فصل 25

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فصل 25

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CHAPTER 25

How the Procurator Tried to Save Judas of Kiriath

The darkness that came from the Mediterranean Sea covered the city hated by the procurator. The hanging bridges connecting the temple with the dread Antonia Tower disappeared, the abyss descended from the sky and flooded the winged gods over the hippodrome, the Hasmonaean Palace with its loopholes, the bazaars, caravanserais, lanes, pools … Yershalaim - the great city — vanished as if it had never existed in the world. Everything was devoured by the darkness, which frightened every living thing in Yershalaim and round about. The strange cloud was swept from seaward towards the end of the day, the fourteenth day of the spring month of Nisan.

It was already heaving its belly over Bald Skull, where the executioners hastily stabbed the condemned men, it heaved itself over the temple of Yershalaim, crept in smoky streams down the temple hill, and flooded the Lower City. It poured through windows and drove people from the crooked streets into the houses. It was in no hurry to yield up its moisture and gave off only light. Each time the black smoky brew was ripped by fire, the great bulk of the temple with its glittering scaly roof flew up out of the pitch darkness. But the fire would instantly go out, and the temple would sink into the dark abyss. Time and again it grew out of it and fell back, and each time its collapse was accompanied by the thunder of catastrophe.

Other tremulous glimmers called out of the abyss the palace of Herod the Great, standing opposite the temple on the western hill, and its dread, eyeless golden statues flew up into the black sky, stretching their arms out to it. But again the heavenly fire would hide, and heavy claps of thunder would drive the golden idols into the darkness.

The downpour burst unexpectedly, and then the storm turned into a hurricane. In the very place where the procurator and the high priest had had their talk around noon, by the marble bench in the garden, with the sound of a cannon shot, a cypress snapped like a reed. Along with the watery spray and hail, broken-off roses, magnolia leaves, small twigs and sand were swept on to the balcony under the columns. The hurricane racked the garden.

At that time there was only one man under the columns, and that man was the procurator.

Now he was not sitting in the chair but lying on a couch by a small, low table set with food and jugs of wine. Another couch, empty, stood on the other side of the table. By the procurator’s feet spread an unwiped red puddle, as if of blood, with pieces of a broken jug. The servant who was setting the table for the procurator before the storm became disconcerted for some reason under his gaze, grew alarmed at having displeased him in some way, and the procurator, getting angry with him, smashed the jug on the mosaic floor, saying: ‘Why don’t you look me in the face when you serve me? Have you stolen something?’

The African’s black face turned grey, mortal fear showed in his eyes, he trembled and almost broke a second jug, but the procurator’s wrath flew away as quickly as it had flown in. The African rushed to remove the pieces and wipe up the puddle, but the procurator waved his hand and the slave ran away. The puddle remained.

Now, during the hurricane, the African was hiding near a niche in which stood the statue of a white, naked woman with a drooping head, afraid of appearing before the procurator’s eyes at the wrong time, and at the same time fearing to miss the moment when the procurator might call for him.

Lying on the couch in the storm’s twilight, the procurator poured wine into the cup himself, drank it in long draughts, occasionally touched the bread, crumbled it, swallowed small pieces, sucked out an oyster from time to time, chewed a lemon, and drank again.

Had it not been for the roaring of the water, had it not been for the thunderclaps that seemed to threaten to lay flat the roof of the palace, had it not been for the rattle of hail hammering on the steps of the balcony, one might have heard that the procurator was muttering something, talking to himself. And if the unsteady glimmering of the heavenly fire had turned into a constant light, an observer would have been able to see that the procurator’s face, with eyes inflamed by recent insomnia and wine, showed impatience, that the procurator was not only looking at the two white roses drowned in the red puddle, but constantly turned his face towards the garden, meeting the watery spray and sand, that he was waiting for someone, impatiently waiting.

