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They gradually became used to Judas, and ceased to notice his ugliness. Jesus entrusted the common purse to him, and with it there fell on him all household cares: he purchased the necessary food and clothing, distributed alms, and when they were on the road, it was his duty to choose the place where they were to stop, or to find a night's lodging.
All this he did very cleverly, so that in a short time he had earned the goodwill of some of the disciples, who had noticed his efforts. Judas was an habitual liar, but they became used to this, when they found that his lies were not followed by any evil conduct; nay, they added a special piquancy to his conversation and tales, and made life seem like a comic, and sometimes a tragic, tale.
According to his stories, he seemed to know every one, and each person that he knew had some time in his life been guilty of evil conduct, or even crime. Those, according to him, were called good, who knew how to conceal their thoughts and acts; but if one only embraced, flattered, and questioned such a man sufficiently, there would ooze out from him every untruth, nastiness, and lie, like matter from a pricked wound. He freely confessed that he sometimes lied himself; but affirmed with an oath that others were still greater liars, and that if any one in this world was ever deceived, it was Judas.
Indeed, according to his own account, he had been deceived, time upon time, in one way or another. Thus, a certain guardian of the treasures of a rich grandee once confessed to him, that he had for ten years been continually on the point of stealing the property committed to him, but that he was debarred by fear of the grandee, and of his own conscience. And Judas believed him--and he suddenly committed the theft, and deceived Judas. But even then Judas still trusted him--and then he suddenly restored the stolen treasure to the grandee, and again deceived Judas. Yes, everything deceived him, even animals. Whenever he pets a dog it bites his fingers; but when he beats it with a stick it licks his feet, and looks into his eyes like a daughter. He killed one such dog, and buried it deep, laying a great stone on the top of it--but who knows? Perhaps just because he killed it, it has come to life again, and instead of lying in the trench, is running about cheerfully with other dogs.
All laughed merrily at Judas' tale, and he smiled pleasantly himself, winking his one lively, mocking eye--and by that very smile confessed that he had lied somewhat; that he had not really killed the dog. But he meant to find it and kill it, because he did not wish to be deceived. And at these words of Judas they laughed all the more.
But sometimes in his tales he transgressed the bounds of probability, and ascribed to people such proclivities as even the beasts do not possess, accusing them of such crimes as are not, and never have been. And since he named in this connection the most honoured people, some were indignant at the calumny, while others jokingly asked:
"How about your own father and mother, Judas--were they not good people?"
Judas winked his eye, and smiled with a gesture of his hands. And the fixed, wide-open eye shook in unison with the shaking of his head, and looked out in silence.
"But who was my father? Perhaps it was the man who used to beat me with a rod, or may be--a devil, a goat or a cock.... How can Judas tell? How can Judas tell with whom his mother shared her couch. Judas had many fathers: to which of them do you refer?"
But at this they were all indignant, for they had a profound reverence for parents; and Matthew, who was very learned in the scriptures, said severely in the words of Solomon:
"'Whoso slandereth his father and his mother, his lamp shall be extinguished in deep darkness.'"
But John the son of Zebedee haughtily jerked out: "And what of us? What evil have you to say of us, Judas Iscariot?"
But he waved his hands in simulated terror, whined, and bowed like a beggar, who has in vain asked an alms of a passer-by: "Ah! they are tempting poor Judas! They are laughing at him, they wish to take in the poor, trusting Judas!" And while one side of his face was crinkled up in buffooning grimaces, the other side wagged sternly and severely, and the never-closing eye looked out in a broad stare.
More and louder than any laughed Simon Peter at the jokes of Judas Iscariot. But once it happened that he suddenly frowned, and became silent and sad, and hastily dragging Judas aside by the sleeve, he bent down, and asked in a hoarse whisper--
"But Jesus? What do you think of Jesus? Speak seriously, I entreat you."
Judas cast on him a malign glance.
"And what do you think?"
