George Moore.

The Brook Kerith A Syrian story online

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Dan said, to learn Hebrew and Greek from none but you. No, Father, I
didn't make up my mind. But I couldn't learn from the others and I told
you why. Are you sure that you can learn from me? Azariah asked. Joseph
became shy at once, but he liked to feel Azariah's friendly hand upon
his shoulder, and when Dan asked the scribe to be seated Joseph followed
him, and standing beside his chair asked him if he would teach him
Hebrew, a question Azariah did not answer. You will teach me, he
insisted, and Dan and Rachel kept silence, so that they might better
observe Joseph working round Azariah with questions; and they were
amused, for Joseph's curiosity had overcome his shyness; and, quite
forgetful of his promise to listen and not to talk, he had begun to beg
the scribe to tell him if the language they spoke had been brought back
from Babylon, and how long it was since people had ceased to speak
Hebrew. Azariah set himself to answer these questions; Joseph gave him
close attention, and when Azariah ceased speaking he said: when may I
begin my lessons? And he put the question so innocently that his father
could not help laughing. But, Joseph, he said, Azariah has not yet
promised to teach you, and I wouldn't advise him to try to teach a boy
that has refused to learn from four preceptors. But it will be different
with you, Sir, Joseph murmured, taking Azariah's hand. You will teach
me, won't you? When will you begin?

Azariah answered that it could not be this week, for he was going to
Arimathea. The town we came from, Dan said. I am still known as Dan of
Arimathea, though I have lived here twenty years. I too shall be known
as Joseph of Arimathea, Joseph interjected. I'd like to be Joseph of
Arimathea much better than Joseph of Magdala.

You needn't shake your head at Magdala, Dan said. Magdala has done well
for us. To which Joseph answered nothing, but it was not long, however,
before he went to his father saying that he would like to go to
Arimathea, and in charge of Azariah.

You are asking too much, Joseph, his father answered him. No, I don't
think I am, and his honour Azariah doesn't think so, Joseph cried, for
his heart was already set upon this holiday. Azariah has perhaps
promised to teach you Hebrew. Isn't that enough? his father remarked.
Now you want him to take you to Arimathea. But if he likes to take me,
Joseph replied, and he cast such a winning glance at Azariah that the
scribe was moved to say that he would be glad to take charge of the boy
if his parents would confide him to his care. Whereupon Joseph threw his
arms about his father, but finding him somewhat indifferent he went to
his grandmother, who welcomed his embrace, and in return for it pleaded
that the boy should not be denied this small pleasure. But Dan, who only
half liked to part with his son, tried to hide his feelings from his
mother, who had guessed them already, with a joke, saying to Azariah
that he was a brave man to undertake the charge of so wayward a boy. I
shall not spoil him, and if he fails to obey he'll have to find someone
else to teach him Hebrew, Azariah answered. I think the rain is now
over, he said. Some drops were still falling but the sky was
brightening, and he returned from the window to where Joseph was
standing, and laying his hand on his head promised to come for him in
the morning.

We shall hear no more about fleas preventing thee from study, Dan said
to his son, and very much offended Joseph withdrew to his room, and
stood looking at the spot in which he had seen Samuel, asking himself if
the prophet would appear to him in Arimathea and if it would be by the
fountain whither the maidens used to come to draw water. Samuel and the
maidens seemed to jar a little, and as he could not think of them
together he fell to thinking of the rock on which the seer used to offer
sacrifices. It was still there and somebody would be about to direct
them to it, and it would be under this rock that Azariah would read to
him all that Samuel had said to Saul. But we shall be riding all day, he
said to himself, Arimathea must be a long long way from here, and he
fled downstairs to ask his father if Azariah would call for him at the
head of a caravan, whether he would ride on a camel or a mule or a
horse: he thought he would like to ride a camel, and awoke many times in
the night, once rolling out of his bed, for in a dream the ungainly
animal had jolted him from off his hump.

