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A Prison

Source: Hebrew Heroes

From her long swoon Zarah awoke with a sensation of indescribable
horror. The cold drops stood on her brow, and there was a painful
tightness at her heart. The poor girl could not at once recall what
had happened, but knew that it was something dreadful. The first image
that rose up in her mind was that of the expiring Abishai: Zarah
shuddered, trembled, raised herself by an effort to a sitting posture,
and wildly gazing around her, exclaimed, "Where am I? what can have

The place in which the maiden found herself was almost quite dark, but
as she glanced upwards she could see pale stars gleaming in through a
small and heavily-barred window. She knew that she must be in a Syrian
prison. Pressing both her hands to her forehead, the young captive
recalled the terrible scene of which she had been a witness. "Oh, God
be praised that beloved Hadassah was not there!"

Zarah repeated again and again to herself, as if to strengthen her
grasp on the only consolation which at first offered itself to her
soul. "Abishai's fate is awful--awful!" Zarah shuddered with mingled
compassion and horror. "But oh, it is better, far better for him--my
poor kinsman--that he did not fall into the hands of the enemy alive,
as I have done! That would have been more awful still!"

Zarah was no high-spirited heroine, but a timid, gentle, loving girl,
subject to fears, shrinking from danger, peculiarly sensitive to pain
whether physical or mental. Though related both to Solomona and
Hadassah, Zarah had neither the calm fortitude of the one, nor the
exalted spirituality of the other; she deemed herself alike incapable
of uttering the inspired words of a prophetess, or showing the firm
endurance of a martyr.

And it was a martyr's trial that was now looming before the imprisoned
maiden: she would, like Solomona and her sons, have to renounce either
her faith or her life. To Zarah this was a terrible alternative, for
though, but a few hours previously the poor maiden had longed for death
to come and release her from sorrow, the idea of its approach, heralded
by such tortures as Hebrew captives had had to undergo, was unspeakably
dreadful to the tender spirit of Zarah.

"Oh, I fear that I shall never endure to the end; my courage will give
way; I shall disgrace myself, my country, my race, and draw on myself
the wrath of my God!" exclaimed Zarah, starting up in terror, after
rehearsing to herself the ordeal to which her faith was likely to be
exposed. "Woe is me!--what shall I do--what shall I do--is there no
way of escape?" Those massive stone walls, those thick iron bars were
sufficient answer to the question. Zarah leant against the wall, and
raised her clasped hands towards the glimpse of sky seen between those
dark bars.

"Oh, my God, have mercy upon me!" she cried; "feeble, utterly helpless
in myself, I cast myself upon Thee! Thou hast said, _When thou passest
through the waters, I will be with thee; when thou walkest through the
fire, thou shalt not be burned_. Carry the weak lamb in Thy bosom; let
me feel beneath the everlasting arms!" The tears were flowing fast
down Zarah's cheeks as she sobbed forth her almost inarticulate prayer:
"I ask not to be saved from death--not even from torture--if it be Thy
will that I should endure it; but oh, save me from falling away from
Thee; save me from denying my faith, and breaking the heart of my
mother!---And I shall surely be saved!" said Zarah more calmly, her
faith gaining strength from the exercise of prayer. "Perhaps the Lord
will make the pain tolerable--He to whom all things are possible can do
so--or He may even send an angel to protect me, as He sent His bright
and holy ones to guard Elisha." The imagination of Zarah pictured a
being with glorious wings flying down to her rescue, with a countenance
resembling that of Lycidas--to her the type of perfect beauty. "Or the
Lord may raise up some earthly friend," continued Zarah. Then fancy
again pictured a Lycidas, but this time wanting the wings. The maiden
stopped her weeping, and dashed the limpid drops from her eyes. A
gleam of brightness seemed to illumine the dark prospect before her.
How eagerly do we listen to the voice of hope, even if it be but the
echo of a wish, an echo thrown back from the cold hard rock which can
only repeat the utterance of our own heart's desires; it comes back to
us like music! Zarah's prison would have been far more dreary to the
maiden, her approaching trial far more dreadful, had she known the fact
that Lycidas had gone to Bethlehem, and had heard nothing of the peril
of her whom he loved.

In the same unconsciousness of Zarah's imminent peril, another, to whom
she was dearer than the sight of the eyes or the breath of life, lay
extended on the ground in sleep, many miles from Jerusalem, with no
pillow but that stalwart arm, around which was still twined a slight
flaxen strand. A monarch might have envied the dream which made the
features of the sleeper relax into an expression of happiness which,
when waking, they seldom indeed wore. Maccabeus, lying on the parched
dry earth, was in thought seated in an Eden of flowers, with Zarah at
his side, her small hand clasped in his own. She was listening with
bashful smile and downcast eyes to words such as the warrior had never
breathed to her, save in his dreams. All was peace within and without,
peace deepening into rapture, even as the sky above appeared almost
dark from the intensity of its blue! Such was the Hebrew's dream of
Zarah! How different the dream from the actual reality! Had Maccabeus
known the actual position of the helpless girl, to guard whom from the
slightest wrong he would so willingly have shed his life's blood, even
that heart which had never yet quelled in the face of peril would have
known for once keenest anguish of fear!

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