Peter whispered with awe and gladness--
"I think that He is the son of the living God."
"Then why do you ask? What can Judas tell you, whose father was a goat?"
"But do you love Him? You do not seem to love any one, Judas."
And with the same strange malignity, Iscariot blurted out abruptly and sharply: "I do."
Some two days after this conversation, Peter openly dubbed Judas "my friend the octopus"; but Judas awkwardly, and ever with the same malignity, endeavoured to creep away from him into some dark corner, and would sit there morosely glaring with his white, never-closing eye.
Thomas alone took him quite seriously. He understood nothing of jokes, hypocrisy or lies, nor of the play upon words and thoughts, but investigated everything positively to the very bottom. He would often interrupt Judas' stories about wicked people and their conduct with short practical remarks:
"You must prove that. Did you hear it yourself? Was there any one present besides yourself? What was his name?"
At this Judas would get angry, and shrilly cry out, that he had seen and heard everything himself; but the obstinate Thomas would go on cross-examining quietly and persistently, until Judas confessed that he had lied, or until he invented some new and more probable lie, which provided the others for some time with food for thought. But when Thomas discovered a discrepancy, he would immediately come and calmly expose the liar.
Usually Judas excited in him a strong curiosity, which brought about between them a sort of friendship, full of wrangling, jeering, and invective on the one side, and of quiet insistence on the other. Sometimes Judas felt an unbearable aversion to his strange friend, and, transfixing him with a sharp glance, would say irritably, and almost with entreaty--
"What more do you want? I have told you all."
"I want you to prove how it is possible that a he-goat should be your father," Thomas would reply with calm insistency, and wait for an answer.
It chanced once, that after such a question, Judas suddenly stopped speaking and gazed at him with surprise from head to foot. What he saw was a tall, upright figure, a grey face, honest eyes of transparent blue, two fat folds beginning at the nose and losing themselves in a stiff, evenly-trimmed beard. He said with conviction:
"What a stupid you are, Thomas! What do you dream about--a tree, a wall, or a donkey?"
Thomas was in some way strangely perturbed, and made no reply. But at night, when Judas was already closing his vivid, restless eye for sleep, he suddenly said aloud from where he lay--the two now slept together on the roof--
"You are wrong, Judas. I have very bad dreams. What think you? Are people responsible for their dreams?"
"Does, then, any one but the dreamer see a dream?" Judas replied.
Thomas sighed gently, and became thoughtful. But Judas smiled contemptuously, and firmly closed his roguish eye, and quickly gave himself up to his mutinous dreams, monstrous ravings, mad phantoms, which rent his bumpy skull to pieces.
When, during Jesus' travels about Judaea, the disciples approached a village, Iscariot would speak evil of the inhabitants and foretell misfortune. But almost always it happened that the people, of whom he had spoken evil, met Christ and His friends with gladness, and surrounded them with attentions and love, and became believers, and Judas' money-box became so full that it was difficult to carry. And when they laughed at his mistake, he would make a humble gesture with his hands, and say:
"Well, well! Judas thought that they were bad, and they turned out to be good. They quickly believed, and gave money. That only means that Judas has been deceived once more, the poor, confiding Judas Iscariot!"
But on one occasion, when they had already gone far from a village, which had welcomed them kindly, Thomas and Judas began a hot dispute, to settle which they turned back, and did not overtake Jesus and His disciples until the next day. Thomas wore a perturbed and sorrowful appearance, while Judas had such a proud look, that you would have thought that he expected them to offer him their congratulations and thanks upon the spot. Approaching the Master, Thomas declared with decision: "Judas was right, Lord. They were ill-disposed, stupid people. And the seeds of your words has fallen upon the rock." And he related what had happened in the village.
