The Brook Kerith by George Moore

Produced by Jonathan Ingram, Wilelmina Malliere and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. THE BROOK KERITH A SYRIAN STORY BY GEORGE MOORE 1916 A DEDICATION My dear Mary Hunter. It appears that you wished to give me a book for Christmas, but were in doubt what book to give me as I seemed to have little
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  • 1916
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Produced by Jonathan Ingram, Wilelmina Malliere and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.






My dear Mary Hunter. It appears that you wished to give me a book for Christmas, but were in doubt what book to give me as I seemed to have little taste for reading, so in your embarrassment you gave me a Bible. It lies on my table now with the date 1898 on the fly-leaf–my constant companion and chief literary interest for the last eighteen years. Itself a literature, it has led me into many various literatures and into the society of scholars.

I owe so much to your Bible that I cannot let pass the publication of “The Brook Kerith” without thanking you for it again. Yours always, George Moore.



It was at the end of a summer evening, long after his usual bedtime, that Joseph, sitting on his grandmother’s knee, heard her tell that Kish having lost his asses sent Saul, his son, to seek them in the land of the Benjamites and the land of Shalisha, whither they might have strayed. But they were not in these lands, Son, she continued, nor in Zulp, whither Saul went afterwards, and being then tired out with looking for them he said to the servant: we shall do well to forget the asses, lest my father should ask what has become of us. But the servant, being of a mind that Kish would not care to see them without the asses, said to young Saul: let us go up into yon city, for a great seer lives there and he will be able to put us in the right way to come upon the asses. But we have little in our wallet to recompense him, Saul answered, only half a loaf and a little wine at the end of the bottle. We have more than that, the servant replied, and opening his hand he showed a quarter of a shekel of silver to Saul, who said: he will take that in payment. Whereupon they walked into Arimathea, casting their eyes about for somebody to direct them to the seer’s house. And seeing some maidens at the well, come to draw water, they asked them if the seer had been in the city that day, and were answered that he had been seen and would offer sacrifice that morning, as had been announced. He must be on his way now to the high rock, one of the maidens cried after them, and they pressed through the people till none was in front of them but an old man walking alone, likewise in the direction of the rock; and overtaking him they asked if he could point out the seer’s house to them, to which he answered sharply: I am the seer, and fell at once to gazing on Saul as if he saw in him the one that had been revealed to him. For you see, Son, seers have foresight, and the seer had been warned overnight that the Lord would send a young man to him, so the moment he saw Saul he knew him to be the one the Lord had promised, and he said: thou art he whom the Lord has promised to send me for anointment, but more than that I cannot tell thee, being on my way to offer sacrifice, but afterwards we will eat together, and all that has been revealed to me I will tell. You understand me, Son, the old woman crooned, the Lord had been with Samuel beforetimes and had promised to send the King of Israel to him for anointment, and the moment he laid eyes on Saul he knew him to be the king; and that was why he asked him to eat with him after sacrifice. Yes, Granny, I understand: but did the Lord set the asses astray that Saul might follow them and come to Samuel to be made a King? I daresay there was something like that at the bottom of it, the old woman answered, and continued her story till her knees ached under the boy’s weight.

The child’s asleep, she said, and on the instant he awoke crying: no, Granny, I wasn’t asleep. I heard all you said and would like to be a prophet. A prophet, Joseph, and to anoint a king? But there are no more prophets or kings in Israel. And now, Joseph, my little prophet, ’tis bedtime and past it. Come. I didn’t say I wanted to anoint kings, he answered, and refused to go to bed, though manifestly he could hardly keep awake. I’ll wait up for Father.

Now what can the child want his father for at this hour? she muttered as she went about the room, not guessing that he was angry and resentful, that her words had wounded him deeply and that he was asking himself, in his corner, if she thought him too stupid to be a prophet.

I’ll tell thee no more stories, she said to him, but he answered that he did not want to hear her stories, and betwixt feelings of anger and shame his head drooped, and he slept in his chair till the door opened and his father’s footsteps crossed the threshold.

Now, he said to himself, Granny will tell Father that I said I’d like to be a prophet. And feigning sleep he listened, determined to hear the worst that could be said of him. But they did not speak about him but of the barrels of salt fish that were to go to Beth-Shemish on the morrow; which was their usual talk. So he slipped from his chair and bade his father good-night. A resentful good-night it was; and his good-night to his grandmother was still more resentful. But she found an excuse for his rudeness, saying that his head was full of sleep–a remark that annoyed him considerably and sent him upstairs wishing that women would not talk about things they do not understand. I’ll ask Father in the morning why Granny laughed at me for saying I’d like to be a prophet. But as morning seemed still a long way ahead he tried to find a reason, but could find no better one than that prophets were usually old men. But I shall be old in time to come and have a beard. Father has a beard and they can’t tell that I won’t have a beard, and a white one too, so why should they–

His senses were numbing, and he must have fallen asleep soon after, for when he awoke it seemed to him that he had been asleep a long time, several hours at least, so many things had happened or seemed to have happened; but as he recovered his mind all the dream happenings melted away, and he could remember only his mother. She had been dead four years, but in his dream she looked as she had always looked, and had scolded Granny for laughing at him. He tried to remember what else she had said but her words faded out of his mind and he fell asleep again. In this second sleep an old man rose up by his bedside and told him that he was the prophet Samuel, who though he had been dead a thousand years had heard him say he would like to be a prophet. But shall I be a prophet? Joseph asked, and as Samuel did not answer he cried out as loudly as he could: shall I? shall I?

What ails thee, Son? he heard his grandmother calling to him, and he answered: an old man, an old man. Ye are dreaming, she mumbled between sleeping and waking. Go to sleep like a good boy, and don’t dream any more. I will, Granny, and don’t be getting up; the bed-clothes don’t want settling. I am well tucked in, he pleaded; and fell asleep praying that Granny had not heard him ask Samuel if he would be a prophet.

A memory of his dream of Samuel came upon him while she dressed him, and he hoped she had forgotten all about it; but his father mentioned at breakfast that he had been awakened by cries. It was Joseph crying out in his dream, Dan, disturbed thee last night: such cries, “Shall I? Shall I?” And when I asked “What ails thee?” the only answer I got was “An old man.”

Dan, Joseph’s father, wondered why Joseph should seem so disheartened and why he should murmur so perfunctorily that he could not remember his dream. But if he had forgotten it, why trouble him further? If we are to forget anything it were well that we should choose our dreams; at which piece of incredulity his mother shook her head, being firm in the belief that there was much sense in dreams and that they could be interpreted to the advantage of everybody.

Dan said: if that be so, let him tell thee his dream. But Joseph hung his head and pushed his plate away; and seeing him so morose they left him to his sulks and fell to talking of dreams that had come true. Joseph had never heard them speak of anything so interesting before, and though he suspected that they were making fun of him he could not do else than listen, till becoming convinced suddenly that they were talking in good earnest without intention of fooling him he began to regret that he had said he had forgotten his dream, and rapped out: he was the prophet Samuel. Now what are you saying, Joseph? his father asked. Joseph would not say any more, but it pleased him to observe that neither his father nor his granny laughed at his admission, and seeing how interested they were in his dream he said: if you want to know all, Samuel said he had heard me say that I’d like to be a prophet. That was why he came back from the dead. But, Father, is it true that we are his descendants? He said that I was.

A most extraordinary dream, his father answered, for it has always been held in the family that we are descended from him. Do you really mean, Joseph, that the old man you saw in your dream told you he was Samuel and that you were his descendant? How should I have known if he hadn’t told me? Joseph looked from one to the other and wondered why they had kept the secret of his ancestor from him. You laughed at me yesterday, Granny, when I said I’d like to be a prophet. Now what do you say? Answer me that. And he continued to look from one to the other for an answer. But neither had the wit to find an answer, so amazed were they at the news that the prophet Samuel had visited Joseph in a dream; and satisfied at the impression he had made and a little frightened by their silence Joseph stole out of the room, leaving his parents to place whatever interpretation they pleased on his dream. Nor did he care whether they believed he had spoken the truth. He was more concerned with himself than with them, and conscious that something of great importance had happened to him he ascended the stairs, pausing at every step uncertain if he should return to ask for the whole of the story of Saul’s anointment. It seemed to him to lack courtesy to return to the room in which he had seen the prophet, till he knew these things. But he could not return to ask questions: later he would learn what had happened to Samuel and Saul, and he entered the room, henceforth to him a sacred room, and stood looking through it, having all the circumstances of his dream well in mind: he was lying on his left side when Samuel had risen up before him, and it was there, upon that spot, in that space he had seen Samuel. His ancestor had seemed to fade away from the waist downwards, but his face was extraordinarily clear in the darkness, and Joseph tried to recall it. But he could only remember it as a face that a spirit might wear, for it was not made up of flesh but of some glowing matter or stuff, such as glow-worms are made of; nor could he call it ugly or beautiful, for it was not of this world. He had drawn the bed-clothes over his head, but–impelled he knew not why, for he was nearly dead with fright–he had poked his head out to see if the face was still there. The lips did not move, but he had heard a voice. The tones were not like any heard before, but he had listened to them all the same, and if he had not lost his wits again in an excess of fear he would have put questions to Samuel: he would have put questions if his tongue had not been tied back somewhere in the roof of his mouth. But the next time he would not be frightened and pull the bed-clothes over his head.

And convinced of his own courage he lay night after night thinking of all the great things he would ask the old man and of the benefit he would derive from his teaching. But Samuel did not appear again, perhaps because the nights were so dark. Joseph was told the moon would become full again, but sleep closed his eyes when he should have been waking, and in the morning he was full of fear that perhaps Samuel had come and gone away disappointed at not finding him awake. But that could not be, for if the prophet had come he would have awakened him as he had done before. His ancestor had not come again: a reasonable thing to suppose, for when the dead return to the earth they do so with much pain and difficulty; and if the living, whom they come to instruct, cannot keep their eyes open, the poor dead wander back and do not try to come between their descendants and their fate again.

But I will keep awake, he said, and resorted to all sorts of devices, keeping up a repetition of a little phrase: he will come to-night when the moon is full; and lying with one leg hanging out of bed; and these proving unavailing he strewed his bed with crumbs. But no ancestor appeared, and little by little he relinquished hope of ever being able to summon Samuel to his bedside, and accepted as an explanation of his persistent absence that Samuel had performed his duty by coming once to visit him and would not come again unless some new necessity should arise. It was then that the conviction began to mount into his brain that he must learn all that his grandmother could tell him about Saul and David, and learning from her that they had been a great trouble to Samuel he resolved never to allow a thought into his mind that the prophet would deem unworthy. To become worthy of his ancestor was now his aim, and when he heard that Samuel was the author of two sacred books it seemed to him that his education had been neglected: for he had not yet been taught to read. Another step in his advancement was the discovery that the language his father, his granny and himself spoke was not the language spoken by Samuel, and every day he pressed his grandmother to tell him why the Jews had lost their language in Babylon, till he exhausted the old woman’s knowledge and she said: well now, Son, if you want to hear any more about Babylon you must ask your father, for I have told you all I know. And Joseph waited eagerly for his father to come home, and plagued him to tell him a story.

But after a long day spent in the counting-house his father was often too tired to take him on his knee and instruct him, for Joseph’s curiosity was unceasing and very often wearisome. Now, Joseph, his father said, you will learn more about these things when you are older. And why not now? he asked, and his grandmother answered that it was change of air that he wanted and not books; and they began to speak of the fierce summer that had taken the health out of all of them, and of how necessary it was for a child of that age to be sent up to the hills.

Dan looked into his son’s face, and Rachel seemed to be right. A thin, wan little face, that the air of the hills will brighten, he said; and he began at once to make arrangements for Joseph’s departure for a hill village, saying that the pastoral life of the hills would take his mind off Samuel, Hebrew and Babylon. Rachel was doubtful if the shepherds would absorb Joseph’s mind as completely as his father thought. She hoped, however, that they would. As soon as he hears the sound of the pipe, his father answered. A prophecy this was, for while Joseph was resting after the fatigue of the journey, he was awakened suddenly by a sound he had never heard before, and one that interested him strangely. His nurse told him that the sound he was hearing was a shepherd’s pipe. The shepherd plays and the flock follows, she said. And when may I see the flock coming home with the shepherd? he asked. To-morrow evening, she answered, and the time seemed to him to loiter, so eager was he to see the flocks returning and to watch the she-goat milked.

