Read CHAPTER IX. of The Brook Kerith A Syrian story, free online book, by George Moore, on

I shall pray that the Lord call thee out of the desert to join thy voice with those already preaching, Joseph cried; and the hermit answered him:  let us praise the Lord for having sent us the new prophet!  But do thou hasten to John, he called after Joseph, who ran and walked alternately, striving up every hillock for sight of the ferryman’s boat which might well be waiting on this side for him to step on board; Joseph being in a hurry, it would certainly be lying under the opposite bank, the ferryman asleep in it, and so soundly that no cries would awaken him.

But Joseph’s fortune was kinder than he anticipated, for on arriving at the Jordan he found himself at the very spot where the ferryman had tied his boat and ­napping ­awaited a passenger.  So rousing him with a great shout, Joseph leaped on board and told the old fellow to pull his hardest; but having been pulling across the Jordan for nigh fifty years, the ferryman was little disposed to alter his stroke for the pleasure of the young man, who, he remembered, had not paid him over-liberally yester-evening; and in the mid-stream he rested on his oars, so that he might the better discern the great multitude gathered on yon bank.  For baptism, he said; or making ready to go home after baptism, he added; and letting his boat drift, sat discoursing on the cold of the water, which he said was colder than he ever knew it before at this season of the year:  remarks’ that Joseph considered well enough in themselves, but out of his humour.  So ye be craving for baptism, the ferryman said, and looked as if he did not care a wild fig whether Joseph got it that morning or missed it.  But there was no use arguing with the ferryman, who after a long stare fell to his oars, but so leisurely that Joseph seized one of them and ­putting his full strength upon it ­turned the boat’s head up-stream.

There be no landing up-stream anywhere, so loose my oars or I’ll leave them to thee, the ferryman growled, and we shall be twirling about stream till midday and after.  But I can row, Joseph said.  Then row! and the ferryman put the other oar into his hand.  But we shall be quicker across if thou’lt leave them to me.  And as this seemed to Joseph the truth, he fell back into his seat, and did not get out of it till the boat touched the bank.  But he jumped too soon and fell into the mud, causing much laughter along the bank, and not a few ribald remarks, some saying that he needed baptism more than those that had gotten it.  But a hand was reached out to him, and that he should ask for the Baptist before thinking of his clothes showed the multitude that he must be another prophet, which he denied, calling on heaven to witness that he was not one:  whereupon he was mistaken for a great sinner, and heard that however great his repentance it would avail him nothing, for the Baptist was gone away with his disciple.  Joseph, thinking that he had left the Baptist’s disciple in the desert, began to argue that this could not be, and raved incontinently at the man, bringing others round him, till he was hemmed into a circle of ridicule.  Among the multitude many were of the same faith as Joseph himself, and these drew him out of the circle and explained to him that the Baptist baptized in the river for several hours, till ­unable to bear the cold any longer ­he had gone away, his teeth chattering, with Jesus the Essene.

