Leonid Andreyev

III

One time, around midday, Jesus and his disciples were traveling along a rocky mountain road devoid of shade and, as they had already traveled for over five hours, Jesus began to complain of fatigue. The disciples stopped, and Peter, together with his friend John, spread out their cloaks over the ground, and they affixed the cloaks of other disciples between two tall rocks, and in this way they created a kind of tent for Jesus. And he lay down in the tent, taking respite from the heat of the sun, while they entertained him with cheerful speeches and jokes. But, seeing that even their speeches were tiring him, they, being less sensitive to heat and tiredness, moved some distance away and engaged in various activities. Some looked for edible roots between the rocks along the mountainside and, having found them, they brought them to Jesus; some, climbing higher and higher, searched thoughtfully for the borders of the azure remoteness and, not finding them, kept climbing onto new pointed rocks. John found a beautiful blue lizard between the rocks and, holding it in his gentle palms and softly laughing, brought it to Jesus; and the lizard stared with its convex, mysterious eyes into his eyes, and then quickly crawled with its cold little body down his warm hand and swiftly carried someplace away its tender, trembling tail.

But Peter, who did not like quiet pleasures, together with Philip, kept themselves busy by tearing large rocks off the mountainside and hurling them down, a contest of strength. And the others, attracted by their loud laughter, gradually gathered around them and joined the game. Straining themselves, they tore from he ground an old, overgrown boulder, lifted it up with both their arms, and released it down the slope of the mountain. Heavy, it made a dull thud with every collision, at times halting for a moment to think; then, hesitantly, it made its first leap—and with every connection with the ground, taking from it speed and strength, it became lighter, more ferocious, and devastating. No longer hopping, it was flying with its teeth bared, and the air let its dull, round body pass with a whistle. Here is the edge—with a fluid last movement the boulder soared upwards and calmly, lost in heavy thought, somersaulted down towards the bottom of an invisible abyss.

“Come on, one more!” cried Peter. His white teeth glittered among his black beard and mustache, his powerful chest and arms were bared, and the old, grumpy rocks, left in dull amazement at the strength that lifted them, rushed down obediently one after another into the abyss. Even the frail John would throw small stones and, smiling softly, Jesus looked on at their fun.

“What about you, Judas? Why don’t you take part in the game—it looks to be a lot of fun?” asked Thomas, finding his strange friend motionless behind a large gray rock.

“My chest hurts, and I was not invited.”

“But is invitation necessary? Well then, I am inviting you, come. Just look at the boulders Peter is hurling down.”

Judas glanced at him sideways, and it was then that for the first time Thomas got a vague suspicion that Judas of Kerioth had two faces. But he did not have the time to fully comprehend this as Judas said to him in his usual tone, simultaneously flattering and mocking:

“Is there anyone who is stronger than Peter? When he shouts, all the donkeys in Jerusalem think that the Messiah has come and also begin shouting. Have you ever heard their cries, Thomas?

And, smiling affably and bashfully wrapping his chest, overgrown with curly red hair, with his robe, Judas entered the circle of the contestants. And because everybody was having a fun time he was greeted with joy and loud jokes, and even John smiled sociably when Judas, affecting groans and sighs, grasped a massive rock. But then he went ahead and lifted it effortlessly and hurled it down, and his blind, wide open eye, wavered a little and locked onto Peter, and the other, sly and cheerful, was filled with quiet laughter.

“No, throw another one!” Peter said indignantly. And so, one by one they lifted and hurled down enormous rocks, and the disciples looked on in amazement. Peter hurled down a large rock—Judas even larger. Peter, stern and serious, furiously heaved a mountain shard, trembling, he kept lifting it and dropping it—Judas, continuing to smile, searched for an even larger shard, dug into it affectionately with his long fingers, glued himself to it, swayed together with it, and, growing pale, hurled it down into the abyss. Having thrown his rock, Peter watched its fall by leaning back—Judas, however, leaned forward, bent his back and extended his hands, as if he wanted to fly after the rock. Finally, both of them, first Peter then Judas, grabbed onto an old, gray boulder—and they could not lift it, not one, nor the other. All red, Peter approached Jesus and said loudly:

“Master! I cannot bear to see Judas stronger than me. Help me lift that rock and hurl it down.”

And Jesus replied something to him softly. Dissatisfied, Peter shrugged his shoulders but did not dare object, and he returned saying:

“He said: and who will help Iscariot?” But now he looked at Judas, who, panting and clenching his teeth, continued to hug the stubborn rock, and cheerfully laughed:

“That’s how sick he is! Look at what our sick, poor Judas is up to!”

And Judas himself laughed, caught so suddenly in his lies, and all the others began to laugh—and even Thomas spread out a little with a smile his straight mustache hanging over his lips. And thus, chatting amicably and laughing, they set off on the road, and Peter, fully reconciled with the winner, nudged him with his fist and loudly laughed:

“So that’s how sick he is!”

Everyone praised Judas, everyone recognized him as the winner, everyone chatted amicably with him, but Jesus… once again Jesus had no praise for Judas. He walked in silence at the front, nibbling on a blade of grass; and gradually, one by one, the disciples stopped laughing and walked over to Jesus. And very soon it happened that once again all of them walked at the front in a tight pack, and Judas—Judas the victor—Judas the strong—trudged at the back, swallowing dust.