And in the spring as his strength came back he followed the shepherds and heard from them many stories of wolves and dogs, and from a shepherd lad, whom he had chosen as a companion, he acquired knowledge of the plumage and the cries and the habits of birds, and whither he was to seek their nests: it had become his ambition to possess all the wild birds’ eggs, one that was easily satisfied till he came to the egg of the cuckoo, which he sought in vain, hearing of it often, now here, now there, till at last he and the shepherd lad ventured into a dangerous country in search of it and remained there till news of their absence reached Magdala and Dan set out in great alarm with an armed escort to recover his son. He was very angry when he came upon him, but the trouble he had been put to and the ransom he had had to pay were very soon forgotten, so great was his pleasure at the strong healthy boy he brought back with him, and whose first question to Rachel was: are there cuckoos in Magdala?–Father doesn’t know. His grandmother could not tell him, but she was willing to make inquiries, but before any news of the egg had been gotten the hope to possess it seemed to have drifted out of Joseph’s mind and to seem even a little foolish when he looked into his box, for many of his egg shells had been broken on the journey. See, Granny, he said, but on second thoughts he refused to show his chipped possessions. But thou wast once as eager to learn Hebrew, his grandmother said, and the chance words, spoken as she left the room, awakened his suspended interests. As soon as she returned she was beset by questions, and the same evening his father had to promise that the best scribe in Galilee should be engaged to teach him: a discussion began between Dan and Rachel as to the most notable and trustworthy, and it was followed by Joseph so eagerly that they could not help laughing; the questions he put to them regarding the different accomplishments of the scribes were very minute, and the phrase–But this one is a Greek scholar, stirred his curiosity. Why should he be denied me because he knows Greek? he asked, and his father could only answer that no one can learn two languages at the same time. But if he knows two languages, Joseph insisted. I cannot tell thee more, his father answered, than that the scribe I’ve chosen is a great Hebrew scholar.

He was no doubt a great scholar, but he was not the man that Joseph wished for: thin and tall and of gentle appearance and demeanour, he did not stir up a flame for work in Joseph, who, as soon as the novelty of learning Hebrew had worn off, began to hide himself in the garden. His father caught him one day sitting in a convenient bough, looking down upon his preceptor fairly asleep on a bench; and after this adventure he began to make a mocking stock of his preceptor, inventing all kinds of cruelties, and his truancy became so constant that his father was forced to choose another. This time a younger man was chosen, but he succeeded with Joseph not very much better than the first. After the second there came a third, and when Joseph began to complain of his ignorance his father said:

Well, Joseph, you said you wanted to learn Hebrew, and you have shown no application, and three of the most learned scribes in Galilee have been called in to teach you.

Joseph felt the reproof bitterly, but he did not know how to answer his father and he was grateful to his grandmother for her answer. Joseph isn’t an idle boy, Dan, but his nature is such that he cannot learn from a man he doesn’t like. Why don’t ye give him Azariah as an instructor? Has he been speaking to thee about Azariah? Dan asked. Maybe, she said, and Dan’s face clouded.


We are to understand, Son, Dan said, on hearing that the fourth preceptor whom he had engaged to teach his son Hebrew had failed to give satisfaction, that you cannot learn from anybody but Azariah. Now, will you tell us what there is in Azariah more than in Shimshai, Benaiah or Zebad? and he waited for his son to speak, but as Joseph did not answer he asked: is it because he looks more like a prophet than any of the others? And Joseph, who still dreaded any allusion to prophets, turned into his corner mortified. But Rachel came forward directly and taking the child by the shoulders led him back to his father, asking Dan with a trace of anger in her voice why he should think it strange that the child should prefer to learn from Azariah rather than from a withered patriarch who never could keep his eyes open but always sat dozing in his chair like one in a dream.

It wasn’t, Granny, because he went to sleep often; I could have kept him awake by kicking him under the table. Joseph stopped suddenly and looked from one to the other. Why then? his father asked, and on being pressed to say why he didn’t want to learn Hebrew he said he had come to hate Hebrew, an admission which rendered his parents speechless for a moment. Come to hate Hebrew, they repeated one after the other till frightened by their solemnity Joseph blurted out: you wouldn’t like Hebrew if the scholar’s fleas jumped on to you the moment you began. And pulling up his sleeves Joseph exhibited his arms. How could I learn Hebrew with three fleas biting me and all at one time, one here, another there and a third down yonder. He always has three or four about him. No, Father, don’t, don’t ask me to learn Hebrew any more. But, Joseph, all Hebrew scholars haven’t fleas about them. An unbelieving face confronted them, and Joseph looked as if he were uncertain whether he should laugh or cry: but seeing that his parents liked his story he began to laugh. We’ve tried several preceptors but you’re hard to please, Joseph. Now what fault did you find with–and while Dan searched his memory for the name Joseph interjected that the little fellow whose back bulged like Granny’s chest wouldn’t let him read the interesting parts of the Scriptures but kept him always at the Psalms and the Proverbs. And he was always telling me about Hillel, who was a good man, but good men aren’t as interesting as prophets, Joseph rapped out. And wilt thou tell us what he told thee about these pious men? Dan asked, a smile playing about his long thin mouth. That the law didn’t matter as long as we were virtuous, Joseph muttered, and he was always explaining the stories that I understood quite well when Granny told them. So it was Hiram that confirmed you in your distaste for Hebrew, Dan said, and the child stood looking at his father, not quite sure if it would be in his interest to accept or repudiate the suggestion. He would have refused to give a direct answer (such is the way of children) but the servant relieved him of his embarrassment: Azariah was at the gate asking for shelter from the rain.

From the rain! Dan said, rising suddenly. It is coming down very fast, Mother, but we were so engaged in listening to Joseph that we didn’t hear it. Shall we ask him in, Joseph? The child’s face lighted up. Now isn’t it strange, Rachel said, he should be here to-day? We haven’t seen him for months, and now in the middle of a talk about tutors–aren’t you going to ask him in? Of course, Dan said, and he instructed the servant to ask the scribe to come upstairs. And now, Joseph, I hope you’ll listen to all that Azariah says, giving quiet and reasonable answers. And not too many questions, mind!

Joseph promised to be good and quiet and to keep himself from putting questions. I will listen attentively, he said, and he seized on the last chance available to his tongue to tell that he had often seen Azariah in the lanes. He doesn’t see us, he walks like one in a dream, his hair blowing in the wind. But when he does see us he speaks very kindly … I think I’d like to learn Hebrew from him. Rachel laid her finger on her lips; the door opened and Azariah advanced into the room with a long grave Jewish stride, apologising to Dan as he came for his sudden intrusion into their midst, mentioning the heavy rain in a graceful phrase. Joseph, who was on the watch for everything, could see that his father was full of respect for Azariah, and hearing him say that it was some years since Azariah had been in his house he began to wonder if there had been a quarrel between them; it seemed to him that his father was a little afraid of Azariah, which was strange, for he himself did not feel in the least afraid of Azariah but an almost uncontrollable desire to go and sit on his knee.

Here is my boy Joseph: and, Azariah, you will be interested to hear that we were talking about you for the last quarter of an hour.

Azariah raised his thick eyebrows and waited to be told how he had come to be the subject of their talk, though he half knew the reason, for in a village like Magdala it soon gets about that four preceptors have been sent away unable to teach the rich man’s son. He has made up his mind, Dan said, to learn Hebrew and Greek from none but you. No, Father, I didn’t make up my mind. But I couldn’t learn from the others and I told you why. Are you sure that you can learn from me? Azariah asked. Joseph became shy at once, but he liked to feel Azariah’s friendly hand upon his shoulder, and when Dan asked the scribe to be seated Joseph followed him, and standing beside his chair asked him if he would teach him Hebrew, a question Azariah did not answer. You will teach me, he insisted, and Dan and Rachel kept silence, so that they might better observe Joseph working round Azariah with questions; and they were amused, for Joseph’s curiosity had overcome his shyness; and, quite forgetful of his promise to listen and not to talk, he had begun to beg the scribe to tell him if the language they spoke had been brought back from Babylon, and how long it was since people had ceased to speak Hebrew. Azariah set himself to answer these questions; Joseph gave him close attention, and when Azariah ceased speaking he said: when may I begin my lessons? And he put the question so innocently that his father could not help laughing. But, Joseph, he said, Azariah has not yet promised to teach you, and I wouldn’t advise him to try to teach a boy that has refused to learn from four preceptors. But it will be different with you, Sir, Joseph murmured, taking Azariah’s hand. You will teach me, won’t you? When will you begin?

Azariah answered that it could not be this week, for he was going to Arimathea. The town we came from, Dan said. I am still known as Dan of Arimathea, though I have lived here twenty years. I too shall be known as Joseph of Arimathea, Joseph interjected. I’d like to be Joseph of Arimathea much better than Joseph of Magdala.

You needn’t shake your head at Magdala, Dan said. Magdala has done well for us. To which Joseph answered nothing, but it was not long, however, before he went to his father saying that he would like to go to Arimathea, and in charge of Azariah.

You are asking too much, Joseph, his father answered him. No, I don’t think I am, and his honour Azariah doesn’t think so, Joseph cried, for his heart was already set upon this holiday. Azariah has perhaps promised to teach you Hebrew. Isn’t that enough? his father remarked. Now you want him to take you to Arimathea. But if he likes to take me, Joseph replied, and he cast such a winning glance at Azariah that the scribe was moved to say that he would be glad to take charge of the boy if his parents would confide him to his care. Whereupon Joseph threw his arms about his father, but finding him somewhat indifferent he went to his grandmother, who welcomed his embrace, and in return for it pleaded that the boy should not be denied this small pleasure. But Dan, who only half liked to part with his son, tried to hide his feelings from his mother, who had guessed them already, with a joke, saying to Azariah that he was a brave man to undertake the charge of so wayward a boy. I shall not spoil him, and if he fails to obey he’ll have to find someone else to teach him Hebrew, Azariah answered. I think the rain is now over, he said. Some drops were still falling but the sky was brightening, and he returned from the window to where Joseph was standing, and laying his hand on his head promised to come for him in the morning.

We shall hear no more about fleas preventing thee from study, Dan said to his son, and very much offended Joseph withdrew to his room, and stood looking at the spot in which he had seen Samuel, asking himself if the prophet would appear to him in Arimathea and if it would be by the fountain whither the maidens used to come to draw water. Samuel and the maidens seemed to jar a little, and as he could not think of them together he fell to thinking of the rock on which the seer used to offer sacrifices. It was still there and somebody would be about to direct them to it, and it would be under this rock that Azariah would read to him all that Samuel had said to Saul. But we shall be riding all day, he said to himself, Arimathea must be a long long way from here, and he fled downstairs to ask his father if Azariah would call for him at the head of a caravan, whether he would ride on a camel or a mule or a horse: he thought he would like to ride a camel, and awoke many times in the night, once rolling out of his bed, for in a dream the ungainly animal had jolted him from off his hump.

And the old woman’s patience was nigh exhausted when he cried: Granny, it is day, and bade her leave her bed and come to the window to tell him if day were not breaking; but she answered: get thee back to thy bed, for ’tis the moon shining down the sky, simpleton. The sun won’t give way an hour to the moon nor the moon an hour to the sun because thou’rt going to Arimathea. And methinks, Joseph, that to some the morrow is always better than to-day, and yesterday better than either,–a remark that puzzled Joseph and kept him from his rest. Didst never hear, Joseph, that it is a clever chicken that crows in the egg? the old woman continued, and who knows but Azariah will forget to come for thee! He won’t forget, Granny, Joseph uttered in so doleful a tone that Rachel repented and promised Joseph she would wake him in time; and as she had never failed to keep her promise to him he allowed sleep to close his eyelids. And once asleep he was hard to awaken. At six in the morning sleep seemed to him better than Arimathea, but once awake Rachel could not hand him his clothes fast enough; he escaped from her hands, dressing himself as he ran into the lanes, and while tying his sandals at the gate he forgot them and stood at gaze, wondering whether Azariah would come to fetch him on a horse or an ass or a mule or a camel.

