Leonid Andreyev

IV

Judas purloined several denarii, which was uncovered thanks to Thomas, who by chance saw the amount of money they received. It was probable that this wasn’t the first time that Judas had stolen, and so everyone was outraged. The furious Peter grabbed Judas by the collar of his robe and, almost dragging him over the floor, brought him to Jesus, and the frightened, paled Judas did not resist.

“Teacher, look! Here he is—the joker! Here he is—the thief! You trusted him, and he is stealing our money. Thief! Scoundrel! If you let me, I’ll…”

But Jesus was silent. And, after looking at him attentively, Peter quickly flushed and loosened his hand that was holding the collar. Judas shamefacedly straightened his clothes, gave Peter a sideways glance, and assumed the submissively-depressed appearance of a repentant criminal.

“So that’s how it is!” said Peter angrily and loudly slammed the door on his way out. And everyone was unhappy and kept saying that they would not remain there with Judas—but John quickly thought of something and slipped into the doorway, behind which one could hear the soft, perhaps even affectionate, voice of Jesus. And when, after some time, he came out, he was pale, and his downcast eyes were reddened as though they had just shed tears.

“The teacher said… the teacher said that Judas can take as much money as he likes.”

Peter laughed indignantly. John quickly looked at him with reproach and, suddenly igniting, mixing tears with rage, rapture with tears, sonorously exclaimed:

“And no one must count how much money Judas receives. He is our brother, and all the money is his, just as it is ours, and if he needs a lot, then let him take a lot, without telling anyone and without consulting with anyone. Judas is our brother, and you have sorely offended him—so said the teacher… Shame on us, brothers!”

In the doorway stood the pale Judas, smiling crookedly, and with a light movement John approached him and kissed him thrice. After him, glancing at each other, Jacob, Philip, and the others made an embarrassed approach—after every kiss Judas wiped his mouth, but he smacked loudly, as if the sound gave him pleasure. Last came Peter.

“We are all fools here, all blind, Judas. He alone can see, he alone is wise. May I kiss you?”

“Why not? Kiss!” Judas consented.

Peter gave him a firm kiss and then spoke loudly in his ear:

“And I almost strangled you! The others have their way, but I went straight for the throat! You weren’t hurt were you?

“A little.”

“I’ll go to him and tell him everything. After all, I even got angry at him,” Peter said grimly and tried to gently open the door without making a noise.

“And what about you, Thomas?” John asked sternly, who was observing the actions and words of the disciples.

“I don’t know yet. I need to think about this.”

And Thomas spent a long time thinking, almost the whole day. The disciples went away on their business, and already somewhere behind a wall Peter was shouting loudly and cheerfully, but he was still thinking. He would do it quicker if not for Judas, who was hindering him somewhat by ceaselessly observing him with a mocking gaze and from time to time asking him seriously:

“Well, Thomas? How’s the business going?”

Then Judas brought his money box and, pretending not to look at Thomas, began to count the money aloud, coins clinking.

“Twenty one, twenty two, twenty three… Look, Thomas, another counterfeit coin. Ah, everyone is such a swindler, they even sacrifice counterfeit coins… Twenty four… And then they’ll say again that Judas had stolen from them… Twenty five, twenty six…”

Thomas approached him resolutely—it was already evening—and said:

“He is right, Judas. Let me kiss you.”

“Is that right? Twenty nine, thirty. It’s useless. I’ll steal again. Thirty one…”

“How is it possible to steal when nothing belongs to you nor to anyone else? You will only keep taking however much you need, brother.”

“And you needed all this time to simply repeat his words? You don’t value your time, do you, clever Thomas?”

“It seems you are mocking me, brother?”

“And, just think, are you doing a good deed, virtuous Thomas, by repeating his words? After all, these are his words—‘his’—not yours. It was he who kissed me—you have only desecrated my mouth. And I can still feel your wet lips crawling over me. It is so repulsive, kind Thomas. Thirty eight, thirty nine, forty. Forty denarii, Thomas, can you believe it?”

“But he is our teacher. How can we not repeat the words of a teacher?”

“Has Judas’ collar fallen off? Is he now naked and there is nothing to grab him by? If the teacher leaves the house and Judas accidentally steals three denarii again, won’t you grab him again by the same collar?”

