In the year 1680, at Lumley, a hamlet near Chester-le-Street in the county of Durham, there lived one Walker, a man well to do in the world, and a widower. A young relation of his, whose name was Anne Walker, kept his house, to the great s... Read more of Anne Walker at Scary Stories.caInformational Site Network Informational

A Crisis

Source: Hebrew Heroes

Lycidas, in the meantime, was chafing in wild impatience under the
trial of Zarah's almost perpetual absence. He could no longer watch
her, no longer listen to her, except when his straining ear caught the
faint sound of her music floating down from an upper apartment. Why
was she away? why should she shun him? she whose presence alone had
rendered not only tolerable but delightful the kind of mild captivity
in which he was retained, while the state of his wounds rendered the
Greek unable, without assistance, to leave the dwelling of Hadassah.
Lycidas had none of the scruples of Zarah regarding union with one of a
different race and religion. The Greek had resolved on winning the
fair Hebrew maid as his bride; he was conscious of possessing the gift
of attractions such as few young hearts could resist, and asked fortune
only for an opportunity of exerting all his powers to the utmost to
secure the most precious prize for which mortal had ever contended.

Lycidas beguiled many tedious hours by the composition of a poem, of
singular beauty, in honour of Zarah. Most melodious was the flow of
the verse, most delicate the fragrance of the incense of praise. The
realms of nature, the kingdom of art, were ransacked for images of
beauty. But Lycidas felt disgusted with his own work before he had
completed it. He seemed to himself like one decorating with gems and
hanging rich garments on an exquisite statue, in the attempt to do it
honour only marring the perfection of its symmetry, and the grace of
its marble drapery. A few words which the Greek had heard Hadassah
read from her sacred parchment, appeared to him to include more than
all his most laboured descriptions could convoy. Lycidas had thought
of Zarah when he had listened to the expression, _the beauty of

"I will not stay a prisoner here, if I am to be shut out in this
stifling little den not only from the world, but from her who is more
than the world to me," thought the Greek. After months of suffering
and weakness, strength, though but slowly, was returning to the frame
of Lycidas; and when no one was near to watch him, when the door to the
west was closed, and the curtain to the east was drawn, he would
occasionally try how far that strength would enable him to go. He
would raise himself on his feet, though not without a pang from his
wounded side. Then the Greek would take a few steps, from one end of
his prison to the other, leaning for support against the wall. This
was something for a beginning; youth and love would soon enable him to
do more. But Lycidas carefully concealed from Hadassah and Anna that
he could do as much. They never saw him but reclining on the floor.
He feared that measures might be taken to clip the wings of the bird if
it were once guessed how nearly those wings were fledged.

The day before the celebration of the great feast of the Passover,
Hadassah was far from well. Whether her illness arose from the state
of the weather, for the month of Nisan was this year more than usually
hot, or the effect of long fastings and prayer upon a frame enfeebled
by age, or whether from secret grief preying on her health, Zarah knew
not,--perhaps from all these causes combined. The maiden grew uneasy
about her grandmother, and redoubled her tender ministrations to her

On the day mentioned, Anna had gone into Jerusalem to dispose of flax
spun by the Hebrew ladies, and procure a few necessary articles of
food. Hadassah never suffered her beautiful girl to enter to walls of
the city, nor, indeed, ever to quit the precincts of her home, save
when on Sabbath-days and feast-days she went, closely veiled, to the
dwelling of the elder Salathiel, about half a mile distant from that of
Hadassah, to join in social worship. Hadassah with jealous care
shrouded her white dove from the gaze of Syrian eyes.

The aged lady had passed a very restless night. With thrilling
interest Zarah had heard her moaning in her sleep, "Abner! my son! my
poor lost son!" The sealed lips were opened, when the mind had no
longer power to control their utterance. Hadassah awoke in the morning
feverish and ill. She made a vain attempt to rise and pursue her usual
avocations. Zarah entreated her to lie still. For hours the widow lay
stretched on a mat with her eyes half closed, while Zarah watched
beside her, fanning her feverish brow.

"Let me prepare for you a cooling drink, dear mother," said the maiden
at last, rising and going to the water-jar, which stood in a corner of
the apartment. "Alas! it is empty. Anna forgot to replenish it from
the spring ere she set out for the city. I will go and fill it myself."