Time passed, and the veil of water before the procurator’s eyes began to thin. Furious as it was, the hurricane was weakening. Branches no longer cracked and fell. The thunderclaps and flashes came less frequently. It was no longer a violet coverlet trimmed with white, but an ordinary, grey rear-guard cloud that floated over Yershalaim. The storm was being swept towards the Dead Sea.

Now it was possible to hear separately the noise of the rain and the noise of water rushing along the gutters and also straight down the steps of that stairway upon which the procurator had walked in the afternoon to announce the sentence in the square. And finally the hitherto drowned-out fountain made itself heard. It was growing lighter. Blue windows appeared in the grey veil fleeing eastward.

Here, from far off, breaking through the patter of the now quite weakened rainfall, there came to the procurator’s ears a weak sound of trumpets and the tapping of several hundred hoofs. Hearing this, the procurator stirred, and his face livened up. The ala was coming back from Bald Mountain. Judging by the sound, it was passing through the same square where the sentence had been announced.

At last the procurator heard the long-awaited footsteps and a slapping on the stairs leading to the upper terrace of the garden, just in front of the balcony. The procurator stretched his neck and his eyes glinted with an expression of joy.

Between the two marble lions there appeared first a hooded head, then a completely drenched man with his cloak clinging to his body. It was the same man who had exchanged whispers with the procurator in a darkened room of the palace before the sentencing, and who during the execution had sat on a three-legged stool playing with a twig.

Heedless of puddles, the man in the hood crossed the garden terrace, stepped on to the mosaic floor of the balcony, and, raising his arm, said in a high, pleasant voice: ‘Health and joy to the procurator!’ The visitor spoke in Latin.

‘Gods!’ exclaimed Pilate. There’s not a dry stitch on you! What a hurricane! Eh? I beg you to go inside immediately. Do me a favour and change your clothes.‘ The visitor threw back his hood, revealing a completely wet head with hair plastered to the forehead, and, showing a polite smile on his clean-shaven face, began refusing to change, insisting that a little rain would not hurt him.

‘I won’t hear of it,’ Pilate replied and clapped his hands. With that he called out the servants who were hiding from him, and told them to take care of the visitor and then serve the hot course immediately.

The procurator’s visitor required very little time to dry his hair, change his clothes and shoes, and generally put himself in order, and he soon appeared on the balcony in dry sandals, a dry crimson military cloak, and with slicked-down hair.

Just then the sun returned to Yershalaim, and, before going to drown in the Mediterranean Sea, sent farewell rays to the city hated by the procurator and gilded the steps of the balcony. The fountain revived completely and sang away with all its might, doves came out on the sand, cooing, hopping over broken branches, pecking at something in the wet sand. The red puddle was wiped up, the broken pieces were removed, meat steamed on the table.

‘I wait to hear the procurator’s orders,’ said the visitor, approaching the table.

‘But you won’t hear anything until you sit down and drink some wine,’ Pilate replied courteously and pointed to the other couch.

The visitor reclined, a servant poured some thick red wine into his cup. Another servant, leaning cautiously over Pilate’s shoulder, filled the procurator’s cup. After that, he motioned for the two servants to withdraw.

While the visitor drank and ate, Pilate, sipping his wine, kept glancing with narrowed eyes at his guest. The man who had come to Pilate was middle-aged, with a very pleasant, rounded and neat face and a fleshy mouth. His hair was of some indeterminate colour. Now, as it dried, it became lighter. It would be difficult to establish the man’s nationality. The chief determinant of his face was perhaps its good-natured expression, which, however, was not in accord with his eyes, or, rather, not his eyes but the visitor’s way of looking at his interlocutor. Ordinarily he kept his small eyes under his lowered, somewhat strange, as if slightly swollen eyelids. Then the slits of these eyes shone with an unspiteful slyness. It must be supposed that the procurator’s guest had a propensity for humour. But occasionally, driving this glittering humour from the slits entirely, the procurator’s present guest would open his eyelids wide and look at his interlocutor suddenly and point-blank, as if with the purpose of rapidly scrutinizing some inconspicuous spot on his interlocutor’s nose. This lasted only an instant, after which the eyelids would lower again, the slits would narrow, and once again they would begin to shine with good-naturedness and sly intelligence.

