Lady Barbara was apprehensive. She had learned many things in the long weeks of her virtual captivity among this strange religious sect. Among other things she had learned their language, and the mastery of it had opened to her inquiring mind many avenues of information previously closed. And now she was learning, or she believed she was, that Abraham, the son of Abraham, was nursing in his bosom a growing skepticism of her divinity.
Her first night in Midian had witnessed her introduction to the cruel customs and rites of this degenerate descendant of the earliest Christian Church, and as she acquired a working knowledge of the language of the land and gained an appreciation of the exalted origin the leaders of the people attributed to her, and her position of spokesman for their god, she had used her influence to discourage, and even to prohibit, the more terrible and degrading practices of their religion.
While recollection of the supernatural aspects of her descent from the clouds remained clear in the weak mind of Abraham, the son of Abraham, Lady Barbara had been successful in her campaign against brutality; but daily association with this celestial visitor had tended to dissipate the awe that had at first overwhelmed the prophet of Paul, the son of Jehovah. The interdictions of his heavenly guest were all contrary to the desires of Abraham, the son of Abraham, and to the word of Jehovah as it had been interpreted by the prophets beyond the memory of man. Such were the foundations of the prophet’s increasing skepticism, nor was the changing attitude of the old man toward her unrecognized by the English girl.
Today he had ignored her and was even forcing her to accompany them and witness the proof of his apostasy. What would come next? She had had not only ocular proof of the fanatical blood frenzy of the terrible old man, but she had listened for hours to detailed descriptions of orgies of frightfulness from the lips of Jezebel. Yes, Lady Barbara Collis was apprehensive, and not without reason; but she determined to make a last effort to reassert her waning authority.
“Think well Abraham, the son of Abraham,” she said to the man walking at her side, “of the wrath of Jehovah when he sees that you have disobeyed him.”
“I walk in the path of the prophets,” replied the old man. “Always we have punished those who defied the laws of Jehovah, and Jehovah has rewarded us. Why should he be wroth now? The girl must pay the price of her iniquity.”
“But she only smiled,” argued Lady Barbara.
“A sin in the eyes of Jehovah,” replied Abraham, the son of Abraham. “Laughter is carnal, and smiles lead to laughter, which gives pleasure; and all pleasures are the lures of the devil. They are wicked.”
“Do not say any more,” said Jezebel, in English. “You will only anger him, and when he is angry he is terrible.”
“What sayest thou, woman?” demanded Abraham, the son of Abraham.
“I was praying to Jehovah in the language of Heaven,” replied the girl.
The Prophet let his scowling gaze rest upon her. “Thou doest well to pray, woman. Jehovah looks not with pleasure upon thee.”
“Then I shall continue praying,” replied the girl meekly, and to Lady Barbara, in English; “The old devil is already planning my punishment. He has always hated me, just as they always hate us poor creatures who are not created in the same image as they.”
The remarkable difference in physical appearance and mentality that set Jezebel apart from the other Midians was an inexplicable phenomenon that had constantly puzzled Lady Barbara and would continue to puzzle her, since she could not know of the little fair haired slave girl whose virile personality still sought to express itself beyond a grave nineteen centuries old. How greatly Jezebel’s mentality surpassed that of her imbecilic fellows had been demonstrated to Lady Barbara by the surprising facility with which the girl had learned to speak English while she was teaching Lady Barbara the language of the Midians. How often and how sincerely had she thanked a kindly Providence for Jezebel!
The procession had now arrived at the shore of the lake, which legend asserted to be bottomless, and had halted where a few flat lava rocks of great size overhung the waters. The apostles took their places with Abraham, the son of Abraham, upon one of the rocks, the girl in their midst; and then a half dozen younger men came forward at a signal from Jobab. One of their number carried a fibre net, and two others brought a heavy piece of lava. Quickly they threw the net over the now terrified and screaming girl and secured the lava rock to it.
Abraham, the son of Abraham, raised his hands above his head, and at the signal all knelt. He commenced to pray in that now familiar gibberish that was not Midian, nor, according to Jezebel, any language whatsoever, for she insisted that the Prophet and the Apostles, to whose sole use it was restricted, could not understand it themselves. The girl, kneeling, was weeping softly now, sometimes choking down a muffled sob, while the young men held the net securely.
Suddenly Abraham, the son of Abraham, abandoned the ecclesiastical tongue and spoke in the language of his people. “For as she has sinned so shall she suffer,” he cried. “It is the will of Jehovah, in his infinite mercy, that she shall not be consumed by fire, but that she shall be immersed three times in the waters of Chinnereth that her sins may be washed from her. Let us pray that they may be not too grievous, since otherwise she shall not survive.” He nodded to the six young men, who seemed well schooled in their parts.
Four of them seized the net and raised it between them, while the remaining two held the ends of long fibre ropes that were attached to it. As the four commenced to swing the body of the girl pendulum like between them, her screams and pleas for mercy rose above the silent waters of Chinnereth in a diapason of horror, mingled with which were the shrieks and groans of those who, excited beyond the capacity of their nervous systems, were falling to the ground in the throes of epileptic seizures.