After Jesus and His disciples left it, an old woman had begun to cry out that her little white kid had been stolen, and she laid the theft at the door of the visitors who had just departed. At first the people had disputed with her, but when she obstinately insisted that there was no one else who could have done it except Jesus, many agreed with her, and even were about to start in pursuit. And although they soon found the kid straying in the underwood, they still decided that Jesus was a deceiver, and possibly a thief.
"So that's what they think of us, is it?" cried Peter, with a snort. "Lord, wilt Thou that I return to those fools, and--"
But Jesus, saying not a word, gazed severely at him, and Peter in silence retired behind the others. And no one ever referred to the incident again, as though it had never occurred, and as though Judas had been proved wrong. In vain did he show himself on all sides, endeavouring to give to his double, crafty, hooknosed face an expression of modesty. They would not look at him, and if by chance any one did glance at him, it was in a very unfriendly, not to say contemptuous, manner.
From that day on Jesus' treatment of him underwent a strange change. Formerly, for some reason or other, Judas never used to speak directly with Jesus, who never addressed Himself directly to him, but nevertheless would often glance at him with kindly eyes, smile at his rallies, and if He had not seen him for some time, would inquire: "Where is Judas?"
But now He looked at him as if He did not see him, although as before, and indeed more determinedly than formerly, He sought him out with His eyes every time that He began to speak to the disciples or to the people; but He was either sitting with His back to him, so that He was obliged, as it were, to cast His words over His head so as to reach Judas, or else He made as though He did not notice him at all. And whatever He said, though it was one thing one day, and then next day quite another, although it might be the very thing that Judas was thinking, it always seemed as though He were speaking against him. To all He was the tender, beautiful flower, the sweet-smelling rose of Lebanon, but for Judas He left only sharp thorns, as though Judas had neither heart, nor sight, nor smell, and did not understand, even better than any, the beauty of tender, immaculate petals.
"Thomas! Do you like the yellow rose of Lebanon, which has a swarthy countenance and eyes like the roe?" he inquired once of his friend, who replied indifferently--
"Rose? Yes, I like the smell. But I have never heard of a rose with a swarthy countenance and eyes like a roe!"
"What? Do you not know that the polydactylous cactus, which tore your new garment yesterday, has only one beautiful flower, and only one eye?"
But Thomas did not know this, although only yesterday a cactus had actually caught in his garment and torn it into wretched rags. But then Thomas never did know anything, though he asked questions about everything, and looked so straight with his bright, transparent eyes, through which, as through a pane of Phoenician glass, was visible a wall, with a dismal ass tied to it.
Some time later another occurrence took place, in which Judas again proved to be in the right.
At a certain village in Judaea, of which Judas had so bad an opinion, that he had advised them to avoid it, the people received Christ with hostility, and after His sermon and exposition of hypocrites they burst into fury, and threatened to stone Jesus and His disciples. Enemies He had many, and most likely they would have carried out their sinister intention, but for Judas Iscariot. Seized with a mad fear for Jesus, as though he already saw the drops of ruby blood upon His white garment, Judas threw himself in blind fury upon the crowd, scolding, screeching, beseeching, and lying, and thus gave time and opportunity to Jesus and His disciples to escape.
Amazingly active, as though running upon a dozen feet, laughable and terrible in his fury and entreaties, he threw himself madly in front of the crowd and charmed it with a certain strange power. He shouted that the Nazarene was not possessed of a devil, that He was simply an impostor, a thief who loved money as did all His disciples, and even Judas himself: and he rattled the money-box, grimaced, and beseeched, throwing himself on the ground. And by degrees the anger of the crowd changed into laughter and disgust, and they let fall the stones which they had picked up to throw at them.
"They are not fit to die by the hands of an honest person," said they, while others thoughtfully followed the rapidly disappearing Judas with their eyes.
Again Judas expected to receive congratulations, praise, and thanks, and made a show of his torn garments, and pretended that he had been beaten; but this time, too, he was greatly mistaken. The angry Jesus strode on in silence, and even Peter and John did not venture to approach Him: and all whose eyes fell on Judas in his torn garments, his face glowing with happiness, but still somewhat frightened, repelled him with curt, angry exclamations.