At last the sound of hooves came through the dusk, and a moment after some three or four camels led the way; and there were horses too and asses and mules, and the mules were caparisoned gaily, the one reserved for Joseph’s riding more richly than the others–a tall fine animal by which he was proud to stand, asking questions of the muleteer, while admiring the dark docile eyes shaded with black lashes. Now why do we delay? he asked Azariah, who reminded him–and somewhat tritely–that he had not yet said good-bye to his parents. But they know I’m going with you, Sir, he answered. Azariah would not, however, allow Joseph to mount his mule till he had bidden good-bye to his father and grandmother, and he brought the boy back to the house, but without earning Dan’s approval, who was ashamed before Azariah of his son’s eagerness to leave home; a subtlety that escaped Rachel who chided Dan saying: try to remember if it wasn’t the same with thee, for I can remember thine eyes sparkling at the sight of a horse and thy knees all of an itch to be on to him. Well, said Dan, he’ll have enough riding before the day is over, and I reckon his little backside will be sore before they halt at the gates of Arimathea; a remark that caused Rachel to turn amazed eyes on her son and to answer harshly that since he had so much foresight she hoped he had not forgotten to tell Azariah that Joseph must have a long rest at midday. But thy face tells me no order has been given for the care of the child on the journey. But Azariah cannot be far on his way. I’ll send a messenger to caution him that Joseph has his rest in the shade.

Dan let her go in search of the messenger and moved around the room hoping (he knew not why) that the messenger would not overtake the caravan, the which he very nearly missed doing, for while Rachel was instructing the messenger, Joseph was asking Azariah if he might have a stick to belabour his mule into a gallop. The cavalcade, he said, needed a scout that would report any traces of robbers he might detect among the rocks and bushes. But we aren’t likely to meet robber bands this side of Jordan, Azariah said, they keep to the other side; and he told Joseph, who was curious about everything, that along the Jordan were great marshes into which the nomads drove their flocks and herds in the spring to feed on the young grass. So they are there now, Joseph replied meditatively, for he was thinking he would like better to ride through marshes full of reeds than through a hilly country where there was nothing to see but the barley-fields beset by an occasional olive garth. But hooves were heard galloping in the rear and when the messenger overtook the caravan and blurted out Rachel’s instructions, Joseph’s face flushed. Now what can a woman know, he cried, about a journey like this? Tell her, he said, turning to the messenger, that I shall ride and rest with the others. And as an earnest of his resolve he struck the messenger’s horse so sharply across the quarters that the animal’s head went down between his knees and he plunged so violently that the messenger was cast sprawling upon the ground. The cavalcade roared with laughter and Joseph, overjoyed at the success of his prank, begged Azariah to wait a little longer, for he was curious to see if the messenger would succeed in coaxing his horse. At present the horse seemed in no humour to allow himself to be mounted. Whenever the messenger approached he whinnied so menacingly that everybody laughed again. Is there none amongst ye that will help me to catch the horse? the poor messenger cried after the departing travellers. We have a long day’s march in front of us, Azariah said; and he warned Joseph not to beat his mule into a gallop at the beginning of the journey or he would repent it later, words that came true sooner than Joseph had expected, for before midday he was asking how many miles would bring them to the caravansary. In about another hour, Azariah answered, and Joseph said he had begun to hate his mule for it would neither trot nor gallop, only walk. Thou’rt thinking of the nomads and would like to be after them flourishing a lance, Azariah said, and–afraid that he was being laughed at–Joseph made no answer.

After the rest at midday it seemed to him to be his duty to see that his mule had been properly fed, and he bought some barley from the camel-driver, but while he was giving it to his mule Azariah remarked that he was only depriving other animals of their fair share of provender. It is hard, he said, to do good without doing wrong to another. But the present is no time for philosophy: we must start again. And the cavalcade moved on through the hills, avoiding the steep ascents and descents by circuitous paths, and Joseph, who had not seen a shepherd leading his flock for some years, became all of a sudden delighted by the spectacle, the sheep running forward scenting the fresh herbage with which the hills were covered as with dark velvet.

A little later they came into view of a flock of goats browsing near a wood, and Azariah sought to improve the occasion by a little dissertation on the destructive nature of the goat. Of late years a sapling rarely escaped them, and still more regrettable was the carelessness of the shepherd who left the branches they had torn down to become dry like tinder. He spoke of many forest fires, and told all the stories he could remember in the hope of distracting Joseph’s thoughts from the length of the journey. We are now about half-way, he said, disguising the truth. We shall see the city upon the evening glow in about another hour. The longest hour that I have ever known, Joseph complained two hours later; and Azariah laid his cloak over Joseph’s saddle. Dost feel more comfortable? A little, the child answered. At the sight of the city thy heart will be lifted again and the suffering forgotten. And Joseph believed him, but towards the end of the day the miles seemed to stretch out indefinitely and at five o’clock he was crying: shall we ever get to Arimathea, for I can sit on this mule no longer, nor shall I be able to stand straight upon my legs when I alight.

Azariah promised they would be at the gates in a few minutes, but these few minutes seemed as if they would never pass away, but they did pass, and at the gateway Joseph toppled from his mule and just managed to hobble into the inn at which they were to sleep that night: too tired to eat, he said, too tired, he feared, to sleep. Azariah pressed him to swallow a cup of soup and he prepared a hot bath for him into which he poured a bottle of vinegar; an excellent remedy he reported this to be against stiffness, and it showed itself to be such: for next morning Joseph was quite free from stiffness and said he could walk for miles. Samuel’s rock cannot be more than a few hundred yards distant, so miles are not necessary, Azariah answered, as they stepped over the threshold into a delightful morning all smiles and greetings and subtle invitations to come away into the forest and fields, full of promises of flowers and songs, but in conflict with their project, which was to inquire out their way from the maidens at the fountain, who would be sure to know it, and in its shade to read the story of David and Goliath first and other stories afterwards. But the gay morning drew their thoughts away from texts, and without being aware of their apostasy they had already begun to indulge in hopes that the maidens would be late at the fountain and leave them some time to loiter by the old aqueduct that brought the water in a tiny stream to fall into a marble trough: an erstwhile sarcophagus, maybe, Azariah said, as he gathered some water out of it with his hands and drank, telling Joseph to do likewise.

There were clouds in the sky, so the sun kept coming and going. A great lantern, Joseph said. That God holds in his hands, Azariah answered; and when tired of waiting for maidens who did not appear their beguilement was continued by shadows advancing and retreating across the roadway. The town was an enchantment in the still limpid morning, but when they rose to their feet their eyes fell on a greater enchantment–the hills clothed in moving light and shade so beautiful that the appeal to come away to the woods and fields continued in their hearts after they had lowered their eyes and would not be denied, though they prayed for strength to adhere to their original project. It had died out of their hearts through no fault of theirs, as far as they could see; and wondering how they might get remission from it they strode about the city, idly casting their eyes into ravines whither the walls dropped, and raising them to the crags whither the walls rose: faithful servants, Azariah said, that have saved the city many times from robbers from the other side of Jordan.

Joseph’s thoughts were far away on the hillside opposite amid the woods, and Azariah’s voice jarred. By this time, he said, the maidens are drawing water. But perhaps, Joseph answered, none will be able to tell us the way to the rock, and if none has heard for certain on which rock Samuel offered sacrifice we might go roaming over the hills and into forests yonder to find perhaps some wolf cubs in a cave. But a she-wolf with cubs is dangerous, Azariah replied. If we were to try to steal her cubs, Joseph interjected. But we don’t want to meddle with them, only to see them. May we go roaming to-day, Sir, and read the story of David and Goliath to-morrow? The boy’s voice was full of entreaty and Azariah had very little heart to disappoint him, but he dared not break an engagement which he looked upon as almost sacred; and walked debating with himself, asking himself if the absence of a maiden at the fountain might be taken as a sign that they were free to abandon the Scriptures for the day, only for the day. And seeing the fountain deserted Joseph cried out in his heart: we are free! But as they turned aside to go their way a maiden came with a pitcher upon her head; but as she had never heard of the rock, nor indeed of Samuel, Joseph was certain that God had specially designed her ignorant, so that they might know that the day before them was for enjoyment. You said, Sir, that if none could direct us we might leave the story until to-morrow. I did not say that, Azariah answered. All the same he did not propose to wait for another maiden more learned than the first, but followed Joseph to the gates of the city, nor did he raise any objection to passing through them, and they stood with their eyes fixed on the path that led over the brow down into the valley, a crooked twisting path that had seemed steep to Azariah’s mule overnight and that now seemed steeper to Azariah. And will seem still steeper to me in the evening when we return home tired, he said. But we shall not be tired, Joseph interposed, we need not go very far, only a little way into the forest. And he did not dare to say more, lest by some careless word he might provoke an unpremeditated opposition.

He dreaded to hear the words on Azariah’s lips: you have come here with me to learn Hebrew and may not miss a lesson…. If he could persuade Azariah into the path he would not turn back until they reached the valley, and once in the valley, he might as well ascend the opposite hill as go back and climb up the hill whence they had come. I am afraid, said Azariah, that this cool morning will pass into a very hot day: the clouds that veil the sky are dispersing. We shall not feel the heat once we are in the forest, Joseph replied, and the path up yonder hill is not so steep as the paths we go down by. You see the road, Sir, twisting up the hillside, and it is planned so carefully to avoid a direct ascent that a man has just belaboured his ass into a trot. They have passed behind a rock, but we shall see them presently.

Azariah waited a moment for the man and ass to reappear, but after all he was not much concerned with them, and began to descend unmindful of the lark which mounted the sky in circles singing his delirious song. Joseph begged Azariah to hearken, but his preceptor was too much occupied with the difficulties of the descent, nor could he be persuaded to give much attention to a flight of doves flying hither and thither as if they had just discovered that they could fly, diving and wheeling and then going away in a great company, coming back and diving again, setting Joseph wondering why one bird should separate himself from the flock and alight again. Again and again this happened, the flock returning to release him from his post. Were the birds playing a sort of game? Frolicking they were, for sure, and Joseph felt he would like to have wings and go away with them, and he wished Azariah would hasten, so pleasant it was in the valley.

A pleasant spacious valley it was, lying between two hills of about equal height: the hill they had come down was a little steeper than the hill they were about to go up. Joseph noticed the shadows that fell from the cliffs and those that the tall feathery trees, growing out of the scrub, cast over the sunny bottom of the valley, a water-course probably in the rainy season; and he enjoyed the little puffing winds that came and went, and the insects that came out of their hiding-places to enjoy the morning. The dragonflies were bustling about their business: what it was not easy to discover, but they went by in companies of small flies, with now and then a great one that rustled past on gauzy wings. And the bees were coming and going from their hive in the rocks, incited by the fragrance of the flowers, and Joseph watched them crawling over the anemones and leaving them hastily to bury their blunt noses in the pistils of the white squills that abounded everywhere in the corners, in the inlets and bays and crevices of the rocks. Butterflies, especially the white, pursued love untiringly in the air, fluttering and hovering, uniting and then separating–aerial wooings that Joseph followed with strained eyes, till at last the white bloom passed out of sight; and he turned to the dragonflies, hoping to capture one of the fearful kind, often nearly succeeding, but failing at the last moment and returning disappointed to Azariah who, seated on a comfortable stone, waited till Joseph’s ardour should abate a little. These stones will be too hot in another hour, he said. But it will be cool enough under the boughs, Joseph answered. Perhaps too cool, Azariah muttered, and Joseph wondered if it were reasonable to be so discontented with the world, especially on a morning like this, he said to himself; and to hearten Azariah he mentioned again that the path up the hillside zigzagged. You’ll not feel the ascent, Sir. To which encouragement Azariah made no answer but drew Joseph’s attention to the industry of the people of Arimathea. The eager boy could spare only a few moments for the beauty of the fig and mulberry leaves showing against the dark rocks, but he snuffed the scent the breeze bore and said it was the same that had followed them yesterday. The scent of the vine-flower, Azariah rejoined. The hillsides were covered with the pale yellow clusters. But I thought, Joseph, that you were too tired yesterday to notice anything. Only towards the end of the journey, Joseph muttered. But what are you going to do, Sir? he asked. I am going to run up the hill. You may run if you please, the preceptor answered, and as he followed the boy at a more leisurely pace he wondered at Joseph’s spindle shanks struggling manfully against the ascent. He will stop before the road turns, he said, but Joseph ran on. He is anxious to reach the top, Azariah pondered. There is some pleasant turf up there full of flowers: he’ll like to roll like a young donkey, his heels in the air, Azariah said to himself as he ascended the steep path, stopping from time to time that he might better ponder on the moral of this spring morning. He will roll among the grass and flowers like a young donkey, and then run hither and thither after insects and birds, his heart aflame with delight. He desires so many things that he knows not what he desires, only that he desires. Whereas I can but remember that once I was as he is to-day. So the spring is sad for the young as well as for the old.