Jesus the Essene!  Joseph repeated, but before he could inquire further, men came running along the bank, saying they had sins to repent, and on hearing that the Baptist was gone and would not return that day, they began to tell each other stories of the great cloud that was seen in the east, bearing within it a chariot; and from the chariot angels were seen descending all the morning with flaming swords in their hands.  Get thee baptized! they shouted, and clamoured, and pushed to and fro ­a thronging gesticulating multitude of brown faces and hooked noses, of bony shoulders and striped shirts.  Get thee baptized before sunset! everybody was crying.  And Joseph watched the veils floating from their turbans as they fled southwards.  On what errand? he asked; in search of the Baptist or the new disciple Jesus?  Not the new disciple, was the answer he got back; for Jesus leaves baptism to John.  But why doesn’t Jesus baptize?  Joseph asked, since he is a disciple of the Baptist.  If baptism be good for him, it is good enough for another.  And so the multitude seemed to think, and were confounded till one amongst them said that Jesus might not be endowed with the gift of baptism; or belike have accepted baptism from John for a purpose, it having been prophesied that the Messiah would have a forerunner.  But who, asked many voices together, has said that Jesus is the Messiah? some maintaining that Jesus was the lesser prophet.  But this contention was not agreeable to all, some having, for, reasons unknown to Joseph, ranged themselves already alongside of Jesus, believing him to be greater than John, yet not the final prophet promised to Israel.  And these came to blows with the others, who looked upon John as the Messiah, and Jesus as the one whom John had called to his standard:  a recruit ­nothing.  Skinny fists were striving in the air and ­thrusting himself between two disputants ­Joseph begged them to tell him if Jesus, John’s disciple, was from the cenoby?  Yea, yea, he heard from all sides; the shepherd of the brotherhood ­that one who follows their flocks over the hills; but not being sure of his mission, he has gone into the desert to wait for a sign.  An Essene, but one that was seldom in the cenoby, more often to be met on the hills with his flocks.  A shepherd?  Joseph asked.  Yea, and it was among the hills that John met him, and seeing a prophet in him spoke to him, and Jesus, seeing that another prophet was risen up in Israel, had thrown his flute away and gone to the president to ask for leave to preach the baptism of repentance unto men, for the grand day is at hand.  Joseph having heard this before, heeded only tidings of the new prophet, when a woman pressing forward shouted:  a pleasant voice to hear on the mountain-side, said she; and another added:  the hills will seem lonely without his gait.  A great slinger, cried a third.  But why did he come to John for baptism, knowing himself to be the greater prophet?  A question that started them all wrangling again, and crying one against the other that repentance was necessary, or else the Lord would desert them or choose another race.

These are irksome gossips, a man said to Joseph; but come with me and I’ll tell thee much about him.  No better shepherd than he ever ranged the hills.  I wouldn’t have thee forget, mate, another man said, that he’s gone without leaving us his great cure for scab.  True for thee, mate, answered the first, for a great forgetfulness has been on him this time past....  A great cure, certainly, which he might have left us.  And the twain fell to discussing their several cures for scab.  Another shepherd came by and passed the remark that Jesus knew the hills like one born among them.  But neither could tell whence he came, nor did they know if he brought the cure for scab with him, or learnt it at the cenoby.  The brotherhood has secrets that it is forbidden to tell.  I be with thee on this matter, said another shepherd, that wherever he goes, he’ll be a prize to a master, for the schooling he has been through will stand to him.

The last of this chatter that came to Joseph’s ears was that Jesus could do as much with sheep as any man since Abraham, and ­satisfied with this knowledge ­he took his leave of the shepherds, certain that Jesus must have been among the Essenes for many years before God called to him to leave his dogs and to follow John, whom he began to recognise as greater than himself, but whom he was destined to supersede, as John’s own disciple, Banu, testified in the desert before Joseph’s own eyes.  He remembered how Banu saw John in a vision plunging Jesus into Jordan.  Of trickery and cozenage there was none:  for the men along these banks bore witness to the baptism that Joseph would have seen for himself if he had started a little earlier; nor could the Jesus who came to John for baptism be other than the young shepherd whom Joseph had seen, at the beginning of his novitiate, walking with the president in deep converse; the president apparently trying to dissuade him from some project.  Joseph could not remember having heard anyone speak so familiarly or so authoritatively to the president, a man some twenty years older; and he wondered at the time how a mere shepherd from the hills could talk on an equality, as if they were friends, with the president.  The shepherd, he now heard, was an Essene, but he lived among the hills, and Joseph remembered the striped shirt, the sheepskin and the long stride.  His memory continued to unfold, and he recalled with singular distinctness and pleasure the fine broad brow curving upwards ­a noble arch, he said to himself ­the eyes distant as stars and the underlying sadness in his voice oftentimes soft and low, but with a cry in it; and he remembered how their eyes met, and it seemed to Joseph that he read in the shepherd’s eyes a look of recognition and amity.