“Now we know, Judas. We have understood.”

“But don’t all students have bad memory? And haven’t all teachers been deceived by their students? The teacher lifts a rod—the students cry: teacher, we understand! But when the teacher goes to sleep, the students say: was this what the teacher taught us? The same thing here. This morning you called me a thief. This evening you call me a brother. And what will you call me tomorrow?”

Judas laughed and, effortlessly lifting up the heavy, ringing box, he continued:

“When a strong wind blows, it lifts up trash. And stupid people look at the trash and say: here’s the wind! But that’s only trash, my kind Thomas, donkey litter trodden by feet. It reaches a wall and settles softly at its base, but the wind keeps on flying, the wind keeps on flying, my kind Thomas!”

Judas pointed over the wall in a cautionary manner and laughed again.

“I’m glad that you feel merry,” said Thomas. “But it’s a great pity that in your mirth there is so much malice.”

“How is it possible for a man who had been kissed so many times and who is so useful to not be merry? If I didn’t steal three denarii, would John discover what rapture is? And is it not pleasant to be the hook upon which things are hung out to dry, John: his damp virtue, Thomas: his moth-eaten mind?”

“I think it’s best that I leave.”

“But really, I am only joking. I’m joking, my kind Thomas—I only wanted to know whether you really wanted to kiss the old, obnoxious Judas, a thief who stole three denarii and gave them to a harlot.”

“A harlot?” Thomas was taken by surprise. “Did you tell the teacher about this?”

“Once again you are doubtful, Thomas. Yes, a harlot. But if only you knew, Thomas, what an unfortunate woman she was. For two days straight she had nothing to eat…”

“Do you know this for certain?” Thomas grew embarrassed.

“Yes, of course. After all, I was with her for two days, and I have seen that she ate nothing and drank only red wine. She was shaking from exhaustion, and I was falling with her…”

Thomas quickly rose and, having moved away a few steps, snapped back at Judas:

“It appears that Satan has possessed you, Judas.”

And, as he was leaving in the twilight, he could hear the heavy money box jingling pitifully in Judas’ hands. And it was as if Judas was laughing.

But the following day Thomas had to admit that he was mistaken in Judas—Iscariot was so plain, so gentle, yet at the same time so serious. He did not grimace, did not make mocking jokes, did not bow and did not insult, but instead worked on his tasks quietly and out of sight. He was nimble, as always—it was as if he did not have two legs like everyone else but a dozen, but he ran about soundlessly, without squeals, screams, or that laughter, akin to the laughter of a hyena, which had previously accompanied all his actions. And when Jesus began to speak, he would sit down quietly in the corner, fold his hands and legs, and would gaze so attentively with his large eyes that many took note of it. And he stopped speaking ill of people and remained mostly quiet, so that even the stern Matthew deemed it possible to praise him, saying in the words of Solomon:

“Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.”

And he raised his finger, alluding to Judas’ previous rudeness. Very soon everyone noticed this change in Judas and rejoiced in it; and only Jesus continued to give him that strange look, although he never directly expressed his dislike in any way. And John himself, for whom Judas now displayed a deep reverence, as the beloved disciple of Jesus, and as the one who intervened on his behalf in the case of the three denarii, started treating him somewhat gentler and even engaged him in conversation from time to time.

“Judas, what do you think,” he said to him one time in a condescending tone, “which one of us, Peter or I, will be the first by Christ’s side in his heavenly kingdom?”

Judas thought a while and answered:

“I think it will be you.”

“And Peter thinks that it will be him,” laughed John.

“No. Peter will scatter all the angels with his shouts—do you hear how he shouts? Of course, he will keep arguing with you and will try to get the first place since he keeps trying to convince us that he too loves Jesus—but he is already advanced in years, and you are young, he is heavy on his feet, and you run swiftly, and you will be the first to go there with Christ. Is that not so?”

“Yes, I will never leave Jesus,” John agreed.

And that same day Peter Simon approached Judas with that same question. But, fearing that his loud voice will be heard by the others, he led Judas into the farthest corner behind the house.

“Well, what do you think?” he asked anxiously. “You are clever, the teacher himself praises you for your intellect, and you’ll tell the truth.”