But old as he was he was glad to feel that he was still liable to the season’s thrill in retrospect at least, and he asked himself questions: how many years ago is it since…? But he did not get further with his recollections. The ascent is too steep, he said, and he continued the ascent thinking of his breath rather than of her.

Joseph stood waiting on the edge of the rocks and cried out in the fulness of his joy on seeing his preceptor appear above the cliff, and at once fell to rolling himself over and over. Just as I expected he would, Azariah remarked to himself. And then, starting to his feet, Joseph began gathering flowers, but in a little while he stood still, his nosegay dropping flower by flower, for his thoughts had taken flight. The doves, the doves! he cried, looking into the blue and white sky. The doves have their nests in the woods, the larks build in the grass he said, and asked Azariah to come with him. The nest was on a tuft of grass. But I’ve not touched them, he said. Three years ago I used to rob all the nests and blow the eggs, you see, for I was making a collection. Azariah asked him if the lark would grieve for her eggs, and Joseph answered that he supposed she would soon forget them. Hark to his singing! and he ran on into the outskirts of the woods, coming back a few minutes afterwards to ask Azariah to hasten, for the wood was more beautiful than any wood he had ever seen. And if you know the trees in which the doves build I will climb and get the nest. Doves build in taller trees than these, in fir-trees, Azariah answered. But this is a pretty wood, Joseph. And he looked round the quiet sunny oak wood and began his relation that this wood was probably the remains of the ancient forests that had covered the country when the Israelites came out of the north of Arabia. How long ago was that, Sir? Joseph asked, and Azariah hazarded the answer that it might be as many as fifteen hundred years ago. How old is the oldest oak-tree? Joseph inquired, and Azariah had again to hazard the answer that a thousand years would make an old tree. And when will these trees be in leaf, Sir, and may we come to Arimathea when they are in leaf? And look, somebody has been felling trees here. Who do you think it was, Sir? Azariah looked round. The forest must have been supplying the city with firewood for many years, he said. All these trees are young and they are too regularly spaced for a natural growth. But higher up the hills the woods are denser and darker, and there we may find some old trees. Any badgers and foxes? Joseph asked, and shall we see any wolves?

The sunny woods were threaded with little paths, and Joseph cast curious eyes upon them all. The first led him into bracken so deep that he did not venture farther, and the second took him to the verge of a dark hollow so dismal that he came running back to ask if there were crocodiles in the waters he had discovered. He did not give his preceptor time to answer the difficult question, but laid his hand upon his arm and whispered that he was to look between two rocks, for a jackal was there, slinking away–turning his pointed muzzle to us now and then. To see he isn’t followed, Azariah added: and the observation endeared him so to Joseph that the boy walked for a moment pensively in the path they were following. It turned into the forest, and they had not gone very far before they became aware of a strange silence, if silence it could be called, for when they listened the silence was full of sound, innumerable little sounds, some of which they recognised; but it was not the hum of the insects or the chirp of a bird or the snapping of a rotten twig that filled Joseph with awe, but something that he could neither see, nor hear, nor smell, nor touch. The life of the trees–is that it? he asked himself. A remote and mysterious life was certainly breathing about him, and he regretted he was without a sense to apprehend this life.

Again and again it seemed that the forest was about to whisper its secret, but something always happened to interrupt. Once it was certainly Azariah’s fault, for just as the trees were about to speak he picked up a leaf and began to explain how the shape of an oak leaf differed from that of the leaf of the chestnut and the ash. A patter was heard among the leaves. There she goes–a hare! Joseph said, and a moment afterwards a white thing appeared. A white weasel, Azariah said. Shall we follow him? Joseph asked, and Azariah answered that it would be useless to follow. We should soon miss them in the thickets. And he continued his discourse upon trees, hoping that Joseph would never again mistake a sycamore for a chestnut. And what is that tree so dark and gloomy rising up through all the other trees, Joseph asked, so much higher than any of them? That is a cedar, Azariah said. Do doves build in cedars? Azariah did not know, and the tree did not inspire a climb: it seemed to forbid any attempt on its privacy. Do trees talk when they are alone? Joseph asked Azariah, and his preceptor gave the very sensible answer that the life of trees is unknown to us, but that trees had always awakened religious emotions in men. The earliest tribes were tree-worshippers, which was very foolish, for we can fell trees and put them to our usage.

They had come to a part of the forest in which there seemed to be neither birds nor beasts and Joseph had begun to feel the forest a little wearisome and to wish for a change, when the trees suddenly stopped, and before them lay a sunny interspace full of tall grass with here and there a fallen tree, and on these trees prone great lizards sunned themselves, nodding their heads in a motion ever the same. Something had died in that beautiful interspace, for a vulture rose sullenly and went away over the top of the trees, and Azariah begged Joseph not to pursue his search but to hasten out of the smell of the carrion that a little breeze had just carried towards them. Besides, this thick grass is full of snakes, he said, and the words were no sooner out of his mouth than a snake issued from a thick tuft, stopped and hissed. Snakes feed on mice and rats? Joseph asked, and come out of their holes to catch them, isn’t that so, Sir? Everything is out this sunny morning, seeking its food, Azariah answered: snakes after mice, vultures after carrion. This way, Joseph–yonder we may rest awhile, but we must be careful not to sit upon a snake; that knoll yonder is free from vermin, for the trees that grow about it are fir-trees and snakes do not like any place where they can easily be detected. And they sat on the fibrous ground and looked up into the darkness of the withered pines–withered everywhere except in the topmost branches that alone caught the light. A sad place to sit in, Joseph said. Don’t you feel the sadness, Sir? Azariah answered that he did. But it is preferable to snake-bites, he added. At that moment slowly flapping wings were heard overhead. It is the vulture returning, Azariah whispered to Joseph, and he is bringing a comrade back to dinner. To a very smelly dinner, Joseph rejoined. The breeze had veered suddenly and they found themselves again in the smell of carrion.

We must go on farther, Azariah said, and after passing into many quiet hollows and ascending many crests the path to which they had remained faithful debouched at last on broken ground with the tail end of the forest straggling up the opposite hillside in groups and single trees. I know where we are now, Joseph cried. Do you not remember, Sir–Joseph’s explanation was cut short by the sight of some shepherds sitting at their midday meal, and hunger falling suddenly upon Azariah and Joseph, both began to regret they had not brought food with them. But Azariah had some shekels tied in his garment, and for one of these pieces of silver the shepherds were glad to share their bread and figs with them and to draw milk for them from one of the she-goats. From which shall I draw milk? the shepherd asked his mate, and the mate answered: White-nose looks as if her udder is paining her. She lost her kid yesterday. He mentioned two others: Speckled and Long-ears. Whichever would like her milk drawn off will answer to thy call, the shepherd answered, and the goat came running to him as if glad to hear her name. White-nose, isn’t it? Joseph asked, and he gathered a branch for her, and while she nibbled he watched the milk drawn off and drank it foaming and warm from the jug, believing it to be the sweetest he had ever drunk, though he had often drunk goat’s milk before. Azariah, too, vowed that he had never drunk better milk and persuaded the shepherds into discourse of their trade, learning much thereby, for these men knew everything that men may know about flocks, having been engaged in leading them from pasture to pasture all their lives and their fathers before them.

After telling of many famous rams they related the courage and fidelity of their dogs, none of which feared a wolf, and they mentioned that two had been lost in an encounter with a leopard–but the flock had been saved. As much as wolves the shepherds feared the eagles. There are a dozen nests in yon mountain if there be one. Take the strangers up the hillside, mate, so that they may get a sight of the birds. And Azariah and Joseph followed the shepherd up to the crags and were shown some birds wheeling above rocks so steep that there was no foothold for man. Or else we should have had their nests long ago, the shepherd said. Now here is a bear’s trail. He’s been seeking water here, but he didn’t get any; he came by here, and my word, he’s been up here after wild bees. The shepherd showed scratches among the dropping resin, saying: it was here that he clawed his way up. But did he get the honey? Joseph asked, a question the shepherd could not answer; and talking about bears and honey and eagles and lambs and wolves and lions, the afternoon passed away without their feeling it, till one of the shepherds said: it is folding-time now; and answering to different calls the flocks separated, and the shepherds went their different ways followed by their flocks.

The sunset had begun to redden the sky, and the shadows of the trees drew out as they crossed the hillside and descended by the steep path into the valley. The ascent that faced them was steep indeed, and Azariah had to rest several times, but at last they reached the slope on which the city was built: but they did not enter the gates yet awhile but stood looking back, thinking of the day that had gone by. We shall remember this day always, Joseph said, if we live to be as old as the patriarchs. Was it then so wonderful? Azariah asked, and Joseph could only answer: yes, very wonderful. Didn’t you think so? and tell me, he added, is it true that God is going to destroy the world and very soon? Why do you ask, Joseph? Azariah replied, and Joseph answered: because the world is so very beautiful. I never saw the world before to-day. My eyes were opened, and I shall be sorry if God destroys the world, for I should like to see more of it. But why should he make a beautiful world, and then destroy it? Don’t you think he will relent when the time comes and the day be as beautiful as it was this morning? Azariah answered him that God does not relent, for He knows the past and future as well as the present, and that the world was not as beautiful as it seems to be, for man is sinning always, though certainly God said all things are beautiful. But perhaps we sinned this morning in the sight of God. We sinned? Joseph repeated. How did we sin? Have you forgotten, Azariah answered, that it was arranged that we should spend the day reading the Scriptures, and we’ve spent it talking to shepherds? Was that a sin? Joseph asked. We can read the Scriptures to-morrow; if the day be clouded and rain comes, we can read them indoors. If the day be clouded, Azariah replied smiling. But was not thy life dedicated to Samuel? Thou hast forgotten him. But the world is God’s world. Joseph answered that he had forgotten his vow, and all that evening, in spite of Azariah’s gentleness with him, he was pursued by the memory of the sin he had committed. In Samuel’s own city he had broken his vow! And Azariah heard the boy blubbering in the darkness that night.


He should not have interrupted the manifestations of joy at his return with: when may I go to Arimathea again? And his second question was hardly less indiscreet: why did we leave Arimathea? His father answered: because it suited us to do so; and Joseph withdrew to Rachel who was never gruff with him. But despite her bias in favour of all he said and did she reproved him, saying that he should not ask as soon as he returned home when he was going away again. I am glad in a way, Granny, but there’s no forest here. Dan left the room, and the boy would tell no more but burst into tears, asking what he had done to make Father so angry. Rachel could not tell him with safety, and Joseph, thinking that perhaps something unpleasant had happened to his father in the forest (a wolf may have bitten him there), spoke of the high rock on the next occasion and of the story of Jonathan and David that Azariah had read to him. You will ask him to come here one night, Father, and translate it to you? Promise me that you will. But I can read Hebrew, Dan replied, and there is no reason for those wondering eyes. Thy Granny will tell thee. But, Father–Joseph stopped suddenly. It had come into his mind to ask his father how it was that he had never read the story of Jonathan and David to him, but his interest in the matter dying suddenly, he said: to-morrow I begin my lessons, and Azariah tells me that I must have a copy of the Scriptures for my very own use. Now where are thy thoughts? In a barrel of salt fish? Father, do listen. I’d like to learn Hebrew from bottom to top and from top to bottom and then sideways, so as to put the Scribes in Jerusalem to shame when you send me thither for the Feast of the Passover. And thou’lt mind that my Scriptures be made by the best Scribe in Galilee and on the best parchment, promise me, Father!

Dan promised his son that no finer manuscript should be procurable in Galilee. But the making of this magnificent copy would delay for many months Joseph’s instruction in Hebrew, and Joseph was so impatient to begin that he lay awake that night and in the morning ransacked his father’s rooms, laying hands on some quires of his father’s Scriptures; and no sooner out of the house than a great fear fell upon him that he might be robbed: the quires were hidden in his vest suddenly and he walked on in confidence, also in a great seriousness, going his way melancholy as a camel, his head turned from the many temptations that the way offered to him–the flower in the cactus hedge was one. He passed it without picking it, and further on he allowed a strange crawling insect to go by without molestation, and feeling his mood to be exceptional he fell to thinking that his granny would laugh, were she to see him.

He was not, however, afraid of her laughing: women had no sense of the Word of God, he muttered. There were nests in the trees, but he kept himself from looking, lest a nest might inspire him to climb for it. But nobody could climb trees with several quires of Scriptures under his arm. He would lose his grip and fall, or else the Scriptures would fall, and if a thief happened to be going by it would be easy for him to pick up the quires and away with them before it would be possible for Joseph to slide down the tree and raise a hue and cry.