It was just as though he had not saved them all, just as though he had not saved their Teacher, whom they loved so dearly.
"Do you want to see some fools?" said he to Thomas, who was thoughtfully walking in the rear. "Look! There they go along the road in a crowd, like a flock of sheep, kicking up the dust. But you are wise, Thomas, you creep on behind, and I, the noble, magnificent Judas, creep on behind like a dirty slave, who has no place by the side of his masters."
"Why do you call yourself magnificent?" asked Thomas in surprise.
"Because I am so," Judas replied with conviction, and he went on talking, giving more details of how he had deceived the enemies of Jesus, and laughed at them and their stupid stones.
"But you told lies," said Thomas.
"Of course I did," quickly assented Iscariot. "I gave them what they asked for, and they gave me in return what I wanted. And what is a lie, my clever Thomas? Would not the death of Jesus be the greatest lie of all?"
"You did not act rightly. Now I believe that a devil is your father. It was he that taught you, Judas."
The face of Judas grew pale, and something suddenly came over Thomas, and as if it were a white cloud, passed over and concealed the road and Jesus. With a gentle movement Judas just as suddenly drew Thomas to himself, pressed him closely with a paralysing movement, and whispered in his ear--
"You mean, then, that a devil has instructed me, don't you, Thomas? Well, I saved Jesus. Therefore a devil loves Jesus and has need of Him, and of the truth. Is it not so, Thomas? But then my father was not a devil, but a he-goat. Can a he-goat want Jesus? Eh? And don't you want Him yourselves, and the truth also?"
Angry and slightly frightened, Thomas freed himself with difficulty from the clinging embrace of Judas, and began to stride forward quickly. But he soon slackened his pace as he endeavoured to understand what had taken place.
But Judas crept on gently behind, and gradually came to a standstill. And lo! in the distance the pedestrians became blended into a parti-coloured mass, so that it was impossible any longer to distinguish which among those little figures was Jesus. And lo! the little Thomas, too, changed into a grey spot, and suddenly--all disappeared round a turn in the road.
Looking round, Judas went down from the road and with immense leaps descended into the depths of a rocky ravine. His clothes blew out with the speed and abruptness of his course, and his hands were extended upwards as though he would fly. Lo! now he crept along an abrupt declivity, and suddenly rolled down in a grey ball, rubbing off his skin against the stones; then he jumped up and angrily threatened the mountain with his fist--
"You too, damn you!"
Suddenly he changed his quick movements into a comfortable, concentrated dawdling, chose a place by a big stone, and sat down without hurry. He turned himself, as if seeking a comfortable position, laid his hands side by side on the grey stone, and heavily sank his head upon them. And so for an hour or two he sat on, as motionless and grey as the grey stone itself, so still that he deceived even the birds. The walls of the ravine rose before him, and behind, and on every side, cutting a sharp line all round on the blue sky; while everywhere immense grey stones obtruded from the ground, as though there had been at some time or other, a shower here, and as though its heavy drops had become petrified in endless split, upturned skull, and every stone in it was like a petrified thought; and there were many of them, and they all kept thinking heavily, boundlessly, stubbornly.
A scorpion, deceived by his quietness, hobbled past, on its tottering legs, close to Judas. He threw a glance at it, and, without lifting his head from the stone, again let both his eyes rest fixedly on something--both motionless, both veiled in a strange whitish turbidness, both as though blind and yet terribly alert. And lo! from out of the ground, the stones, and the clefts, the quiet darkness of night began to rise, enveloped the motionless Judas, and crept swiftly up towards the pallid light of the sky. Night was coming on with its thoughts and dreams.
That night Judas did not return to the halting-place. And the disciples, forgetting their thoughts, busied themselves with preparations for their meal, and grumbled at his negligence.
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