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Found At Last






Source: Hebrew Heroes

So profound was the slumber of the weary girl that she heard not the
sound of opening the door, nor a step on the marble floor, and lay
unconscious of the yearning, anxious, mournful gaze that was fixed upon
her she slept.

"Lovely, most lovely--fairer even than her mother!" murmured Pollux, as
he stood beside the couch of Zarah, upon whose slumbering form softly
fell the light from a silver lamp. "Even so beautiful and so pure lay
my Naomi, when the angel of death had in mercy called her soul away,
and bereft me of a gift of which I was so unworthy."

What bitter memories of early years passed through the renegade's soul
as he spoke! Happy days, when there was no shame on the brow, no
gnawing worm in the conscience--when he had feared the face of no man,
and had dared to lift his eyes towards heaven, and his heart to One who
dwelt there! Blessed days, never, never to come again!

"Hark! she speaks in her sleep. What says she?"

Pollux bent down his head to listen, and caught the faint murmur, "My
poor, poor father!"

The groan which burst from the apostate's lips awoke the sleeper.
Zarah started into a sitting posture, and, with a gesture of alarm,
threw back the long tresses which had partly fallen over her face.

"Fear not, poor child; I would not harm you," said Pollux, in a gentle,
soothing tone, which restored Zarah's confidence at once.

"Oh no! I will not fear you!" she cried, recognizing her protector;
"it was you--the God of Jacob requite you for it!--it was you who saved
me to-day."

"And will do so again," said Pollux, as he seated himself at Zarah's
side; "but I cannot save you in spite of yourself. You must let
yourself be guided by me."

"What would you have me do?" asked Zarah.

"Bend to the force of circumstances, humour the mighty king, give an
outward obedience to his will. I have pledged myself that you should
do so. There is nothing so dreadful, after all," continued the
courtier, forcing a smile, "in bowing the knee as others do, or in
burning a few grains of incense. It is but a little matter."

"A little matter!" repeated Zarah, opening wide her eyes in innocent
surprise; "is it a little matter for me to throw away my soul, and
break the heart of Hadassah?"

Pollux winced on hearing the name, but quickly recovering himself,
observed, "The heart of no woman would be thus broken. She would feel
a pang less keen at your falling away for a time, than that which would
wring her soul should you die by the executioner's hand."

"You have never seen Hadassah; you do not know her!" exclaimed Zarah
with spirit; "she has told me herself that she would rather lose seven
children by death than one by apostasy from God!"

Pollux bit his nether lip till the blood came. When he resumed
speaking, his voice sounded hoarse and strange.

"If you care not for your own danger, maiden, think of my peril; my
head is staked upon your submission," he said.

Zarah looked distressed and perplexed for a moment, then her fair face
brightened again. "Even cruel Antiochus," she replied, "would never
slay one of his nobles because he failed in persuading a Hebrew girl to
violate conscience. You are not--cannot be in peril through me."

"I am, whether you believe it or not," said the courtier. "But
methinks, when speaking to a girl like yourself in the morning of life,
with so much that might make existence delightful"--Pollux glanced at
the luxurious decorations of the apartment--"one might be supposed to
need small power of persuasion to convince her that music, dance, and
feasting are better than torture; life than death; nature's sunshine
and earth's love than a nameless grave. The king is munificent to
those who oppose not his will; his hand is bounteous and open. Listen
to me, fair maiden. Antiochus has promised, if you yield to his
commands, to give you in marriage; it shall be my care that his choice
for you shall fall upon one gentle and noble, one who will not deal
harshly with you if you choose to follow your own religion, but who
will accord to you in the privacy of your home all the freedom of
worship which you could desire." Pollux paused, turning over in his
mind who would be the noble most likely to fulfil these conditions; and
thinking aloud, he uttered the words, "such a one as Lycidas the
Athenian."

How the heart of Zarah bounded at the name! The temptation was
fearfully strong. She beheld life and Lycidas on the one hand; on the
other the cold steel and the glowing flame, and those black fearful
ministers of death, the remembrance of whom made her shudder.

Pollux, skilful in the courtier's art of reading the thoughts of men,
saw symptoms of yielding in the face of his prisoner, and pushed his
advantage. He had appealed to Zarah's instincts, now he attempted to
dazzle and pervert her reason. With subtle sophistry he brought
forward arguments with which his mind was but too familiar. Pollux
spoke of necessity, that artful plea of the tempter, who would try to
make the Deity Himself answerable for the sin of His creatures, as
having placed them under circumstances where such sin could not be
avoided; as if strength of temptation were excuse sufficient for
yielding to the temptation! Then the courtier spoke of the difference
between spiritual worship, the assent of the soul to a lofty creed, and
the mere outward posture of the body. The latter might bow down in the
house of Rimmon, Pollux argued, while the spirit retained its
allegiance to the only true God. Nay, the tempter quoted Scripture (as
the devil himself can quote it) to show that what God demands is the
heart, and that therefore He cares little for the homage of the knee.
The courtier tried to involve the artless girl in the meshes of his
false philosophy, but a woman's simple faith and love burst through
them all.

"Leave me--leave me!" cried Zarah passionately, at the first pause made
by Pollux; "it is sinful, cruel, to tempt me thus! You would have
tried to persuade the three children in Babylon to bow down to the
image of gold! I cannot argue, I cannot reason with one so learned as
you are, but I know that it is written in God's Law, _Thou shalt not
bow down nor worship_, and that is enough for me."

"But you never can endure the agonies which await you if you madly hold
out in your obstinate resistance!" cried Pollux.