The lanes through which his way took him were frequented by boys, ball-players every one of them, and at this time ball-playing was a passion with Joseph and he would steal away whenever he got a chance and spend a whole day in an alley with a number of little ragamuffins. And if he were to meet the tribe, which was as likely as not at the next turning, he must tell them that he was going to school and dared not stop. But they would jeer at him. He might give them his ball and in return they might not mock at him. He walked very quietly, hoping to pass unobserved, but a boy was looking over the cactus hedge and called to him, asking if he had brought a ball with him, for they had lost theirs. He threw his ball to him. But aren’t you coming to play with us? Not to-day, Joseph answered. I’m on my way to school. Well, to-morrow? Not to-morrow. I may not play truant from learning, Joseph answered sententiously, walking away, leaving his former playmates staring after him without a word in their mouths. But by the next day they had recovered their speech and cried out: the fishmonger’s son is going by to his lessons and dare not play at ball. Azariah would whip him if he did. One a little bolder than the rest dangled a piece of rope in his face saying: this is what you’d get if you stayed with us. He was moved to run after the boy and cuff him, but the quires under his arms restrained him and he passed on, keeping a dignified silence. Soon thou’lt be reading to us in the synagogues! was the last jeer cried after him that day, but for many a day he caught sight of a face grinning at him through the hedge, and the way to his lessons became hateful.

As he showed no sign of anger, the persecution grew wearisome to the persecutors, and soon after he discovered another way to Azariah. But this way was beset with women, whose sex impelled a yearning for this tall lithe boy with the gazelle-like eyes. Joseph was more inclined to the welcome of the Greek poets and sculptors who stopped their mules and leaning from high saddles spoke to him, for he was now beginning to speak Greek and it was pleasant to avail himself of the advantages of the road to chatter his Greek and to acquire new turns of phrases. Why not? since it seemed to be the wish of these men to instruct him. My very model! a bearded man cried out one morning, and stopping his mule he bent from the saddle towards Joseph and asked him many questions. Joseph told him that he was on his way to his lessons and that he passed through this lane every morning. At these words the sculptor’s eyes lighted up, for he had accepted Joseph’s answer as a tryst, and when Joseph came through the lane next day he caught sight of the sculptor waiting for him and–flattered–Joseph entered into conversation with him, resisting, however, the sculptor’s repeated invitation that Joseph should come to sit to him–if not for a statue, for a bust at least. But a bust is a graven image, Joseph answered, and as the point was being debated a rich merchant came by, riding a white horse that curveted splendidly, and Joseph, who was interested in the horse, referred the difficulty they were engaged in to the merchant. After some consideration of it he asked the meaning of the scrolls that Joseph carried in his hand, feigning an interest in them and in Azariah. Who is he? he asked, and Joseph answered: a very learned man, my tutor, to whom I must be on my way. And with a pretty bow he left merchant and sculptor exchanging angry looks.

But the sculptor knowing more of Joseph than the merchant–that he would be passing through the lane on the morrow at the same time–and as the boy’s beauty was of great importance to him, kept another tryst, waiting impatiently, and as soon as Joseph appeared he began to beseech him to come to Tiberias and pose in his studio for a statue he was carving, offering presents that would have shaken many determinations. But Joseph was as firm to-day as he was yesterday. I must be going on to my Hebrew, he said, and he left the sculptor cast away in dreams. He had not gone very far, however, before he met the merchant, who happened to be passing through the lane again, and seeing Joseph his eyes lighted up with pleasure, and after speaking to him he dismounted from his mule and showed him a beautiful engraved dagger which Joseph desired ardently; but a present so rich he did not care to accept, and hurried away, nor did he look back, so busy was he inventing reasons as he went for the delay.

I do not deny, Sir, that I’m past my time, but not by an hour; at most by half an hour. Playing at ball again, and in the purlieus of the neighbourhood, against your father’s instructions! Azariah said, his face full of storm. No, Sir, I have put ball-playing out of my mind; or Hebrew has put it out of my mind, and Greek too has had a say in the matter. The delay was caused by meeting a sculptor who asked me to pose before him for a statue. And what was thy answer to him? That we were forbidden by our laws to look upon graven images. And what answer did he give to that very proper answer? Azariah asked, somewhat softened. Many answers, Sir, and among them was this one: that there was no need for me to look upon the statue he was carving. The answer that one might expect from a Greek, Azariah rapped out, one that sets me thinking that there is more to be said against the Greek language than I cared to admit to thy father when last in argument with him on the subject. But, Sir, you will not forbid me the reading of Menander for no better reason than that a Greek asked that he might carve a statue after me, for what am I to blame, since yourself said my answer was commendable? And in these words there was so plaintive an accent that Azariah’s heart was touched, for he guessed that the diverting scene in which the slave arranges for a meeting between the lovers was in the boy’s mind.

At that moment their eyes went together to the tally on the wall, and pointing to it Joseph said it bore witness to the earnestness with which he had pursued his studies for the last six months, and Azariah was forced to admit there was little to complain of in the past, but he had noticed that once a boy came late for his lessons his truancy became common. Moreover, Sir, my time is of importance, Azariah declared, his hairy nostrils swelling at the thought of the half hour he had been kept waiting. But may we finish Menander’s comedy? Joseph asked, for he was curious to learn if Moschion succeeded in obtaining his father’s leave to marry the girl he had put in the family way. The lovers’ plan was to ingratiate themselves with the father’s concubine and to persuade her to get permission to rear and adopt the child. Yes, Joseph, the father relents. But it would please me, Sir, to learn why he relents. And Joseph promised that he would be for a whole year in advance of his time rather than behind it. He did not doubt that he would be able to keep his promise, for he had found a new way to Tiberias; a deserted way it seemed to be at first, and most propitious, without the temptations of ball-players, but as the season advanced the lane became infested by showmen on their way to Tiberias: mummers, acrobats, jugglers, fortune-tellers, star-mongers, dealers in charms and amulets, and Joseph was tempted more than once to stop and speak with these random folk, but the promise he had given Azariah was sufficiently powerful to inspire a dread and a dislike of these, and to avoid them he sought for a third way to Tiberias and found one: a path through an orchard belonging to a neighbour who was glad to give him permission to pass through it every morning, which he did, thereby making progress in his studies till one day, by the stile over which his custom was to vault into the quiet lane, he came suddenly upon what seemed to him like a small encampment: wayfarers of some sort he judged them to be, but of what sort he could not tell at first, there being some distance and the branches of an apple-tree between him and them.

But as he came through the trees, he decided in his mind that they were the servitude of some great man: varlets, hirelings or slaves. But his eyes fell on their baskets and–deceived by the number and size of these–the thought crossed his mind that they might be poulterers on their way to Tiberias. But whatever their trade they had no right to encamp in the orchard, and he informed them politely that the orchard belonged to friends of his, and that large and fierce dogs were loose about the place. For his warning they thanked him, saying they’d make off at once; remarking as they made their preparations for going that they did not think they were doing any harm by coming into the orchard, having only crossed the stile to rest themselves.

Going with poultry to Tiberias? Joseph said. Not with poultry, Sir, the varlets answered. We are not poulterers, but cockers. Cockers! Joseph repeated, and on reading the blank look in his face they told him they were the servants of a great Roman who had sent them in search of fighting cocks; for a great main was going to be fought that day in Tiberias. We are his cockers, a man said (he spoke with some slight authority, the others seemed to be in his charge), and have been far in search of these birds. He pointed to the baskets and asked Joseph if he would care to see the cocks, and as if to awaken Joseph’s curiosity he began to tell their pedigrees. That one, he said, is a Cilician and of a breed that has won thousands of shekels, and a bird in the basket next him is a Bythinian brown-red, the victor in many a main, and the birds in the next three baskets are Cappadocian Duns, all of celebrated ancestry, for our master will have none but the finest birds; and if you happen to know of any good birds, price will not stand in the way of our purchasing them. Joseph answered that he had not heard of any, but if he should–You’ll not forget us, said a small meagre woman with black shining eyes in a colourless face, drab as the long desert road she had come by. Joseph promised; and then a short thick-set man with matted hair, and sore eyes that were always fixed on the ground, opened one of the baskets and took out a long lean bird, which he held in shining fingers for Joseph’s admiration. Listen to him, cried the woman in a high thin voice. Listen to him, for no one can set a cock a-sparring like him. The servants consulted among themselves in a language Joseph did not understand, and then, as if they had come to an agreement among themselves, the foreman said, approaching Joseph and cringing a little before him, that if the little master could assure them they would not be disturbed by dogs, they would like to show him the cocks. A little exercise, the man said, would be of advantage to the birds–to those that were not fighting that morning–he added, and the man whom the woman nicknamed The Heeler, a nickname acquired from the dexterity with which he fitted the cock’s heels with soft leather pads, said: you see, master, they may fight and buffet one another for a space without injury.

Joseph watched the birds advance and retire and pursue each other, and after this exhibition they were put back into their baskets and covered with hay. So you are the Heeler? Joseph asked. The man grinned vacantly, and the woman answered for him. There is none like him in this country for fixing a pair of spurs, for cutting the tail and wings and shortening the hackle and the rump feathers. You see, young Master, the comb is cut close so that there shall be no mark for t’other bird’s bill. And who knows but you’d like to see the spurs, Master. And she showed him spurs of two kinds, for there are cocks that fight better with long spurs and cocks that fight better with short. And how many days does it take to train a cock? Joseph asked, and they began to tell him that a fighting cock must be fed with bread and spring water, and have his exercise–running and sparring–every day. It was the woman that kept Joseph in chat, for the men were busy carrying the baskets over the stile and placing them in mule cars that were waiting in the lane. But, young Master, she said, if you’ve never seen a cock-fight come with us, for a better one you’ll never live to see. The best birds in Western Asia will be in Tiberias to-day. Joseph did not answer this invitation at once, for he did not altogether like this woman nor her manner of standing near to him, her black shining eyes fixed upon him. But he was like one infected, and could not escape from his desire to see a cock-fight. He knew that Azariah would never forgive him for keeping him waiting … waiting for how long? he asked himself. Till he cares to wait no longer, his conscience answered him. He was going to get into great trouble, but he could not say no to the cockers, and he followed them, asking himself when he should escape from the evil spirit which–at their instigation, perhaps–had taken possession of him. A moment after he was assuring himself that the folk he had fallen in with were ignorant of everything but cockering, without knowledge of witchcraft, star-mongering or sortilege–the servants of some great Roman, without doubt, which was sufficient assurance that though they might be cock stealers on occasion they were not kidnappers. Besides, in frequented lanes and in Tiberias the stealing of a boy was out of the question, and after seeing one or two cocks killed he could return home, for he need not wait till the end. He could not help himself, he must see the great red and yellow bird strike his spur through the head of his adversary, as the Heeler told him he had never failed to do in many combats. And he would not fail now, though he was two years old, which is old for a fighting cock. You see, little Master, the woman said, they be not as quick on their legs as they get older, nor are they as eager to fight. To-day’s battle will be his last–win or lose–and if he conies out alive at the end he’ll go to the hens, which will be more frolicsome than having spurs driven into his neck as happened three months gone by, but it didn’t check his spirit, she continued, he killed his bird and let off one great crowing before he toppled over: we thought he was gone, but I sucked his wound, bathed it with salt and water, and you see he’s none the worse to-day.

At every turning of the lane the demon seemed to propel Joseph more violently, till at last he put Azariah out of his head and began to ask himself if he would be guilty of any great sin in going to see the cock-fight? Of any sin greater than that of following the custom of the heathen? His father might be angry, but there’d be no particular atonement: a fast day, or some study of the law, no more, for he’d be careful not to raise his eyes to the gods and goddesses that beset the streets and public places in Tiberias. And on this resolve he followed the cockers into the city. He was glad to see that many statues stood on the roofs of the buildings and so far away that no faces or limbs were visible; but the statues in the streets were difficult to avoid seeing. Worst of all, the cock-fight that he thought would be fought in the open air had been arranged to happen in a great building–a theatre or circus–he did not know which. Joseph had never seen so great a crowd before, and the servants he had come with pointed out to him their master among a group of Romans. The Jews from Alexandria, he was told, came to these games, and this caused his conscience to quicken, for he had heard his father speak of the Alexandrian Jews as heretics. Azariah did not hold such orthodox views, but what his tutor’s views were about cock-fighting Joseph did not know; and when he asked if he might approach the ring he was told that the circle about the ring was for the Romans and those whom they might invite, but he’d be able to see very well from where he was.

