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Source: Hebrew Heroes

Her brief but momentous interview with Maccabeus had left a very
painful impression upon the mind of Zarah. It had disclosed, to her
distress as well as surprise, the depth of the wound which she was
inflicting upon a loving heart; for Zarah had none of that miserable
vanity which makes the meaner of her sex triumph in their power of
giving pain. Zarah's apprehensions were also awakened on account of
Lycidas; she could not but fear that very serious obstacles might arise
to prevent her union with the Greek. Generous as Maccabeus might be,
it was not in human nature that he should favour the claims of a rival;
and determined opposition from her kinsman and prince must be
annihilation to the hopes of the maiden. There would be in many Jewish
minds prejudices against an Athenian; Zarah was aware of this, though
not of the intense hatred to which such prejudices might lead. The
short interview held with Maccabeus had sufficed to cover Zarah's
bright sky with clouds, to darken her hopes, to distress her
conscience, to make her uneasily question herself as to whether she
were indeed erring by giving her heart to a stranger. Had she really
spoken truth when she had said, "Hadassah would not have blamed us?"

But when Anna, pale with excitement, brought tidings to her young
mistress that the Hebrews were marching to battle, when Zarah heard
that the decisive hour had come on which hung the fate of her country,
and with it that of Lycidas, all other fears yielded for a time to one
absorbing terror. On her knees, with hands clasped in attitude of
prayer, yet scarcely able to pray, Zarah listened breathlessly to the
fearful sounds which were borne on the breeze--the confused noises, the
yells, the shouting--which brought vividly to her mind all the horrors
of the scene passing so near her. It was not needful for her to look
on the raging torrent of war; imagination but too readily pictured the
streams of opposing warriors, like floods from opposite mountains,
mingling and struggling together in a wild whirlpool of death; chariots
dragged by maddened horses over gory heaps of the slain--the flight of
hurtling arrows--the whirl of the deadly axe--the crash--the cry--the
rush--the retreat--the rally--the flashing weapons, now dimmed with
blood;--Zarah in thought beheld them all, and covered her eyes with
horror, as if by so doing she could shut out the sight.

For hours this agony lasted. The excitement of conflict may bear brave
hearts through a battle with little sense of horror and none of fear;
warriors, even the generous and humane, can see and do things in hot
blood, from which their souls would revolt in calmer moments; but the
woman whose earthly happiness is on the cast of the die, who cannot
shield the being dearest to her upon earth from the crushing blow or
the deadly thrust, to her the day of battle is one of unmixed anguish;
suspense is agony, and yet she dreads to exchange that suspense for
knowledge which might bring agony more intolerable still.

The maiden found some slight alleviation of her distress in the
occupation in which she and her handmaid engaged, that of making such
preparations as circumstances permitted for the comfort of the wounded,
though they knew too well that if the Syrians should win the day, there
would be no wounded Hebrews to tend--the conqueror's sword would too
thoroughly do its hideous work.

Judas Maccabeus had displayed his accustomed judgment in choosing to be
himself the assailant, instead of awaiting the assault of the myrmidons
of Syria. His sudden, unexpected attack threw the enemy into some
confusion, and gave an advantage in the commencement of the battle to
the slender forces of the Hebrew prince. His men rushed to the
conflict as those assured of success. Had they not measured swords
with the warriors of Apollonius and Seron, and more recently those of
Bacchides? Had they not scattered the thousands of Nicanor, and made
Giorgias seek safety in ignominious retreat? Was not Maccabeus their
leader, and saw they not the light flashing from his helmet in the
fore-front of the battle? Yet was the struggle obstinate; and when the
Syrians were at last forced to retire before the Hebrew heroes, a
number of the troops of Lysias threw themselves into the fortress of
Bethsura, to rally their forces behind its walls, and gather strength
to renew the combat on the following day.

But it was no part of the plan of their active adversary to leave such
a rallying-point to the Syrians, or suffer them from thence to harass
his rear, should he press onwards towards Jerusalem. His victory must
not be incomplete, Bethsura must be his ere darkness should put an end
to the conflict.

"See you yon Syrian banner waving from the tower," cried
Maccabeus,--"who will be the first to tear it down?"