And the old woman's patience was nigh exhausted when he cried: Granny,
it is day, and bade her leave her bed and come to the window to tell him
if day were not breaking; but she answered: get thee back to thy bed,
for 'tis the moon shining down the sky, simpleton. The sun won't give
way an hour to the moon nor the moon an hour to the sun because thou'rt
going to Arimathea. And methinks, Joseph, that to some the morrow is
always better than to-day, and yesterday better than either, - a remark
that puzzled Joseph and kept him from his rest. Didst never hear,
Joseph, that it is a clever chicken that crows in the egg? the old woman
continued, and who knows but Azariah will forget to come for thee! He
won't forget, Granny, Joseph uttered in so doleful a tone that Rachel
repented and promised Joseph she would wake him in time; and as she had
never failed to keep her promise to him he allowed sleep to close his
eyelids. And once asleep he was hard to awaken. At six in the morning
sleep seemed to him better than Arimathea, but once awake Rachel could
not hand him his clothes fast enough; he escaped from her hands,
dressing himself as he ran into the lanes, and while tying his sandals
at the gate he forgot them and stood at gaze, wondering whether Azariah
would come to fetch him on a horse or an ass or a mule or a camel.

At last the sound of hooves came through the dusk, and a moment after
some three or four camels led the way; and there were horses too and
asses and mules, and the mules were caparisoned gaily, the one reserved
for Joseph's riding more richly than the others - a tall fine animal by
which he was proud to stand, asking questions of the muleteer, while
admiring the dark docile eyes shaded with black lashes. Now why do we
delay? he asked Azariah, who reminded him - and somewhat tritely - that he
had not yet said good-bye to his parents. But they know I'm going with
you, Sir, he answered. Azariah would not, however, allow Joseph to mount
his mule till he had bidden good-bye to his father and grandmother, and
he brought the boy back to the house, but without earning Dan's
approval, who was ashamed before Azariah of his son's eagerness to leave
home; a subtlety that escaped Rachel who chided Dan saying: try to
remember if it wasn't the same with thee, for I can remember thine eyes
sparkling at the sight of a horse and thy knees all of an itch to be on
to him. Well, said Dan, he'll have enough riding before the day is over,
and I reckon his little backside will be sore before they halt at the
gates of Arimathea; a remark that caused Rachel to turn amazed eyes on
her son and to answer harshly that since he had so much foresight she
hoped he had not forgotten to tell Azariah that Joseph must have a long
rest at midday. But thy face tells me no order has been given for the
care of the child on the journey. But Azariah cannot be far on his way.
I'll send a messenger to caution him that Joseph has his rest in the
shade.

Dan let her go in search of the messenger and moved around the room
hoping (he knew not why) that the messenger would not overtake the
caravan, the which he very nearly missed doing, for while Rachel was
instructing the messenger, Joseph was asking Azariah if he might have a
stick to belabour his mule into a gallop. The cavalcade, he said, needed
a scout that would report any traces of robbers he might detect among
the rocks and bushes. But we aren't likely to meet robber bands this
side of Jordan, Azariah said, they keep to the other side; and he told
Joseph, who was curious about everything, that along the Jordan were
great marshes into which the nomads drove their flocks and herds in the
spring to feed on the young grass. So they are there now, Joseph replied
meditatively, for he was thinking he would like better to ride through
marshes full of reeds than through a hilly country where there was
nothing to see but the barley-fields beset by an occasional olive garth.
But hooves were heard galloping in the rear and when the messenger
overtook the caravan and blurted out Rachel's instructions, Joseph's
face flushed. Now what can a woman know, he cried, about a journey like
this? Tell her, he said, turning to the messenger, that I shall ride and
rest with the others. And as an earnest of his resolve he struck the
messenger's horse so sharply across the quarters that the animal's head
went down between his knees and he plunged so violently that the
messenger was cast sprawling upon the ground. The cavalcade roared with
laughter and Joseph, overjoyed at the success of his prank, begged
Azariah to wait a little longer, for he was curious to see if the
messenger would succeed in coaxing his horse. At present the horse
seemed in no humour to allow himself to be mounted. Whenever the
messenger approached he whinnied so menacingly that everybody laughed
again. Is there none amongst ye that will help me to catch the horse?
the poor messenger cried after the departing travellers. We have a long
day's march in front of us, Azariah said; and he warned Joseph not to
beat his mule into a gallop at the beginning of the journey or he would
repent it later, words that came true sooner than Joseph had expected,
for before midday he was asking how many miles would bring them to the
caravansary. In about another hour, Azariah answered, and Joseph said he
had begun to hate his mule for it would neither trot nor gallop, only
walk. Thou'rt thinking of the nomads and would like to be after them
flourishing a lance, Azariah said, and - afraid that he was being laughed
at - Joseph made no answer.

