some of these porticos there were a few people lying upon mats. But one of the porches was empty, and here the Boy sat down.
He was worn out. His cheek was bleeding again, and the drops trickled down his neck. He went down the broad steps to the pool to wash away the blood. But he could not do it very well. His head ached too much. So he crept back to the porch, unwound his little turban, curled himself in a corner on the hard stones, his head upon his arm, and fell sound asleep.
He was awakened by a voice calling him, a hand laid upon his shoulder. He looked up and saw the face of a young woman, dark-eyed, red-lipped, only a few years older than himself. She was clad in silk, with a veil of gauze over her head, gold coins in her hair, and a phial of alabaster hanging by a gold chain around her neck. A sweet perfume like the breath of roses came from it as she moved. Her voice was soft and kind.
"Poor boy," she said, "you are wounded; some one has hurt you. What are you doing here? You look like a little brother that I had long ago. Come with me. I will take care of you."
The Boy rose and tried to go with her. But he was stiff and sore; he could hardly walk; his head was swimming. The young woman beckoned to a Nubian slave who followed her. He took the Boy in his big black arms and so carried him to a pleasant house with a garden.
There were couches and cushions there, in a marble court around a fountain. There were servants who brought towels and ointments. The young woman bathed the Boy's wound and his feet. The servants came with food, and she made him eat of the best. His eyes grew bright again, and the color came into his cheeks. He talked to her of his life in Nazareth, of the adventures of his first journey, and of the way he came to be lost.
She listened to him intently, as if there were some strange charm in his simple talk. Her eyes rested upon him with pleasure. A new look swept over her face. She leaned close to him.
"Stay with me, boy," she murmured, "for I want you. Your people are gone. You shall sleep here to-night--you shall live with me and I will be good to you--I will teach you to love me."
The Boy moved back a little and looked at her with wide eyes, as if she were saying something that he could not understand.
"But you have already been good to me, sister," he answered, "and I love you already, even as your brother did. Is your husband here? Will he come soon, so that we can all say the prayer of thanks-giving together for the food?"
Her look changed again; her eyes filled with pain and sorrow; she shrank back and turned away her face.
"I have no husband," she said. "Ah, boy, innocent boy, you do not understand. I eat the bread of shame and live in the house of wickedness. I am a sinner, a sinner of the city. How could I pray?"
With that she fell a-sobbing, rocking herself to and fro, and the tears ran through her fingers like rain. The Boy looked at her, astonished and pitiful. He moved nearer to her, after a moment, and spoke softly.
"I am very sorry, sister," he said; and as he spoke he felt her tears falling on his feet. "I am more sorry than I ever was in my life. It must be dreadful to be a sinner. But sinners can pray, for God is our Father, and fathers know how to forgive. I will stay with you and teach you some of the things my mother has taught me."
She looked up and caught his hand and kissed it. She wiped away her tears, and rose, pushing back her hair.
"No, dear little master," she said, "you shall not stay in this house--not an hour. It is not fit for you. My Nubian shall lead you back to the gate, and you will return to your friends outside of the city, and you will forget one whom you comforted for a moment."
The Boy turned back as he stood in the doorway. "No," he said. "I will not forget you. I will always remember your love and kindness. Will you learn to pray, and give up being a sinner?"
"I will try," she answered; "you have made me want to try. Go in peace. God knows what will become of me."
"God knows, sister," replied the Boy gravely. "Abide in peace."
So he went out into the dusk with the Nubian and found the camp on the hillside and a shelter in one of the friendly tents, where he slept soundly and woke refreshed in the morning.
This day he would not spend in playing and wandering. He would go straight to the Temple, to find some of the learned teachers who gave instruction there, and learn from them the wisdom that he needed in order to do his work for his Father.
As he went he thought about the things that had befallen him yesterday. Why had the man dressed in white despised him? Why had the city children mocked him and chased him away with stones? Why was the strange woman who had been so kind to him afterward so unhappy and so hopeless?
There must be something in the world that he did not understand, something evil and hateful and miserable that he had never felt in himself. But he felt it in the others, and it made him so sorry, so distressed for them, that it seemed like a heavy weight, a burden on his own heart. It was like the work of those demons, of whom his mother had told him, who entered into people and lived inside of them, like worms eating away a fruit.
Only these people of whom he was thinking did not seem to have a demon that took hold of them and drove them mad and made them foam at the mouth and cut themselves with stones, like a man he once saw in Galilee. This was something larger and more mysterious-like the hot wind that sometimes blew from the south and made people gloomy and angry--like the rank weeds that grew in certain fields, and if the sheep fed there they dropped and died.
The Boy felt that he hated this unknown, wicked, unhappy thing more than anything else in the world. He would like to save people from it. He wanted to fight against it, to drive it away. It seemed as if there were a spirit in his heart saying to him, "This is what you must do, you must fight against this evil, you must drive out the darkness, you must be a light, you must save the people--this is your Father's work for you to do."
But how? He did not know. That was what he wanted to find out. And he went into the Temple hoping that the teachers there would tell him.
He found the vast Court of the Gentiles, as it had been on his first visit, swarming with people. Jews and Syrians and foreigners of many nations were streaming into it through the eight open gates, meeting and mingling and eddying round in confused currents, bargaining and haggling with the merchants and money-changers, crowding together around some group where argument had risen to a violent dispute, drifting away again in search of some new excitement.
The morning sacrifice was ended, but the sound of music floated out from the enclosed courts in front of the altar, where the more devout worshippers were gathered. The Roman soldiers of the guard paced up and down, or leaned tranquilly upoa their spears, looking with indifference or amused contempt upon the turbulent scenes of the holy place where they were set to keep the peace and prevent the worshippers from attacking one another.
The Boy turned into the long, cool cloisters, their lofty marble columns and carved roofs, which ran around the inside of the walls. Here he found many groups of people, walking in the broad aisles between the pillars, or seated in the alcoves of Solomon's Porch around the teachers who were instructing them. From one to another of these open schools he wandered, listening eagerly to the different rabbis and doctors of the law.
Here one was reading from the Torah and explaining the laws about the food which a Jew must not eat, and the things which he must not do on the Sabbath. Here another was expounding the doctrine of the Pharisees about the purifying of the sacred vessels in the Temple; while another, a Sadducee, was disputing with him scornfully and claiming that the purification of the priests was the only important
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