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Decision






Source: Hebrew Heroes

Tossed backwards and forwards on a wild sea of doubt--a vessel without
ballast, compass, or rudder--was the mind of the miserable Pollux. The
courtier paced for hours up and down a verandah where the cool breeze
of heaven could fan him, and where he would be secure from
interruption. Ever and anon Pollux tore his beard, or smote his
breast; unconsciously giving expression by outward gesture to the
inward torture which he felt. Was he to give up all at once--all for
which he had bartered his soul, rank, wealth, position--to begin life
again on the lowest round of the ladder, with the brand of disgrace,
the burden of shame upon him? Could he endure to appear in the
presence of Maccabeus, to sue from him the place of hewer of wood and
drawer of water; to exchange the pride of power and pomp of wealth for
hardship and want, poverty and peril? Pollux felt that he could not
bring his pride to submit to the degradation, or his worldliness to the
loss. The leap to be taken was from such a height, and into such an
abyss, that it seemed as if he must be dashed in pieces by the fall.

But what was the alternative, if the dreaded leap were not taken? If
Zarah remained firm in the faith, she must die;--could the father
endure to witness the martyrdom of his beautiful child? And his own
life--was it not in danger? Was not instant flight from court the only
means of affording a chance of safety either to parent or daughter? was
it not the only means of delivering an apostate from the execrations of
his countrymen, the curse of his mother, the impending vengeance of the
Most High! Conscience would no longer be silenced--Zarah had aroused
the sleeper; beside the faith and purity of his own child, Pollux had
regarded himself almost as a demon!

And Zarah had awakened not only conscience, but hope. She had clung to
the apostate with tenderness, not shrunk back from him with horror.
She had not, then, been taught to regard her parent as one who had
forfeited all claim to her affection. Zarah had spoken of the
possibility of his yet giving joy to the lofty-souled mother whom
Pollux, in the midst of his guilt, had not ceased to reverence and
love. For many years the apostate had tried to drive from his mind all
thought of Hadassah; now her image came vividly before him, not in the
attitude of uttering a malediction, but as holding out her arms to
receive back her prodigal son.

While Pollux was deliberating, and Zarah praying, Lysimachus was
carousing amidst boon companions in the city. The ruin and approaching
execution of his rival gave unwonted zest to the revels of the
profligate Syrian.

"Here's to our friend the magnificent Pollux!" exclaimed Lysimachus,
raising on high a huge goblet of wine. "He is going on a long journey
to-morrow; here's to his quick passage over Styx, and welcome at the
shadowy court of King Pluto!"

And those who listened were not ashamed to laugh at the jest, or to
drink the toast, though they had mixed in familiar intercourse with
Pollux, flattered and followed him, when he had basked in the sunshine
of royal favour. One of the guests was calculating how he should now
get possession of some coveted gem which he had seen sparkling on the
girdle of the man to whom he had once sworn unalterable friendship;
another fixed on the Arab steed of the ruined courtier as his share of
the spoils. There was not one of the sycophants met together at that
night-revel who had a word of warning or a thought of pity to give to
him who had been the most admired, envied, and flattered of all the
nobles who composed the brilliant court of Antiochus Epiphanes!

Stars were paling, the night was waning, the door of safety was slowly,
imperceptibly closing--soon, soon the decision of Pollux, if made,
would be made too late! When once the course of duty is clear to the
mind, perilous is every minute of delay: while we hesitate, the enemy
steals on; while we doubt, we may find ourselves under his fangs!

"Zarah shall decide for me!" exclaimed the unhappy waverer at last.
"If I find her resolution immovable, come what may, I will give my
child one chance of escape from the horrible fate with which she is
threatened."

In a few minutes, pale and haggard from his contending emotions, Pollux
re-entered the apartment in which he had left his daughter.

"Zarah!" he cried, in a hollow tone, as he grasped the maiden by the
wrist, and scanned her countenance with an almost despairing gaze, "I
come to ask what is your final decision. Are you still insane enough
to choose tortures and death?"

Zarah looked her father full in the face; she pale, but she blenched
not. In a calm, unhesitating voice she replied, "I will never deny my
faith."

"Then the die is cast!" exclaimed Pollux, almost relieved by being at
least freed from the misery of indecision. "We live or perish
together!--we will make our escape before daybreak."

There was little time left for words--none to express the thankful joy
which swelled the heart of Zarah. She was rescuing her father from
dishonour and guilt; she was giving him back to his country.

"Put on this dress of a Syrian slave-girl, which I have brought for
you," said Pollux. "Take up yon empty water-jar; it must appear as if
you went to fill it at the tank. We cannot keep close together; that
would awaken suspicion. We shall have guards to pass, and possibly
other persons besides, though at this very early hour even slaves will
scarcely have commenced their morning toils."

"How shall I find my way, father?" inquired Zarah; "this vast palace is
as a labyrinth to me."

"You must never quite lose sight of me," Pollux replied; "though
following at a sufficient distance to prevent its appearing that your
movements are guided by mine. But no, that plan will not answer," he
continued, pressing his forehead with his hand; "I should not then have
you in view, and, should you be challenged, I should be unable to come
to your help. You, my child, must go first."

"Oh, my father, my presence will fearfully increase your danger!" cried
Zarah. "Leave me here, I implore, and make your escape alone. No one
will challenge you."

Pollux silenced his daughter's expostulation with an impatient gesture
of the hand. "Attend to my directions," he said; "we have wasted too
much time already. You will follow me through the first court, and
then you will precede me. Keep to the right till you pass the first
sentries; then you will find yourself in a garden, in the centre of
which is a tank. Fill, or make show of filling, your jar. Then the
long dark passage which, you will see on the left will conduct you to a
postern gate of the palace; there will be a guard at that also."

"How shall I pass them?" asked Zarah, who began to realize the
difficulties and perils of the undertaking before her.

"I know not; but God, whom you serve, will help you, my brave and
innocent child! I will be following at no great distance--every
soldier or slave will know me--call me, and I will come to your aid."

"Father, give me your blessing," faltered Zarah.

"_My_ blessing!" ejaculated Pollux, drawing back; "does any one ask a
blessing from a wretch from whom it would sear and blast more than a
curse from the lips of another!"

"Oh, never say so!" cried Zarah. "You doing now what is
generous--noble--right! You are casting in your lot with the people of
God; like Lot, you are turning your back upon Sodom."

"And you are the angel leading me thence," exclaimed Pollux. "Oh,
Zarah, Zarah, sainted child of a sainted woman, you who have been the
first to cast a gleam of hope on the darkness of guilt and despair, if
ever I find mercy from man or from God, if ever I look again on the
face of my mother, if ever I escape the righteous doom of an apostate,
it is owing to you! Whatever be the result of our perilous enterprise
to-night, remember that I thank you, I bless you--and you shall be
blessed, O my daughter!" Pollux laid both his trembling hands on the
head of his kneeling child, and uttered for her the first prayer to the
true God which the apostate had dared to utter for many guilty,
miserable years.





Next: A Retrospect

Previous: Found At Last



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