And now, as he walked from the Jordan to the cenoby, he remembered how, all one night after that meeting, dreams of a mutual destiny plagued him:  how he slept and was awakened by visions that fled from his mind as he strove to recall them.  But was this young shepherd the one that Banu saw John baptize in the Jordan?  It cannot be else, he said to himself.  But whither was Jesus gone?  Did the brethren know, and if they did know would they tell him?  It was against the rule to put questions:  only the president could tell him, and he dared not go to the president.  Yet consult somebody he must; and a few days afterwards he got leave again to visit Banu, whom he found lying in his cave, sick:  not very sick; though having eaten nothing for nearly two days he begged Joseph to fetch him a little water from the rock; which Joseph did.  After having drunk a little the hermit seemed to revive, and Joseph related how he missed Jesus on the bank and had no tidings of him except that he was gone into the desert to meditate.  But the desert is large, and I know not which side of the lake he has chosen.  To which Banu answered:  John is baptizing in the Jordan; get thee baptized and repent!  On which he reached out his hand to his store of locusts, and while munching a few he added:  the Baptist is greater than Jesus, and he is still baptizing.  Get thee to Jordan!  At this Joseph took offence and returned to the cenoby with the intention of resuming his teaching.  But he was again so possessed of Jesus that he could not keep his mind on the lesson before him:  a pupil was often forced to put a question to him in a loud voice, and perhaps to repeat it, before Joseph’s sick reverie was sufficiently broken for him to formulate an answer.  The pain of the effort to return to them was so apparent in his face that the pupils began to be sorry for him and kept up a fire of questions, to save him from the melancholy abstractions to which he lately seemed to have become liable.  The cause of his grief they could not guess, but he was not sure they did not suspect the cause; and so the classes in which he heretofore took so much pleasure came to be dreaded by him.  Every moment except those in which he sat immersed in dreams was a penance and a pain; and at last he pleaded illness, and Mathias took his class, leaving Joseph to wander as far as he liked from the cenoby, which had become hateful to him.

He was often met in the public gardens in Jericho, watching the people going by, vaguely interested and vaguely wearied by the thoughts that their different shows called up in his mind; and he was always painfully conscious that nothing mattered:  that the great void would never be filled up again:  and that time would not restore to him a single desire or hope.  Nothing matters, he often said to himself, as he sat drawing patterns in the gravel with his stick.  Yet he had no will to die, only to believe he was the victim of some powerful malign influence.

One day as he sat watching the wind in the palm-trees, it seemed to him that this influence, this demon, was always moving behind his life, disturbing and setting himself to destroy any project that Joseph might form.  Another day it seemed to Joseph that the demon cast a net over him, and that ­entangled in the meshes ­he was being drawn ­Somebody spoke to him, and he awoke so affrighted that the gossip could hardly keep himself from laughing outright.  If the end of the world were at hand, let the end come to pass! he said; but he did not go to John for baptism.  He knew not why, only that he could not rouse himself!  And it was not till it came to be rumoured in Jericho that a prophet was gone to Egypt to learn Greek that he awoke sufficiently to ask why a Jewish prophet needed Greek.  The answer he got was that the new doctrine required a knowledge of Greek; Greek being a world-wide language, and the doctrine being also world-wide.  As there was but one God for all the world, it was reasonable to suppose that every man might hope for salvation, be he Jew or Gentile.  It seemed to Joseph that this doctrine could only emanate from the young shepherd he had met in the cenoby, and he joined a caravan, and for fifteen days dreamed of the meeting that awaited him at the end of the journey ­and of the delightful instruction in Greek that he was going to impart to Jesus.  The heights of Mount Sinai turned his thoughts backward only for a moment, and he continued his dream of Jesus, continuing without interruption along the shell-strewn shores of the Sea of Arabah, on and on into the peninsula, till he stepped from the lurching camel into the great caravanserai in Alexandria.

Without exactly expecting to find Jesus waiting for him in the street, he had dreamed of meeting him somewhere in the city.  He was sure he would recognise that lean face, lit with brilliant eyes, in any crowd, and the thought of getting news of Jesus in the synagogues in some sort drowsed in his mind.  As Jesus did not happen to be waiting outside the caravanserai, Joseph sought him from synagogue to synagogue, without getting tidings of him but of another, for the camel-drivers at Mount Sinai had not informed him wrongly:  a young Jew had passed through the city on his way to Athens, but as he did not correspond to Joseph’s remembrances of Jesus, Joseph did not deem it to be worth his while to follow this Jew to Athens.  He remained in Alexandria without forming any resolutions, seeking Jesus occasionally in the Jewish quarters; and when they were all searched he returned to the synagogues once more and began a fresh inquisition, but very soon he began to see that the faces about him were overspread with incredulous looks and smiles, especially when he related that his friend was the young prophet discovered by John among the hills of Judea, tending sheep.

