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- Pearl-Maiden - 20/74 -
"Yes, time and thought."
"And would you wait that time? Such beauty and such sweetness as are yours will not lack for suitors."
"I shall wait. I have told you that I love you; no other man will be anything to me. I shall wed no other man."
"You give all and take nothing; it is not just."
"It is as God has willed. If it pleases God to touch your heart and to preserve us both alive, then in days to come our lives may be one life. Otherwise they must run apart till perchance we meet--in the eternal morning."
"Oh, Miriam, I cannot leave you thus! Teach me as you will."
"Nay, go, Marcus, and teach yourself. Am I a bait to win your soul? The path is not so easy, it is very difficult. Fare you well!"
"May I write to you from Rome?" he asked.
"Yes, why not, if by that time you should care to write, who then will have recovered from this folly of the desert and an idle moon?"
"I shall write and I shall return, and we will talk of these matters; so, most sweet, farewell."
"Farewell, Marcus, and the love of God go with you."
"What of your love?"
"My love is with you ever who have won my heart."
"Then, Miriam, at least I have not lived in vain. Remember this always, that much as I may worship you, I honour you still more," and kneeling before her he kissed first her hand, and next the hem of her robe. Then he turned and went.
That night, watching from the roof of her house by the light of the full moon, Miriam saw Marcus ride away at the head of his band of soldiers. On the crest of a little ridge of ground outside the village he halted, leaving them to go on, and turning his horse's head looked backward. Thus he stood awhile, the silver rays of the moon shining on his bright armour and making him a point of light set between two vales of shadow. Miriam could guess whither his eyes were turned and what was in his heart. It seemed to her, even, that she could feel his loving thought play upon her and that with the ear of his spirit he could catch the answer of her own. Then suddenly he turned and was lost in the gloom of the night.
Now that he was gone, quite gone, Miriam's courage seemed to leave her, and leaning her head upon the parapet she wept tears that were soft but very bitter. Suddenly a hand was laid upon her shoulder and a voice, that of old Nehushta, spoke in her ear.
"Mourn not," it said, "since him whom you lose in the night you may find again in the daytime."
"In no day that dawns from an earthly sun, I fear me, Nou. Oh, Nou! he has gone, and taken my heart with him, leaving in its place a throbbing pain which is more than I can bear."
"He will come back; I tell you that he will come back," she answered, almost fiercely; "for your life and his are intertwined--yes, to the end--a single cord bearing a double destiny. I know it; ask me not how; but be comforted, for it is truth. Moreover, though it be sharp, your pain is not more than you can bear, else it would never be laid upon you."
"But, Nou, if he does come back, what will it help me, who am built in by this strict command of them that begat me, to break through which would be to sin against and earn the curse of God and man?"
"I do not know; I only know this, that in that wall, as in others, a door will be found. Trouble not for the future, but leave it in the hand of Him Who shapes all futures. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof. So He said. Accept the saying and be grateful. It is something to have gained the love of such a one as this Roman, for, unless the wisdom which I have gained through many years is at fault, he is true and honest; and that man must be good at heart who can be reared in Rome and in the worship of its gods and yet remain honest. Remember these things, and I say be grateful, since there are many who go through their lives knowing no such joy, even for an hour."
"I will try, Nou," said Miriam humbly, still staring at the ridge whence Marcus had vanished.
"You will try, and you will succeed. Now there is another matter of which I must speak to you. When the Essenes received us it was solemnly decreed that if you lived to reach the full age of eighteen years you must depart from among them. That hour struck for you nearly a year ago, and, although you heard nothing of it, this decree was debated by the Court. Now such decrees may not be broken, but it was argued that the words 'full age of eighteen years,' meant and were intended to mean until you reached your nineteenth birthday; that is-- in a month from now."
"Then must we go, Nou?" asked Miriam in dismay, for she knew no other world but this village in the desert, and no other friends than these venerable men whom she called her uncles.
