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Source: Hebrew Heroes

One evening, towards the hour of sunset, Zarah sat alone at her wheel
awaiting the return of Anna from the city, she was startled by the
sound of a hand rapping hastily upon the panel of the door. The hand
was assuredly not that of Anna, who, from precaution, had adopted a
peculiar way of tapping to announce her return. As no visitor ever
came to Zarah's dwelling, it was no marvel that she felt alarm at the
unexpected sound, especially as she was aware that she had neglected
her usual precaution of barring the door during the absence of Anna.
As Zarah hastily rose to repair her omission, the door was opened from
without, and Lycidas stood before her. The countenance of the Greek
expressed anxiety and alarm.

"Lady, forgive the intrusion," said Lycidas, bending in lowly
salutation before the startled girl; "but regard for your safety
compels me to seek this interview. I was to-day in company with
Lysimachus, the Syrian courtier--how we chanced to be together, or
wherefore he mentioned to me what I am about to disclose, matters
little, and I would be brief. Lysimachus told me that, from
information which he had received--how, I know not--he had cause to
suspect that the maiden who some half-year back had been sentenced by
the king to death if she refused to apostatize from her faith, was
living secluded in a dwelling amongst the hills to the east of the
city. The Syrian declared that he was resolved to-morrow morn to
explore thoroughly every spot which could possibly afford a place of
concealment to the maiden--whom he intends to seize and send as a
prisoner into Persia, to the merciless tyrant whom he serves."

Zarah turned very pale at the tidings, and leaned on her wheel for
support.

"You must fly to-night, dearest lady," said Lycidas; "this dwelling is
no longer a safe asylum for you."

"Whither can I fly, and how?" murmured the orphan girl. "I have no
friend here except"--Zarah hesitated, and Lycidas completed the
sentence.

"Except one to whom your lightest wish is a command; to whom every hair
of your head is dearer than life!" exclaimed the Athenian.

"Speak not thus to me, Lycidas," said Zarah, in a tone of entreaty;
"you know too well the impassable barrier which divides us."

"Not impassable, Zarah," cried the Greek; "it has been thrown down, I
have trampled over it, and it separates us no longer. Hear me, O
daughter of Abraham! Much have I learned since last I stood on this
threshold; deeply have I studied your Scriptures; long have I secretly
conversed with the wise and learned who could instruct me in your
faith. I am now persuaded that there is no God but one God--He who
revealed Himself to Abraham: I have renounced every heathen
superstition; I have in all things conformed to the law of Moses; I
have been formally received as a proselyte into the Jewish Church; and
am now, like Achor the Ammonite, in everything save name and birth, a
Hebrew."

Zarah could not refrain from uttering an exclamation of delight. Her
whole countenance suddenly lighted up with an expression of happiness,
which was reflected on that of him who stood before her--for in that
blissful moment Lycidas felt that he must be beloved.

"Oh, joy!" cried Zarah, clasping her hands. "Then have you also
embraced the Holy Covenant, and you are numbered amongst the children
of Abraham! Then may I look upon you as a brother indeed!"

"Can you not look upon me as something more than a brother, Zarah?"
exclaimed the Athenian. "Why should you not fly--since you needs must
fly from this dangerous spot--under the protection, the loving, devoted
care, of an affianced husband?"

Zarah flushed, trembled, covered her face with her hands, and sank,
rather than seated herself, upon the divan from which she had risen on
hearing the knock of the Greek. Lycidas ventured to seat himself
beside the young maiden, take one of her unresisting hands and press it
first to his heart, then to his lips--for he read consent in the
silence of Zarah.

But the maiden had none of the calm tranquillity of happiness; she felt
bewildered, doubtful of herself; again she covered her face and
murmured, "Oh, that my mother were here to guide me!"

"Hadassah would not have spurned a proselyte whom the elders have
received; she was too large-minded, too just," said Lycidas,
disappointed and somewhat mortified at the doubts which evidently
disturbed the mind of the maiden. "Listen to the plan which I have
formed for your escape, my Zarah. I have already made arrangements
with the trusty Joab. He will bring a horse-litter an hour after dark
to bear you and your handmaid hence; I will accompany you as your armed
and mounted attendant. We will direct our course to the coast. At
Joppa we shall, I hope, find a vessel, borne forward by whose white
wings we shall soon reach my own beautiful and glorious land, where
love, freedom, and happiness, shall await my fair Hebrew bride!"

For some moments Zarah made no reply; how tempting was the vista thus
suddenly opened before her--radiant with rosy light, like those seen in
the clouds at sunrise! Then Zarah uncovered her face, but without
raising it, or venturing to look at Lycidas, she said, in a voice that
trembled with emotion, "Hadassah, my mother, would have deemed it
unseemly for a maiden thus to flee from her country to a land where her
God is not known and worshipped, and under the protection of one who is
none of her kindred."

"I thought that you had no kindred, Zarah," said Lycidas, with
uneasiness; "that you had none left of your family whose guardianship
you could seek."

"I have--or had--an aged relative, Rachel of Bethsura," replied Zarah,
"who, if she be yet living, will assuredly receive me into her home.
But my next of kin are the Asmonean brothers."

"The noblest family in the land!" exclaimed the Athenian. "If it be
indeed impossible for you to escape with me into Greece--"

"Not impossible, but wrong," said Zarah, softly; "it would be
disobeying what I know would have been the will of her whose wishes are
more sacred to me now than ever."

"Then be mine in your own land," cried Lycidas, "where I may show that
I merit to win you. Will the noble Judas and his brothers deem me
unworthy to unite with one of their race if I devote my sword to the
cause of which they are the champions--a cause as glorious as that for
which my ancestor died at Marathon?"