“You, of course,” Iscariot answered without hesitation; and Peter exclaimed indignantly:

“That’s what I told him!”

“But, of course, he will try to take away the first place from you even there.”

“Of course!”

“But what can he do when the place is already taken by you? After all, will you not be the first to go there with Jesus? You won’t desert him, will you? Did he not call you his rock?”

Peter placed his hand on Judas’ shoulder and spoke passionately:

“I tell you, Judas, you are the cleverest of us all. Only why are you so mocking and malicious? The teacher doesn’t like that. If it wasn’t for that you too could become a beloved disciple, no worse than John. However, neither to him nor to you,” Peter raised his hand threateningly, “will I yield my place beside Jesus, neither on earth, nor there! You hear me!”

Thus Judas tried to do something pleasant for everyone, but at the same time he was thinking of something of his own. And, while remaining just as humble, restrained, and inconspicuous, he managed to say something to everyone which they found particularly enjoyable. Thus, he said to Thomas:

“The simpleton believes every word, but the prudent man gives thought to his steps.”

To Matthew, who suffered to a certain extent from excesses in food and drink and which he was ashamed of, he cited the words of the wise Solomon, whom he revered:

“The righteous eats to the satisfaction of his appetite, but the belly of the wicked goes hungry.”

But even the pleasant things he seldom said, thereby imparting on them a special value, but more often than not he remained silent, attentively listened to everything that was said, and contemplated something. The pensive Judas had, however, an unpleasant appearance, at once amusing and frightening. As long as his animated, crafty eye moved, Judas appeared simple and kind, but when both his eyes stopped motionless and the skin on his bulbous forehead gathered into strange bumps and wrinkles, there appeared a hint of some very peculiar thoughts moving restlessly under that skull. Completely alien, completely peculiar, completely devoid of speech, they enveloped the pensive Judas with the deaf silence of truth, and one wanted him to speak without delay, to move, even to lie. For even falsehood, uttered by the tongue of man, seemed like truth and light before this hopelessly-deaf and unresponsive silence.

“Lost in thought again, Judas?” cried Peter, instantly tearing apart the deaf silence of Judas’ thoughts with his clear voice and face, driving them away somewhere to a dark corner. “What are you thinking about?”

“About many things,” Iscariot answered with a calm smile. And, perhaps having noticed the bad effect his silence was having on the others, he would spend more time away from the disciples on solitary walks or would climb onto the flat roof and sit there in silence. And already Thomas experienced a slight fright several times after having bumped unexpectedly in the darkness into some gray mass, from which Judas’ arms and legs would suddenly emerge, and his mocking voice would be heard.

Only one time, in an especially sudden and strange way, did Judas recall his previous self, and this happened right in the middle of an argument about one’s primacy in the heavenly kingdom. Peter and John were quarreling in the presence of the teacher, passionately contesting their place by Jesus’ side; they listed their merits, measured the degree of their love for Jesus, bickered, shouted, even scolded each other without restraint, Peter: all red from rage, rumbling; John: pale and quiet, with trembling hands and biting words. Already their argument was growing indecent and the teacher was beginning to frown when Peter glanced by chance at Judas and smugly laughed; John looked at Judas and also smiled—each of them remembered what the clever Iscariot said to them. And, already anticipating the pleasure of imminent triumph, in tacit agreement they called Judas to be their judge, and Peter cried:

“Come on, clever Judas! Tell us, who will take the first place beside Jesus—he or I?”

But Judas remained silent, breathed heavily, and was greedily asking something from Jesus’ calmly-deep eyes.

“Yes,” repeated John condescendingly, “tell him who will take the first place by Jesus’ side.”

Without breaking his eye from Christ, Judas slowly rose and answered softly and importantly:

“I!”

Jesus slowly lowered his eyes. And, softly hitting himself in the chest with his bony finger, Iscariot repeated triumphantly and sternly:

“I! I will have the place beside Jesus!”

And he left. The disciples were silent, astonished by the brazen outburst, and only Peter, suddenly remembering something, whispered to Thomas in an unusually quiet voice:

“So that’s what he’s thinking about!… Did you hear that?”

Chapter V →
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