After the rest at midday it seemed to him to be his duty to see that his
mule had been properly fed, and he bought some barley from the
camel-driver, but while he was giving it to his mule Azariah remarked
that he was only depriving other animals of their fair share of
provender. It is hard, he said, to do good without doing wrong to
another. But the present is no time for philosophy: we must start again.
And the cavalcade moved on through the hills, avoiding the steep ascents
and descents by circuitous paths, and Joseph, who had not seen a
shepherd leading his flock for some years, became all of a sudden
delighted by the spectacle, the sheep running forward scenting the fresh
herbage with which the hills were covered as with dark velvet.

A little later they came into view of a flock of goats browsing near a
wood, and Azariah sought to improve the occasion by a little
dissertation on the destructive nature of the goat. Of late years a
sapling rarely escaped them, and still more regrettable was the
carelessness of the shepherd who left the branches they had torn down to
become dry like tinder. He spoke of many forest fires, and told all the
stories he could remember in the hope of distracting Joseph's thoughts
from the length of the journey. We are now about half-way, he said,
disguising the truth. We shall see the city upon the evening glow in
about another hour. The longest hour that I have ever known, Joseph
complained two hours later; and Azariah laid his cloak over Joseph's
saddle. Dost feel more comfortable? A little, the child answered. At the
sight of the city thy heart will be lifted again and the suffering
forgotten. And Joseph believed him, but towards the end of the day the
miles seemed to stretch out indefinitely and at five o'clock he was
crying: shall we ever get to Arimathea, for I can sit on this mule no
longer, nor shall I be able to stand straight upon my legs when I
alight.

Azariah promised they would be at the gates in a few minutes, but these
few minutes seemed as if they would never pass away, but they did pass,
and at the gateway Joseph toppled from his mule and just managed to
hobble into the inn at which they were to sleep that night: too tired to
eat, he said, too tired, he feared, to sleep. Azariah pressed him to
swallow a cup of soup and he prepared a hot bath for him into which he
poured a bottle of vinegar; an excellent remedy he reported this to be
against stiffness, and it showed itself to be such: for next morning
Joseph was quite free from stiffness and said he could walk for miles.
Samuel's rock cannot be more than a few hundred yards distant, so miles
are not necessary, Azariah answered, as they stepped over the threshold
into a delightful morning all smiles and greetings and subtle
invitations to come away into the forest and fields, full of promises of
flowers and songs, but in conflict with their project, which was to
inquire out their way from the maidens at the fountain, who would be
sure to know it, and in its shade to read the story of David and Goliath
first and other stories afterwards. But the gay morning drew their
thoughts away from texts, and without being aware of their apostasy they
had already begun to indulge in hopes that the maidens would be late at
the fountain and leave them some time to loiter by the old aqueduct that
brought the water in a tiny stream to fall into a marble trough: an
erstwhile sarcophagus, maybe, Azariah said, as he gathered some water
out of it with his hands and drank, telling Joseph to do likewise.

There were clouds in the sky, so the sun kept coming and going. A great
lantern, Joseph said. That God holds in his hands, Azariah answered; and
when tired of waiting for maidens who did not appear their beguilement
was continued by shadows advancing and retreating across the roadway.
The town was an enchantment in the still limpid morning, but when they
rose to their feet their eyes fell on a greater enchantment - the hills
clothed in moving light and shade so beautiful that the appeal to come
away to the woods and fields continued in their hearts after they had
lowered their eyes and would not be denied, though they prayed for
strength to adhere to their original project. It had died out of their
hearts through no fault of theirs, as far as they could see; and
wondering how they might get remission from it they strode about the
city, idly casting their eyes into ravines whither the walls dropped,
and raising them to the crags whither the walls rose: faithful servants,
Azariah said, that have saved the city many times from robbers from the
other side of Jordan.