Still the cloud of doubt did not pass from the fair brow of Zarah.
There was a difficulty in her mind which she shrank from disclosing to
Lycidas. At last she timidly said, her cheeks glowing crimson as she
spoke, "Shall I be candid with you, Lycidas? shall I tell all--as to a
brother?"

"All, all," replied the Athenian, with painful misgiving at his heart.

"Beloved Hadassah is at rest, I can hear her dear voice no more,
but--but I am not ignorant of what were her views and wishes," said
Zarah. "I believe--indeed I know"--Zarah could hardly speak distinctly
enough, in her confusion, for the strained ear of Lycidas to catch her
words--"she had destined me for another; I am not quite certain whether
I be not even betrothed."

Lycidas could not refrain from a passionate outburst. "It was
wicked--cruel--infamous," he cried, "to dispose of your hand without
your consent!"

"Such words must never be applied to aught that she did," said Zarah.
"The revered mother ever consulted the happiness as well as the honour
of her child. She would never have urged upon me any marriage from
which my heart revolted, but she let me know her wishes. And the very
last day that we were together"--tears flowed fast from under Zarah's
long drooping lashes as she went on--"on that fatal day, ere I left her
to attend the Passover feast, Hadassah charged me, by the love that I
bore to her, never to take any important step in life without at least
consulting him in whom she felt assured that I should find my best
earthly protector."

"And who may this chosen individual be?" asked Lycidas, almost
fiercely; a pang of jealousy stirring in his breast as he demanded the
name of his rival.

Zarah murmured, "Judas Maccabeus."

"Judas Maccabeus!" exclaimed the young Greek, starting to his feet,
more alarmed at the sound of that name than had been the warriors of
Nicanor, when hearing it suddenly at night in the death-shout.
Lycidas, with all the enthusiastic admiration which noble deeds inspire
in a poetic and generous nature like his, had regarded the career of
the Hebrew hero. The history of Maccabeus was to the Greek an acted
epic; in character, in renown, Judas, in his estimation, towered like a
giant above all other men of his generation. Lycidas had met the
chieftain but once; but in that one meeting had received impressions
which made him idealize Maccabeus into a being more like the demi-gods
of whom poets sang, whom worshippers adored, than one of the denizens
of earth. He was in the eyes of the young enthusiast, conqueror,
patriot, and prince--a breathing embodiment of "the heroism of virtue."
The Greek had never thought of Maccabeus before as one subject to human
passions, save love of country, and perhaps love of fame; or as one
influenced by human affections, who might seek to win a woman's heart
as well as to triumph over his foes. The idea of having him for a
rival struck the young Athenian with something like despair; it seemed
more than presumption to enter the arena against such an opponent as
this. Lycidas believed that, had Antiochus Epiphanes laid the crown of
Syria at the feet of Zarah, she would have rejected the gift; but
breathed there a maiden in Judaea who could do aught but accept with
pride the proffered hand of her country's hero--of him who was to all
other mortals as snow-capped Lebanon to a mole-hill?

Zarah felt that her disclosure had inspired more alarm in the mind of
Lycidas than she had intended, or than was warranted by the true state
of the relations between her and the Hebrew leader. She hastened to
relieve the apprehensions of the Greek. "I reverence Maccabeus," said
the maiden; "I would repose the greatest confidence alike in his wisdom
and his honour; but, personally, Judas is no more to me than any of his
brothers."

Lycidas drew a deep sigh of relief. Grateful for the encouragement
which he drew from this avowal, the Greek resumed his place by the side
of Zarah. "What course will you then pursue towards Maccabeus?" he
inquired.

"I must consult him, as Hadassah bade me consult him," said the maiden:
"he must know all that most nearly concerns me; it seems to me as if he
stood to me now in the place of a father."

The spirits of Lycidas rose at the word; again his heart was buoyant
with hope.

"Our first object now, beloved one," said he, "must be to place your
person in safety. As you will not seek refuge in Attica, we will bend
our course southward--if such be your wish--and find out your aged
relative at Bethsura. I would fain that she dwelt in any other
direction; for Bethsura itself holds a Syrian garrison, the army of
Lysias is advancing, and southern Judaea is so infested by armed bands
that travelling is scarcely safe. Have you no friends, no relatives,
in Galilee, or on the sea-coast?"

Zarah shook her head. "I know not of one," she replied. "Rachel
dwells not in Bethsura but near it, and in a spot so retired that the
enemy is scarcely likely to find it out. If the country be infested by
armed bands--they are the followers of Maccabeus, and from them we have
nothing to dread."

Though Lycidas was not a little disappointed at having to give up his
first scheme--that of bearing off Zarah to the coast, and thence to
Attica--he could not but respect her scruples, and own that the course
upon which she had decided was not only the most dutiful but the most
wise. It was agreed therefore that Zarah, under the escort of Lycidas,
should start at the hour which the Greek had first proposed; but that,
instead of Joppa, her destination should be Bethsura--at which place,
by travelling all night, she might hope to arrive before dawn.

While Zarah was concluding these arrangements with Lycidas, Anna
returned from Jerusalem. The face of the faithful servant expressed
anxiety; a warning dropped in her ear by a Hebrew acquaintance had
rendered her uneasy on account of her mistress. "Beware! dogs are on
the scent of the deer." Heartily glad was the handmaid to find that
the Athenian lord had come to aid the escape of Zarah; his talents, his
courage, the gold which he so lavishly spent, would, as she thought,
clear away all difficulties attending their flight.

The Greek soon left the lady and her attendant to make needful
preparations for a journey so sudden and unexpected as that which was
before them.





Next: Night Travelling

Previous: The Mourner's Home



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