The Romans seemed to him an arrogant and proud people; and, conscious of an innate hostility, he watched them as they leaned over the railing that enclosed the fighting ring, talking among themselves, sometimes, however, deigning to call a Jew to join them. The Jews came to them obsequiously, hoping that the honour bestowed upon them did not escape notice; and Joseph’s ear caught servile phrases: young Sir, it is reported you’ve a bird that will smite down all comers, and, Sir, we can offer you but a poor show of birds. Those at Rome—-

A sudden silence fell, which was broken by the falling of dice, and Joseph was told that the throw would decide which seven birds were to begin…. We have won the throw, was whispered in his ear. We’ve the advantage. But why it was an advantage to fight from the right rather than from the left Joseph was too excited to inquire, for the cocks had just been put into the ring or pit, and Joseph recognised the tall lank bird that the Heeler had taken out of his basket in the orchard. He’s fighting to-day with long spurs, he was told. But why does he fight the other bird–a yearling? he heard the woman ask; and he saw a black cock crouch to meet the red in deadly fight. Must one die? he asked, but the cockers were too intent on the battle to answer his question. The birds re-sparred and leaped aside, avoiding each other’s rushes, and before long it became clear even to Joseph that their bird, though stronger than the younger bird, did not spring as high or as easily. A good bird, he heard the servants say: there’ll be a battle for it, my word, there will, and our bird will win if the young one doesn’t get his stroke in quickly; an old bird will tire out a young bird…. As these words were spoken, the black cock dashed in, and with a quick stroke sent his spur through the red bird’s head. He’s gone this time beyond thy care! And tears came into Lydia’s eyes. I’m sorry, I’d have liked to have seen him end his days happily among the hens, a-treading of them. Joseph felt he had not rightly understood her, and when he inquired out her meaning from her, she told it with so repulsive a leer that he could not conquer a sudden dislike. He moved away from her immediately and asked her no more questions.

More cocks were set to fight, and they fought to the death always: only once did a cock turn tail and refuse to continue the combat. To persuade him to be brave, the slave in charge placed him breast to breast with his adversary, but despite all encouragement he turned tail and hid himself in the netting. Now what will happen to him? Joseph asked. First he’ll be cut and then fattened for the spit or the gridiron, the Heeler answered. Look, young Master, and turning his eyes whither the Heeler’s finger pointed, Joseph saw the bird’s owner sign to the slave that he was to twist the bird’s neck; which was done, and the poltroon went into a basket by himself–he did not deserve to be with those that had been slain in combat.

The ring was now covered with blood and feathers, and two slaves came with buckets of water and brushes to clean it, and while this office was being performed many fell to drinking from flasks which their slaves handed to them. The man who had told his slave to wring his cock’s neck regretted that he had done so. The merited punishment would have been to hand the bird over to a large ape, that would have plucked the bird feather by feather, examining each feather curiously before selecting the next one; and he swore a great oath by Jupiter and then, as if to annoy the Jews, by Jehovah, that the next of his birds that refused combat should be served this way. Our master will not put us on the cross for so misjudging a bird’s courage, Joseph heard the Heeler say; and Lydia sidled up against Joseph, and it was her thigh as much as the memory of the oaths he had heard uttered and that were being uttered and that would be uttered again as soon as the fighting commenced that set him thinking of Azariah scanning the tally on the wall–vowing that he would teach him no more; but the tally, which Joseph knew well, showed that he had not missed an hour for many months. But a whole day’s absence was something more than any truancy he had ever indulged in before, and the only reason he could give for it would be the inacceptable one that the cockers had bidden a demon take possession of him.

Another pair of cocks was already in the ring: two young birds trained to the finest distinction, and they sparred so lustily that even the experts could not predict the victor. But there was no heart in Joseph for more cock-fighting, and he viewed with disgust the mean vile faces that leered at him while he thanked them for the occasion which he owed them of overlooking so much fine sport. But they were a scurvy lot, viler than he had supposed, though he had suspected from the first that they were nurturing some trick against him. And he searched himself, for he would willingly give them money to be rid of them. But how much will they accept? he asked himself, as he searched his pockets … his money was gone! Stolen, no doubt, but by whom? By the cockers standing around him, quarrelling and railing at each other, levelling accusations right and left–the Heeler wrangling with Lydia, saying it was she that had asked the young penniless to come with them. A mercy it was that he didn’t call me a ragamuffin, Joseph said to himself. He was not without some apprehension that they might detain him till a ransom was paid, and right glad to perceive himself free to go: having gotten his money they wished to be rid of him quietly; and he too, wishing to avoid attracting attention, slunk out of Tiberias without laying complaint before the magistrate.

It was unlikely that his money would be found upon the thieves and his father would be very angry indeed if he were obliged to go to Tiberias to bear witness to the truth of his story that his son, while on his way to his tutor’s–Joseph stopped to consider the eventualities, and he heard in imagination the tale unfolding. Azariah might be called! And if he were, he would tell he had been kept waiting all day, and the jealous neighbours would be glad to send round to commiserate with his father. It seemed to Joseph that he had escaped lightly with the loss of a few shekels. But what reason should he give for coming home so late? He’d have to say where he had spent the day. Azariah would tell of his absence from his lessons. Ah, if he had foreseen all these worries, he wouldn’t have gone to Tiberias…. Should he say he had been out fishing on the lake? The fishers would not betray him, but they might; and he could not bring himself to tell his father a lie. So did he argue with himself as he walked, saying that he had not done worse than–But what had happened at home? Something must have happened, for the gates were open. The gate-keeper, where was he? And his wonder increased as he reached the house, for all the servants seemed to be running to and fro. The Lord be praised for sending you back to us! they exclaimed. You thought then that the Lord had taken me from you? Joseph asked, and the man replied that they had been searching for him all day–sending messengers hither and thither, and that in the afternoon a boat had hoisted sail and put out for the fishing fleet, thinking that Simon Peter might be able to give tidings of Master Joseph. But why all this fuss? Joseph said, because I come home a little later than usual. Your father, Master Joseph, is beside himself, and your grandmother–Joseph left the man with the end of the sentence on his tongue.

So you’ve returned at last! his father cried on seeing him, and began at once to tell the anxiety he had suffered. Nor was Rachel without her word, and between their reproofs it was some time before Joseph began to apprehend the cause of the tumult: Azariah had laid a long complaint of truancy! As to that, Joseph answered tartly, he has little to complain of. And he spoke of the pact between them, relating that seven or eight months before he had promised Azariah not to be past his time by five minutes. Look to his tally, Father: it will tell that I have kept my word for eight months and more and would have kept it for the year if–Be mindful of what he is saying to thee, Dan. Look well to the tally before condemning, Rachel cried. Wouldst have it then, woman, Azariah lied to me? Not lied, but was carried beyond himself in a great heat of passion at being kept waiting, Rachel answered. He said that he enjoyed teaching thee, Joseph, God having granted thee a good intelligence and ways of comprehension. But he couldn’t abide seeing thee waste thy time and his. We’re willing and ready to hear about this absence and the cause of it, Dan interposed. So get on with the story: where hast thou been? Out with it, boy. Where hast thou been?

The bare question could only be met by the bare answer: watching a cock-fight in Tiberias; and to save his parents from much misunderstanding, he said he must begin at the beginning. Dan would have liked a straight answer, but Rachel said the boy should be suffered to tell his story his own way; and Joseph told a fine tale, the purport of which was that he had sought for a by-way to Tiberias, the large lanes being beset by acrobats, zanies, circus riders and the like, and had found one through Argob orchard and had followed it daily without meeting anyone for many months, but this morning as he came through the trees he had caught sight of an encampment; some cockers on their way to Tiberias, where a great main was to be fought. And it was the cocks of Pamphilia that had–He stopped, for the great change that had come over his parents’ faces set him wondering if his conduct was as shameful as their faces seemed to affirm. He could not see that he had sinned against the law by going to Tiberias, though he had associated himself with Gentiles and for a whole day … he had eaten in their company, but not of any forbidden meat. And while Joseph sought to mitigate his offence to himself, his father sat immersed in woe, his head in his hands. What calamity, he cried, has fallen on my house, and how have I sinned, O Lord, that punishment should fall upon me, and that my own son should be chosen to mete out my punishment? My house is riven from rafter to foundation stone. But, Father, at most–It seemed useless to plead. He stood apart; his grandmother stood silent and grave, not understanding fully, and Joseph foresaw that he could not count upon her to side with him against his father. But if his father would only tell him if he had sinned against the law, instead of rending his garments, he would do all the law commanded to obtain forgiveness. Was there, he asked, anything in the law against cock-fighting? or in the traditions? It was a pastime of the heathen: he knew that, and had hoped a day of fasting might be suggested to him, but if this offence was more serious than he had supposed he besought his father to say so. Tell me, Father, have I sinned against the law?

The question seemed to exasperate his father who at last cried out: of what value may be thy Hebrew studies and a knowledge of the language, if the law be not studied with Azariah? Does not the Book of Leviticus ever lie open before thee? How has the law been affronted? The law given by the Lord unto Moses. My own son asks me this. “And if a soul sin and hear the voice swearing and is a witness whether he has sinned or known of it, if he did not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity.” Was there no swearing at thy cock-fight? Plenty, I reckon. All day was spent listening to swearing, hearing the name of the Lord taken in vain: a name we don’t dare to pronounce ourselves. Joseph sat dumbfounded. So Azariah never taught thee the law? All the time goes by wasted in the reading of Greek plays. We read Hebrew and speak it, Joseph answered, and it was your wish that I should learn Greek. And, Father, is there any reason to worry over a loss of repute? For my sin will be known to nobody but God, unless told by thee, and thou’lt keep it secret. Or told by Azariah, Dan answered moodily, who never teaches the law, but likes Greek plays better. Well, thou shalt hear the law from me to-night, for I can read Hebrew, not, belike, as well as Azariah, but I can read Hebrew all the same. Mother, hand me down the Scriptures from the shelf.


Well, Dan, you must make up your mind whether you are going to look out for one who will teach him better, or let him remain with Azariah, who likes teaching him, for he is a clever but oft-times an idle boy. I don’t know that I should have said idle, she added, and sat thinking of what word would describe Joseph’s truancy better than idle, without, however, finding the word she needed, and her thoughts floated away into a long consideration of her son’s anger, for she could see he was angry with Azariah. But the cause of his anger she could not discover. It could not be that he was annoyed with Azariah for coming to complain that he was often kept waiting: and it was on her tongue to ask him why he was so gloomy, why he knitted his brows and bit his lips. But she held back the question, for it would not be long before Dan would let out his secret: he could not keep one. And Dan, knowing well his own weakness and his mother’s shrewdness (she would soon be guessing what was passing in his mind), began to animadvert on Azariah for his residence in Tiberias, a pagan city–his plan for leading her on a false trail. Others, he said, spoke more unfavourably than he did; and he continued in this strain until Rachel, losing patience, interrupted him suddenly saying that Azariah did not live in Tiberias. If not in Tiberias, he answered, in a suburb, and within a stone’s throw of the city walls. But what has that got to do with Joseph? Rachel asked. What has it got to do with Joseph! Dan growled, when to reach the scribe’s house he has to pass through lanes infested with the off-scourings of the pagan world: mummers, zanies, jugglers, dancers, whores from Babylon. Did ye not hear him, woman, describe these lanes, saying that he had to change his course three times so that he might keep his promise to Azariah, and are ye not mindful that he told me, and you sitting there listening on that very stool, that the showmen he met in Argob orchard put a spell upon him, and that it was the demon that had obtained temporary lodgment in him that had bidden him to Tiberias to see the cock-fight: Jews from Alexandria, heretics, adventurers, beggars, aliens! Look ye here, Dan, Rachel said, he is a proud boy and may thank thee little for–There are others to teach him, Dan interrupted, and continued to walk up and down the room, for he wished to make an end of this talk with his mother. But he hadn’t crossed the room twice when he was brought to a full stop, having remembered suddenly that it is always by such acts as he was now meditating that fathers lose the affections of their sons. If he were to drag Joseph away from Azariah, from whom he was learning Hebrew and Greek, Joseph might begin to look upon him as a tyrant. His mother was a sharp-witted woman, and very little was needed to set her thinking. She had an irritating way of looking as it were into his mind, and if she were to suspect him of jealousy of Azariah he would never have a moment’s peace again.

But what in the world may we understand from all this bear-dancing up and down the room? asked Rachel. Ye must know if you are going to withdraw the boy from his schooling.

