14

A Surprise Rendezvous

Hans had noticed that his cousin had become more and more melancholy and wondered if the time Malchus was spending alone was really all that good for him. In response to his uneasiness about his cousin, Hans came up with a plan that required Rachelís help. One evening after dinner, he approached Rachel to enlist her support, "Rachel, I need to talk," Hans said as though he had a secret to share. "See those trees over there in the southwest corner of the compound."

"Yes, what about them?"

"Thatís where Malchus disappears every evening after dinner."

"Oh, so that must be why I havenít been seeing him around the compound in the evenings anymore."

"Well, Malchus is the type who needs time for contemplation, but I bet he would contemplate a whole lot better if you were by his side."

"Hans, are you trying to play matchmaker?"

"No, Malchus has told me you are just a friend of the heart."

Hansí words seemed to repeat themselves over and over in Rachelís mind over the next few days, "I bet he would contemplate a whole lot better if you were by his side; just a friend of the heart." Some days later she mentioned to her mother about Malchusís secret hideaway and asked if she could visit him some evening. Ruth, a little hesitant about the fact that Rachel was a Jew and Malchus a Gentile, cautioned her daughter, "Guard your heart. It would never be possible for the two of you to be anything more than friends of the heart."

"Friends of the heart," Rachel mulled, "that was exactly what Malchus had told Hans." She liked the way it sounded and made a pronouncement to her mother, "Well, I think that I should join him then this evening."

"Of course, you know how Caiaphas would feel about this if he ever found out," her mother said rather strongly. "He thinks he must be a father to his brotherís daughter, and you know how strict he is about the law." Then after a long pause, Ruth stopped her weaving and shook her head saying, "But I will have to admit that if your father were still alive, he would agreed you should go, as Malchus is such a fine young man. So go, but be sure to leave through the small door at the back of the quarters for the slave girls and, for goodness sake, stay behind the row of trees so that Caiaphas canít see you!"

Rachel was already out the door before her mother had even finished the last sentence. Outdoors, the sun was touching the tops of the hills in the distance. As she neared the place where Malchus should be, she observed through the trees a trail of yellow and orange left by the sun. As she closed the distance, she could see the outline of Malchus leaning back on his elbows on a flat rock overlooking the valley.

Malchus heard footsteps in the grass and turned his head to see what or who might be coming. When he saw that it was Rachel, he quickly sat up, scrambling to stand to his feet. "Oh, Rachel, itís you. I thought at first it was one of those brazen lizards that always seems to move into hiding when the sun goes down. What brings you out this way?"

"Oh, I was just out taking a stroll when I noticed the beautiful sunset. I thought maybe I could get a better view of it if I stepped behind the trees and looked out over the valley."

"I must admit that it is quite beautiful tonight. As a matter of fact, there is plenty of room on this rock. If you would like to sit down and watch the sunset, please feel free."

"Why thank you, Malchus. Maybe I will just sit down for a while and enjoy the view."

Without another word, the two found their places on the flat rock, Rachel leaning against the thin trunk of a young fig tree and Malchus with one knee up and one knee down, leaning back on the palms of his hands.

It was Rachel who intruded on the silence first, "Did you know that I used to come here when I was younger?"

Malchus cocked his head to the right, a little surprised that others before him had been here too, "Really? Tell me about it."

"Well, at the time, I needed to get away from the busy routine of daily life and clear my thoughts. I tried staying in my room at the compound, but it didnít compare with being out in nature. It seemed that being outside always brought me closer to Jehovah. I felt that I could talk to Him more freely, and I sensed, in some strange way, that He could talk back to me through the whisper of the wind and the rustling of the leaves."

"You know, Iíve felt the same thing on many occasions, but I didnít know that what I was feeling was the presence of Jehovah. One time, however, the thought did occur to me that all that I see is a part of Jehovahís creation. Your God is so dependable, Rachel. Every evening that I come, I notice that the sun sets, and the same stars fill the sky in predictable patterns. On camping trips my father taught me how to find the constellations. Did your father teach you anything about the stars?"

"Not that I can remember, but I was very young when he died."

"Itís easy, Rachel. All you have to do is find your starting point. I always use the North Star as mine. Of course, it isnít quite dark enough out yet to see it, but if youíll look close on the horizon, you can at least see Venus starting to appear. Itís the first star you can see this time of the year."

"Is that faint star the one?" Rachel asked as she pointed toward the horizon.

Malchus, scooting closer to Rachel, positioned himself just over her shoulder as she leaned forward to point her finger at the star to which she referred. "Yes, thatís it exactly!" he exclaimed. "You sure do have good eyes," he said as he moved away from her shoulder.

"Thatís what my father always said, except he put it a little differently. He said that I had eyes like an eagle and a nose like a shepherd dog. I guess it was his way of saying that I would make a good shepherdess someday. In any case, I always took it as a compliment."

"Well, if it is any consolation, I have always found your flashing black eyes fascinating and your nose beautiful in its classical look."

"Oh, Malchus, donít be silly."

"Iím not being silly. Iím being truthful."

"Cross your heart and promise not to lie?"

"Cross my heart and promise not to lie."

"Well, then, that settles that," she said as she brushed an ant off of her hem and rose to her feet. "Now all I need to do is get these flashing black eyes and classical looking nose back to the compound before itís too dark to see."

"Oh, Rachel, I do wish you didnít have to be going so soon. It seems as though you just sat down. Maybe you can come back again another evening?"

"When do you usually come here?"

"Whenever you see the sun set, I am here."

"Iíll remember that."

And with that, she turned and made her way between the olive trees. After taking a few steps, she glanced back over her shoulder as if to see if Malchus was still looking, and he was. With a slight smile, she turned back around and disappeared into the heavily-wooded grove where eventually only her footsteps on the grass could be heard.

Malchus turned back and looked out over the now-shadowed valley. Drawing his knees close to his chest, he wished that Rachel could have stayed long enough for the stars to come out, so that he could have shown her the constellations. "Maybe some day," he thought to himself, "maybe some day."

All the next day, Malchus felt like he was floating on a cloud. He had difficulty concentrating on the figures that Haman wanted him to recheck in the books. It was all he could do to add a simple column of numbers. He could hardly wait for the day to come to an end so that he could close the books, eat dinner, and find his way back to his secret hideaway. He hoped, of course, that Rachel would again be there. To his pleasant surprise, she was, evening after evening.

Summer came and went. The leaves fell off of the fig trees, and eventually, the cold winter months set in. The secret rendezvous grew fewer and fewer as the evenings turned cold. Malchus yearned for spring and the warmth of Rachel sitting next to him on the flat rock overlooking the valley.

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