What tale is this that he tells us? the Jews asked apart; but finding Joseph well instructed and of agreeable presence and manner, they made much of him.  If Galilee could produce such a man as Joseph, Galilee was going up in the world.  We will receive thee and gladly, but speak no more to us of thy shepherd prophet, and betake thyself to our schools of philosophy, which thou’lt enjoy, for thy Greek is excellent.  But who taught thee Greek?  And while Joseph was telling of Azariah, little smiles played about his eyes and mouth, for the incredulity of the Alexandrian Jews had begotten incredulity in him, and he began to see how much absurdity his adventure made show for.  The Alexandrian Jews liked him better for submitting himself so cheerfully to their learning and their ideas, and he became a conspicuous and interesting person, without knowledge that he was becoming one.  Nor was it till having moulded himself, or been moulded, into a new shape that he began to think that he might have done better if he had left the moulding to God.  His conscience told him this and reminded him how he vowed himself to Jesus, whom Banu saw in a vision.  All the same he remained, not unnaturally, a young man enticed by the charm of the Greek language, and the science of the Alexandrian philosophers, who were every one possessed of Mathias’s skill in dialectics.  They all knew Mathias and were imbued with much respect for him as a teacher, and were willing to instruct Joseph in psychology, taking up the lesson where Mathias closed the book.  So, putting his conscience behind him, Joseph listened, his ears wide open and his mind alert to understand that it was a child’s story ­the report in Jerusalem that the end of the world was approaching, and that God would remould it afresh ­as if God were human like ourselves, animated with like business and desires!  He heard for the first time that to arrive at any clear notion of divinity we must begin by stripping divinity of all human attributes, and when every one is sloughed, what remains?  Divinity, Joseph answered; and his instructor bowed his head, saying:  here is no matter for reflection.

The philosophers were surprised to learn that in Jerusalem many still retained the belief that God was no more than a man of colossal stature, angry, revengeful, and desirous of burnt offerings and of prayers which were little better; that the corruptible body could be raised from the dead and given back to the soul for a dwelling.  That Jerusalem had fallen so low in intellect was not known to them; and Joseph, feeling he was making a noise in the world, admitted that despite the knowledge of the Greek language he accepted the theory that the soul was created before the body and waited in a sort of dim hall, hanging like a bat, for the creation of the body which it was predestined to descend into, till the death of the body released it.  He was, however, now willing to believe that the souls of all the wise men mentioned in the books of Moses were sent down to earth as to a colony; great souls could not abide like bats in the darkness, but are ever desirous of contemplation and learning.  And on pursuing this thought in the Greek language, which lends itself to subtle shades of thought, he discovered that there are three zones:  the first zone is reason, the second passion and the third appetite.  And this his first psychological discovery was approved by his teacher, and many months were passed over in agreeable exercises of the mind of like nature, interrupted only by letters from his father, asking him when he proposed to return home.

After reading one of these letters, his unhappiness lasted sometimes for a whole day, and it was revived many times during the week; but philosophy enabled him to resist the voice of conscience still a little while, and even a letter relating the death of his grandmother did not decide his departure.  It seemed at first to have decided him, and he told all his friends that he was leaving with the next caravan.  But of what use, he asked himself, for me to return to Galilee?  Granny is in her grave:  could I bring her back to life I would return!  So he remained in Egypt for some time longer, and what enforced his return were the long plains, in which oxen drew the plough from morning till evening; and he had begun to long for clouds and for the hills, and the desire to escape from the plain grew stronger every day till at last he could not do else than yield to it.  By the next caravan, he said to himself.