Zarah lifted up the jar, and poising it on her head, lightly descended
the rough steps of the outer stair, and proceeded to the spring at the
back of the house. The spring was surrounded by oleanders, which at
this time of the year in Palestine are robed in their richest bloom.
But the season had been singularly hot and dry, the latter rains had
not yet fallen, and the spring was beginning to fail. Zarah placed her
jar beneath the opening from which, pure and bright, the water
trickled, but the supply was so scanty that she could almost count the
drops as they fell. It would take a considerable time for the jar to
be filled by these drops.

"Ah! methinks my earthly joys are even as this failing spring!" thought
the maiden, sadly, as she watched the slow drip of the water. "All
will be dried up soon. My loved grandmother's strength is sinking; she
will be unable to-morrow to keep the holy feast in Salathiel's house,
though her heart will be with the worshippers there. How different,
oh! how different is this Passover from that which we celebrated last
year! Then, indeed, there was an idol in the Temple of the Lord, and
holy sacrifice could not be offered in the appointed place, but the
fierce storm of persecution had not arisen in all its terrors. Then
around the table of Salathiel how many gathered whom I never again
shall behold upon earth! Solomona, my kinswoman, and her seven sons
all met in that solemn assembly; the bright-eyed Asahel, the fearless
Mahali, young Joseph, who was my merry playmate when ten years ago we
came from Bethsura hither! I remember that when Hadassah looked on
that cluster of brothers, she said that they were like the
Pleiades--they are more like those star-gems now, for they shine not on
earth but in heaven! And Solomona looked proudly on her boys--her
noble sons, and said that not one of them had ever raised a blush on
the cheek of their mother; and then, methinks, she regretted having
uttered the boast, and I fancied that I heard a stifled sigh from
Hadassah. Was it that the spirit of prophecy came upon her then, that
she foresaw the terrible future, or was it--alas! alas! I dare not
think wherefore she sighed! And old Mattathias, he who now sleeps in
the sepulchre of his fathers, he and his sons kept that Passover feast
with Salathiel, having come up to Jerusalem to worship, according to
the law of Moses. How venerable looked the old man with his long snowy
beard! it seemed to me that so Abraham must have looked, when his
earthly pilgrimage was well-nigh ended. Mattathias laid his hand on my
head and blessed me, and called me daughter. Ah! can it be that he
thought of me then as his daughter indeed! The princely Judas stood
near, and when I raised my head I met the gaze of his eyes, and I
thought--no, I never then fully grasped the meaning expressed in that
gaze, it was to me as the tender glance of a brother. Mattathias is
gone; Solomona and her children are all gone; Judas, with his gallant
band, is like a lion at bay with the hunters closing in an
ever-narrowing circle around him. Apollonius has been vanquished,
Seron defeated by our hero; but now Nicanor and Giorgias, with the
forces of Ptolemy, upwards of forty thousand men, are combining to
crush him by their overwhelming numbers! What can the devotion of our
patriots avail but to swell the band of martyrs who have already laid
down their lives in defence of our faith and our laws! Alas! theirs
will be a stern keeping of the holy feast; other blood will flow

besides that of the Paschal lamb! And a sad keeping of the feast will
be mine; I shall see scarce a familiar face, that of no relative save
Abishai; and I owe him but little affection. And oh! worst of all, I
fear me that I have an unholy leaven in my heart, which I in vain seek
to put entirely away. I am secretly cherishing the forbidden thing,
though not wilfully, not wilfully, as He knows to whom I constantly
pray for strength to give up all that is displeasing in His sight!"

The jar was now full; Zarah turned to raise it as the last thought
passed through her mind, and started as she did so! Lycidas, with all
his soul beaming in his eyes, was close beside her! The maiden uttered
a faint exclamation, and endeavoured to pass him, and return to the

"Stay, Zarah, idol of my soul!" exclaimed the Athenian, seizing her
hand; "you must not fly me, you shall listen to me once--only once!"
and with a passionate gush of eloquence the young Greek laid his hopes,
his fortunes, his heart at her feet.

Zarah turned deadly pale; her frame trembled. "Oh, Lycidas, have mercy
upon me!" she gasped. "It is sin in me even to listen; it were cruelty
to suffer you to hope. Our law forbids a daughter of Abraham to wed a
Gentile; to return your love would be rebellion against my God,
apostasy from the faith of my fathers; better to suffer--better to
die!"--and with an effort releasing her icy-cold hand from the clasp of
the man whom she loved, Zarah sprang hurriedly past him, and with the
speed of a frightened gazelle fled up the staircase, and back into the
chamber in which she had left Hadassah.

Lycidas stood bewildered by the maiden's sudden retreat. He felt as if
the gate of a paradise had been suddenly closed against him.

Next: The Two Camps

Previous: Silent Conflict

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