Joseph's thoughts were far away on the hillside opposite amid the woods,
and Azariah's voice jarred. By this time, he said, the maidens are
drawing water. But perhaps, Joseph answered, none will be able to tell
us the way to the rock, and if none has heard for certain on which rock
Samuel offered sacrifice we might go roaming over the hills and into
forests yonder to find perhaps some wolf cubs in a cave. But a she-wolf
with cubs is dangerous, Azariah replied. If we were to try to steal her
cubs, Joseph interjected. But we don't want to meddle with them, only to
see them. May we go roaming to-day, Sir, and read the story of David and
Goliath to-morrow? The boy's voice was full of entreaty and Azariah had
very little heart to disappoint him, but he dared not break an
engagement which he looked upon as almost sacred; and walked debating
with himself, asking himself if the absence of a maiden at the fountain
might be taken as a sign that they were free to abandon the Scriptures
for the day, only for the day. And seeing the fountain deserted Joseph
cried out in his heart: we are free! But as they turned aside to go
their way a maiden came with a pitcher upon her head; but as she had
never heard of the rock, nor indeed of Samuel, Joseph was certain that
God had specially designed her ignorant, so that they might know that
the day before them was for enjoyment. You said, Sir, that if none could
direct us we might leave the story until to-morrow. I did not say that,
Azariah answered. All the same he did not propose to wait for another
maiden more learned than the first, but followed Joseph to the gates of
the city, nor did he raise any objection to passing through them, and
they stood with their eyes fixed on the path that led over the brow down
into the valley, a crooked twisting path that had seemed steep to
Azariah's mule overnight and that now seemed steeper to Azariah. And
will seem still steeper to me in the evening when we return home tired,
he said. But we shall not be tired, Joseph interposed, we need not go
very far, only a little way into the forest. And he did not dare to say
more, lest by some careless word he might provoke an unpremeditated
opposition.

He dreaded to hear the words on Azariah's lips: you have come here with
me to learn Hebrew and may not miss a lesson.... If he could persuade
Azariah into the path he would not turn back until they reached the
valley, and once in the valley, he might as well ascend the opposite
hill as go back and climb up the hill whence they had come. I am afraid,
said Azariah, that this cool morning will pass into a very hot day: the
clouds that veil the sky are dispersing. We shall not feel the heat once
we are in the forest, Joseph replied, and the path up yonder hill is not
so steep as the paths we go down by. You see the road, Sir, twisting up
the hillside, and it is planned so carefully to avoid a direct ascent
that a man has just belaboured his ass into a trot. They have passed
behind a rock, but we shall see them presently.

Azariah waited a moment for the man and ass to reappear, but after all
he was not much concerned with them, and began to descend unmindful of
the lark which mounted the sky in circles singing his delirious song.
Joseph begged Azariah to hearken, but his preceptor was too much
occupied with the difficulties of the descent, nor could he be persuaded
to give much attention to a flight of doves flying hither and thither as
if they had just discovered that they could fly, diving and wheeling
and then going away in a great company, coming back and diving again,
setting Joseph wondering why one bird should separate himself from the
flock and alight again. Again and again this happened, the flock
returning to release him from his post. Were the birds playing a sort of
game? Frolicking they were, for sure, and Joseph felt he would like to
have wings and go away with them, and he wished Azariah would hasten, so
pleasant it was in the valley.

