PROLOGUE THE CHILD
"The fangs of the she-wolf are whetted keen for Galilean flesh and else the wrath of Jehovah palsy the arm of Rome, Galilean soil will run red with blood from scourged backs ere the noon of a new day."
The speaker, a slender woman wearing the garb of a peasant, lowered a water-jar from her shoulder and stood beside the bench of a workman, who paused at his task to get news from the market place.
"The souls for the cross—are they many?" he asked.
"A score of hundred I hear whispered, but at market place and fountain the spear of the soldier presseth hard against the ribs of those who congregate to exchange a word."
The man, who was fashioning a heavy yoke, lifted his bearded face to that of the woman. "A score of hundred!" he exclaimed. "To-morrow's sun will climb over Tabor to the ring of axes cutting green timber for twenty hundred crosses! The mercy of God on the victims!"
"Yea—and to-morrow's sun will set with the breeze of evening wafting one great groan of agony over the hills and vales of Galilee—one great sob of lamentation—one great curse on the barbarians of the city on the Tiber. And this for no crime save that of poverty!"
"Insurrection," the man corrected. "The Gaulonite raised, not a popular revolt, alas. It is but insurrection."
"Insurrection!—and why not insurrection? The Gaulonite may hang on a cross until the black winged ravens pick his bones and wild dogs carry them to desert places, but the Gaulonite speaks the voice of our fathers for verily, verily, the soil of the earth belongs to God, not men, and the toiler should eat of the increase of his labor! Doth not our toil yield the barley harvest, yet are we not ofttimes hungry? Doth not our toil make the vine hang heavy in the vineyard, yet do not our bottles droop empty of wine? Doth not the substance of our bitter toiling go to the tax-gatherer? Aye, Joseph, thou knowest I speak truly. It is tax—tax—tax,—land tax, temple tax, poll tax, army tax, court tax—always tax; and when there is to be a great orgy in the banquet halls of Rome, or Herod is to give a mighty feast for that brazen harlot, his brother's wife, are we not reduced to the bran and vinegar fare of slaves to pay the cost? A curse on Rome! A curse on Herod!"
"Hist, Mary, hist! Know'st thou not there may be ears listening even now behind the pomegranate?"
The woman glanced nervously toward the door where a leather curtain hung. She crossed the room, lifted the curtain and looked out into the court. It was empty save for a group of children. She returned to the room and from the wall took several small skin bottles which she placed by the water-jar. Then she called, "Jesu! Jesu!"
In answer a lad of six or eight years appeared from the court.
"Fill the bottles and hang them under the vine where the night breeze will cool them for the morrow."
When the child had done her bidding he stepped to the door. "Mother," he said, "hear thou? There is weeping in the home of Jael's father! Listen! Hear thou—the children calling—calling?"
The woman went to the door....