In Egypt he had met no prophet, only philosophers, and becoming once more obsessed by miracles, he hastened to Banu, but of Jesus Banu could only tell him that he was doing the work that our Father had given him to do.  Which is more than thou art doing.  Go and get baptism from John!  Go back to Jericho and wait for a sign, leaving me in peace, for I need it, having been troubled by many, eager and anxious about things that do not matter.  I will indeed, Joseph replied, for nothing matters to me since I cannot find him.  And he returned to Jericho, saying to himself that Jesus must be known to every shepherd; perhaps to that one, he said, running to head back his flock, which has been tempted by a patch of young corn; Joseph stood at gaze, for the shepherd wore the same garb as Jesus had done:  a turban fixed on the head with two tiring-rings of camel’s hair, with veils floating from the shoulders to save the neck from the sun.  Jesus, too, wore a striped shirt, and over it was buckled a dressed sheepskin; and Joseph pondered on the shepherd’s shoon, on his leathern water-bottle, on his long slender fingers twitching the thongs of the sling.  He had been told that no better slinger had been known in these hills than Jesus.  But he had left the hills and had gone, whither none could tell!  He was gone, whither no man knew, not even Banu.  He is about his Father’s work, was all Banu could say; and Joseph wandered on from shepherd to shepherd, questioning them all, and when none was in sight he cried again Jesus’s name to the winds, and never passed a cave without looking into it, though he had lost hope of finding him.  But he continued his search, for it whiled the time away, though it did nothing else, and one day as he lay under a rock, watching a shepherd passing across the opposite hillside, he tried to summon courage to call him; but judging him to be one of those whom he had already asked for tidings of Jesus, he let him go, and fell to thinking of the look that would come into the shepherd’s face on hearing the same question put to him again.  A poor demented man! he would mutter to himself as he went away.  Nor was Joseph sure that his mind was not estranged from him.  He could no longer fix it upon anything:  it wandered as incontinently as the wind among the hills, and very often he seemed to have come back to himself after a long absence, but without any memory.  Yet he must have been thinking of something; and he was trying to recall his thoughts, when the shepherd came back into view again and Joseph remarked to himself that he was without a flock.  He seemed to be seeking something, for from a sheer edge he peered down into the valley.  A ewe that has fallen over, no doubt, Joseph thought; but what concern of mine is that shepherd who has lost a ewe, and whether he will find his ewe or will fail to find it?  Of no concern whatever, he said to himself, and ­forgetful of the shepherd ­he began to watch the evening gathering in the sky.  Very soon, he said, the hills will be folded in a dim blue veil, and sleep will perchance blot out the misery that has brooded in me all this livelong day, he muttered.  May I never see another, but close my eyes for ever on the broad ruthless light.  Of what avail to witness another day?  All days are alike to me.

It seemed to Joseph that he was of a sort dead already, for he could detach himself from himself, and consider himself as indifferently as he might a blade of grass.  My life, he said, is like these bare hills, and the one thing left for me to desire is death.

A footstep aroused him from his dream.  The man whom he had seen on the hillside yonder had crossed the valley, and he began to describe the animals he had lost, before Joseph recovered from his reverie.  No, he said, I have seen no camels.  Camels might have passed him by without his seeing them, but there was no obligation on him to confide his misery to the shepherd, a rough, bearded man in a sheepskin, who thanked him and was about to go, when Joseph called after him:  if you want help to seek your camels, I’ll come with you.  Even the company of this man were better than his loneliness; and together they crossed some hills.  Why, there be my camels, as I’m alive! the camel-driver cried.  Joseph had brought him luck, for in a valley close at hand the camels were found, staring into emptiness.  Strange abstractions!  Joseph said to himself, and then to the camel-driver:  since I have found your camels, who knows but that you may tell me of one Jesus, an Essene from the cenoby on the eastern bank of the Jordan?  A shepherd of these hills? the man asked, and Joseph replied:  yes, indeed.  To which the camel-driver answered:  if I hear of him, I’ll send him a message that you are looking for him, and I’ll send you word that he has been found.  But you’ll never find him, Joseph answered.  You didn’t think you would find my camels, the driver replied; but so it fell out, and if I could only find a few more camels, or the money to buy them, I could lay down a great trade in figs between Jericho and Jerusalem; he related simply, not knowing that the man he was talking to could give him all the money he required; telling that figs ripen earlier in Jericho, especially if the trees have the advantage of high rocks behind them.