The visitor did not decline a second cup of wine, swallowed a few oysters with obvious pleasure, tried some steamed vegetables, ate a piece of meat. Having eaten his fill, he praised the wine: ‘An excellent vintage, Procurator, but it is not Falerno?’1

‘Caecuba,2 thirty years old,’ the procurator replied courteously.

The guest put his hand to his heart, declined to eat more, declared that he was full. Then Pilate filled his own cup, and the guest did the same. Both diners poured some wine from their cups on to the meat platter, and the procurator, raising his cup, said loudly: ‘For us, for thee, Caesar, father of the Romans, best and dearest of men! …’

After this they finished the wine, and the Africans removed the food from the table, leaving the fruit and the jugs. Again the procurator motioned for the servants to withdraw and remained alone with his guest under the colonnade.

‘And so,’ Pilate began in a low voice, ‘what can you tell me about the mood of this city?’

He inadvertently turned his eyes to where the colonnades and flat roofs below, beyond the terraces of the garden, were drying out, gilded by the last rays.

‘I believe, Procurator,’ the guest replied, ‘that the mood of Yershalaim is now satisfactory.’

‘So it can be guaranteed that there is no threat of further disorders?’

‘Only one thing can be guaranteed in this world,’ the guest replied, glancing tenderly at the procurator, ‘the power of great Caesar.’

‘May the gods grant him long life!’ Pilate picked up at once, ‘and universal peace!’ He paused and then continued: ‘So you believe the troops can now be withdrawn?’ ‘I believe that the cohort of the Lightning legion can go,’ the guest replied and added: ‘It would be good if it paraded through the city in farewell.’ ‘A very good thought,’ the procurator approved, ‘I will dismiss it the day after tomorrow, and go myself, and — I swear to you by the feast of the twelve gods,3 by the lares4 I swear - I’d give a lot to be able to do so today!’ ‘The procurator doesn’t like Yershalaim?’ the guest asked good-naturedly.

‘Good heavens,’ the procurator exclaimed, smiling, ‘there’s no more hopeless place on earth. I’m not even speaking of natural conditions — I get sick every time I have to come here - but that’s only half the trouble! … But these feasts! … Magicians, sorcerers, wizards, these flocks of pilgrims! … Fanatics, fanatics! … Just take this messiah5 they suddenly started expecting this year! Every moment you think you’re about to witness the most unpleasant bloodshed … The shifting of troops all the time, reading denunciations and calumnies, half of which, moreover, are written against yourself! You must agree, it’s boring. Oh, if it weren’t for the imperial service!’ ‘Yes, the feasts are hard here,’ agreed the guest.

‘I wish with all my heart that they should be over soon,’ Pilate added energetically. ‘I will finally have the possibility of going back to Caesarea. Believe me, this delirious construction of Herod’s’ — the procurator waved his arm along the colonnade, to make clear that he was speaking of the palace — ‘positively drives me out of my mind! I cannot spend my nights in it. The world has never known a stranger architecture! … Well, but let’s get back to business. First of all, this cursed Bar-Rabban — you’re not worried about him?’ And here the guest sent his peculiar glance at the procurator’s cheek. But the latter, frowning squeamishly, gazed into the distance with bored eyes, contemplating the part of the city that lay at his feet and was fading into the twilight. The guest’s eyes also faded, and his eyelids lowered.

‘It may be supposed that Bar has now become as harmless as a lamb,’ the guest began to say, and wrinkles appeared on his round face. ‘It would be awkward for him to rebel now.’ ‘Too famous?’ Pilate asked with a smirk.

‘The procurator has subtly understood the problem, as always.’

‘But in any case,’ the procurator observed with concern, and the thin, long finger with the black stone of its ring was raised, ‘there must be…’

‘Oh, the procurator can be certain that as long as I am in Judea, Bar will not take a step without having someone on his heels.’