"I know that I have no strength of my own; I know that I am a
trembling, feeble, cowardly girl, weak as water!" exclaimed Zarah,
bursting into tears; "but God--my God--once made a firm wall of water,
and He who sends the trial will send the strength to endure it!"

"Zarah, you will drive me to madness!" exclaimed Pollux, alarmed at the
constancy shown by so timid and fragile a being; "nay, turn not away, I
_will_ be heard! I command you to yield obedience to the king, and I
have a right to command; Zarah, he who speaks to you is--your father!"

Had not instinct suggested that before, had there not been something in
the voice, the face of the courtier of Epiphanes which had reminded
Zarah of Hadassah, and had strangely drawn the maiden's heart towards
him? Up sprang Abner's daughter with a cry, her arms were around his
neck, her head was pillowed on his bosom, his vest was wet with her
tears; she sobbed forth, "My father! my father!" forgetting for the
moment everything else in the delight of having found the lost one at
last, and of being locked in the embrace of a parent.

And Pollux, for a brief space, could think of nothing but the fact that
his child was clasped in his arms. He drew her close to his heart,
then held her back that he might gaze upon her face, and press kiss
after kiss on the lips of her whom he called his darling, his pride,
his beautiful child! But when the first burst of natural emotion was
over, Pollux made his daughter sit close beside him, and with his arm
round her slight form, resumed the conversation which had been
interrupted by his revealing the intimate relationship in which they
stood to each other.

"You see, my child," said the courtier, "that you may now yield with an
easy conscience. A parent's commands are law to a Hebrew maiden; if
there be any sin in what you do, it lies upon me alone."

"And think you that I would bring sin upon your head?" said Zarah. "Oh
no, that would be to wrong a parent indeed!"

"I have such a burden of my own to carry," observed Pollux, bitterly,
"that I shall scarcely be sensible of so small an addition to its
weight. Zarah, it is clearly your duty to submit, for my safety is
involved in your submission. If you refuse to obey Antiochus, you seal
the doom of your father."

In anguish Zarah clasped her throbbing temples with both her hands;
even the path of duty itself seemed dark and uncertain before her.
Then a thought, sudden and bright, as if it were an inspiration, came
into the young girl's mind.

"Oh no, I will save my father!" she exclaimed; "save him from worse
than death! Let us fly together at once," she continued; "no, not
together, I would cumber your flight; but make your escape, O my
father, from this wicked court, this barbarous king, this life which,
to a son of Hadassah, must be misery and bondage indeed! Oh, fly, fly;
be safe, be free; be again what you were once! it is not too late! it
is not too late!" There was intense delight to Zarah in the new-born
hope that she might draw her wretched parent from this den of infamy,
this pit of destruction.

Pollux was startled by the sudden suggestion. "Whither could I fly?"
asked the renegade gloomily.

"To Judas Maccabeus, our hero," cried Zarah; "his camp is the
rallying-place for all fugitives from oppression."

"Maccabeus!" exclaimed Pollux; "he would loathe--would spurn an
apostate!"

"Oh no, he would never spurn the father of Zarah," cried the maiden,
for once realizing and exulting in the secret power which she exercised
over the leader of the Hebrews; "Judas would welcome you, his brave
companions would welcome, coming as you would come to redeem the past
by devoting your sword to your country! God would receive you; and
Hadassah," continued Zarah, her enthusiasm kindling into rapture as she
went on, "Hadassah, in her joy, her ecstasy, would forget all her
grief--the thought of her long-lost son being with Maccabeus would
enable her almost to rejoice at her Zarah being--with God."

"Impossible, impossible," muttered Pollux, rising from his seat as if
to depart; but Zarah detected indecision in his tone. She threw
herself at his feet, she clasped his knees, she pleaded with passionate
fervour, for she deemed that a parent's life and soul were at stake.

"Oh, father, if you would but consent to leave for ever this horrible,
horrible place, to return to your people, your mother, your God, I feel
as if I could die happy, so happy; we should then meet again in a
brighter world, all, all re-united, and for ever!"

It was as the voice of his guardian angel--as if his once fondly-loved
wife had been suffered to visit Abner in mortal form, to counsel, warn,
entreat; to tell him that there yet might be mercy for him if he would
but turn and repent! There was a terrific struggle in the renegade's
mind. He could not at once decide on taking so bold and sudden a leap
as that to which he was urged, though conscious of the peril as well as
misery of his present position at the court. As the deer, driven by
wolves to the precipice's brink, hesitates on making the plunge
down--though it give him the only chance of escape from the ravening
jaws of his fierce pursuers--so hesitated the wretched Pollux.

He would have felt no indecision had he known that, at the very time
when Zarah was pleading in tears at his feet, Antiochus was signing, in
the presence of the exulting Lysimachus, a warrant for the execution of
Pollux on the morrow. His rival had succeeded in working his ruin; the
only door of safety yet open to the apostate was that towards which his
child, with fervent entreaties, was trying to draw him; shortly--little
dreamed Pollux how shortly--that door of safety would be closed.
Unable to form a sudden resolution, to come to a prompt decision,
seeing difficulties and dangers on every side, fearing to remain where
he was, yet afraid to fly, Pollux wasted the precious time yet given
him, he let the golden moments escape. In a state of strong
excitement, he at length quitted his daughter's presence, to seek that
solitude in which his perturbed mind might become sufficiently calm to
form a judgment which must be as the pivot upon which his whole future
life would turn. Pollux left Zarah still on her knees, nor did she
rise when he had torn himself from her clinging arms and left the
apartment. When the daughter could no longer plead with, she pleaded
for, her father--she implored that grace and wisdom might be given to
him at this momentous crisis. There was no more sleep for Zarah on
that eventful night.





Next: Decision

Previous: A Breathing Space



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