It pleased Joseph to listen to his patter:  it seemed to him that his father was talking to him, and he was plunged in such misery that he had to extricate himself somehow.  So he signed the deed that evening, and within a month a caravan laden with figs went forth and wended its way safely to Jerusalem.  Another caravan followed a few weeks after, and still larger profits were made, and these becoming known to certain thieves, the next caravan was waylaid and driven away to the coast, and the figs shipped to some foreign part or sold to unscrupulous dealers, who knew them to be stolen.  The loss was so great that Gaddi said to Joseph:  if we lose a second caravan we shall be worse off than we were when we began, and we shall lose a third and a fourth, unless the robbers be driven out of their caves.  Let us then go to the Roman governor, Pilate, and lay our case before him.  Joseph had no fault to find with Gaddi’s words, and he said:  it may be that I shall go to Pilate myself, for I am known to him through my father, who trades largely between Tiberias and Antioch with salt fish.

It so happened that Pilate had received instructions from Rome to give every protection to trade, it being hoped thereby to win the Jews from religious disputations, which always ended in riots.  Pilate therefore now found the occasion he needed.  Joseph had brought it to him, for the ridding of the road between Jerusalem and Jericho would evince his ability as administrator; and with his hand in his beard, his fine eyes bent favourably upon Joseph, he promised that all the forces of the Roman Empire would be employed to smoke out these nests of robbers.  From the account given by Joseph of the caves, he did not deem it worth while to send soldiers groping through the darkness of rocks; he was of opinion that bundles of damp straw would serve the purpose admirably; and turning to the captain of the guard he appealed to him, and got for answer that a few trusses of damp straw would send forth such a reek that all within the cave would be choked, or reel out half blinded.

Joseph reminded Pilate and the captain of the guard that the openings of the caves were not always accessible, but abutted over a ledge away down a precipitous cliff.  It might be necessary to lower soldiers down in baskets, or the caves might be closed with mortised stones.  Joseph’s counsel was wise; the closing of the caves proved very efficacious in ridding the hills of robbers, though in some cases the robbers managed to pick a way out, and then sought other caves, which were not difficult to find, the hills abounding in such places of hiding.  A cave would sometimes have two outlets, and it was hard to get the shepherds to betray the robbers, their fear of them was so great.  But within six months the larger dens were betrayed, and while the robbers writhed the last hours of their lives away on crosses, long trains of camels and asses pursued their way from Jericho to Jerusalem and back again, without fear of molestation, the remnant of robbers never daring to do more than draw away a single camel or ass found astray from the encampment.

The result of all this labour was that figs were no longer scarce in Jerusalem; and when a delay in bringing wheat from Moab was announced to Pilate, he sent a messenger to Joseph, it having struck him that the transport service so admirably organised by them both was capable of development.  A hundred camels, Joseph answered, needs a great sum, but perhaps Gaddi, my partner, may have some savings or my father may give me the money.

And with Pilate’s eyes full upon him, Joseph sat thinking of the lake, recalling every bight and promontory, and asking himself how it was that he had not thought of Galilee for so long a time.  He longed to set eyes on Magdala, and he would have ridden away at once, but an escort would have to be ordered, for a single horseman could not ride through Samaria without a certainty of being robbed before he got to the end of his journey.  Pilate’s voice roused Joseph from his reverie, and after apologising to the Roman magistrate for his absentmindedness, he went away to consult hurriedly with Gaddi, and then to make preparations for the journey.  It was a journey of three days on horseback, he was told, but of two days only on camel-back, for a camel can walk three miles an hour for eighteen hours.  But what should I be doing on a camel’s back for eighteen hours?  Joseph cried, and the driver showed Joseph how with his legs strapped on either side of the beast he could lie back in the pack and sleep away many hours.  Your head, sir, would soon get accustomed to the rocking.  But I should have to leave my horse behind, Joseph said.  He was fain to see his father and the lake; he was already there in spirit, and would like to transport his cumbersome body there in the least possible time; but he could not separate himself from Xerxes, a beautiful horse that he had brought with him from Egypt ­a dark grey ­a sagacious animal that would neigh at the sound of his voice and follow him like a dog, and when they encamped for the night, wander in search of herbage and come back when he was called, or wait for him like a wooden horse at an inn door.