‘Now I am at peace — as I always am, incidentally, when you are here.’

The procurator is too kind!‘

‘And now I ask you to tell me about the execution,’ said the procurator.

‘What precisely interests the procurator?’

‘Were there any attempts on the part of the crowd to display rebelliousness? That is the main thing, of course.’

‘None,’ replied the guest.

‘Very good. Did you personally establish that death took place?’

The procurator may be certain of it.‘

‘And tell me … were they given the drink before being hung on the posts?’6

‘Yes. But he,’ here the guest closed his eyes, ‘refused to drink it.’

‘Who, precisely?’ asked Pilate.

‘Forgive me, Hegemon!’ the guest exclaimed. ‘Did I not name him? Ha-Nozri!’

‘Madman!’ said Pilate, grimacing for some reason. A little nerve began to twitch under his left eye. ‘To die of sunburn! Why refuse what is offered by law! In what terms did he refuse it?’ ‘He said,’ the guest answered, again closing his eyes, ‘that he was grateful and laid no blame for the taking of his life.’

‘On whom?’ Pilate asked in a hollow voice.

That he did not say, Hegemon …‘

‘Did he try to preach anything in the soldiers’ presence?’

‘No, Hegemon, he was not loquacious this time. The only thing he said was that among human vices he considered cowardice one of the first.’7

This was said with regard to what?‘ the guest heard a suddenly cracked voice.

That was impossible to understand. He generally behaved himself strangely — as always, however.‘

‘What was this strangeness?’

‘He kept trying to peer into the eyes of one or another of those around him, and kept smiling some sort of lost smile.’

‘Nothing else?’ asked the hoarse voice.

‘Nothing else.’

The procurator knocked against the cup as he poured himself some wine. After draining it to the very bottom, he spoke:

‘The matter consists in the following: though we have been unable — so far at least - to discover any admirers or followers of his, it is none the less impossible to guarantee that there are none.’ The guest listened attentively, inclining his head.

‘And so, to avoid surprises of any sort,’ the procurator continued, ‘I ask you to remove the bodies of all three executed men from the face of the earth, immediately and without any noise, and to bury them in secrecy and silence, so that not another word or whisper is heard of them.’ ‘Understood, Hegemon,’ replied the guest, and he got up, saying: ‘In view of the complexity and responsibility of the matter, allow me to go immediately.’ ‘No, sit down again,’ said Pilate, stopping his guest with a gesture, ‘there are two more questions. First, your enormous merits in this most difficult job at the post of head of the secret service for the procurator of Judea give me the pleasant opportunity of reporting them to Rome.’ Here the guest’s face turned pink, he rose and bowed to the procurator, saying:

‘I merely fulfil my duty in the imperial service.’

‘But I wanted to ask you,’ the hegemon continued, ‘in case you’re offered a transfer elsewhere with a raise — to decline it and remain here. I wouldn’t want to part with you for anything. Let them reward you in some other way.’ ‘I am happy to serve under your command, Hegemon.’

‘That pleases me very much. And so, the second question. It concerns this … what’s his name … Judas of Kiriath.’

Here the guest sent the procurator his glance, and at once, as was his custom, extinguished it.

‘They say,’ the procurator continued, lowering his voice, ‘that he supposedly got some money for receiving this madman so cordially?’

‘Will get,’ the head of the secret service quietly corrected Pilate.

‘And is it a large sum?’

‘That no one can say, Hegemon.’

‘Not even you?’ said the hegemon, expressing praise by his amazement.

‘Alas, not even I,’ the guest calmly replied. ‘But he will get the money this evening, that I do know. He is to be summoned tonight to the palace of Kaifa.’ ‘Ah, that greedy old man of Kiriath!’ the procurator observed, smiling. ‘He is an old man, isn’t he?’

‘The procurator is never mistaken, but he is mistaken this time,’ the guest replied courteously, ‘the man from Kiriath is a young man.’

‘You don’t say! Can you describe his character for me? A fanatic?’

‘Oh, no, Procurator.’