A pleasant spacious valley it was, lying between two hills of about
equal height: the hill they had come down was a little steeper than the
hill they were about to go up. Joseph noticed the shadows that fell from
the cliffs and those that the tall feathery trees, growing out of the
scrub, cast over the sunny bottom of the valley, a water-course probably
in the rainy season; and he enjoyed the little puffing winds that came
and went, and the insects that came out of their hiding-places to enjoy
the morning. The dragonflies were bustling about their business: what it
was not easy to discover, but they went by in companies of small flies,
with now and then a great one that rustled past on gauzy wings. And the
bees were coming and going from their hive in the rocks, incited by the
fragrance of the flowers, and Joseph watched them crawling over the
anemones and leaving them hastily to bury their blunt noses in the
pistils of the white squills that abounded everywhere in the corners, in
the inlets and bays and crevices of the rocks. Butterflies, especially
the white, pursued love untiringly in the air, fluttering and hovering,
uniting and then separating - aerial wooings that Joseph followed with
strained eyes, till at last the white bloom passed out of sight; and he
turned to the dragonflies, hoping to capture one of the fearful kind,
often nearly succeeding, but failing at the last moment and returning
disappointed to Azariah who, seated on a comfortable stone, waited till
Joseph's ardour should abate a little. These stones will be too hot in
another hour, he said. But it will be cool enough under the boughs,
Joseph answered. Perhaps too cool, Azariah muttered, and Joseph wondered
if it were reasonable to be so discontented with the world, especially
on a morning like this, he said to himself; and to hearten Azariah he
mentioned again that the path up the hillside zigzagged. You'll not feel
the ascent, Sir. To which encouragement Azariah made no answer but drew
Joseph's attention to the industry of the people of Arimathea. The eager
boy could spare only a few moments for the beauty of the fig and
mulberry leaves showing against the dark rocks, but he snuffed the scent
the breeze bore and said it was the same that had followed them
yesterday. The scent of the vine-flower, Azariah rejoined. The hillsides
were covered with the pale yellow clusters. But I thought, Joseph, that
you were too tired yesterday to notice anything. Only towards the end of
the journey, Joseph muttered. But what are you going to do, Sir? he
asked. I am going to run up the hill. You may run if you please, the
preceptor answered, and as he followed the boy at a more leisurely pace
he wondered at Joseph's spindle shanks struggling manfully against the
ascent. He will stop before the road turns, he said, but Joseph ran on.
He is anxious to reach the top, Azariah pondered. There is some pleasant
turf up there full of flowers: he'll like to roll like a young donkey,
his heels in the air, Azariah said to himself as he ascended the steep
path, stopping from time to time that he might better ponder on the
moral of this spring morning. He will roll among the grass and flowers
like a young donkey, and then run hither and thither after insects and
birds, his heart aflame with delight. He desires so many things that he
knows not what he desires, only that he desires. Whereas I can but
remember that once I was as he is to-day. So the spring is sad for the
young as well as for the old.

But old as he was he was glad to feel that he was still liable to the
season's thrill in retrospect at least, and he asked himself questions:
how many years ago is it since...? But he did not get further with his
recollections. The ascent is too steep, he said, and he continued the
ascent thinking of his breath rather than of her.

Joseph stood waiting on the edge of the rocks and cried out in the
fulness of his joy on seeing his preceptor appear above the cliff, and
at once fell to rolling himself over and over. Just as I expected he
would, Azariah remarked to himself. And then, starting to his feet,
Joseph began gathering flowers, but in a little while he stood still,
his nosegay dropping flower by flower, for his thoughts had taken
flight. The doves, the doves! he cried, looking into the blue and white
sky. The doves have their nests in the woods, the larks build in the
grass he said, and asked Azariah to come with him. The nest was on a
tuft of grass. But I've not touched them, he said. Three years ago I
used to rob all the nests and blow the eggs, you see, for I was making a
collection. Azariah asked him if the lark would grieve for her eggs, and
Joseph answered that he supposed she would soon forget them. Hark to his
singing! and he ran on into the outskirts of the woods, coming back a
few minutes afterwards to ask Azariah to hasten, for the wood was more
beautiful than any wood he had ever seen. And if you know the trees in
which the doves build I will climb and get the nest. Doves build in
taller trees than these, in fir-trees, Azariah answered. But this is a
pretty wood, Joseph. And he looked round the quiet sunny oak wood and
began his relation that this wood was probably the remains of the
ancient forests that had covered the country when the Israelites came
out of the north of Arabia. How long ago was that, Sir? Joseph asked,
and Azariah hazarded the answer that it might be as many as fifteen
hundred years ago. How old is the oldest oak-tree? Joseph inquired, and
Azariah had again to hazard the answer that a thousand years would make
an old tree. And when will these trees be in leaf, Sir, and may we come
to Arimathea when they are in leaf? And look, somebody has been felling
trees here. Who do you think it was, Sir? Azariah looked round. The
forest must have been supplying the city with firewood for many years,
he said. All these trees are young and they are too regularly spaced for
a natural growth. But higher up the hills the woods are denser and



Online LibraryGeorge MooreThe Brook Kerith A Syrian story → online text (page 2 of 37)