Horse and horseman seemed a match the morning they went away to Galilee together, Xerxes all bits and bridles, stirrups and trappings, and Joseph equipped for the journey not less elaborately than his horse.  He wore a striped shirt and an embroidered vest with two veils falling from his turban over his shoulders, and as he was not going to visit the Essenes, he did not forget to provide himself with weapons:  a curved scimitar hung by his side and the jewelled hilt of a dagger showed above his girdle.  His escort not having arrived yet, he waited; taking pleasure in the arch of Xerxes’ neck when the horse turned his head towards him, and in the dark courageous eyes and the beautifully turned hoof that pawed the earth so prettily.  At last the five spearmen and their captain appeared, and Xerxes, who seemed to recognise the escort as a sign for departure, presented his left side for Joseph to mount him.  As soon as his master was in the saddle, he shook his accoutrements and sprang forward at the head of the cavalcade, Joseph crying back:  he must have the sound of hoofs behind him.  He could refuse his horse nothing, and suffered him to canter some few hundred yards up the road, though it was not customary to leave the escort behind, and when Joseph returned, the foreman told him, as he expected he would, that it would be well not to tire his horse by galloping him at the beginning of the journey, for a matter of thirty miles lay in front of them.  Thirty miles the first day, he said, and fifty the second day; for by this division he would leave twenty-five miles for the third day; and Joseph learnt that the captain had arranged the journey in this wise for the sake of the inns, for though they would meet an inn every twenty miles, there were but three good inns between Jerusalem and Tiberias.  He had arranged too with a view to the rest at midday.  Our way lies, he said, through the large shallow valley, and that is why I started at six.  It is about four hours hence, so we shall be through it well before noon.  But why must we pass through it before noon?  Joseph asked.  Because, the captain answered, the rocks on either side are heated after noon like the walls of an oven, and man and beast choke in it.  But once we get out of the valley, we shall have pleasant country.  You know the hills, Sir; and Joseph remembered the rounded hills and Azariah’s condemnation of the felling of the forests, a condemnation that the captain agreed with; for though it was true that the woods afforded cover for wolves, still it was not wise to fell the trees; for when the woods go, the captain said, the country will lose its fertility.  He was a loquacious fellow, knowing the country well, wherefore pleasant to ride alongside of, and the hours passed quickly, hearing him relate his life.  And when after two days’ riding Joseph wearied of his foreman’s many various relations, his eyes admired the slopes, now greener than they would be again till another year passed.  The fig-trees were sending out shoots, the vines were in little leaf, and the fragrance of the vineyards and fig gardens was sweet in the cool morning when the dusk melted away and rose-coloured clouds appeared above the hills; and as Joseph rode he liked to think that the spectacle of the cavalcade faring through the vine-clad hills would abide in his memory, and that in years to come he would be able to recall it exactly as he now saw it ­all the faces of the spearmen and their odd horses; even his foreman’s discourses would become a pleasure to remember when time would redeem them of triteness and commonplace; the very weariness he now experienced in listening to them would, too, become a perennial source of secret amusement to him later on.  But for the moment he could not withstand his foreman a moment longer, and made no answer when he came interrupting his meditations with tiresome learning regarding the great acacia-tree into whose shade Joseph had withdrawn himself.  He was content to enjoy the shade and the beauty of the kindly tree that flourished among rocks where no one would expect a tree to flourish, and did not need to be told that the roots of a tree seek water instinctively, and that the roots of the acacia seek water and find it, about three feet down.  The acacia gave the captain an opportunity to testify of his knowledge, and Joseph remembered suddenly that he would be returning to Jerusalem with him in three days, for not more than three days would his escort remain in Galilee, resting their horses, unless they were paid a large sum of money; and with that escort idle in the village the thought would never be out of his mind that in a few days he would be listening to his foreman all the way back to Jerusalem.

Impossible!  He couldn’t go back to Jerusalem in three days, nor in three weeks.  His father would be mortally grieved if he did; and Pilate himself would be surprised to see him back so soon and think him lacking altogether in filial affection if, after an absence of more than two years, he could stay only three days with his father.  He must, however, send a letter to Pilate and one that consisted with all the circumstances.  The barely stirring foliage of the acacia inspired a desire of composition:  a more favourable moment than the present, or a more inspiring spot, he did not think he would be likely to find.  He called for his tablets and fell to thinking, but hardly filled in the first dozen lines when his foreman ­this time apologising for the intrusion ­came to tell him that if he wished to reach Magdala that evening they must start at once.  He could not but acquiesce, and ­as if contemptuous of the protection of his escort ­he rode on in front, wishing to be left alone so that he might seek out the terms of his letter, and his mood of irritated perplexity did not pass away till he came within sight of the great upland, rising, however, so gently that he did not think Xerxes would mind ascending it at a gallop.  As soon as he reached the last crest, he would see the lake alone, having ­thanks to the speed of Xerxes ­escaped from his companions for at least five minutes.  He looked forward to these moments eagerly yet not altogether absolved from apprehension of a spiritual kind, for the lake always seemed to him a sort of sign, symbol or hieroglyphic, in which he read a warning addressed specially, if not wholly, to himself.  The meaning that the lake held out to him always eluded him, and never more completely than now, at the end of an almost windless spring evening.