He was answered by a shout from his men. "To the walls! to the walls!"
as the Hebrews pressed hard upon their retreating foes.

Bethsura was not a place of much strength, though the height of its
towers gave to their defenders the power to annoy and distress
assailants with a shower of arrows and other missiles as they rushed to
the assault. Maccabeus, foreseeing that Bethsura itself must become
the scene of the closing struggle, had had scaling-ladders in
readiness, roughly constructed by his own men from trees hewn down by
their battle-axes. With cries and shouts these were now borne onwards
towards the bulwarks of Bethsura, and notwithstanding the fierce
opposition of the Syrians, two of them were planted against the wall.
Who would mount them, who would be the first to climb upwards through
the death-shower of darts, the first to meet the fierce downward blows
and thrusts of those who stood to the defence of the beleaguered

Lycidas had borne himself bravely in the battle, he had well maintained
the honour of the land that had withstood the gigantic power of Xerxes;
now his foot was the first on one of the ladders. It was a perilous
moment. The rough spar, with branches fastened transversely at
intervals across it, on which Lycidas was mounting (for the ladder was
little more than this), swayed backwards and forwards with the struggle
between those above to fling it down, and those below to sustain it,
and it was with extreme difficulty that the climber could keep his
footing. Stones and arrows rattled on the shield which the young Greek
held with one arm above his head, as he used the other in climbing; but
Lycidas neither flinched nor paused.

"Well done--bravely done!" shouted the Hebrews who were rushing on from

"He is no Gentile, though he be a Greek!" cried the wild shrill voice
of Jasher; "onwards, upwards, warriors of Judah! one struggle more, and
Bethsura is ours!"

Almost at the top of the ladder, almost close to the wall, gasping,
straining, bleeding, struggles on the young Greek. A stone strikes his
shield, smashes it, stuns, disables the left arm which upheld it; slain
by a dart, the Hebrew just behind him falls crashing from the ladder!
The brain of Lycidas is dizzy, his ears are filled with wild clamour,
he is conscious only that honour and most probably death are before
him, still he mounts, he mounts! Two powerful Syrians have seized the
upper end of the ladder; with an effort of gigantic strength they
thrust it back from the supporting wall with its living burden of
clambering men, all but one, the foremost! Lycidas feels the ladder
beneath him failing, with a tremendous effort of agility he springs as
it falls at the wall, catches hold of it with his right hand, and
flings himself up on the parapet. But not one moment's breathing-space
is given him to start to his feet, or grasp the sword which he has
carried hung round his neck. He cannot rise, he cannot resist; swords
are gleaming above him; those who have thrown down the ladder seize the
Greek to hurl him after it! A thought of Zarah flashes across the
reeling brain of the young man, is it not his last?--no, a broad shield
is suddenly thrust between Lycidas and his assailants, they shrink back
from the sweep of a terrible sword; up the other ladder the strong and
brave have pressed with irresistible force; Judas Maccabeus himself has
planted his foot on the bulwarks, has driven back step by step their
defenders before him, and has arrived at this crisis in the fate of
Lycidas to preserve for the third time the life of his rival!

The banner of Maccabeus is planted on the highest tower of Bethsura,
and as it waves in the light of the evening sun, such a loud wild shout
of triumph rises from the victors, as might be heard for miles around!
It reaches Zarah in her hut, and sends a thrill of hope and exultation
through her heart, for she knows the shout of her people, and none but
conquerors could have rent the air with such a cheer as that! It is
followed by the cry "Jerusalem, Jerusalem!" as from the Hebrew heroes,
in that their hour of success, bursts that name of all earthly names
most dear to the sons of Israel! Jerusalem, their mother, will be
free, her liberty from a galling yoke will be the crowning reward of
their labours and perils, no foe will now dare to oppose the
conqueror's onward march towards the holy city.

Maccabeus joins in the shout, and shares in the exultation; he tramples
his own private griefs under his feet, that they may cast no gloom over
the triumph which God has vouchsafed to the arms of his people. The
prince raises his helmed head and his victorious right arm towards
heaven, and cries aloud, not with pride, but with glad thanksgiving,
"Behold! our enemies are discomfited! Let us go up to cleanse and
dedicate the sanctuary of Zion!"

Next: After The Battle

Previous: The Battle-prayer

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