‘So. And anything else?’

‘Very handsome.’

‘What else? He has some passion, perhaps?’

‘It is difficult to have such precise knowledge about everyone in this huge city, Procurator …’

‘Ah, no, no, Aphranius! Don’t play down your merits.’

‘He has one passion, Procurator.’ The guest made a tiny pause. ‘A passion for money.’

‘And what is his occupation?’

Aphranius raised his eyes, thought, and replied:

‘He works in the money-changing shop of one of his relatives.’

‘Ah, so, so, so, so.’ Here the procurator fell silent, looked around to be sure there was no one on the balcony, and then said quietly: ‘The thing is this — I have just received information that he is going to be killed tonight.’ This time the guest not only cast his glance at the procurator, but even held it briefly, and after that replied:

‘You spoke too flatteringly of me, Procurator. In my opinion, I do not deserve your report. This information I do not have.’

‘You deserve the highest reward,’ the procurator replied. ‘But there is such information.’

‘May I be so bold as to ask who supplied it?’

‘Permit me not to say for the time being, the more so as it is accidental, obscure and uncertain. But it is my duty to foresee everything. That is my job, and most of all I must trust my presentiment, for it has never yet deceived me. The information is that one of Ha-Nozri’s secret friends, indignant at this money-changer’s monstrous betrayal, is plotting with his accomplices to kill him tonight, and to foist the money paid for the betrayal on the high priest, with a note: “I return the cursed money.”’ The head of the secret service cast no more of his unexpected glances at the hegemon, but went on listening to him, narrowing his eyes, as Pilate went on: ‘Imagine, is it going to be pleasant for the high priest to receive such a gift on the night of the feast?’

‘Not only not pleasant,’ the guest replied, smiling, ‘but I believe, Procurator, that it will cause a very great scandal.’

‘I am of the same opinion myself. And therefore I ask you to occupy yourself with this matter - that is, to take all measures to protect Judas of Kiriath.’ The hegemon’s order will be carried out,‘ said Aphranius, ’but I must reassure the hegemon: the evil-doers’ plot is very hard to bring off. Only think,‘ the guest looked over his shoulder as he spoke and went on, ’to track the man down, to kill him, and besides that to find out how much he got, and manage to return the money to Kaifa, and all that in one night? Tonight?‘ ‘And none the less he will be killed tonight,’ Pilate stubbornly repeated. ‘I have a presentiment, I tell you! Never once has it deceived me.’ Here a spasm passed over the procurator’s face, and he rubbed his hands briskly.

‘Understood,’ the guest obediently replied, stood up, straightened out, and suddenly asked sternly: ‘So they will kill him, Hegemon?’

‘Yes,’ answered Pilate, ‘and all hope lies in your efficiency alone, which amazes everyone.’

The guest adjusted the heavy belt under his cloak and said:

‘I salute you and wish you health and joy!’

‘Ah, yes,’ Pilate exclaimed softly, ‘I completely forgot! I owe you something! …’

The guest was amazed.

‘Really, Procurator, you owe me nothing.’

‘But of course! As I was riding into Yershalaim, remember, the crowd of beggars … I wanted to throw them some money, but I didn’t have any, and so I took it from you.’ ‘Oh, Procurator, it was a trifle!’

‘One ought to remember trifles, too.’ Here Pilate turned, picked up the cloak that lay on the chair behind him, took a leather bag from under it, and handed it to the guest. The man bowed, accepting it, and put the bag under his cloak.

‘I expect a report on the burial,’ said Pilate, ‘and also on the matter to do with Judas of Kiriath, this same night, do you hear, Aphranius, this night. The convoy will have orders to awaken me the moment you appear. I’ll be expecting you.’ ‘I salute you,’ the head of the secret service said and, turning, left the balcony. One could hear the wet sand crunch under his feet, then the stamp of his boots on the marble between the lions, then his legs were cut off, then his body, and finally the hood also disappeared. Only here did the procurator notice that the sun was gone and twilight had come.

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