Dan cast an angry glance at his mother and hated her; and then his heart misgave him, for he knew that he lacked courage to take Joseph out of his present schooling, and dared not divide his house against himself, or do anything that might lose him his son’s love and little by little cause himself to be looked upon as a tyrant. He knew himself to be a weak man, except in the counting-house; he knew it, and must stifle his jealousy of Azariah, who had forgiven Joseph his truancy and was the only one that knew of the excursion into Tiberias. But Azariah’s indulgence did not altogether please him. He began to suspect it and to doubt if he had acted wisely in not ordering Joseph away from Azariah: for Azariah was robbing him, robbing him of all that he valued in this world, his son! And it seemed to him a little later in the day, as he closed his ledger, that he had come to be disregarded in his own house; and he thought he would have liked much better to stay away, to dine in the counting-house, urging a press of business. The first thing he would hear would be “Azariah.” The hated name was never off the boy’s lips: he talked of nothing else but Azariah and Hebrew and Greek and the learned Jews whom he met at Azariah’s house.

Dan sat looking into the dusk asking himself if his bargain were not that his son should learn the Greek language but not Greek literature, which is full of heresy, he said to himself; and he returned home determined to raise the point; but Joseph told him, and he thought rather abruptly, that it was only through Greek literature that one could learn Greek in Tiberias–the spoken language was a dialect.

It may have been that Joseph perceived that praise of Azariah caused his father to writhe a little, and–curious to observe the effect–he spoke more of Azariah than he would have done otherwise, and laid an accent on his master’s learning, and related incidents in which his master appeared to great advantage, causing his father much perplexity and pain of mind, till at last, unable to bear the torture any longer, he said–the words slipped from him incontinently–you’re no better than a little Azariah! and, unable to contain himself, he rushed from the room, leaving Joseph and Rachel to discuss his vehemence and discover motives which he hoped would not include the right one. But afraid that he had betrayed his jealousy of Azariah he returned, and to mislead his mother and son he began to speak of the duty of the pupil to the master, telling Joseph he must submit himself to Azariah in everything: by representing Azariah as one in full authority he hoped to overcome his influence and before many months had passed over a different accent was notable in Joseph’s voice when he spoke of Azariah; but he continued with him for two more years. And it was then that Dan set himself to devise plans to end his son’s studies in Hebrew and Greek.

Joseph knows now all that Azariah can teach him, and it is high time that I took him in hand and taught him his trade. But though determined to rid himself of Azariah he felt he must proceed gently (if possible, in conjunction with his mother); he must wait for an occasion; and while he was watching for one it fell out that Joseph wearied of Azariah and went to his father saying that he had learnt Hebrew and could speak Greek, so there was no use in his returning to Azariah any more. At first his parents could only think that he had; quarrelled with Azariah, but it was not so, they soon discovered that he had merely become tired of him–a change that betokened a capricious mind. A growing boy is full of fancies, Rachel said: an explanation that Dan deemed sufficient, and he was careful not to speak against Azariah lest he should turn his son’s thoughts back on Greek literature, or Greek philosophy, which is more pernicious even than the literature. He did not dare to ask Joseph to come down to the counting-house, afraid lest by trying to influence him in one direction he might influence him in the opposite direction. He deemed it better to leave everything to fate, and while putting his trust in God Dan applied himself to meditate on the young man’s character and his tastes, which seemed to have taken a sudden turn; for, to his father’s surprise, Joseph had begun to put questions to him about the sale of fish, and to speak of visiting Tyre and Sidon with a view to establishing branch houses–extensions of their business. His father, while approving of this plan, pointed out that Tyre and Sidon being themselves on the coast of the sea could never be as good customers as inland cities, sea fish being considered, he thought mistakenly, preferable to lake. He had been doing, it is true, a fair trade with Damascus, but whereas it was impossible to reckon on Damascus it seemed to him that their industry might be extended in many other directions. And delighted with the change that had come over his son he said that he would have tried long ago to extend his business, if he had had knowledge of the Greek language.

He spoke of Heliopolis, and proposed to Joseph that he should go there and establish a mart for salt fish as soon as he had mastered all the details of the trade, which would be soon: a very little application in the counting-house would be enough for a clever fellow like Joseph.

As he said these words his eyes met Rachel’s, and as soon as Joseph left the room she asked him if he believed that Joseph would settle down to the selling of salt fish: a question which was not agreeable to Dan, who was at that moment settling himself into the conviction that Joseph had begun to evince an aptitude for trade that he himself did not acquire till many years older, causing him to flame up as might be expected against his mother, telling her that her remarks were most mischievous, whether she meant them or not. He hoped Joseph was not the young man that she saw in him. Before he could say any more Joseph returned, and linked his arm into his father’s, and the twain went away together to the counting-house, Dan enamoured of his son but just a little afraid all the same that Joseph might weary of trade in the end, just as he had wearied of learning. He was moved to speak his fear to Joseph, but on consideration he resolved that no good could come of such confidences, and on the evening of the first day in the counting-house he whispered to Rachel that Joseph had taken to trade as a duck to the water, as the saying is.

Day after day he watched his son’s progress in administration, saying nothing, waiting for the head clerk to endorse his opinion that there were the makings of a first-rate man in Joseph. He was careful not to ask any leading questions, but he could not refrain from letting the conversation drop, so that the clerk might have an opportunity of expressing his opinion of Master Joseph’s business capacities. But the clerk made no remark: it might as well have been that Joseph was not in the counting-house; Dan had begun to hate his clerk, who had been with him for thirty years. He had brought him from Arimathea and couldn’t dismiss him; he could only look into his eyes appealingly. At last the clerk spoke, and his words were like manna in the desert; and, overjoyed, Dan wondered how it was that he could have refrained so long. It was concerning a certain falling off in an order: if Master Joseph were to go on a circuit through the Greek cities–Dan could have thrown his arms about his clerk for these words, but it were better to dissimulate. You think then that Joseph understands the business sufficiently? The clerk acquiesced, and it was a great day, of course, the day Joseph went forth; and in a few weeks Dan had proof that his confidence in his son’s business aptitudes was not misplaced. Joseph showed himself to be suited to the enterprise by his engaging manner as well as by his knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, the two languages procuring him an admission into the confidences of Jew and Gentile alike.

The length of these excursions was from three to four weeks, and when Joseph returned home for an interval his parents disputed as to whether he should spend his holiday in the counting-house or the dwelling-house. So to avoid giving offence to either, and for his own pleasure Joseph often spent these days on the boats with the fishers, learning their craft from them, losing himself often in meditations how the draught of fishes might be increased by a superior kind of net: interested in his trade far too much, Rachel said. His mind seemed bent on it always; whereas she would have liked to have heard him tell of all the countries he had been to and of all the people he had seen, but it was always about salt fish that he was talking: how many barrels had gone to this town, and how many barrels to another, and the new opening he had discovered for salt fish in a village the name of which he had never heard before.

Rachel’s patience with Joseph was long but at last she lost patience and said she would be glad when the last barrel of salt fish came out of the lake, for it would not be till then that they would have time to live their lives in peace and comfort. She gathered up her knitting and was going to bed, but Joseph would not suffer her to go. He said he had stories to tell her, and he fell to telling of the several preachers he had heard in the synagogues, and his voice beguiled the evening away so pleasantly that Rachel let her knitting drop into her lap and sat looking at her grandson, stupefied and transported with love.

Dan’s love for his son was more tender in these days than it had ever been before, but Rachel looked back, thinking the old days were better, when Joseph used to come from Azariah’s talking about his studies. It may be that Dan, forgetful of his jealousy, looked back to those days gone over with a certain wistfulness. A boy is, if not more interesting, at least more unexpected, than a young man. In the old days Dan did not know what sort of son God had given him, but now he knew that God had given him the son he always desired, and that Azariah’s tending of the boy’s character had been kind, wise and salutary, as the flower and fruit showed. But in the deepest peace there is disquiet, and in the relation of his adventures Joseph had begun to display interest in various interpretations of Scripture which he had heard in the synagogues–true that he laughed at these, but he had met learned heretics from Alexandria in Azariah’s house. Dan often wondered if these had not tried to impregnate his mind with their religious theories and doctrines, for being without religious interests, Dan was strictly orthodox.

He did not suspect Azariah, whom he knew to be withal orthodox, as much as Azariah’s friend, Apollonius, the Alexandrian Jew. But though he kept his ears open for the slightest word he could not discover any trace of his influence. If his discourse had had any effect, it was to make Joseph more than ever a Pharisee. He was sometimes even inclined to think that Joseph was a little too particular, laying too much stress upon the practice of minute observances, and he began to apprehend that there was something of the Scribe in Joseph after all. The significance of his mother’s words becoming suddenly clear to Dan, he asked himself if it were not yet within the width of a finger that Joseph would tire of trade and retire to Jerusalem and expound the law and the traditions in the Temple. His vocation, Dan was of opinion, could not yet be predicted with any certainty: he might go either way–to trade or to religious learning–and in the midst of these meditations on his son’s character Dan remembered that some friends had come to see Joseph at the counting-house yesterday. Joseph had taken them out into the yard and they had talked together, but it was not of the export of salt fish they had spoken, but of the observances of the Sabbath. Dan had listened, pen in hand, his thoughts suspended, and had heard them devote many minutes to the question whether a man should dip himself in the nearest brook if he had accidentally touched a pig. He had heard them discuss at length the grace that should be used before eating fruit from a tree, and whether it were necessary to say three graces after eating three kinds of fruit at one meal. He had heard one ask if a sheep that had been killed with a Greek knife could be eaten, and he had heard Joseph ask him if he knew the sheep had been killed with a Greek knife and the man confess that he had not made inquiry. If he had known–

Dan did not hear the end of the sentence, but imagined that it ended in a gesture of abhorrence. In his day religion was limited to the law of Moses, a skein well combed out, but the Scribes in Jerusalem had knotted and twisted the skein. He had heard Joseph maintain, and stiffly too, that an egg laid on the day after the Sabbath could not be eaten, because it had been prepared by the hen on the Sabbath. But one can’t always be watching hens, he said to himself, and the discussion of such points seeming to him unmanly, he drew back the window-curtain and fell into admiration of his son’s slim loins and great shoulders. Joseph was laughing with his companions at that moment and his teeth glistened, every one white and shapely. Why do such discussions interest him? Dan asked, for his eyes are soft as flowers; and he envied the woman that Joseph would resort unto in the night. But very often men like Joseph did not marry, and a new disquietude arose in his mind: he wanted children, grandchildren. In a few years Joseph should begin to look round…. Meanwhile it might be well to tell him that men like Hillel had always held that it is after the spirit rather than the letter we should strive, and that in running after the latter we are apt to lose the former, and he accepted the first opportunity to admonish Joseph, who listened in amazement, wondering what had befallen his father, whom he had never heard speak like this before. All the same he hearkened to these warnings and laid them in his memory, and fell to considering his father as one who had just jogged along the road that he and his ancestors had come by, without much question. But if his father had set himself to consider religions, and with that seriousness they deserved, he would not keep back any longer the matter on which he had long desired to speak to him.

The young men to whom he had just bidden good-bye were all going to Jerusalem, whither Dan was accustomed to go every year for the Feast of the Passover, but last year the journey thither had fatigued him unduly, and it seemed to Joseph that this year he should go to Jerusalem in his father’s place; and when he broached the subject, Dan, who had been thinking for some time that he was not feeling strong enough for this journey, welcomed Joseph’s proposal–a most proper presence Joseph’s would be at the Feast. Joseph had come to the age when he should visit Jerusalem, but he did not readily understand this sudden enthusiasm. If he wanted to go to Jerusalem to the Feast of the Passover, why had he not said so before? And Dan, whose thoughts reached back to the discussion overheard in the yard, was compelled to ask Joseph if it were for the purpose of discussing the value of certain minute points of law that he wished to go to Jerusalem. At which Joseph was astonished that his father should have asked him such a thing…. Yet why not? For awhile back he was discussing such very points with some young gossips. His tongue wagged as was its wont on all occasions, though his mind was away and he suddenly stopped speaking; and when the stirring of his father’s feet on the floor awakened him, he saw his father sitting pen in hand watching him and no doubt asking himself of what great and wonderful thing his son was thinking.

Once again actuality disappeared. He stood engulfed in memories of things heard in Azariah’s house: or things only half heard, for he had never thought of them since. The words of the Jews he met there had fallen dead at the time, but now he remembered things that had passed over his mind. The heresies of the Jews in Alexandria awoke in him, and a marvellous longing awoke to see the world. First of all he must begin with Jerusalem, and he bade his father good-bye with an eagerness not too pleasant to the old man.