It came into view a moment sooner than he thought for, and in an altogether different aspect ­bluer than ever seen by him in memory or reality ­and, he confessed to himself, more beautiful.  Like a great harp it lay below him, and his eyes followed the coast-lines widening out in an indenture of the hills:  on one side desert, on the other richly cultivated ascents, with villages and one great city, Tiberias ­its domes, cupolas, towers and the high cliffs abutting the lake between Tiberias and Magdala bathed in a purple glow as the sun went down.  My own village! he said, and it was a pleasure to him to imagine his father sipping sherbet on his balcony, in good humour, no doubt, the weather being so favourable to fish-taking.  Now which are Peter’s boats among these? he asked himself, his eyes returning to the fishing fleet.  And which are John’s and James’s boats?  He could tell that all the nets were down by the reefed sails crossed over, for the boats were before the wind.  A long pull back it will be to Capernaum, he was thinking, a matter of thirteen or fourteen miles, for the leading boat is not more than a mile from the mouth of the Jordan.  Then, raising his eyes from the fishing-boats, he followed the coast-lines again, seeking the shapes of the wooded hills, rising in gently cadenced ascents.

A more limpid evening never breathed upon a lake! he said; and when he raised his eyes a second time they rested on the ravines of Hermon far away in the north, still full of the winter’s snow; and ­being a Galilean ­he knew they would keep their snow for another month at least.  The eagerness of the spring would then be well out of the air; and I shall be thinking, he continued, of returning to Jerusalem and concerning myself once more with Pilate’s business.  But what a beautiful evening! still and pure as a crystal.

A bird floated past, his black eyes always watchful.  The bird turned away to join his mates, and Joseph bade his escort watch the flock:  a bird here and a bird there swooping and missing and getting no doubt sometimes a fish that had ventured too near the surface ­that one leaving his mates, flying high towards Magdala, to be there, he said, in a few minutes, by my father’s house; and in another hour thou shalt be in thy stable, thy muzzle in the corn, he whispered into his horse’s ear; and calling upon his comrades to put their heels into their tired steeds, he turned Xerxes into the great road leading to Tiberias.

But there were some Jews among the escort who shrank from entering a pagan city.  Their prejudices might be overcome with argument, but it were simpler to turn their horses’ heads to the west and then to the north as soon as the city was passed.  The detour would be a long one, but it were shorter than argument:  yet argument he did not escape from, for as they rode through the open country behind Tiberias, some declared that Herod was not a pure Jew; and to make their points clearer they often reined up their horses, to the annoyance of Joseph, who could not bring the discussion to an end without seeming indifferent to the law and the traditions.  But, happily, it had to end before long, for within three miles of Magdala they were riding in single file down deep lanes along whose low dykes the cactus crawled, hooking itself along.  One lane led into another.  A network of deep lanes wound round Magdala, which, judging by the number of new dwellings, seemed to have prospered since Joseph had last seen it.  Humble dwellings no doubt, Joseph said to himself, but bread is not lacking, nor fish.  Then he thought of the wharves his father had built for the boats, and the workshops for the making of the barrels into which the fish was packed.  Magdala owed its existence to Dan’s forethought, and he had earned his right, Joseph thought, to live in the tall house which he had built for his pleasure in a garden amid tall acacia-trees that every breeze that blew up from the lake set in motion.

If ever a man, Joseph thought, earned his right to a peaceable old age amid pleasant surroundings, that man was his father; and he thought of him returning from his counting-house to his spacious verandah, thinking of the barrels of salt fish that he would send away the following week, if the fishers were letting down their nets with fortunate enterprise.