"It seems so, especially as it is now guessed that Caleb fought the Captain Marcus upon your account. Oh! that tale is talked of--for one thing, the young wild-cat left a claw behind him which the gardener found."
"I trust then it is known also that the fault was none of mine. But, Nou, whither shall we go who have neither friends, nor home, nor money?"
"I know not; but doubtless in this wall also there is a door. If the worst comes to the worst, a Christian has many brothers; moreover, with your skill in the arts you need never lack for a living in any great city in the world."
"It is true," said Miriam, brightening; "that is, if I may believe Marcus and my old master."
"Also," continued Nehushta, "I have still almost all the gold that the Phnician Amram gave us when I fled with your mother, and added to it that which I took from the strong box of the captain of the galley on the night when you were born. So have no fear, we shall not want; nor indeed would the Essenes suffer such a thing. Now, child, you are weary; go to rest and dream that you have your lover back again."
It was with a heavy heart that Caleb, defeated and shamed, shook the dust of the village of the Essenes off his feet. At dawn on the morning after the night that he had fought the duel with Marcus, he also might have been seen, a staff in his bandaged hand and a bag of provisions over his shoulder, standing upon the little ridge and gazing towards the house which sheltered Miriam. In love and war things had gone ill with him, so ill that at the thought of his discomfiture he ground his teeth. Miriam cared nothing for him; Marcus had defeated him at the first encounter and given him his life; while, worst of all, these two from whom he had endured so much loved each other. Few, perhaps, have suffered more sharply than he suffered in that hour; for what agonies are there like those of disappointed love and the shame of defeat when endured in youth? With time most men grow accustomed to disaster and rebuff. The colt that seems to break its heart at the cut of a whip, will hobble at last to the knacker unmoved by a shower of blows.
While Caleb looked, the red rim of the sun rose above the horizon, flooding the world with light and life. Now birds began to chirp, and beasts to move; now the shadows fled away. Caleb's impressionable nature answered to this change. Hope stirred in his breast, even the pain of his maimed hand was forgotten.
"I will win yet," he shouted to the silent sky; "my troubles are done with. I will shine like the sun; I will rule like the sun, and my enemies shall whither beneath my power. It is a good omen. Now I am glad that the Roman spared my life, that in a day to come I may take his--and Miriam."
Then he turned and trudged onward through the glorious sunlight, watching his own shadow that stretched away before him.
"It goes far," he said again; "this also is a very good omen."
Caleb thought much on his way to Jerusalem; moreover he talked with all whom he met, even with bandits and footpads whom his poverty could not tempt, for he desired to learn how matters stood in the land. Arrived in Jerusalem he sought out the home of that lady who had been his mother's friend and who gave him over, a helpless orphan, to the care of the Essenes. He found that she was dead, but her son lived, a man of kind heart and given to hospitality, who had heard his story and sheltered him for his mother's sake. When his hand was healed and he procured some good clothes and a little money from his friend, without saying anything of his purpose, Caleb attended the court of Gessius Florus, the Roman procurator, at his palace, seeking an opportunity to speak with him.
Thrice did he wait thus for hours at a time, on each occasion to be driven away at last by the guards. On his fourth visit he was more fortunate, for Florus, who had noted him before, asked why he stood there so patiently. An officer replied that the man had a petition to make.
"Let me hear it then," said the governor. "I sit in this place to administer justice by the grace and in the name of Cęsar."
Accordingly, Caleb was summoned and found himself in the presence of a small, dark-eyed, beetle-browed Roman with cropped hair, who looked what he was--one of the most evil rulers that ever held power in Judęa.
"What do you seek, Jew?" he asked in a harsh voice.
"What I am assured I shall find at your hands, O most noble Florus, justice against the Jews--pure justice"; words at which the courtiers and guards tittered, and even Florus smiled.
"It is to be had at a price," he replied.
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