Gone to the study of the law! Dan said, as he walked up and down the room, glancing often into Joseph’s letter, for it figured to him the Temple with the Scribes meditating on the law, or discussing it with each other while their wives remained at home doing the work. So do their lives pass over, he said, in the study of the law. Nothing else is to them of any worth…. My poor boy hopes that I shall forgive him for not returning home after the Feast of the Passover! Does he suspect that I would prefer him indifferent to the law in Magdala, rather than immersed in it at Jerusalem? A little surprised and shocked at the licentiousness of his thoughts, he drew them into order with the admission that it is better in every way that a young man should go to Jerusalem early in his life and acquire reverence for the ritual and traditions of his race, else he will drift later on into heresy, or maybe go to live in cities like Tiberias, amongst statues. But why do I trouble myself like this? For there was a time before I had a son, and the time is getting very close now when I shall lose him. And Dan stood swallowed up in the thought of the great gulf into which precarious health would soon pitch him out of sight of Joseph for ever. It was Rachel coming into the room that awoke him. She too! he muttered. He began to fuss about, seeking for writing materials, for he was now intent to send Joseph a letter of recommendation to the High Priest, having already forgotten the gulf that awaited him, in the pleasurable recollection of the courtesy and consideration he received from the most distinguished men the last time he was in Jerusalem–from Hanan the son of Seth and father-in-law of Kaiaphas: Kaiaphas was now High Priest, the High Priest of that year; but in truth, Hanan, who had been High Priest before him, retained all the power and importance of the office and was even called the High Priest. Dan remembered that he had been received with all the homage due to a man of wealth. He liked his wealth to be acknowledged, for it was part of himself: he had created it; and it was with pride that he continued his letter to Hanan recommending his son to him, saying that anything that was done to further Joseph’s interests would be a greater favour than any that could be conferred on himself.

The letter was sent off by special messenger and Joseph was enjoined to carry it himself at once to Hanan, which he did, since it was his father’s pleasure that he should do so. He would have preferred to be allowed to pick his friends from among the people he met casually, but since this was not to be he assumed the necessary reverence and came forward in the proper spirit to meet Hanan, who expressed himself as entirely gratified by Joseph’s presence in Jerusalem and promised to support his election for the Sanhedrin. But if the councillors reject me? For you see I am still a young man. The innocency of Joseph’s remark pleased Hanan, who smiled over it, expressing a muttered hope that the Sanhedrin would not take upon itself the task of discussing the merits and qualifications of those whom he should deem worthy to present for election. The great man purred out these sentences, Joseph’s remark having reminded him of his exalted position. But thinking his remark had nettled Hanan, Joseph said: you see I have only just come to Jerusalem; and this remark continued the flattery, and with an impulsive movement Hanan took Joseph’s hands and spoke to him about his father in terms that made Joseph feel very proud of Dan, and also of being in Jerusalem, which had already begun to seem to him more wonderful than he had imagined it to be: and he had imagined it very wonderful indeed. But there was a certain native shrewdness in Joseph; and after leaving the High Priest’s place he had not taken many steps before he began to see through Hanan’s plans: which no doubt are laid with the view to impress me with the magnificence of Jerusalem and its priesthood. He walked a few yards farther, and remembered that there are always dissensions among the Jews, and that the son of a rich man (one of first-rate importance in Galilee) would be a valuable acquisition to the priestly caste.

But though he saw through Hanan’s designs, he was still the dupe of Hanan, who was a clever man and a learned man; his importance loomed up very large, and Joseph could not be without a hero, true or false; so it could not be otherwise than that Hanan and Kaiaphas and the Sadducees, whom Joseph met in the Sanhedrin and whose houses he frequented, commanded his admiration for several months and would have held it for many months more, had it not been that he happened to be a genuinely religious man, concerned much more with an intimate sense of God than with the slaying of bullocks and rams.

He had accepted the sacrifices as part of a ritual which should not be questioned and which he had never questioned: yet, without discussion, without argument, they fell in his estimation without pain, as naturally as a leaf falls. A friend quoted to him a certain well-known passage in Isaiah, and not the whole of it: only a few words; and from that moment the Temple, the priests and the sacrifices became every day more distasteful to him than they were the day before, setting him pondering on the mind of the man who lives upon religion while laughing in his beard at his dupe; he contrasted him with the fellow that drives in his beast for slaughter and pays his yearly dole; he remembered how he loved the prophets instinctively though the priests always seemed a little alien, even before he knew them. Yet he never imagined them to be as far from true religion (which is the love of God) as he found them; for they did not try to conceal their scepticism from him: knowing him to be a friend of the High Priest, it had seemed to them that they might indulge their wit as they pleased, and once he had even to reprove some priests, so blasphemous did their jests appear to him. An unusually fat bullock caused them to speak of the fine regalement he would be to Jahveh’s nostrils. One sacristan, mentioning the sacred name, figured Jahveh as pressing forward with dilated nostrils. There is no belly in heaven, he said: its joys are entirely olfactory, and when this beast is smoking, Jahveh will call down the angels Michael and Gabriel. As if not satisfied with this blasphemy, as if it were not enough, he turned to the sacristans by him, to ask them if they could not hear the angels sniffing as they leaned forward out of their clouds. My priests are doing splendidly: the fat of this beast is delicious in our nostrils; were the words he attributed to Jahveh. Michael and Gabriel, he said, would reply: it is indeed as thou sayest, Sire!

Joseph marvelled that priests could speak like this, and tried to forget the vile things they said, but they were unforgettable: he treasured them in his heart, for he could not do else, and when he did speak, it was at first cautiously, though there was little need for caution; for he found to his surprise that everybody knew that the Sadducees did not believe in a future life and very little in the dogma that the Jews were the sect chosen by God, Jahveh. He was their God and had upheld the Jewish race, but for all practical purposes it was better to put their faith henceforth in the Romans, who would defend Jerusalem against all barbarians. It was necessary to observe the Sabbath and to preach its observances and to punish those who violated it, for on the Sabbath rested the entire superstructure of the Temple itself, and all belief might topple if the Sabbath was not maintained, and rigorously. In the houses of the Sadducees Joseph heard these very words, and their crude scepticism revolted his tender soul: he was drawn back to his own sect, the Pharisees, for however narrow-minded and fanatical they might be he could not deny to them the virtue of sincerity. It was with a delightful sense of community of spirit that he returned to them, and in the conviction that it would be well to let pass without protest the observances which himself long ago in Galilee began to look upon with amusement.

A sudden recollection of the discussion that had arisen in the yard behind the counting-house, whether an egg could be eaten if it had been laid the day after the Sabbath, brought a smile to his face, but a different smile from of yore, for he understood now better than he had understood then, that this (in itself a ridiculous) question was no more serious than a bramble that might for a moment entangle the garment of a wayfarer: of little account was the delay, if the feet were on the right road. Now the scruple of conscience that the question had awakened might be considered as a desire to live according to a law which, observed for generations, had become part of the national sense and spirit. On this he fell to thinking that it is only by laws and traditions that we may know ourselves–whence we have come and whither we are going. He attributed to these laws and traditions the love of the Jewish race for their God, and their desire to love God, and to form their lives in obedience to what they believed to be God’s will. Without these rites and observances their love of God would not have survived. It was not by exaggeration of these laws but by the scepticism of the Sadducees that the Temple was polluted. If the priests degraded religion and made a vile thing of it, there were others that ennobled the Temple by their piety.

And as these thoughts passed through Joseph’s mind, his eyes went to the simple folk who never asked themselves whether they were Sadducees or Pharisees, but were content to pray around the Temple that the Lord would not take them away till they witnessed the triumph of Israel, never asking if the promised resurrection would be obtained in this world–if not in each individual case, by the race itself–or whether they would all be lifted by angels out of their graves and carried away by them into a happy immortality.

The simple folk on whom Joseph’s eyes rested favourably, prayed, untroubled by difficult questions: they were content to love God; and, captured by their simple unquestioning faith, which he felt to be the only spiritual value in this world, he was glad to turn away from both Sadducees and Pharisees and mix with them. Sometimes, and to his great regret, he brought about involuntarily the very religious disputations that it was his object to quit for ever when he withdrew himself from the society of the Pharisees. A chance word was enough to set some of them by the ears, asking each other whether the soul may or can descend again into the corruptible body; and it was one day when this question was being disputed that a disputant, pressing forward, announced his belief that the soul, being alone immortal, does not attempt to regain the temple of the body. A doctrine which astonished Joseph, so simple did it seem and so reasonable; and as he stood wondering why he had not thought of it himself, his eyes telling his perplexity, he was awakened from his dream, and his awakening was caused by the word “Essene.” He asked for a meaning to be put upon it, to the great astonishment of the people, who were not aware that the fame of this third sect of the Jews was not yet spread into Galilee. There were many willing to instruct him, and almost the first thing he learnt about them was that they were not viewed with favour in Jerusalem, for they did not send animals to the Temple for sacrifice, deeming blood-letting a crime. A still more fundamental tenet of this sect was its denial of private property: all they had, belonged to one brother as much as to another, and they lived in various places, avoiding cities, and setting up villages of their own accord; notably one on the eastern bank of the Jordan, from whence recruiting missionaries sometimes came forth, for the Essenes disdained marriage, and relied on proselytism for the maintenance of the order. The rule of the Essenes, however, did not exclude marriage because they believed the end of the world was drawing nigh, but because they wished to exclude all pleasure from life. To do this, to conceive the duty of man to be a cheerful exclusion of all pleasure, seemed to Joseph wonderful, an exaltation of the spirit that he had not hitherto believed man to be capable of: and one night, while thinking of these things, he fell on a resolve that he would go to Jericho on the morrow to see for himself if all the tales he heard about the brethren were true. At the same time he looked forward to getting away from the seven windy hills where the sun had not been seen for days, only grey vapour coiling and uncoiling and going out, and where, with a patter of rain in his ears, he was for many days crouching up to a fire for warmth.

But in Jericho he would be as it were back in Galilee: a pleasant winter resort, to be reached easily in a day by a path through the hills, so plainly traced by frequent usage that a guide was not needed. A servant he could not bring with him, for none was permitted in the cenoby, a different mode and colour of life prevailing there from any he ever heard of, but he hoped to range himself to it, and–thinking how this might be done–he rode round the hillside, coming soon into view of Bethany over against the desert. From thence he proceeded by long descents into a land tossed into numberless hills and torn up into such deep valleys that it seemed to him to be a symbol of God’s anger in a moment of great provocation. Or maybe, he said to himself, these valleys are the ruts of the celestial chariot that passed this way to take Elijah up to heaven? Or maybe … His mind was wandering, and–forgetful of the subject of his meditation–he looked round and could see little else but strange shapes of cliffs and boulders, rocks and lofty scarps enwrapped in mist so thick that he fell to thinking whence came the fume? For rocks are breathless, he said, and there are only rocks here, only rocks and patches of earth in which the peasants sow patches of barley. At that moment his mule slid in the slime of the path to within a few inches of a precipice, and Joseph uttered a cry before the gulf which startled a few rain-drenched crows that went away cawing, making the silence more melancholy than before. A few more inches, Joseph thought, and we should have been over, though a mule has never been known to walk or to slide over a precipice. A moment after, his mule was climbing up a heap of rubble; and when they were at the top Joseph looked over the misted gulf, thinking that if the animal had crossed his legs mule and rider would both be at the bottom of a ravine by now. And the crows that my cry startled, he said, would soon return, scenting blood. He rode on, thinking of the three crows, and when he returned to himself the mule was about to pass under a projecting rock, regardless, he thought, of the man on his back, but the sagacious animal had taken his rider’s height into his consideration, so it seemed, for at least three inches were to spare between Joseph’s head and the rock. Nor did the mule’s sagacity end here; for finding no trace of the path on the other side he started to climb the steep hill as a goat might, frightening Joseph into a tug or two at the bridle, to which the mule gave no heed but continued the ascent with conviction and after a little circuit among intricate rocks turned down the hill again and slid into the path almost on his haunches. A wonderful animal truly! Joseph said, marvelling greatly; he guessed that the path lay under the mass of rubble come down in some landslip. He knew he would meet it farther on: he may have been this way before. A wonderful animal all the same, a perfect animal, if he could be persuaded not to walk within ten inches of the brink! and Joseph drew the mule away to the right, under the hillside, but a few minutes after, divining that his rider’s thoughts