To and fro, with increasing rapidity, the young men swung their terror crazed burden. Suddenly one of them collapsed to sink, writhing and foaming, to the surface of the great block of lava upon which they stood, dropping the soft body of the girl heavily to the hard rocks. As Jobab signaled to another young man to take the place of him who had fallen, an apostle screamed and dropped in his tracks.
But no one gave heed to those who had succumbed, and a moment later the girl was swinging to and fro out over the waters of Chinnereth, back over the hard face of the lava.
“In the name of Jehovah! In the name of Jehovah!” chanted Abraham, the son of Abraham, to the cadence of the swinging sack. “In the name of Jehovah! In the name of his son—” there was a pause, and as the body of the girl swung again out over the water—“Paul!”
It was the signal. The four young men released their holds upon the net, and the body of the girl shot downward toward the dark waters of the lake. There was a splash. The screaming ceased. The waters closed in above the victim of cruel fanaticism, leaving only a widening circle of retreating wavelets and two fibre ropes extending upward to the altar of castigation.
For a few seconds there was silence and immobility, except for the groans and contortions of the now greatly increased numbers of the victims of the Nemesis of the Midians. Then Abraham, the son of Abraham, spoke again to the six executioners, who immediately laid hold of the two ropes and hauled the girl upward until she swung, dripping and choking, just above the surface of the water.
For a brief interval they held her there; and then, at a word from the Prophet, they dropped her again beneath the waters.
“You murderer!” cried Lady Barbara, no longer able to control her anger. “Order that poor creature drawn ashore before she is drowned.”
Abraham, the son of Abraham, turned eyes upon the English girl that almost froze her with horror—the wild, staring eyes of a maniac; piercing pupils rimmed round with white. “Silence, blasphemer!” screamed the man. “Last night I walked with Jehovah, and He told me that you would be next.”
“Oh, please,” whispered Jezebel, tugging at Lady Barbara’s sleeve. “Do not anger him more or you are lost.”
The Prophet turned again to the six young men, and again, at his command, the victim was drawn above the surface of the lake. Fascinated by the horror of the situation, Lady Barbara had stepped to the edge of the rock, and, looking down, saw the poor creature limp but still gasping in an effort to regain her breath. She was not dead, but an other immersion must surely prove fatal.
“Oh, please,” she begged, turning to the Prophet, “in the name of merciful God, do not let them lower her again!”
Without a word of reply Abraham, the son of Abraham, gave the signal; and for the third time the now unconscious girl was dropped into the lake. The English girl sank to her knees in an attitude of prayer, and raising her eyes to heaven plead fervently to her Maker to move the heart of Abraham, the son of Abraham, to compassion, or out of the fulness of His own love to save the victim of these misguided creatures from what seemed now certain death. For a full minute she had prayed, and still the girl was left beneath the waters. Then the Prophet commanded that she be raised.
“If she is now pure in the eyes of Jehovah,” he cried, “she will emerge alive. If she be dead, it is the will of Jehovah. I have but walked in the paths of the Prophets.”
The six young men raised the sagging net to the surface of the rocks where they rolled the limp form of the girl from it close to where Lady Barbara kneeled in prayer. And now the Prophet appeared to notice the attitude and the pleading voice of the English girl for the first time.
“What doest thou?” he demanded.
“I pray to a God whose power and mercy are beyond your understanding,” she replied. “I pray for the life of this poor child.”
“There is the answer to your prayer,” sneered the Prophet contemptuously, indicating the still body of the girl. “She is dead, and Jehovah has revealed to all who may have doubted that Abraham, the son of Abraham, is His prophet and that thou art an impostor.”
“We are lost,” whispered Jezebel.
Lady Barbara thought as much herself; but she thought quickly, for the emergency was critical. Rising, she faced the Prophet. “Yes, she is dead,” she replied, “but Jehovah can resurrect her.”
“He can, but He will not,” said Abraham, the son of Abraham.
“Not for you, for He is angry with him who dares to call himself His prophet and yet disobeys His commands.” She stepped quickly to the side of the lifeless body. “But for me He will resurrect her. Come Jezebel and help me!”
Now Lady Barbara, in common with most modern, athletically inclined young women, was familiar with the ordinary methods for resuscitating the drowned; and she fell to work upon the victim of the Prophet’s homicidal mania with a will born not only of compassion, but of vital necessity. She issued curt orders to Jezebel from time to time, orders which broke but did not terminate a constant flow of words which she voiced in chant-like measures. She started with The Charge of the Light Brigade, but after two stanzas her memory failed and she had recourse to Mother Goose, snatches from the verse in Alice in Wonderland, Kipling, Omar Khayyam; and, as the girl after ten minutes of heartbreaking effort commenced to show signs of life, Lady Barbara closed with excerpts from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Crowded about them were the Prophet, the Apostles, the Elders, and the six executioners, while beyond these the villagers pressed as close as they dared to witness the miracle if such it were to be.