And now they have stopped, and Jesus put one hand on Peter’s shoulder and with the other he pointed into the distance where Jerusalem was already showing itself through a thin haze. And Peter’s broad, powerful back carefully accepted that slender, tanned hand.

They stopped overnight in Bethany, at the house of Lazarus. And, when everyone gathered round for conversation, Judas thought that they would now recall his victory over Peter, and he sat down close to them. But the disciples were quiet and unusually thoughtful. The images of the path they had traveled flowed quietly in their minds—the sun, the rocks, the grass, Jesus lying in the tent—inducing a soft contemplation, giving birth to daydreams, vague but sweet, of some eternal movement under the sun. The weary body rested pleasantly, and the whole of it contemplated something mysteriously-beautiful and grand—and nobody gave a thought to Judas.

Judas went out. Then came back. Jesus was speaking and the disciples were listening to his speech in silence. At his feet sat Mary, motionless, like a statue, and, with her head thrown back, was gazing at his face. John, having moved up close, tried to make it so his hand would touch the teacher’s robe, but without bothering him. He touched it—and froze. And Peter was breathing loudly and forcefully, echoing with his breath the words of Jesus.

Iscariot stopped at the doorway and, contemptuously bypassing the congregation, focused all of his fire on Jesus. And the more he stared, the more would everything around him fade, becoming wrapped in darkness and silence, and only Jesus with his raised hand remained alight. And now even he rose upwards into the air, as if he was dissolved and was now wholly composed of a lake fog permeated by the light of a setting moon; and his soft speech sounded gently somewhere far, far away. And, staring into the wavering phantom, listening into the soft melody of the distant, spectral words, Judas grasped the whole of his soul with his iron fingers and began silently constructing something immense in its boundless gloom. Slowly, in deep darkness, he lifted up some massive things, like mountains, and smoothly placed one upon another; and again lifted them, and again placed them atop one another; and something was growing in the gloom, silently spreading, expanding boundaries. Now he could feel his head like a dome, and in his impenetrable darkness something massive continued to grow, and someone was working silently: lifting up mountainlike hulks, placing one atop another and again lifting… And somewhere, distant, spectral words sounded softly.

Thus he stood, blocking the doorway, enormous and black, and Jesus was speaking, and Peter’s forceful, intermittent breath echoed his words. But suddenly Jesus stopped talking—abruptly, a word cut short; and Peter, as if he had just woken up, rapturously exclaimed:

“Master! The words of everlasting life are revealed to you!” But Jesus was silent and was gazing intently at something. And when they followed his gaze they saw in the doorway the petrified Judas with his mouth agape and his eyes frozen. And, not understanding what this was all about, they began to laugh. Matthew, however, well read in the Scriptures, softly touched Judas’ shoulder and said to him in the words of Solomon:

“He whose looks are gentle shall be pitied, but he that contends in the gates will afflict souls.”

Startled, Judas shuddered and even let out a light scream; and every part of him—his eyes, his arms and his legs—began to move in every direction, like those of an animal that suddenly noticed above it the eyes of a human. Jesus started walking towards Judas, seemingly carrying some word on his lips… and he walked right past Judas through the doorway, now open and clear.

At midnight Thomas grew concerned, walked up to Judas’ bed, crouched down and asked:

“Are you crying, Judas?”

“No. Go away Thomas.”

“But why are you groaning and grating your teeth? Are you not well?”

Judas fell silent, and then, one after another, heavy words began to fall from his lips, filled with sorrow and rage.

“Why doesn’t he love me? Why does he love the others? Am I not more beautiful, better, stronger than them? Was it not I who saved his life, while the others ran, cowering, like cowardly dogs?”

“My poor friend, you are not altogether right. You are not at all beautiful, and your tongue is just as unpleasant as your face. You lie and slander constantly, so how can you expect Jesus to love you?”

But it was as if Judas did not hear him and he continued, stirring heavily in the darkness:

“Why is he not with Judas but with the others, with those who do not love him? John brought him a lizard—I brought him a venomous snake. Peter hurled rocks—I would turn a whole mountain for him! But what is a venomous snake? Rip out its tooth and it will lie like a necklace around one’s neck. But what is a mountain, which can be torn with one’s hands and trampled under one’s feet? I would give him Judas, the brave, beautiful Judas! And now he will perish, and Judas will perish with him.”

“You are saying something strange, Judas!”

“A dried out fig tree that needs to be axed—it’s me he is talking about. Then why does he not ax me? He doesn’t dare, Thomas. I know him: he is afraid of Judas! He is hiding from the brave, strong, beautiful Judas! He loves the stupid, the traitors, the liars. You are a liar Thomas, have you heard about that?”

Thomas was very surprised and wanted to protest, but he thought that Judas was simply venting his rage, and so he only shook his head in the darkness. And Judas grew ever more mournful; he groaned, grated his teeth, and one could hear how the whole of his large body was shifting restlessly under the blanket.

“What is hurting so much in Judas? Who has applied fire to his body? He gives up his son to the dogs! He gives up his daughter to bandits to abuse, his bride—to prostitution. But does Judas not have a gentle heart? Go away Thomas, go away you fool. Let him be alone, the strong, brave, beautiful Judas!”

Chapter IV →
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