“‘And that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth,’” chanted Lady Barbara, rising to her feet. “Lay the child in the net,” she commanded, turning to the wide eyed young men who had cast her into the lake, “and carry her tenderly back to the cave of her parents. Come Jezebel!” To Abraham, the son of Abraham, she vouchsafed not even a glance.
That night the two girls sat at the entrance of their cave looking out across the uncharted valley of Midian. A full moon silvered the crest of the lofty escarpment of the crater’s northern rim. In the middle distance the silent waters of Chinnereth lay like a burnished shield.
“It is beautiful,” sighed Jezebel.
“But, oh, how horrible, because of man,” replied Lady Barbara, with a shudder.
“At night, when I am alone, and can see only the beautiful things, I try to forget man,” said the golden one. “Is there so much cruelty and wickedness in the land from which you come, Barbara?”
“There are cruelty and wickedness everywhere where men are, but in my land it is not so bad as here where the church rules and cruelty is the sole business of the church.”
“They say the men over there are very cruel,” said Jezebel, pointing across the valley; “but they are beautiful—not like our people.”
“You have seen them?”
“Yes. Sometimes they come searching for their strayed goats, but not often. Then they chase us into our caves, and we roll rocks down on them to keep them from coming up and killing us. They steal our goats at such times; and if they catch any of our men they kill them, too. If I were alone I would let them catch me for they are very beautiful, and I do not think they would kill me. I think they would like me.”
“I don’t doubt it,” agreed Lady Barbara, “but if I were you I would not let them catch me.”
“Why not? What have I to hope for here? Perhaps some day I shall be caught smiling or singing; and then I shall be killed, and you have not seen all of the ways in which the Prophet can destroy sinners. If I am not killed I shall certainly be taken to his cave by some horrible old man; and there, all my life, I shall be a slave to him and his other women; and the old women are more cruel to such as I than even the men. No, if I were not afraid of what lies between I should run away and go to the land of the North Midians.”
“Perhaps your life will be happier and safer here with me since we showed Abraham, the son of Abrahm, that we are more powerful than he; and when the time comes that my people find me, or I discover an avenue of escape, you shall come away with me, Jezebel; though I don’t know that you will be much safer in England than you are here.”
“Why?” demanded the girl.
“You are too beautiful ever to have perfect safety or perfect happiness.”
“You think I am beautiful? I always thought so, too. I saw myself when I looked into the lake or into a vessel of water; and I thought that I was beautiful, although I did not look like the other girls of the land of Midian. Yet you are beautiful and I do not look like you. Have you never been safe or happy, Barbara?”
The English girl laughed. “I am not too beautiful, Jezebel,” she explained.
A footfall on the steep pathway leading to the cave caught their attention. “Someone comes,” said Jezebel.
“It is late,” said Lady Barbara. “No one should be coming now to our cave.”
“Perhaps it is a man from North Midian,” suggested Jezebel. “Is my hair arranged prettily?”
“We had better be rolling a rock into position than thinking about our hair,” said Lady Barbara, with a short laugh.
“Ah, but they are such beautiful men!” sighed Jezebel.
Lady Barbara drew a small knife from one of her pockets and opened the blade. “I do not like ‘beautiful’ men,” she said.
The approaching footfalls were coming slowly nearer; but the two young women, sitting just within the entrance to their cave, could not see the steep pathway along which the nocturnal visitor was approaching. Presently a shadow fell across their threshold and an instant later a tall old man stepped into view. It was Abraham, the son of Abraham.
Lady Barbara rose to her feet and faced the Prophet. “What brings you to my cave at this time of night?” she demanded. “What is it, of such importance, that could not wait until morning? Why do you disturb me now?”
For a long moment the old man stood glaring at her. “I have walked with Jehovah in the moonlight,” he said, presently; “and Jehovah bath spoken in the ear of Abraham, the son of Abraham, Prophet of Paul, the son of Jehovah.”
“And you have come to make your peace with me as Jehovah directed?”
“Such are not the commands of Jehovah,” replied the Prophet. “Rather He is wroth with thee who didst seek to deceive the Prophet of His son.”
“You must have been walking with someone else,” snapped Lady Barbara.
“Nay. I walked with Jehovah,” insisted Abraham, the son of Abraham. “Thou hast deceived me. With trickery, perhaps even with sorcery, thou didst bring to life her who was dead by the will of Jehovah; and Jehovah is wroth.”
“You heard my prayers, and you witnessed the miracle of the resurrection,” Lady Barbara reminded him. “Thinkest thou that I am more powerful than Jehovah? It was Jehovah who raised the dead child.”
“Thou speakest even as Jehovah prophesied,” said the Prophet. “And He spoke in my ear and commanded that I should prove thee false, that all men might see thy iniquity.”
“Interesting, if true,” commented Lady Barbara; “but not true.”
“Thou darest question the word of the Prophet?” cried the man angrily. “But tomorrow thou shalt have the opportunity to prove thy boasts. Tomorrow Jehovah shall judge thee. Tomorrow thou shalt be cast into the waters of Chinnereth in a weighted net, nor will there be cords attached whereby it may be drawn above the surface.”